Capturing the ebb and flow

Out there in the deep sea, what’s the wind like during a shark hunting expedition? How does the water current behave? What do men say to each other when they wait for the moment of truth? Writer RN Joe D’Cruz knows the answers, because he’s gone shark hunting himself. He writes on this in his first novel Aazhi Soozh Ulagu (2004). An insider account of the life of the artisanal fisherfolk of Uvari in Tirunelveli, the book’s English translationOcean Rimmed World, has been published by Oxford University Press.

Translator G Geetha spent three years “sailing the waters of this vast ocean of a novel” to finally “weigh anchor”, as she writes in the translator’s note. She mentions how the novel “grips us by the scruff of our necks and dunks us into the stinging, briny waters of the sea”. The novel is Joe’s first work of writing, which was followed by Korkai (2009) that won him the Sahitya Akademi Award.

Capturing the ebb and flow

Seated in his office in Royapuram, the 55-year-old recalls how Aazhi... was the summation of all that he experienced at the seaside village. “I was born a fisherman,” says Joe. “I know how life is as one. I have wondered about my people, questioned, feared and agitated for them,” he adds. “This society has given me a lot and I thought, why not tell their stories?” Joe knows that, that which is not documented is as good as non-existent. He chose to be the voice of the fisherfolk of Uvari.

“I sat wrapped in a shawl at the seashore listening to the older fishermen say el,” he remembers. The term is used to describe senior fishermen’s passionate comments from the shore as they watched a catamaran ride the waves. “They would say pull this, tighten that, and so on, despite being far away from the fishermen on the catamaran,” says Joe. He wrote all of this down from the time he was 10.

The depth of it

As he became older, he noticed other things. Such as how those who moved on to other jobs — teaching or engineering — looked down on their own people. He saw how there were lots of widows among the fisherfolk and learned of the economic conditions of the people. He consolidated all this into his books.

Now that he is in the limelight again — thanks to Oxford’s translation — Joe feels rather unhappy that the book continues to receive flak from his people. But he reiterates that the novel is a “spot analysis of the people of Uvari. I have just told the truth.” The translation was a tedious process. Joe explains how he and Geetha met over three years, reading, rereading and polishing it.

“I would say that she has captured over 60% of the novel’s essence,” he says . Which is a big thing, considering it being full of indigenous fishing techniques, the customs of the fisherfolk, their language. Geetha writes how the latter was the most “daunting aspect” of the translation.

How does one translate centuries-old “nautical terms, swear words, proverbs, and idiomatic usages”? She has retained particularly irreplaceable terms. She wonders if she’s captured at least some vigour of the original.

She writes, “But I suppose a translation, like every other art, is more an act of hope than anything else.”

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 7:19:26 AM |

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