Problems of the past persist in the present
With its raw depictions of caste and gender politics among other issues, Karichan Kunju’s novel Pasitha Maanidam remains one of the landmarks of Tamil literature from the 1970s.
With its raw depictions of caste and gender politics among other issues, Karichan Kunju’s novel Pasitha Maanidam remains one of the landmarks of Tamil literature from the 1970s. Close to five decades since its publication, the novel arrives in a new English translation, courtesy of senior journalist Sudha G Tilak. In an email conversation with TNIE, the Gurugram-based author, whose journalistic career spans several years across national and international publications, reveals what makes Kunju’s work relevant reading for a wider audience
Excerpts from the interview:
How do you see your switch from journalism to translating a literary work? Was it a long-nurtured dream?
For the first decade or so of my journalism career in Chennai, I worked for magazines and newspapers outside Tamil Nadu. It meant writing for an all-India readership, and not an exclusively Tamil-speaking one. This automatically meant my job was a way of translating or explaining the state’s culture, language, and politics for non-Tamils. More than a switch, I would call translating a literary work like Hungry Humans an extension of my work in explaining the language, its people and culture to non-Tamil readers.
Pasitha Maanidam, the Tamil original of Hungry Humans, was released in the 1970s. Apart from its central theme of moral depravity — sexual abuse, infidelity, lust for power etc. — what made you feel the novel deserved a wider readership?]
I found the themes of sexual politics, caste superiority, power and control, and the position of homosexuals, trans people, and women in Pasitha Manidam, which is set in the first half of the 20th century, are continuing issues even in the 21st century. Hungry Humans is a way of finding out that the problems of the past persist in shockingly same or different forms across eras. The novel is set in and around Thanjavur, but its larger moral issues, philosophical quests and spiritual yearnings could belong to humans elsewhere too.
This is your first work as a translator from Tamil to English. How daunting was it?
The weight of translating an important piece of a literary modern classic comes with its kind of responsibility. To be true to the times and tone and structure of the novel was an extracting task.
One of the big challenges of translation is carrying over certain expressions unique to a particular language to another tongue without losing its essence. How did you work around them?
While in this age of “Ask Google” it is easy to navigate new idioms and phrases, I’ve tried to simplify the Tamil terms and expressions using contemporary or straightforward language. The editor also recommended a glossary of terms for the book.