The scholar who refuses to be lost in translation

October 26, 2016 12:00 am | Updated December 02, 2016 11:43 am IST - CHENNAI:

S. Suresh Kumar

S. Suresh Kumar

His quest for knowledge enabled him to overcome his physical disability. Proficient in Malayalam, Tamil and English and a doctorate in English literature — a comparative study of short stories of Alice Munro and Tamil writer Ambai — S. Suresh Kumar, a visually-challenged professor of English literature, does not like to rest even at 65.

His seventh book — a translation of selected poems of Kumari Athavan — is ready for release on October 27 even as he is giving final touches to the translation of Andal’s Tiruppavai .

“Women, differently-abled people and translations — these have always been relegated to the bottom of society or painted into a corner. Only through sheer effort did they come centre stage. Naturally I see a parallel in them,” said Mr. Suresh Kumar, who lost his eye sight due to retinal degeneration when he was a child, while explaining his passion for translation.

A native of Manalikarai in Kanniyakumari district, he spared no effort in his pursuit of studies. When he was ready to sit for the SSLC examination at the age of 14 (the then local rule allowed only those who had completed 20 to appear for the examination), he took the exam in Bhopal. “I cleared my Higher Secondary Examinations and later joined English literature in University College in Thiruvananthapuram. As no Braille text books were available for old English prescribed for MA, I joined Nagpur University where I could opt for Indian writing in English,” said Mr. Suresh Kumar, who retired as Reader and Head of English Department of Pioneer Kumaraswamy College in Nagercoil.

It was while translating from Malayalam to English Jnanappana by Poonthanam Nampoothiri, a 16th century poet, known as Kerala’s cuckoo, that he got interested in Tiruppavai . “When I visited Srivilliputhoor, the birth place of Andal, a year ago, I decided to translate her work,” said the retired professor, who collaborated with S. Nagammal, his former colleague, for the two soon-to-be-released translations.

He has his own prescription for translation. “It is not copying the whole text word by word, but assimilating the original work and recreating its spirit,” he said, adding that the existing English translations of Tiruppavai do not do the needful. He also pointed out that many translators had resorted to expurgation while referring to body parts of women.

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