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Lyrical tales

Nita Sathyendran
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Chat Annakutty Valiamangalam Kurian-Findeis has translated 85 poems of ONV Kurup into German. The academician-poet speaks to Nita Sathyendran about her fascination for Malayalam poetry

Readers of Malayalam are as familiar with Austen, Marquez, Llosa, Coelho, Pamuk and the like as they are with Basheer, M.T., O.V. Vijayan and ONV Kurup, all thanks to the deluge of translations into Malayalam of other language books that have found their way onto bookshelves in Kerala. It’s heartening to know that the reverse is also happening. Thanks to (mostly) individual efforts, Malayalam literature is also being translated into a variety of languages. One among the few who has spent a lifetime promoting the cause of Malayalam language and literature in Germany is Annakutty Valiamangalam Kurian-Findeis. The Kerala-born academician, professor emeritus of German and former Head of Department of Foreign Languages, University of Mumbai, recently translated 85 of Jnanpith-awardee ONV’s poems into German, in an anthology titled Ein Tropfen Licht (A Drop Of Light). The anthology was released in Germany in October last year.

“I translated the poems for the love of the language and for the love of Malayalam poetry. Malayalam has such a rich tradition of writing; but it is one that is largely confined by vernacular boundaries. Yes, literature too has become globalised but its Indian English writing alone or, at the most, works in Hindi that is given prominence on the global stage. India has such a wealth of regional of literature that needs to be brought into the spotlight. Also, I thought it was a worthwhile effort because I wanted the second and third generation expatriates living in Germany, to experience the nuances of Malayalam culture,” says Dr. Annakutty. She was in the city for a poetry recital of Ein Tropfen Licht (with ONV), organised by the Goethe-Zentrum.

“I think ONV is the Tagore of Malayalam,” says Annakuttty, with a smile. “ONV’s poetry is full of metaphors and similes that are so very culture specific. And for that reason it was quite difficult to translate. It actually took me a year to complete the work and often I found myself meditating on each poem before actually translating it. The way the poet clothes an idea is very imaginative. For example, in the poem ‘Sneham Enna Bharam’, he has compared love to the natural phenomenon that is gravity. That’s a peculiar way of looking at the emotion, but one that I feel is so apt. Gravity is like a heavy cloak that covers earth, just like love that envelopes us,” says the petite and waif-like 67-year-old.

A native of Kalathukadavu, Kottayam district, Dr. Annakutty completed her masters in philosophy from Benares Hindu University (BHU). Her wish to read Immanuel Kant’s philosophy in its original form led her to learn German at BHU. Subsequently she also completed her masters in the language.

Poetry, it seems, has also motivated her to make her career choices. “Shortly after I began teaching German at BHU, I went on a short-term fellowship to the University of Vienna, Austria, where I became fascinated with the works of Paul Celan, a Romanian-Jewish poet, one of the most prominent German language poets of the post World War II era, who predominantly wrote about the Holocaust. I was intrigued by the elements of silence – the spoken and the unspoken – in his works. I felt the need to examine Celan’s poems with an intercultural/Indian aesthetic approach, where there is a lot of emphasis on the unspoken,” says Dr. Annakutty.

She ended up staying in Austria for four years to complete her PhD (from the Universities of Salzburg and Vienna), before returning to BHU in 1979. Ironically, it was only after she returned to India that she met the man who would later become her husband – Dr. Hans-Jürgen Findeis, a professor of philosophy at University of Bonn. “In a truly intercultural experience,” the couple now divides their time between Bonn and Mumbai. For a while, Dr. Annakutty also taught Malayalam at the Departments of Indology at the University of Cologne and at the University of Bonn.

Dr. Annakutty who is a poet herself has also translated poet K. Satchithanandan’s poems in an anthology titled Ich Glaube Nicht An Grenzen (I Do Not Believe In Borders). It was released at the International Book Fair in Frankfurt in 2006. Both this anthology and Ein Tropfen Licht have been brought out by German publishing house Draupadi Verlag.

“Germans are lovers of irony and Satchithanandan’s poems are apt for that,” says Dr. Annakutty. “To translate poems without the meaning being lost in translation, you’ve got to fall in love with the poet and the poems. These days there are English translations of the poems but I was determined to work with the original works. Of course, for both Satchithanandan and ONV’s translations, I also had the good fortune to consult the authors themselves whenever I was in doubt,” she adds.

For Ein Tropfen Licht , she has chosen select poems from ONV’s entire spectrum of works based on seven broad parameters – light (a frequent motif of ONV’s poems reflected in poems such as ‘Suryageetham’, ‘Agni’ and ‘Aksharam’); nature (for example, the famous ‘Bhoomikkoru Charamageetham’); religion (found in poems such as ‘Ninte Rajyam Varenam’); human existence (in poems such as ‘Swayamvaram’ and ‘Oru Kochu Dukham’); children’s poems (like ‘Sneham Mathram’); political and social critiques (such as ‘Americakku Sasneham’) and self-reflection (poems like ‘Aaram Symphony’). The anthology has a foreword by ONV. It also features a translation of the poet’s Jnanpith speech and a short biography of the poet, an introduction to Malayalam language and literature, an index of cultural references and illustrations by Artist Namboodiri that were sourced from ONV’s published anthologies

ONV’s poetry is full of metaphors and similes that are so very culture specific

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