Where do you write? What does your working space look like?
A place with no human beings is conducive to my writing. I can write in any place where there is solitude. My writing place is where I can see the trees, birds, sky and space. I have created such a place on the terrace of my house and ‘live separately’ there.
What was the experience of working with the book’s translator, Aniruddhan Vasudevan, like? How closely did you work together on the English edition? Did you offer any specific guidance or advice? Were there any surprising moments during your collaboration, or joyful moments, or challenges?
I have had good relationship with all the translators I have worked with. Aniruddhan Vasudevan, who translated Pookuzhi [Pyre], is a close friend. After reading Madhoru Paagan [One Part Woman], he willingly offered to translate it when ‘it goes to English’. He did it too. It was his first fully translated work. I had a great experience working with him. It seemed natural for me to travel with him, he had read all my works and had a better understanding of my creative world. He has translated five novels of mine till now. He is well versed in both Tamil and English and has only sought explanation for some dialectical terms that appear in my works. We have a conversation either over email or when we meet in person. I didn’t have to give him any particular advice.
We had deep discussions about how to translate the Tamil title Pookuzhi into English. Pookuzhi is a term that carries a distinct grammatical element unique to Tamil language. It is a euphemism where an inauspicious word is replaced by an auspicious one. It is difficult to bring it into any other language, and impossible as far as English was concerned. We took much time to think of the English title. Finally, we decided on the title Pyre. Aniruddhan was not happy about it. He kept complaining about it. I told him some aspects become finer in translation, and some aspects are lost. ‘It is natural and there is nothing wrong in having a direct title,’ I said by way of comforting him.
Why do you feel it’s important for us to celebrate translated fiction?
Language is the best among the inventions of humankind. A long history is embedded in a single word. The language holds culture in it, it holds values. It is a magic that holds music, geography, arts and more. In that sense, a translation is a confluence of two magics. It has to be celebrated. All that the world needs today is a pluralistic mindset. Translation is an act of recognising pluralism, it recognises pluralism at all levels – language, culture and geography. So, translations have to be celebrated.
If you had to choose three works of fiction that have inspired your career the most, what would they be and why?
R Shanmugasundaram was a pioneer in Tamil dialectical novels. He wrote about the life of Kongu region, to which I belong. Nagammal, his first novel, was published in 1942. A tiny novel, it speaks about the life struggles of a widow. Every time I read the novel, it gives me new imageries, new scenes. I see my ancestors through the novel.
I read Atin Bandyopadhyay’s Bengali novel Nilakanta Paravaiyai Thedi (In search of Nilakanta bird) in my young age. There is no other novel that showed an Indian village as completely as this did. I was in awe at how he had turned everyone living in that village into his character. Every time I think of this novel, I feel bad about Tamil lacking a similar novel about a village in Tamil Nadu.
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (Sidhaivugal in Tamil) was a novel that haunted me. It is a gut-wrenching piece of creativity that spoke about the beliefs, rituals, food habits of a human race, and how it is entwined with human emotion. I have always felt close to the characters and life in this novel. It brings to the fore a desire to look keenly at life around us.