Malayalam Poetry : S. Joseph’s Poems



Malayalam Poetry in Translation Series – 11

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.)



Have never been to a prison,
never seen prisoners.

Have looked over
the moss strewn prison wall,

have wondered about the
cells and inmates.

May be,
a criminal would have imagined
me and the outside world
from the prison.

He doesn’t know me.

But someday,
the trail of his memory
that begins from the prison
could advance till it halts
at my cell
where I penned these words.

A cell
contained within a
larger window partitioned into
cells of religion, caste and color.

It is so because
his memory is
just like my words
that scatter, scurry
or gel together
to bang into the same dot.

(Translation of JailIdentity Card, DC Books)



we never had a well.

We headed to the house of Kunsans
for water.

While they used
pulley and bucket to draw water
from their courtyard well,

further down,
we scooped water using
areca palm spathes

or from
the streams in the fields.

Mom and grandma
who collected water
were tied to the ends of our call
from the courtyard.

Absorbed in village gossip,
they did not know how time passed.

After a day’s work,
father arrived like a pot of toddy.

He quarreled with mom,
complaining that bathing water
isn’t warm enough
and drained all the collected water.

Slaps, punches and kicks.
Our neighbors would gather.

holding lighted candles
dad and me headed for water.

As the drama wasn’t over,
the night that had the
curtain strings tied to his legs,
fell asleep.

Now, we have a well.
But no water.

Tilting the well,
we ooze out four buckets of water.

(Translation of Vellam, Page 24, Identity Card, DC Books)

Between the Lines

Between the lines,
may be you and me will cease to be.

We are strangers.
Perhaps, our paths crossed
at the beach or town or the beach.

You could be the one
leaning on the parapet of the bridge
to watch the angler beneath.

Or, we could have met
while shopping for meat or medicine.

We are all laymen trying to perform
extraordinary tasks, aren’t we?

You drive a vehicle,
open a retail store on loan,
clear an examination,
bursts into a song.
I try to write poems.

May be
our acts will outlive our longevity.

I will cease to be in the midst of writing,
and you, while reading.

(Translation of Ee Varikkalkkidayil, Page 21, Identity Card, DC Books)


About the Author:

S. Joseph (Joseph Sebastian, b. 1965 , at Pattithanam, a  little village in Kottayam District, Central Kerala, is a Malayalam poet who started writing poetry at the age of 16. D.C Books published his first collection of poems Karutha Kallu (Black Stone) in 2000,which won the Kerala Sahitya Akadami Kanakasree award. Meenkaran (Fish Monger) was his second book (2003) which received notable attention among Malayalam readers. Malayala Manorama’s Editors’ Choice selected it as the one among the best five books  2003.His third book was Identity Card published by D.C. Books (2005). India Today Malayalam selected it as the one among the best ten books of  2005. He has published a novel  Pulariyile Moonnu Thengukal  (Three Coconut trees in the Morning) too. His fourth collection of poems is Uppante Kooval Varakkunnu (Drawing the Cry of the Crow-Pheasant) which received Thiruvananthapuram Pusthakamela Puraskaram for being among the best ten Malayalam books of  the year 2009.

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 . (