Malayalam Poetry : Mangad Ratnakaran’s Poems



Malayalam Poetry in Translation – 5

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.)




KGS narrated the tale of a nightmare
that he had in Bangalore.

Termite has eaten
a shelf of books in his Thrissur abode.

KGS shared the shock sequence to a relative,
a caretaker who headed home and confirmed:
termite has eaten a shelf of books.

In words and paintings: termite, termite.
Changampuzha, Rilke, Rajalakshmi: termite, termite.
Dali, Picasso: termite, termite.

Lines and dots,
as if the work of Joan Miro*.

Dear KGS,
termite ate even my Gramsci.
I tried to console the poet.

Borges imagined heaven
as an enormous library,
Marx interpreted it as a termite
mount that gobbles up humans.

Marx set fire to that mount,
Borges quenched it.

Would Marx have set fire
if he knew it was a library? Not sure.
It is impossible to arrive at a
foregone conclusion about him.

Outside the dream,
we saw with our bare eyes
how the termite mount multiplied
from a couple
to infest the whole nation.

While people were busy enacting Kumbhakarna**,
termite termite termites
kept chipping away at work, focused.

If people awaken,
termites will scatter.

Are you wondering
how I can be so sure?

Because I’m stating it,
the one who shares
the first name of the Adi kavi***
to have emerged from a termite mound.


*Joan Miro (1893-1983), Spanish painter and sculptor.
**A folk proverb to describe people in deep slumber, on the lines of Theyyam, a renowned ritual in North Malabar.
***Epic poet Valmiki (meaning one who is born from a termite mound) was earlier known by the name Ratnakar.

(Translation of Chithal, Forthcoming in Malayalam Weekly)


The Foolish Middle (Class) Aged Man Who Moved Mountains

Owing to past life blessings,
rental home had a sizeable courtyard and plot.

The middle (class) aged man planned to grow
fragrances of his childhood in that plot.

Voyeur-at-the-fence hibiscus
White hibiscus, the bridal white flower
the Spanish Jasmine that spins like a top
Crape Jasmine, like the simmering milk
Ashoka, that doesn’t need a simile
Marigold, the offspring of sunflower.

The middle (class) aged man
planted and watered them all,
plucked out the moths.

But then,
wild weeds shouted ‘look, look’
and encircled the flowering plants
like villages that closed in on cities.
Like the little Red Book,
there were tiny red flowers at their tip.

Whispering let a hundred flowers blossom**,
they were plucked.

The foolish middle (class) aged man
who moved mountains,
plucked out the Mao thorn
with a Mao thorn.

*Pocket edition of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, popular known as The Little Red Book.
**Quote of Mao Zedong

(Translation of Parvathangale Neekkam Cheytha Viddiyaaya Madhya (Varga) Vayassan, Page 35, Appo, Kanu Sanyalinu Mathiyaayi Alle?, DC Books)


Stone Gathering

Gathering stones from the mountain range
is like collecting conches from the beach.

Just as the sea in a conch,
epic mountains in a stone,
the torrential flow of curves,
the wonder of shapes,
the rainbow of colors.

When you place
a stone on a stone,
a temple.

Old beliefs crumble
without sparing
the stone on the stone.

(Translation of Kallu Perukkal, Page 63, Appo, Kanu Sanyalinu Mathiyaayi Alle?, DC Books)


About the author:

Mangad Ratnakaran was born in Bare village , Kasaragod district in 1962. He studied in Brennen college and Delhi University. Currently, he is the senior coordinating editor with Asianet News. He has authored 30 books that include poetry, criticism, and film criticism. He has three collections of poetry to his credit: Noahayute kaalatthu inganeyayirunno, ayyo alla (Was it Thus in the Time of Noah?Ah, No), Innalayute chorappatukal aarum marakkathirikkan njan innu patunnu (I Sing Today So That We Do Not Forget the Blood of Yesterday) and Appo,Kanu Sanyalinu mathiyayi alle? (So, Kanu Sanyal is Fed Up,Isn’t He?).

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 . (