Sarah Joseph, Feminist, Activist, Malayalam Writer and much more…a Living Legend

Writer: Sarah Joseph
Language: Malayalam
Original Book Title: Oorukaval English Title: The Vigil
Translator: Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan
Other Books: Othappu, Alohari Aanandam, Paapathara, Allahayude Penmakkal

Malayalam, incidentally my mother tongue, is the language spoken in the tiny coastal state of Kerala, located at the southern tip of the Indian peninsula. Kerala is a place known globally for its beaches and backwaters and the most for its spices (which brought in Vasco de Gama from Portugal in 1498 and many more Europeans in his footsteps to our beaches) Our travel-bug-smitten and migration-happy people, their paradoxes as well as the excellent development indices and literacy rates within the geographical boundaries are the other things that have made headlines across the world. I should not forget how we have the credit of being the first ever state to democratically elect a Communist party to govern us, way back in the 1950s. We have a rich publishing field, excellent literature and we are people who get highs on world literature in translation. If you need proof for that, Malayalam was the very first language into which Marquez was translated into after he appeared in English. And we have every Nobel Prize and other major lit prize winner appearing in translation as soon as the award is announced. Sara_Joseph_-_Malayalam_Writer_and_Activist

Sarah Joseph, the author I introduce today, is a living legend, not only as author, but also as a prominent feminist and a social activist. You can read more about her here. She is one of the leading writers in Malayalam, and I have chosen her latest translated book for introduction in this episode of Reading Across India.
Sara Teacher, as we call her (that’s because she is a retired professor), has opted to do a mythology retelling in the voice of a minor character, Angadan, in the epic Ramayana, in her novel ‘Oorukaval’. Continue reading


Writer: Shanta Gokhale, Language: Marathi

I admit I am spoilt for choice. There are so many books that I want to write about, and I remember I have promised I would introduce a woman writer. And considering the events that have lately been disturbing the Indian literary scene, I am referring to the harassment of Tamil writer Perumal Murugan by right wing forces, I guess I need to write about a book which documents a similar incident somewhere along the plotline. Therefore, my next choice is Shanta Gokhale’s Tya Varshi (Marathi) or Crowfall (English). Crowfall

I have more reasons why I should write about Shanta Gokhale in a blog about translations. The writer has translated her own novel from Marathi to English. Continue reading

Perumal Murugan: Tamil Writer. And How He Killed Himself Today

I post this episode of the blog with a feeling of devastation that surpasses all what I have seen in censorship incidents in art in my lifetime. Perumal Murugan, the Tamil writer, is the newest victim of the Censor regime in India. Copies of his novel Madhorubhagan ( translated into English under the title One Part Woman) had been burned and a ban called for by some caste/religious organisations accusing him of offending religious sentiments and writing sexually permissive content.

There was also a public call by some organisations for the writer’s arrest and he and his family had to seek police protection. There had been widespread public support for Murugan, but the protests continued against the book. Discussions were on with the perpetrators of unrest on to reach a solution. But today in a surprising and shocking move, an obviously emotional Perumal Murugan announced that ‘the writer Perumal Murugan is dead’.

Perumal Murugan tendered an unconditional apology for “hurting the sentiments of the people of Tiruchengode”. He also decided to withdraw all his novels, short stories, essays and poems published so far. He said he would compensate the publishers for any unsold copies.

This is what he posted on FB in Tamil. “Author Perumal Murugan has died. He is no god, so he is not going to resurrect himself. Nor does he believe in reincarnation. From now on, Perumal Murugan will survive merely as a teacher, as he has been.”

One Part Woman Continue reading

Writer: Ashapoorna Devi, Language: Bangla

India was once all about spices, snakes and magic. Now the flavours and exoticism have gone on to our writing. Indians actually write in many more languages than just English; the wikipedia says we have 22 official languages and 1,652 different “mother tongues” in India. And many of these do have flourishing literature.

This blog is an attempt to introduce you to a handful of books from India, written in languages other than English. I have chosen only from fiction, and mostly the work of a woman writer who writes with fire.

This week I have chosen the writer Ashapoorna Devi who wrote in Bangla, a language spoken in the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and Southern Assam and ranked fifth in the list of world languages as spoken by the most number of people.

Book titles chosen: Prothom Protishruti (First Promise), Subarnolata, Bakulo Katha ( Bakul’s Story)

My first acquaintance with Ashapoorna Devi’s work was during my school days. Pratham Prathishruthi was serialised in translation at the time in a popular literary weekly in Malayalam (my own mother tongue). The translator, P. Madhavan Pillai, brought the Bangla text into Malayalam directly, preserving the nuances of the source language. The other books in the trilogy, Subarnalata, and Bakulo Katha too were serialised soon, and then the book versions appeared. But this happened in the late seventies, if I remember right. Continue reading

Introducing India’s Literature

The best library I have ever been to once stretched across the length and breadth of three rooms. The books in it shivered in huge wobbly heaps on the floor at a house almost next door. And my best friend lived there.

Her father, the late P. Govinda Pillai, was a writer and a voracious reader who filled his life with books, books and more books. It was only natural that the rooms of his house spill over with books of all shapes, sizes and genres. They jostled with the steady stream of visitors in the various rooms, listening with fluttering pages to political and cultural conversations as well as housekeeping woes. Tired of being gently pushed off tables and shelves by newer books, a multitude of weeklies and a dozen dailies, they finally climbed the steps to live upstairs, squeezing into spaces wherever they could. They huddled into corners, held onto ceilings, and at times simply hugged each other on the cold red floor. The wind and the sun peeped into the open balcony, guarded by a three-strip, faded bamboo curtain, yet they almost never hurt the books, except perhaps stroke them in broad yellow marks on their covers.

And it was to this haven that I made a weekly trip, to choose a few pieces of ecstacy in words. My odyssey into reading began here. Continue reading