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Ancient legends get a new life

ANASUYA MENON
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BOOK Sreekumari Ramachandran’s English translation of Aithihyamala opens the doors of Kerala’s past to new generation readers

chronicler of folkloreWriter Sreekumari RamachandranPhoto : Thulasi Kakkat
chronicler of folkloreWriter Sreekumari RamachandranPhoto : Thulasi Kakkat

It was a world peopled with kings, magicians, feudal lords, sorcerers and curious mythological beings. For about two years, author Sreekumari Ramachandran carried this world inside her head — battling with words, fleshing out characters and marvelling at the sheer craftiness of imagination.

Translating the Aithihyamala , a collection of legends from ancient Kerala, to English proved a daunting task, just as she had expected. But as soon as she started work on the fat volume in 2007, she realised that her fascination for it grew. “There have been days when I sat and wrote for ten hours at a stretch,” she says, after attending a ‘coffee evening’ hosted by the Ernakulam Women’s Association recently.

Sreekumari believes she is essentially a writer and not a translator. The Aithihyamala was her first attempt at translation. But she is still reaping the fruits of her labour, as the book, which was published in 2010, continues to bring readers to her. “Readers come to me even now, mostly to thank me for translating an iconic book such as the Aithihyamala .”

The success of her work, she says, lies in the fact that it opened the doors to Kerala’s colourful past to a generation which has not had a firm footing in Malayalam. “The Aithihyamala has such a wealth of stories and it is a pity that it is lost on those who do not know Malayalam,” she adds. It was for the benefit of her younger son that she decided to take on the task of translation. “It has been in my library forever and I had not thought of translation until my son told me he had always wanted to read it.”

She translated the original work, which contained 126 stories, some short, some long, in complex Malayalam. The challenge lay in finding the exact words in English. “For instance, a word like kindi (container with a snout) is known as the goglet. The veerasrinkhala can be loosely called a bracelet. But the exact translation would be ‘bangle of honour’. The joy of finding the right words is inexplicable.”

The centuries-old stories are believed to have been documented by Kottarathil Sankunni, a Sanskrit-Malayalam scholar, in the early 1900s. They reflect the social and cultural fabric of the times. “Many of these stories are incredible — Gods who made appearances, the remarkable deeds of valorous tuskers and beautiful yakshis , who killed learned men. But that is the beauty of it,” Sreekumari says. What about love stories? “There were hardly any,” she laughs.

Sreekumari has authored 26 books both in English and Malayalam, mostly short-story collections. She is currently working on a historical encyclopaedia. A film script is also on the anvil.ANASUYA MENON

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