‘Kocharethi’, the tribal novel that depicted the pangs and struggle of the Araya community, couldn’t have escaped the notice of the literary world with its truthful representation of the community’s struggle and evolution through the decades.
Now that the world has sat up and took note of ‘Kocharethi’ and its author Narayan, Catherine Thankamma, who translated the book to English, feels elated at “doing something to provide visibility to the work that depicted the miseries of the sidelined community.”
And, for her, getting the Economist-Crossword Book Award in the Indian language translation category was just a bonus.
“Kocharethi’ by Narayan was a ‘protest writing’ of sorts. The author wanted to portray the true lives of the tribal community, who are often misrepresented in other works. Hence, being a part of the efforts was a gratifying experience,” Catherine says.
A English professor at RLV College of Music and Fine Arts, Catherine has been translating and writing short stories for various publications for the last few years. “I have translated many works, including those of N S Madhavan and C S Chandrika. That is how Oxford University Press-India, editor-translation, Mini Krishnan learned about me. Litterateur Ayappa Panicker had suggested that if any work deserved to be translated, it had to be ‘Kocharethi’,” says Catherine.
The book, tackling an ‘earthy’ subject, is a crucifying task for a translator, says Catherine. “I met up with author Narayan over a dozen times. I had to get the feel of each situation and the meanings of the words. I went to him with the first draft and discussed for hours so that the ‘feel and taste of Malayalam words’ are not lost.”
Catherine believes her efforts have paid off well. “People rang up Narayan sir after its translation came out. And with the award, I feel I have done justice to the work and its author," she says.
So, how did she make sure that nothing was lost in translation? “The book was about a tribe and their struggle for land and challenges to preserve their myths and customs. I intentionally retained certain words and provided a vast glossary in a way not to obstruct a smooth read. The Malayalam syntax was converted into English as such to avoid urbanisation of dialogues,” she adds.
Catherine credits the book’s success to Mini Krishnan’s ‘sixth sense for language’. “We had many sessions together. My confusion about the ‘right word’ was cleared by her,” she says and adds that she can’t help but thank her good friend and the Institute of English reader Dr G S Jayasree, who according to her ‘wrote an exhaustive and magnificent introduction’ to her book.
‘Kocharethi, The Araya Woman’ enticed the sensibilities of the reader through its potent illustrations. Sketched by P S Sudheesh, a final year student of RLV College, the illustrations help readers get an idea of the shacks the arayas lived in and the life they led. Catherine, who rues about the ‘elitist syllabus’ being followed in colleges, says her next work is the translation of ‘Pulayathara’ by Paul Chirakkode. “The book was first published in 1959. We expect to publish the translation by 2014”, she adds.