When Switzerland-based Suchitra Ramachandran recently found out that someone had posted a screen-grab of her translation of the classic poetic work, Kurunthokai, online, she wasn’t perturbed. If anything, she was pleased that it impressed a person not familiar with Tamil so much that he chose to post it on Instagram. “This is a great way to preserve and popularise the richness of any tradition, which does not have to be done just in libraries,” says the translator, who has just published a collection of her English translation of the Sangam period work of literature, Kurunthokai – Love. Loss. Landscapes. The translation project, however, started more as a personal goal for the 28-year-old. “Though I am a Tamilian, I think in English. I did not learn Tamil formally, but I wanted to be able to think and write bilingually. Translation was a means to get there,” she says.
Short, sweet and teeming with metaphors about love and longing, Kurunthokai remains to this day among the more popular of the eight anthologies of the Sangam era, Ettuthokai, penned more than 2,000 years ago. Ask her if she knows why and she lists two reasons: the eternally appealing theme of love, and being lyrically rich in metaphors. And these made Kurunthokai an obvious choice for her to start with. Last November, she began translating the verses. “I started out with the translation and a commentary on the poems. But they have such striking visual metaphors, that I thought it would be good to accompany it with illustrations and share them on Instagram, which is a visual medium,” she says. So, in the book, every poem comes with an illustration—often conveying the most visual metaphor—created by her on her iPad. She has translated over 75 (of the 400 poems) for her Instagram and Twitter audience (of 550 followers) so far. The book features 32 poems.
From sexual awakening to the tension between the hero’s lover and his mistress, the classic explores several aspects of relationships—much of which we can relate to even today. “For example, there are poems where men complain to their friends about the pain caused by love, and advise their single friends to avoid the emotion like the plague. In a way, these poems says what a Dhanush song may say today!” she laughs. Translating and illustrating apart, Ramachandran has a doctorate in biological sciences and neuroscience. But writing did not happen by chance, she clarifies. “I’ve always wanted to write, and I want to have a parallel career in it,” she says. She may take up a contemporary Tamil translation of the Kurunthokai next, she says.
Published by Mulligatawny Books. Priced at Rs 599. Details: madrasmag.in