Malayalam Poetry in Translation – 1
Translated by Aditya Shankar
(Translator’s Note: The finest of contemporary Malayalam poetry represents the latest poetic sensibility that is on view today. A poem that is able to mend its language and meaning, and blend into the issues of our time will break the barriers of language eventually. In fact, as a translator, I believe it becomes the need of other languages to grow and adapt to the new shapes of meaning that a poem carves for itself. My project ‘Malayalam Poetry in Translation’ is an attempt to showcase the work of some of the finest poets writing in Malayalam. I believe it is only apt to clarify in this note that new poetic sensibility is in no way co-related to the age of a poet, but is a product of her/his poetic outlook and awareness. Also, the scope of this translation series is limited to a sample size and do not encompass the entire spectrum of contemporary Malayalam poetry. Every notable poet manages to continually reinvent his poetic landscape and the poets featured in this series are no exception.)
A Leg in Guatemala
Assume that I have a leg in Guatemala,
and I can move the fingers of that leg
just as I can lift my hands and move its fingers.
Even if I can’t move that leg,
even if it isn’t reigned by my will,
assume I can instantly feel a raindrop falling on it.
Wind blows across my leg.
My legs are sun kissed.
Hurrah! A black garden ant stings on my leg.
If I am rich,
I will form a trust to ensure the well being of my leg.
I will secure the leg from the wild with barbed wire fencing,
will built a roof or hold an umbrella to shield it from rain and sun,
will appoint a Guatemalan attendant for oil massage and tickling the heel.
Imagine that abruptly you start receiving transmissions
from a distant, helpless foreign body.
Assume that ‘you’ expand and contract indeterminately.
Owing to the variations in mental sphere, assume
that you and an angler in the icy sea become a composite.
Imagine that you wriggle and fall from your office chair
due to the pain suffered by a cow whacked elsewhere.
the reason for my pain is that
my nerves end at the tip of my fingers.
the reason for our separation and grief is that
the network of our veins that once spanned the globe,
ruptured into crores of fragments,
(Translation of : Guatemalayiloru Kaal, Page 48, Viswaroopan, Insight Publications)
The Offering of Bread
It was customary to offer bread
to the temple of Apollo in Delos.
The bread turns stale in a day.
The journey to Delos spans
many days from many places.
The villagers prepare bread
and walk towards Delos with the offering.
They halt at the village they reach by night,
share their bread and return.
Next day, those villagers would
prepare bread and sent it towards Delos.
They might share it at a third village and return.
Thus, a pulse of offering
travels through the society to eventually reach Delos.
When the bread reaches Apollo,
the blessing wouldn’t be limited
to the villagers who made the offering.
(Translation of : Appam Nercha, Page 178, Jayaseelante Kavithakal, Current Books)
Along the courtyard
where sunlight intensifies,
a hasty dog heads somewhere.
If you manage to see it,
the prey travels backward
through the dog’s food pipe.
Without bothering about
the dog’s destination,
the prey travels to its own
Two distinct ‘Me’s, though
one is contained within the other.
(Translation of : Randu Njaanukal, Page 45, Viswaroopan, Insight Publications)
About the author:
KA Jayaseelan was born on July 27, 1940 to K. R. Achuthan, a lawyer and Umbooli, a school teacher and the eldest daughter of Mithavaadi Krishnan. He is an Indian linguist, essayist and a noted Malayalam poet. KA Jayaseelan is known for his poems characterized by philosophical thoughts and his contributions to the linguistics of South Indian languages. Jayaseelan’s poems can be described as micro travelogues that traverse and connect the deepest senses of plants, trees, birds and human history.
About the translator:
Aditya Shankar is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated poet, flash fiction author, and translator. He edited Tiny Judges Shall Arrive (AHRC, Hong Kong), a selection of KG Sankara Pillai’s poems translated into English. His translations have appeared in the SAARC anthology of poetry, Muse & Murmur, Modern Poetry in Translation, Ethics in Action and elsewhere. His poems have been translated into Malayalam and Arabic and published from 20 or more nations. His poetry collections include After Seeing (2006), Party Poopers (2014), and XXL (Dhauli Books, 2018). His short films have participated in International Film Festivals. He lives in Bangalore, India (https://adityashankar.ucraft.net/).