Translating thoughts, transforming ideas

Armed with love for her thai mozhi, architect Arivukkarasi Manivannan teams up with Maavilai collective to translate works of Laurie Baker aka ‘Gandhi of Architecture’ into Tamil
Maavilai, a publication, translated works by architect Laurie Baker into Tamil | GS MOHAN
Maavilai, a publication, translated works by architect Laurie Baker into Tamil | GS MOHAN

CHENNAI: For me, the Tamil language is everything. I am passionate about Tamil. It is my mother tongue and feels more like my mother,” says Arivukkarasi Manivannan, an architect by profession and a poet by heart. From balancing her studies as a Bachelor of Architecture student and a thriving career as a writer who published her articles in Rethinking The Future (RTF), an architectural niche magazine, Arivukkarasi’s love for writing and Tamil introduced her to the world of book publishing. Recently, Maavilai, an initiative by like-minded to promulgate the study of architecture in Tamil, translated architect Laurie Baker’s books into Tamil. Arivukkarasi was a part of the dream team.

Growing up, Arivukkarasi was inspired by her father who was passionate about the language and loved writing in Tamil. So, in that sense, the love for the language is in her blood, she says. And this love she brought to the fore whenever she had a chance and began participating in various competitions in the school level, while also upgrading her skills. “I involved myself in activities that had inclinations toward writing and anything related to Tamil,” she adds.

This inclination furthered when she formed the Tamil manram in her college, School of Architect and Planning, Anna University. In 2020,  she was a part of the Madras Day celebration by Nam Veedu, Nam Oor, Nam Kadhai, where she expressed love for the city by composing Tamil poetry and posting them on her Instagram handle (@aazhi.writes).Following her writing, Kaushik Shrinivas, founder of Maavilai, on a mission to bring architecture materials in Tamil, associated with Arivukkarasi. “Maavilai gave me the platform to bring out my love for Tamil,” she says.

A new chapter

As one who is keen on searching answers to every question, the lack of materials in Tamil in the Anna University library — considered one of the biggest libraries in architectural colleges in Tamil Nadu — pushed Arivukkarasi to bring out the books and make it available for the people.

Laurie Baker is considered the ‘Gandhi of Architecture’ because of his affordable work, exploring local techniques, regional style of architecture, and vernacular materials. This worked as a source of inspiration for the team. “We could see a lot of similarities in the ideology that we as a team formed with Laurie Baker had while practising architecture. This played as a connecting point and that’s the reason we started with his books,” she says.

The project began in August 2020 and the books were launched in March 2022. As this was during the pandemic, communication was a problem. But as time passed and when physical meetings were an option, the team — including  Manivannan S, Nisha Sathiyaseelan, Charuhassan, Rizwan Khan, Aravind Manoharan and Bharath Raju — “worked effectively.”

Baker has authored 13 books which were consolidated into nine books by the team. For example, rural community building and how to build schools in the rural setup. “We felt this could be compiled into a single book altogether,” shares Arivukkarasi. The team worked from scratch, including on the cover page and they used the original sketches by Baker in the translated books.

Movies, poems and more

Translation and proofreading are Arivukkarasi’s forte and she was given the task. Working for three hours a day, the initial release of October 2021 was pushed by six months. The team worked day in and day out ensuring that the book comes out error-free, sharing the proper knowledge.

The book was self-published by Maavilai, which had recently registered itself as a publishing house. The team faced a roadblock due to the lack of architecture-related terms in the Tamil language. “We cannot simply put up terms without reference. Our main motive was to share the knowledge in Tamil but it has to be easily understandable. Someone who knows the language, as early as a school student, or someone from outside the industry should get the content,” she explains.

Another challenge was to maintain the tone and technicality of the original work as the language that Baker used was casual. Arivukkarasi points out that every book has its tone, and one must try to stick to that. “If the content is translated well but not understandable then the point of translation is lost there. These are the primary things that should be kept in mind while translating any content in any regional language,” she adds.

Till date, 4,000 copies of the book have been sold. While currently it is available on the Maavilai website and their social media platform, the team has approached a distributor to make the book available in 300 stores across Chennai and Tamil Nadu. The team is also raising funds to start a magazine exclusively for architects and they urge people to donate towards the cause.

Arivukkrasi is also closely associated with Neelam Productions, translating movie scripts and writing subtitles for their YouTube videos. Her last published work was writing a synopsis for the movie Natchathiram Nagargiradhu. With her heart still set on poems, she signs off by saying, “In the future, I am planning to release a book that comprises all my poems.”

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