OUP brings out fresh translation of Agnisakshi

April 14, 2015 12:00 am | Updated 07:48 am IST - THRISSUR

The Oxford University Press (OUP) has brought out Agnisakshi: Fire, My Witness , a fresh English translation of Lalithambika Antharjanam’s celebrated Malayalam novel Agnisakshi .

The novel has been translated into English by Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan, who earlier translated the same work for the Kerala Sahitya Akademi in 1980.Why did the OUP want the same translator to retranslate the novel?

“I read the first translation 12 years before I met Ms. Sankaranarayanan and felt that both Antharjanam and the novel deserved a better and more careful rendering with proper contextualisation and closer attention to the different registers of language seen in the book. The first was clearly the work of an amateur. From time to time, I used to tell this to Ms. Sankaranarayanan, who had translated Madambu Kunjukuttan’s Bhrashtu for a 1996 project of Macmillan I was involved in, Sarah Joseph’s Ramayana Stories and Sreekantan Nair’s Kanchana Seetha . When she was looking for a project to submit for a fellowship in 2010, I urged her to retranslate Agnisakshi . I added an introduction by J. Devika and a commentary by Meena Pillai on a movie based on the novel,” says Mini Krishnan, Editor, Translation, OUP.

Agnisakshi documents a disturbing chapter in Kerala's social history. It chronicles some of the heart-rending incidents that happened in Namboodiri illoms (houses). The novel portrays the transformation of its central character from a progressive girl married into an orthodox family to a revolutionary who plunges into the freedom struggle, and finally to a penitent in a Himalayan ashram. J. Devika says that Antharjanam belongs to the ‘first-generation feminists’ in Kerala because they advanced claims, engaged in polemics, and constructed alternative visions of gender. Antharjanam had described her work as ‘satyakatha' (a true story). In May 1962, she went on a pilgrimage to Uttar Pradesh. At one pilgrim centre, she met a Malayali woman ascetic. “She wore a saffron-coloured Khadi mundu, blouse, and shawl. She had shaved her head. We talked a great deal about the ashrams, sages, and ways of life there. I had heard that an old friend, a social worker, now a renunciate, lived somewhere there. I asked this woman whether she knew my friend. She grew pale... She was the same woman I had enquired about,” writes Antharjanam. Without uttering a word, the ascetic picked up a vessel and walked across to the banks of the Ganga. The moment left a deep impression in Antharjanam’s mind. It yielded a story years later.

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