Singapore-based corporate director, Nandini Vijayaraghavan, an alumnus of the London Business School, was recently at the Chennai Book Fair, promoting her English translation of Tamil historical novel “Sivakamiyin Sabadham”. So far, three out of four volumes of her translation of this 1946 novel have been published. We caught up with her to find out more…
What made you want to translate "Sivakamiyin Sabadham"? What was it about the story that drew you to it?
The motivation to translate ‘Sivakamiyin Sabadham’ initially was purely emotional. The novel moved me profoundly. I could not sleep for weeks after completing reading the novel and could not stop talking about the novel.
But, on an intellectual level, I believed that (Late) Sri Kalki Krihnamurthy’s simple language, skillful blending of actual historical occurrences with fiction, the use of poetry composed during the period in which the novel is set, his insights into human character, statecraft and the arts and his description of nature should hold an universal appeal.
When I started posting two chapters per week on my blog, the feedback from my readers, Indian and non-Indian, proved that my instinct was right.
Has literature always been a part of your life?
Yes. I have always been an avid reader. My favourite English authors listed in no particular order include R.K. Narayan, Ayn Rand, P.G. Wodehouse, James Hilton, Vikram Seth, Ruskin Bond, Somerset Maugham and Ernest Hemmingway.
How difficult was it to translate from Tamil to English? What was your process – line by line, chapter by chapter?
I would not say that it’s difficult to translate a Tamil novel to English. It’s an invigorating experience and allows the translator to step into the shoes of the author and the characters. But there are challenges and certain chapters / sections required considerable re-work. Getting the spirit of the book right while simultaneously ensuring that this was a good English novel was the greatest challenge.
The Government of Tamil Nadu has nationalised the works of several Tamil authors including (Late) Sri Kalki Krishnamurthy. So, several publishers publish the nationalised novels including Sivakamiyin Sabadham. This has led to differences in proper nouns and certain chapter titles among the different editions. For example the first chapter in Volume 1 is titled “Travellers” in certain editions and “Temple” in others. Paranjyothi’s native village is spelt as Thirusengattukudi, Thirchengattukudi and Thirusengattankudi in various editions. While translating this work, I visited this village, which is located in Tiruvarur district in Tamil Nadu. It is now known as Thirusengattukudi. Reconciling the differences amongst editions was another challenge.
The idea is not to do a literal translation but to get the spirit of the book right. A reader will be able to map all the chapters in the Tamil original to my translation. But while translating into English, the translator would have to rephrase certain portions to ensure that it does not sound absurd or comical in English.
How long did the project take you from start to finish?
It took me almost four years to translate all four volumes of the book. I started translating the book in January 2008, after visiting the Ekambareshwarar temple at Kancheepuram. As I work full-time as a financial services professional, I translated on an average one chapter every weekend.
What has the reception been like?
Considering the fact that this is a self-published novel by a first-time author, the reception has been encouraging. I made the novel available simultaneously in India and overseas. Sales in India and overseas account for two-thirds and a third of total sales respectively. Major overseas markets are US, Australia and the place I consider to be my second home – the United Kingdom.
The heartening aspect is that the sales of each of the three volumes published thus far have been more or less equal. Readers who’ve read the first volume end up buying the second and third volumes too and are now asking me to publish the fourth and final volume soon. The final volume should be published by end-Feb 2013.
Are you working on any more translations? What’s next for you?
I do have a pipeline of works I intend translating. My next work will be a short Tamil novel, which is known for both its entertainment value and illustrations.
I hope to reach Tamil literature to a global audience. If this and the other works I have in the pipeline increases awareness amongst non-Tamil speakers and also urges Tamil speakers to read the original works, my purpose is served. I’m looking for a publisher to partner me in this initiative.
Below is the book trailer for "Kalki Krishanmurthy’s Sivakamiyin Sabadham – An English Translation". Volumes 1-3 of Nandini Vijayaraghavan’s translation can be purchased from a number of places, including Amazon and CreateSpace.