An act of interpretation in Soviet Russia

Apart from MGR, she has also been an interpreter for Ma.Po.Si and Bollywood actor Jitendra, among others. Photo: M. Srinath  

Podozhdite pozhaluysta — meaning ‘wait please’, were the first words in Russian uttered by former Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran in 1973 when he went there for a film festival.

V.S. Kamala, who was a student in Russia learning the language, was the woman who taught him these words. Now, in her seventies, she teaches the language at the Russian Cultural Centre in Chennai. Reminiscing about her days in Russia still brings a smile to her face.

She recalls how curious locals surrounded MGR and asked various questions. “He wanted to answer everyone and asked me how to say ‘wait please’ in their language.”

She was with MGR for a fortnight, teaching and interpreting the foreign language. “When I met MGR face to face at Hotel Russia, I was so enthralled that I could not even tell him my name when he asked,” she says. Ms. Kamala also recalls how MGR called her ‘ annam itta kai’ (hands that fed) after she provided him with bread and sambar in the foreign land .

When Ms. Kamala left for Russia, she did not plan on becoming an expert in the language. In 1968, she was working in a stall at a trade fair in Anna Nagar, when officials from the Soviet information department in Chennai, impressed with her work, asked her what she wished to do. “I opted to pursue medicine in Russia and got admission in Lumumba Friendship University,” she says. However, on reaching Russia, she fell sick due to the weather and wanted to return home. “But they asked me to learn the language. So I was there till 1973.”

Since she was reportedly the only Tamil woman in the Soviet learning Russian, Ms. Kamala was roped in as am interpreter for many dignitaries. She has been an interpreter for Ma.Po.Si and Bollywood actor Jitendra, among others. “MGR went around studying the welfare schemes and said he wanted to implement them in Tamil Nadu,” she recalls.

In 1974, she returned to Chennai and met him a few times, with the last meeting being a few days before he died.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 6:38:15 AM |

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