So when the opportunity to work on a translation came her way, she did not think twice before she replied in the affirmative. Before long, she found herself delving into the cadence and rhythm of Thakazhi's characters and their lives.

Author Anita Nair is testing the waters with her next work – a translation of Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai's magnum opus Chemmeen, which is being published by Harper Collins. It will reach bookshelves in September. After scripting success with her novels, short stories, essays, book of poems, and stories for children, the writer wants to explore new genres in her literary journey.

The idea of a translation took shape in her mind when she was working on her novel Mistress. As its protagonist is a Kathakali actor, her research demanded that she read attakathas (the text of plays in Kathakali) of various plays. “I was struck by the poetry, and sheer beauty of the verses of Nalacharitham. Such a popular play, however, lacked a good translation. I wanted to do that. But, before attempting something so challenging, I wanted to try my hand at translating… something I have never done before,” explains Anita.

The author of passionate, searing and soul-searching novels such as The Better Man, Ladies Coupe, Mistress, and Lessons in Forgetting, wanted to take a break from the intense stories she had been writing for some time and explore new areas.

Need for good translations

“The last translation of Chemmeen was done many years ago. However, we still lack good translations of many of our great works in regional languages of India. If we attempt a literal translation of the native dialect, rustic flavour, and usage, the translation becomes ungrammatical,” she explains. The author points out that leading Latin American and German authors are household names in Kerala and India but we forget that what we read are all adept translations that read so smoothly.

So when the opportunity to work on a translation came her way, she did not think twice before she replied in the affirmative. Before long, she found herself delving into the cadence and rhythm of Thakazhi's characters and their lives.

She made her assistant Mini Kuruvilla read the story aloud to help her get the right tone and feel of the dialogues in the story. But, no, she did not see the movie. “I thought I would see the film as a reward, after the translation was done. In fact, all the while I was doing the translation, ‘Maanasa Maine…,' the iconic song in the movie Chemmeen, kept reverberating in my mind,” she adds, laughing.

As is her habit, in addition to the translation, she has been working on her new novel – a whodunit. It is a psychological crime thriller that has her plotting to set her reader on edge with her new book. “I was commissioned to write a historical novel on the Mammakam of Northern Kerala. That is still on but this thriller just fell into place,” she says. Her book of poems Malabar Mind is likely to be republished later this year, adds Anita who will be in the city for the Hay Literary Festival. Blogs are fine when a writer is talking about personal experiences. But I have reservations when bloggers begin to put on the mantle of reviewers without the experience to do that…

Author’s Notes

E-books of my works are available. But I still prefer the comfort of a book. You can't take your laptop to bed and read!

I am a voracious reader. One of the authors I enjoy reading again and again is Brazilian writer Amado Jorge.

My son, Maithreya, a voracious reader, is the one who gives me the titles of my books. If he feels the title does not sound right, then it usually does not. He has that feel for words and their meaning.

Lessons in management

Anita was in the city for a function organised by UST Global on management education. She is a disciplined writer and seems to be an adept multi-tasker, as she worked simultaneously on the translation and her previous novel Lessons in Forgetting. “I would work on my novel in the morning and on the translation in the afternoon. You can't work on more than three or pages each day,” she says. She had a dictionary by her side, and Mini helped her get the right flavour of a word and its usage in the context of the novel. “Thakazhi's novel uses a dialect that is unique to the coastal region. One has to understand the soul of a writer for a good translation and get a feel of the warp and weft of emotions that Thakazhi weaves in the novel,” she feels