NEW DELHI: The first ever direct translation from Chinese to Tamil, was released on Saturday by National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon at a function held at New Delhi.
In 2004, a 38-year-old Indian diplomat based in Beijing, came across a Chinese poem about the eternal poetic trope of a girl waiting for her lover, amidst the enveloping sounds and sights of creeping twilight.
“I had come across this Chinese poem, which I was convinced was translated from a Tamil piece... about a girl waiting for her lover in the evening, when the cattle and hens were returning and music was playing,” remembers Sridharan Madhusudhanan, a 1990 batch Indian Foreign Service officer.
He later learned that the poem was not only written originally in Chinese, but was part of the revered ‘Shi Jing’ (Book of Poems), which is the earliest extant anthology of Chinese poetry. “For me, that was amazing,” he said.
This led to an eight year journey, which culminated in a Saturday evening at Delhi Tamil Sangam, where his book – Vaari Choodinum Paarppavar Illai: Kavi Thogai – Chinaavin ‘Sanga Ilakkiyam. Arimugamum, neradi thamizhakkamum’ (Even if I adorned, there’s none to behold: Shi Jing – China’s Sangam Literature. Introduction and Direct Translation) under his pen name Payani (traveller) – was released by National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon.
Having chosen Chinese as his language speciality on joining IFS, Madhusudhanan decided to take up the study of Shi Jing in a serious manner. For two years, he used to go to two teachers every week to understand the poems, which according to legend, were compiled by Confucius.
“I remember reading Shi Jing poems in middle school and considering them very difficult. So, it must be very difficult for an Indian speaker,” said minister in Chinese embassy, Wang Xuefeng, who received the first copy of the book.
In fact, Madhusudhanan feels that it was easier for him to learn Chinese using Tamil as the medium. “I found that there were quite a few grammatical similarities, so I started to take down class notes in Tamil,” he said.
Madhusudhanan said that the book was the result of intensive collaboration, starting with his friends in Chinese Radio International (CRI). There were daily meetings in his Beijing home, where his wife Vaidehi and four CRI experts - two Tamil-speaking Chinese and two Indians from Tamil Nadu, together talked and worked, and reworked the translation of these poems.
Then, these drafts were circulated among his group of over 20 friends spread out across the world. “I had to make sure that as a poem, it (translation) made sense.”
He recalls that it was only half-way through the translation process that he realised that this would be the first ever direct translation of literature between the two ancient classical languages.
Of the 305 Chinese poems in Shi Jing, he chose about 35 for translation, with the rest of his book devoted to giving an introduction and context to this celebrated literary tome in Chinese civilization. “I chose them for their resonance here,” said Madhusudhanan, who is currently posted in Ministry of External Affairs as director (SAARC).
His next publication is likely to be the first ever Chinese-Tamil dictionary, which he had started working on much before his published books - but he had no date for its completion yet. Madhusudhanan, who lived in China for nine years, is also part of a group of other Chinese speakers in the Indian Foreign Service, who are working on the transliteration of Chinese language into various Indian languages, including Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and Bengali.