We have been waiting for this book. The contribution of translators to the phenomenal and rich growth of contemporary literature has been seldom acknowledged. Valarmathy's systematic study of 20th century translators, who poured into the Tamil crucible winged thoughts, experiences and forms from non-Tamil literature, opens new passageways for the eager watcher of the Tamil skies.

Wizard

At the head stands the tall figure of P.N. Appuswami (literally and metaphorically), who was a wizard with his instrument, as it could wield with equal felicity scientific literature and Sangam poetry. Appuswami had been inspired to take to translation by his legendary uncle, A. Madhaviah. The English books dealing with science that were rendered into Tamil by him include Gordon Dean's Atomic Power and H.G. Wells's Time Machine. Valarmathy gives an exhaustive list of the titles as also examples of his astonishingly appropriate translations of terms like ‘endogenous' and ‘exogenous'.

It is amazing to know that these translators are today associated only with very few names — as when we associate Ka. Sri. Sri with V.S. Khandekar (Marathi), and T.N. Kumaraswami with Bankimchandra Chatterjee, little knowing that their work spans a wider arc. Thus, Kumaraswami was also a creative writer who met Rabindranath Tagore in 1928 and received his blessings. In his rich career as a translator, he was able to give, in Tamil, eminent novelists like Bankim, Tagore, Tarashankar, Manik Bandopadhyaya, and Sarat Chandra.

We also get to know the translators' views on the art of translation. Thus Kumaraswami: “There was no need for me to go in search of words when I wrote my own stories. They were there in my thoughts as the shadow follows a vulture. But when I was translating, the words were not under my control in this manner. Here one cannot manage the words as one wants. One has to follow the original work. The original writer and the translator are like sportsmen in a running race. The author runs beautifully with his feet free. The translator has to manage with fetters on his feet. Yet, one has to run smoothly without stumbling and without anyone seeing the fetters. Only then is he pronounced a success.”

Those who are in their Eighties now would know that they literally grew up with V. Swaminatha Sarma's works that brought the world to them and inspired patriotic feelings. He translated classics like Plato's Republic, Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War and Rousseau's The Social Contract, among others. He had none of the comforts of modern technology and financial help that today's translator gets in a big way. Even when Rangoon was being bombarded by Japanese forces and when he trudged on foot the long distance from Burma (now Myanmar) to India as a refugee, Plato kept him company. Such was his deep involvement in his chosen work.

Indeed, most of the translators introduced here were also great patriots. K.R. Jamadagni, the Marxist thinker who translated Das Kapital was a Gandhian satyagrahi and enjoyed translating Sanskrit classics like the Raghu Vamsam.

The 16 great translators who figure in this volume include M.K. Jagannatha Raja and N. Dharmarajan. They have been amazingly prolific. Thus, Dharmarajan's Tamil version of Sean O'Casey's The day the worker blows a bugle opens his roll call of translations which have exceeded 80 volumes. He continues to be active in this field. Finally, how best can we praise a translator like Jagannatha Raja? Till his last breath, he was engaged in this creative vocation that brought into easy-flowing Tamil masterpieces — like Kanya Sulkamu (Telugu), Gatha Saptasati (Prakrit), Deerga Nikaya (Pali), Naganandam (Sanskrit) and Pampa Bharatham (Kannada) — directly from the original languages. He has also given Telugu versions of ancient Tamil classics like Kurinji Pattu and Muthollaayiram. All this, and a creative writer too! Thamizh Mozhipeyarppu Munnodigal must be made required reading for all students of Tamil literature.

More In: Books