The humanist ideal that propelled the reformist spirit in Kerala in the first few decades of the 20th century and set the stage for a cultural renaissance has not found a more touching autobiographical articulation than in V.T. Bhattathiripad’s celebrated book Kanneerum Kinavum (1970). My Tears, My Dreams , its English translation, is set to extend to a wider audience the experience of re-living the turbulent phase in the life of one of the prominent foot-soldiers of social reforms in the State.
My Tears, My Dreams, published by the Oxford University Press (OUP) India in January last, is the translation of the moving memoir of Bhattathiripad that dwells on his early years as an Apphan (younger son in a Namboodiri family), his encounters with events and people that shaped his life as an ardent advocate of social reforms in the Namboodiri community then gripped by rotting feudal landlordism and stifling customs and rituals, and his coming out to uphold
the cause that lays emphasis on human dignity and modern education.
The English translation done by Sindhu V. Nair comes at a time when rites and customs that social reformers such as Bhattathiripad had fought are on a comeback trail threatening to undo the ideals that drove the social reform spirit.
The quintessential betel-chewing and indolent Namboodiri man is a thing of the past and so is the Apphan Namboodiri, who was not allowed to marry from the community and had no rights over the family property. The woman in the Namboodiri household is no longer kept away from the public. The English version of the memoir is a renewal of the memory of a man who played a leading role in bringing radical changes in the community.
“Writings of such intellectuals has gone sadly missing in the mental make-up of the ‘now’ generation at a time when regional identities are severely under attack,” says Mini Krishnan, Editor (Translation) of OUP, who edited the translated text.
Many of the social ills that VT fought continue in a hidden way even today and it should be the social and national duty of translation programmes of publishing houses to publish not just for fun or profits but for historical reasons and to show a philosophical and linguistic commitment to the nation at large, she notes.
Kanneerum Kinavum, which won the Kerala Sahithya Akademi award in 1972, is one of the best known works of VT, the writer and the activist, the other being the play Adukkalayil Ninnu Arangathekku (From the kitchen to the stage) produced in 1929, which served as a virtual manifesto of the social reforms in the Namboodiris community.
My Tears, My Dreams is Ms. Nair’s first full-length translation, though she has translated some short stories of Madhavikutty.
“Translating VT was, to say the least, a daunting task,” she writes in her translator’s note in the book. Kanneerum Kinavum is seemingly simple, but actually thick with deep layers of implications and connotations, full of imagery drawn from the social and political climate the author lived through, she says.
For her, the very work of translating the memoir was a journey back to intricate rituals and quirks, isolation and desperation of women in the Namboodiri community.
The translated memoir is also enriched by the inclusion of VT’s provocative article Ini Namukku Ambalam Theekkolutham (‘Let Us Now Torch the Temples’) which he wrote in the Unni Namboodiri in April, 1933, some of the rare photos that relate to the life and time of the author, a detailed introduction on VT’s life and work, and a remembrance of VT by his son, V.T. Vasudevan.
My Tears, My Dreams is largely true to the original text by a pioneer whose activism and writings kindled a fiery spirit in the community. As VT himself tells in the memoir, Adukkalayil Ninnu Arangathekku was the first “atom bomb dropped to destroy the ritualistic fort.” In his memoir, he recalls the impact of the drama: “Wherever the drama was performed, the Antharjanams threw away their palm-leaf umbrellas, tore off the clothes they used to cover themselves and came out into the open.”