Thanks to the violent political upheavals in the USSR in the early 1990s, Malayalam may have lost a good translation - a direct one from Russian at that - of ‘Anna Karenina,’ which Leo Tolstoy considered his first ``true novel.’’
On Monday, K. Gopalakrishnann, a translator of major Russian works himself and husband of the late Omana Gopalakrishnan who translated ‘Anna Karenina,’ recounted the story of how the work never got published.
``It was her major translation. We were in Moscow at the time. She had handed over her work to her editor, a Russian lady. But then, USSR fell. Progress Publishers, which used to publish the works, closed down. We also returned to India in 1991,’’ Gopalakrishnan, who was here at the Russian Cultural Centre at an exhibition of books translated by him and Omana, said.
Omana died in 2003. Later, during a visit to Moscow, Gopalakrishnan looked up the editor. ``She searched for the manuscript. But she told me that it was burnt. The building which used to house Progress Publishers had also been appropriated by someone else,’’ Gopalakrishnan, now 79, said.
Gopalakrishnan and Omana have translated nearly 200 books from Russian into Malayalam. They include political works, Russian classics and children’s and folk tales. In fact, many of the Russian folk tales and children’s stories - ‘Urumbum Bahiraakasha Sanchariyum’ (The Ant and the Cosmonaut) and ‘Velutha Kalaman’ (The White Deer), for instance - that were part of your childhood, were translated by Omana.
Gopalakrishnan was joint editor of the ‘Soviet Review’ digest at the USSR Information Department in New Delhi when his Russian boss told him that Progress Publishers was starting a Malayalam section in Moscow. ``He asked me whether I was interested. I was. So Omana, our two children and myself left for Moscow in 1966,’’ Gopalakrishnan said. “We went for a two-year period. We stayed for 25 years.’’
At the time of leaving for Moscow, Gopalakrishnan could get by in Russian.
Later, the couple hired a tutor, Maria Pulyakova - ``an old Bolshevik’’ - to gain better proficiency in the language. ``Initially, I used to translate from English translations of Russian works. Then I switched to direct translations,’’ he said.
Gopalakrishnan translated 62 works by Marx, Engels and Lenin, 25 political works, four works on science, 19 books on fiction and 26 children’s works.
Omana translated 40 children’s books and 16 other fiction. Malayalis got to read these works through Prabhat Book House, the official party outlet in Kerala. The couple translated 192 books in all.
Today, Gopalakrishnan lives at Prasanth Nagar, Ulloor. His son Sasi and Latha both work in Russia. There is also another interesting thing about Gopalakrishnan. He is the only person in the State receiving a pension from the Russian government.