Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Thoughts on Space

(A New work by Chintan Upadhyay to be shown at Gallery Espace in April 2014. for illustration purpose only)

After a long time I hear the chirping of birds. Silent greenery looks at me curiously from the glass window. Brick and mortar clutter the space beyond the tree. The kaleidoscopic view of nature here refracts only the residual urbanity. Fringes grow faster than the planned centres. Constant evacuation of the peripheries expands the possibility of the centre to puff up further. There is controlled arrogance in the air, which is split by the wailing of a vegetable vendor. This sight and sound of the world is same everywhere. It all depends on who sees and hears them in what and which state of mind. My friend has moved from spectacular works of art to stuffed woollen toys in constricted shells. He has a large house, large places to party, large cities to travel and a large number of friends to share his ideas with. But he has moved from large works to small ones; that too placed in suffocating cages. I can understand him. He is responding to his state of mind. Art of whatever kind from, however the artist tries, comes from the mind of the artist; if it is cluttered his art would reflect that clutter. It is all about the space inside mind, or rather mind itself is the space.

How do you define space? I am not a scientist so I am not even attempting to give a scientific definition to space. Space is everywhere or everywhere, the idea of everywhere itself is space. In space, we see physical things with shapes and space gets defined according to the contours of the physicality of the objects. A wasteland, which has been a vast expanse of filth, would turn into a beautiful architectural complex when it comes up there. The space was there but it was an expanse of dirt and in the cultural and visual thinking of ours a vast expanse of space whether it is of absolute nothingness or of filth is just a space of immensity and we do not like the spaces of immensity because it defies definitions. We need objects to fill in the space with. For space, physical objects are like what a name to a person. Name makes the person a definitive subject; a countable and recognizable entity. He could be tackled easily. He could be tamed and brought within the system. A nameless person is a meaningless wasteland. He invokes fear, anxiety and terror. That’s why we fill in the places with objects. A room corner is not a corner if there is not flower pot. A room is not a room if there is no book shelf. A kitchen is not a kitchen if there is not an array of pet bottles filled with innumerable items which perhaps one would never use or rarely use. These things give definition to the space that we dwell. A corner without a triangular table and a flowerpot is not a corner. It is a disturbance; children fear corners so are the grown up. Children fear blank spaces so they fill in them with lines and doodles. Grown up fill in them with things.

Space, for me is knowledge; it is not a thing. Knowledge is not information. Knowledge is not a library or Wikipedia. Knowledge is the limitlessness of existence and abundance of life. It happens within what we call our ‘inside’. But there is no inside and outside. This duality is created by fake spiritualists. Human body is mind and human mind is body. And it is space. Space is truth; perhaps the only truth. And if space is truth it happens both inside and outside alike. If space is knowledge, then it happens both inside and outside alike. Knowledge is consciousness. The awareness about consciousness is knowledge and knowledge about consciousness is awareness, both give the freedom to experience space. In space there exists one’s ability to live and grow. When there is no space there is no knowledge; it just becomes a kaleidoscopic refraction of spangles. When there is no knowledge there is no space too. Space is for knowledge and knowledge for space and the thirst for both gives freedom to a human being. Space is self created. A person who fills in oneself with things and all what is not needed has the tendencies of anal retention; one who does not want to shit. He accumulates all what is not needed. He is afraid of being light. Space is lightness. Knowledge is lightness and everything happens both in human mind and body, which are not two entities but one and the same.

Only when a person experiences such freedom of knowledge experiences space and in that space beauty comes filling in. When beauty joins hands with truth the real works of art happens. If art is happening in a constricted way it is the reluctance of the artist to let the things go. He chokes himself with the responses to what has happened to him so far. But I do not say that it is not good. It is good as far as it is cathartic and self purgative. Such art which is limited of space is a sort of confession, a sort of self flagellation and a sort of repentance. This art will pass and space will come back. But let me warn you; space is not about bigness. Space is not about smallness. Space is about freedom. In the most crowded place one could feel this freedom. This freedom comes from his perennial understanding to accept the given and improve from there. The improvement does not have external parameters. It does not have internal parameters either. It fills in the space, that is you, automatically and flows out. It is like love. It cannot be measured in ounces or litres. Love has only metaphors as measurement. So is space, so is freedom. Expressions are metaphors. Life is an expression of an organism. Human beings express their space, therefore their freedom or slavery. De-cluttering of anything does not make space. Filling up or vacating do not make space. Space happens when one decides to be space itself. Freedom starts where everything else ends and your existence begins.

Now you may ask then what about other practicalities like a leaking faucet, an empty gas cylinder, an un-ironed shirt and so many other things? One could be a good driver but he need not necessarily be a mechanic. But a good driver should have the basic knowledge of the engine as well as the places where he could get the problem solved. So practical problems could be solved, if not all by oneself, but with the help of the experts. But brooding over a leaking pipe will not solve any problem. It will clutter space and it will limit freedom and as a result of it, it will finish your existence. I am not preaching. I am trying to talk to myself on a Sunday morning. I could see the silent greenery peeping at me from the glass window. And beyond it the nature has become a jigsaw of brick and mortar.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Just Not Being Great

(Kumaran Asan- A painting by Shibu Natesan, Oil on Canvas, 2004- for illustrative purpose only)

I have not walked out in the darkness
Or even in a full moon night from a palace
Where she sleeps peacefully near the child
Why did I name him ‘bond’ or ‘bondage’?
Was I too much in love with the chains?
Had it not been my father who sent me
To the streets to see life in all its variety
I would never have thought of its dimensions
I would never have given a damn to death
For death-defying pleasure was my pursuit.
Still when the call comes one has to go
From Shravasti or Kuruskshetra or Dilli.

I have not been beaten up by racist forces
In a strange platform at night I was not thrown out
Before I left they asked me a bit of penance
Abstain from wine, women, men and eunuchs
I did indulge in wine, women, men and eunuchs
Not in kind but in mind and what a price I paid
I slept alone, fought alone and pained alone
Though thousands of them came following me
Enamoured by the ability of my endurance and will
What did they know, nothing but my shrivelling shell
I have not been at a charkha spinning yarns
I have not tendered goats, birds, nationalists and foreigners
Still when the call came I had to leave with or without
People who sang anthems and revelled in dreams

I could have been just there at Nazareth
Helping my dad in his works of carpentry
My mother would have been much happier
Than seeing me hanging from a cross at the end
I could have led a revolution in a local scale
Maximum made a union of carpenters
Even I could have become a craftsman
Or an artist who decked up the ceilings of palaces
(My looks were just perfect for an artist)
I did not know why I went to the temple
To chase the money launders out
I did not know why I woke up Lazarus
From his deliverance from ailment and pain
I did not know why I walked over the sea
Why changed water into wine
Why I loved a woman who was fallen
Why I fed people with all what I had
Still when the call came I had to go
And hang on the cross with or without you.

I am just an ordinary man
Yet what is that calling me
From inside and from outside
To leave everything and go
I do not want to search anything
Because what I should search for
Has already been found out
I just need to be that; the mission of my life
I cannot be anything but that
My words may make no sense
My stories may lead you astray
You may leave me half way with disparage
But when the call comes
Like them I need to go
Though I am not great like them

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Auto (Rickshaw) Politics of AAP and Others

(Manish Sisodia and Arvind Kejriwal during Delhi Assembly Election)

Subtitle: AAP Should not Rely on the Chameleon Middle Class

Is there in any truth in saying that the AAP’s Delhi win was majorly contributed by the messages of the party carried across the city by the auto-rickshaws? Today, the Delhi auto drivers have changed their stance. They have already started putting up Narendra Modi’s messages and anti-AAP slogans on their autos. With these slogans help or not in sending across the message, the opinion polls conducted by various agencies predict that there will be a NDA led rule in the centre and if miracles do not happen, Narendra Modi will be the Prime Minister of the country. In that case, what do these auto-messages do in the public domain for swaying the public opinion for or against a particular party? One cannot think that when the AAP was campaigning for the Delhi assembly elections, all of a sudden all the auto-drivers became conscious of the issue of corruption and they desperately wanted to bring in a change therefore they put up pro-AAP posters on their vehicles. There must have been an organized move through various independent auto unions to carry out such propaganda. Today, when they change the colours and put up pro-Modi posters, it takes only common sense to understand that these are organized and rather paid campaigns undertaken by the propaganda wing of the BJP. As portrayed or commonly believed, it is not a conscious decision by the auto-drivers to oppose the AAP or its leader Arvind Kejriwal.

After becoming the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal had called for a mega rally of the auto-drivers, where he had asked them to take a pledge on the name of their children that they would never over charge or indulge in any corrupt activities. The euphoria and optimism was such that most of the auto-drivers promised then and there that they would obey rules and would never over charge the commuters. But the truth is different. When Kejriwal was in power, most of the auto people behaved. They thought that it was their moral duty to abide by their pledge or at least by the slogans that they had carried on their auto rickshaws. For forty nine days, auto people showed some amount of sophistication and decorum. Even if their meters are defective they at least showed the willingness to run by meter. But the day Kejriwal went out of power, they changed their colours overnight. They started over charging again. They have forgotten the pledge that they have taken. They have forgotten the oath. Reason, Delhi has not changed. Kejriwal had asked people to conduct sting operations. Even the policemen were afraid of asking for bribes thinking that they would be caught in camera. But the day Kejriwal tendered his resignation, Police came back to the Delhi streets in full force asking for bribe. As Kejriwal puts it extortion corruption is back in action.

(Delhi autos against AAP today)

Delhi showed some symptoms of preparedness for revolution when it voted for the AAP. But soon it realized that the country is not yet prepared for any kind of revolution. People want revolution but people are not ready to do any kind of sacrifice for that. When the Central Secretariat Metro station was closed in January this year due to Kejriwal’s sit in protest, majority of the Delhi middle class thought that Kejriwal was doing something wrong. Middle class elected Kejriwal to mind his business; not theirs. They thought like other politicians Kejriwal too would sit in the secretariat and by making policy changes he would provide a corruption free governance. But he showed the world that there were different ways of governance. Importantly, he told the world that to do good governance, the government needs right kind of power in hand. And to have right kind of power, people should have participation in governance. But the middle class in Delhi failed to understand that. That’s why most of the people today say that Kejriwal did something wrong by resigning from the power. He could have continued in power and fought from inside. But to fight from inside you need the support of the system. The system itself was hostile when he was in power. He was the first powerless chief minister in India.
More than the auto people, Arvind Kejriwal’s campaign was supported by the social networking sites. Social networking sites play an important role because many people believe that expression of opinion in the virtual space is enough and if they have done something for the AAP and if AAP has come to power, they feel good about it. Obviously, social networking sites have helped forming the opinion of people. It is just like mass mobilization of opinion in the real space. What evening rallies used to do once upon a time does the same today in virtual space day in and day out. People are swayed by mass likings and mass sharing. People are impressed by the number of followers in twitter and they also want to be a follower. But this actually does not contribute to the real revolution. Wherever revolution has happened, including Egypt and Kiev, people have come out en masse to the streets. In India it has not yet happened. People are arm chair revolutionaries. They speak their opinion in twitters and facebook and leave it there. Unless and until they come out in the streets and face the brutal power of the state, revolution is not going to take place. People are not interested. The latest example is the desertion of Mamata Banerjee- Anna Hazare rally in Delhi. People just refused to turn up. If Modi’s rallies are attended by too many people, they are paid to do so. Those people come out in the streets are either paid or are just professional protesters. The mass is still at large. Middle class does not want to dirty their clothes. The working class is absolutely disorganized. The auto people are just turn coats.

Where does the revolution lie then? In India, there is no possibility of revolution in the near future. Unless and until the middle class feel the need to do sacrifice on its part, revolution is not going to take place. People in the grass root level are the real sufferers. Displaced masses in the urban and suburban areas are the real sufferers. Though there are unions for farmers, Dalits, Adivasis and so on, they do not agree on so many things and do not come on to the same platform. When these dispossessed people awake and run over the middle class and destroy the cosy life of the middle class then only a revolution will take place in India. But in the meanwhile the middle class will join the ruling class without looking at the colour of the flag or the flavour of their ideology. They resist grass root revolution on behalf of the government/state. Middle class will be used as a shield against the possible working class unification and uprising. Auto drivers are the misguided disorganized mass that aspires for middle class status by looting the middle class. So they would in turn protect the middle class values only. AAP has to start organizing people from the grass root level and they should threaten the middle class with its ideology. And the future of India is in the hands of Communists in which the AAP has a great role to play. But people accuse the AAP of being ultra or Maoists. Maoists operate from outside the system. AAP operates from within. So fundamentally the AAP is not ultra leftists. But AAP is the dormant socialist and communist dream of India. We just need to wait for it to become a reality. It may take a few years or even a century. But I am sure that to turn that dream into a reality the medium is neither auto-drivers nor the middle class. The future of the AAP lies in the subaltern of all colours.

Ravi Maman Passes Away: Every Village has a Ravi Maman

(My village backwater)

I searched for his picture in google. But no picture. Some people go out of this world without leaving a google picture. Ravi Maman was one.

Ravi Maman is no more. For many in my village, he was Ravi Sir. For many others he was ‘Vattu Ravi’ (Insane Ravi). He was suffering from cancer and was living away from his family. Finally he was brought back to the village and he breathed his last yesterday (14th March 2014). He must have been nearly eighty years old. He was a man who lived his life in his own terms. He flouted all the social norms and was happy to be called ‘insane’. People respected him for his knowledge but morally inclined people disparaged him for the ways in which he conducted his life. He never smoked or drank. But he was in love. While people tolerate a drunkard and an addict, people just do not tolerate a man in love, especially when he has a family. Our social system will break, our social morality will collapse and our basis of democracy will get shattered if a person falls in love. He paid with his love for his life. He was an idealist. And like any idealist’s fate, his children went against his idealism and became daily wages labourers. He used to call his son, ‘A donkey born out of a horse’. That donkey was my dearest friend during my childhood days. Perhaps, my friend wanted to let me know about the death of his father. He called me several times but I could not pick up his call. But by night I got a call from home informing of Ravi Maman’s death.

In a non-descript village like Vakkom, Ravi Maman was a strange character. In villages you find several strange characters. There used to be one mentally retarded person who used to hang out in the village lower primary school. He found his happiness in ringing bell in the school. There was another man who used to look like a saint but was absolutely deranged. There was another young man who had gone mad and walked several miles a day as if he were searching for something but never finding it. Yet another man came from Singapore, spent all his earnings in buying two horses and letting them loose in the village. He ate his breakfast in Trivandrum, lunch at Kollam and came back to sleep in my village. In my own family there was a person who read only English pulp thrillers and never knew what was going on around him in the world. Villages have strange fools and perhaps they balance the overt sanity of the morally inclined people. Otherwise people may go bad with their sanity.

Ravi Maman (Ravi Uncle, as we used to call him as he was my father’s best friend), it was told that was born to a feudal Ezhava landlord and was the only son of the family. He was brought up with a lot of love and care. In childhood itself he learnt to play flute and he thought he was the incarnation of Lord Krishna. He used to climb on the trees and play music to the amusement of the village women going for their evening or morning shopping in the local market. He grew up to become a teacher who taught the future teachers. That means he was a teacher in a TTC school. He had a peculiar dressing sense. He wore half sleeve cream shirt with two pockets, which was designed by him. And he wore a dhoti identical in colour. He never wore pure white clothes; it was always off white as if he a sign of his character, neither white nor black. He revelled in the in between space of morality, sanity and intelligence. He was a sort of philosopher who never took anything too seriously. But he was a good organizer and was in the forefront of village cultural festivals. He folded his dothi in a special way and while the other tucked it over their shirts, he tucked it under his shirt. He rode a cycle, well oiled and clean, and he climbed on it by throwing the leg from the front, unlike the people who used to throw it across the saddle. Everyone knew him in the village and they looked at him with certain kind of amusement.

When Ravi Maman became my father’s close friend and started visiting my home regularly I was in fifth or sixth standard. We used to call him ‘Payasam Maman’ (Kheer Uncle) because he came on Sundays when my mother made kheer at home. He relished eating kheer. My father and Ravi Maman were always engaged in heated arguments which I did not understand in those days. People detested Ravi Maman for his extramarital affair with a Dalit woman but my family did not judge him based on that. His eldest son was sent to a Gurukulam, a religious boarding school in Varkala. His daughter was studying in another village and the youngest child was also with his mother. Ravi Maman was more or less a free bird and was living with his old mother. One day he decided to bring his son back from Gurukulam. He brought him to our house and we instantly became friends. Then for so many years, we were thick friends and we remain so though unfortunately he became a daily wage earner as he could not go ahead in studies.

Ravi Maman was one of the leading figures in the Reading Club movement in our village. Along with my father he was always there in the progressive activities of our village. Kumaran Aasan, one of the most prominent modern poets in Malayalam was born in our neighbouring village. Every year on 14th April, on his birthday, there used to be celebrations. Unlike these days, those were the great literary seminars that ran for four to five days. All the major poets and literary figures used to come to our village which is blessed with backwaters and sea. Myself and Manu, Ravi Maman’s eldest son, who had become a great friend of mine by that time used to be a regular fixture in these festivals. We attended these literary seminars and another attraction for us was that one of the nights, Ravi Maman would pay a local restaurant owner to give us a plateful of appam and chicken curry. More than literature we cherished this chicken curry. And then we spent a lot of time in the sea shore. As our parents allowed us to be in the seminar even at night for cultural programs, we made use of the time for sneaking out from there and watching some movies (late night show) in a near by movie hall. The internationally renowned Asan World Prize was organized by Ravi Maman and his friends.

Ravi Maman had a lot of innovative ideas. One of them was Coco cultivation. In his huge land he cultivated coco plants. It was very interesting to see ripe coco fruits hanging from the thick coco plants. At night the whole property looked so eerie that we children never dared to venture out there. But Manu was very daring and he used to take me into the darkness and show me what happened amongst these coco plants. While other farmers elsewhere exported coco seeds, Ravi Maman was not interested to export it. He set up his own laboratory and found out that he could brew alcohol/Wine from these coco fruits. He became locally famous for his coco wine for some time. But he lost interest soon. Later when he got retired from the government service, he partnered with a local printing press and started publishing a journal called ‘Arshajyothi’ (The Light of Rishis). His aim was to propagate the ideas of Sree Narayana Guru, promote philosophical articles, poems and so on. By that time I was already in my pre-degree, and he asked me to write for the magazine. I was also in search of my identity as a writer. I had already published a few poems in the local dailies under my own name, JohnyML. But I found that the name was not so effective. I was reading Kafka at that time and also within a year I became addicted to W.H.Hudson’s Green Mansions. So I chose two pen names. Alex John was the first name and Johny Merrick Laxman was the second name. I published all my articles in Arsha Jyothi under the name, Alex John. Ravi Maman never asked me why I wanted to change my name. I started sending articles and poems to other leading dailies and journals under the name, Johny Merrick Laxman and most of the envelopes came back with polite apologies.

I used to have severe fights with Ravi Maman regarding the publication of Arshajyothi. He was going from debt to debt as he was putting all his money in publishing this journal. Once, out of frustration I told him that let us title it ‘Arsha Rathi’ (Rishi’s Erotica). He abused me in public. But my relationship with Ravi Maman was always cordial. Frustration was growing in him, I could see. His daughter was already married off. The young son had got into some trouble. My friend, Manu was the only one who could carry forward the legacy of Ravi Maman. But he was a donkey born out of a horse, as he put it. Ravi Maman took his share from the press and started his own printing press and handed over it to Manu. Manu was equally crazy like his father. He started off with the press in an interesting note. He started getting works. But he started visiting temples by taxis. He blew up money in visiting temples by car. And at night he watched late night movies in nearby cinema halls. His press was also not going anywhere. He finally closed it down. By that time he had got married. He had to do something with his life. He vanished one day. Years later he was fond out from Kochi in a very bad shape. He was working in a hotel as a waiter. By that time I had left Kerala and settled in Delhi. The news of Manu used to pain me. But he came back to his life. Today he does some contract works and lives a decent life.

However, Ravi Maman had become increasingly disillusioned with his life. He shifted from the village and settled in Trivandrum. He lived in a lodge and pursued his literary and research interests. Once, after so many years he contacted me in Delhi. It was a letter first followed by a phone call. The content of the letter was a bit curious. He asked me to contact some people in Delhi who had some stone business and the stones are precious and we could make a lot of profit out of it. I was utterly confused. Then he phoned me up and explained how things could be worked out. I tried to tell him that I was not in that line nor did I have any inclination to get into something like that. But he was quite adamant. I told something to pacify him and left it there. May be he got the hint and never pursued it with me. I get interesting proposal from people like this. Once it was an oil import project. Another time it was a selling second hand cars from Delhi to Kerala. Then it was car spare parts selling. Recently I got an offer from one of my school friends to buy and sell Enfield Bullet bikes from Delhi to Kerala. He offered me 20% profit. I always tell them that I am not in that line. But as school friends they believe that Johny could do anything as he is in Delhi.

Ravi Maman is no more. He was suffering from cancer. He kept himself away from his family for a long time as it was a warring family. He wanted peace and spend his time in studies and research. I knew that frustration was growing in him but he never showed it to anyone. He suffered it alone and with full dignity. He was brought back to the village to his ancestral family in January this year by his son. Recently when I visited my village for a day or two, I knew that Ravi Maman was there. Somehow I did not want to go and see him. I wanted to keep that image of an energetic man with crazy ideas throwing his leg across the front bar of the cycle and travelling all around the village. I wanted that man in my mind who used to abuse me in public for my literary faults. I still remember how he corrected a couplet in one of my poems. ‘Pottunna chattiyil ashti kazhikkuvaan kashtappedunnee pattini paavangal’, he corrected so. It said, ‘famine stricken people eat their morsels in broken pots’. My Alex John phase was enriched by his publishing efforts. Though I was of his son’s age, he used to stop his cycle whenever and wherever he met me. Sometimes he used to walk with me, talking so many things. I don’t know whether he had seen his son in me.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Translating Bodies of Sex Workers

(The cover page of Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho that I translated into Malayalam)

My efforts to translate the autobiography of a sex worker in Kerala, Nalini Jameela, though was a cathartic experience for me, however could not find a publisher. There were two reasons for this; one, by the time I finished translating it, noted Feminist scholar, J.Devika had already finished it and Penguin Books had brought it out on stands. Two, I had not approached any publisher with my translation as I did not know the rules of the publishing game then. To my surprise I got a commission from the famous D.C.Books to translate Anita Nair’s ‘Mistress’ from English to Malayalam. This was my first official commission for translating a literary work. I took it up earnestly and finished the work in six months time. It was in 2005 and I was a contract correspondent for the Delhi edition of Malayala Manorama, one of the leading newspapers in Malayalam. I had not yet entered the world of blog writing then. But still I was working on a small autobiography (the reasons for writing an autobiography at that time were even unknown to me then). I have always been tremendously disciplined as far as my writing is concerned. I used to get up early in the morning and wrote for around three hours. It could be anything, small poems to short stories to anything. Though I was writing quite regularly, no serious thoughts about publishing them had crossed my mind then. Once I got this translation work, I reorganized my working style. My son was hardly three months old and I wrote while sitting next to his crib, occasionally looking at him and feeling a lot good about the scene.

A4 size bond paper and Reynolds ballpoint pen were my favourite tools for translating. The local stationary store person became very friendly as I started visiting the shop quite regularly for buying paper and pen. I never bought a whole bunch of paper or a packet full of pens. Instead, I bought fifty sheets and one pen at a time. This gave me a sense of accomplishment as I could finish both the items in two or three days and visit the shop again. Initially I used to number the pages once I finish them and stack it up next to the cot which I was using as a writing pad. As the speed of translation increased, to keep with the pace of writing I stopped numbering the sheets thinking that I would do it later once I finished the translation. That was a foolish decision. I never used to keep the translated pages back in the cupboard. I wanted to keep all of them by my side just to feel the amount of work that I had done so far. Seeing the growing number of sheets filled me with a strange thrill and that high itself was enough for keeping the rhythm of translation intact. One day, while writing, my infant son woke up and cried for something. As I jumped up to attend him, accidently my elbow hit the stack of papers and they flew down on the floor. I collected them frantically and realized that the order of stacking them up was collapsed. It was extremely difficult to bring the sheets in order and it took another two days to read them page by page and see which page had the continuing part. But I learnt a great lesson from this incident. From the next translation onward from A4 sheets I switched to register note books which provided me with A4 size lined pages. The accidental jumbling up the pages was thus solved forever. And it is important say that my personal friendship with the local stationary shop person became very thick over a period of time. Today, even if I go to buy some other item, he first asks whether I need a register note book or not.

As I told you that in this chapter I would write about my encounters with sex workers, I should desist from going at length about the first book that I translated officially. But the second book was really important because it was the one that provided me with a lot of insights about the mental workings of a sex worker. The book that came for translation next was Paulo Coelho’s ‘Eleven Minutes’. Eleven Minutes is the story of Maria, a small town girl from Brazil. Maria belongs to a middle class god fearing family. She dreams of a life beyond the confines of her little town. She is not interested in studies. She wants to become big in her life. She falls in love and experiences sex. But she does not like sex that much though she has experienced throes of the physical passion in various ways. One way of experiencing it is covering herself with a thick blanket on a hot summer afternoon. One days she escapes to a bigger town, where she becomes a sex worker in a bar. From there destiny takes her to Switzerland, where she becomes a real professional. She encounters several special clients who give her different kinds of experiences both sexual and spiritual. One special client treats her like a slave and inflicts pain on her body which she slowly starts enjoying. Another client, a painter does not want to have sex with her but takes her to a river side and makes her walk on the sharp stones in ice cold water without shoes. There she experiences the same deliverance as she used to enjoy in slave sex. She imagines that she would collect enough money buy a farm for herself and her parents. She reads books on agriculture in the local library where the matron like librarian befriends her thinking that she is a serious agriculture student. One day she reveals her identity to her. The matron also opens up her mind.

Translating this book was a real experience for me. I had encountered a few sex workers before that. I remember meeting a woman who worked as a receptionist in a reputed firm but did sex work for extra income. I also had seen a nurse who did it for extra money. One of them whom I encountered next was a very young girl, hardly twenty years old but very bold and did everything in a business-like manner. Another was just like any other society type of woman but occasionally did sex work for making an additional income. My encounters with all these women were more or less planned by others. I do not know whether I really had physical contact with them or I was just talking to them to know more about them. Most of them were unwilling to talk. Their idea was to finish the job and go home. I never felt anything bad about them because they were doing a work. Each time I met them, I felt a silent thrill growing inside me. But the moment I touched their bodies I found them lifeless. They were just acting their role or doing a job. It could be washing clothes, registering a call, mopping the floor, cleaning the backyard or ironing clothes. There was no soul to connect with. Even if they had soul they did not want it to connect with anyone else. However I tried to connect with their inner core, they refused to let it go. It was so precious for them. And the most interesting thing is that you don’t see them again, even if you want to meet them. I had seen a couple of them again but they never showed any trace of recognition. Out there they were different people.

While translating the story of Maria, I thought of all those women. But Maria was special. She went to Switzerland to make money. She wanted to provide a good life to her family. But each time she earned enough to fly back to Brazil, something prevented her from doing so. A bit more, she thought. She could earn a bit more, or experience something different. And she was searching for something that she did not know at all. One of the clients showed her how torture could be a way to soul deliverance. Another one taught her how even a barefoot walk over pebbles could give her the same experience. She was confused. She was experiencing her spiritual deliverance through different processes. But she did not know which one was right for her. She intensely felt that she could opt for the latter over the former. But when she experienced the former, she thought the latter could wait. Finally she goes back, or so tells the author. And she sets up her own farm, marries and lives a happy life, leaving the memories of her sojourn as a sex worker in Switzerland behind. The book was a best seller even in the translated version. It ran into ten editions or more. Still it is in the best seller list in Kerala.

But what pains me and keeps me at the edge is the revelation of the matron like librarian. She had once gone to a city for some work. She was supposed to come back the same night. But she could not manage to catch the last train. At the station a man befriends her and she ends up having sex with him  that night. She has never done that before. She would never do it again. She is a staunch Christian and for her sexual deviance is a sin and crime. But she has done it. She is not a sex worker. But she has done it. I was shivering while I was translating that incident. And still that minor anecdote in the novel pains me, perhaps for no reason, for a past that is beyond my control.

Why I am Walking out of a Marriage

When someone decides to walk out of a marriage, especially after spending twenty years with a partner and having two children from her, people might wonder why this person is doing such a drastic thing. Most of the people first think of the kids and say that at least for the sake of the children the warring partners should compromise and stay together. Some people would ask that if you want to have a free life why you decided to have kids at all. Some would immediately judge one of the partners. Some would show some curiosity and yet another lot would watch things silently. Some may celebrate it and some others may feel pity for the separating partners and even some others may feel a secret happiness. Generally people feel sad for a separating couple. They would enquire whether there would be any possibility to keep them together. Give it a try, give peace a chance, think about the kids, think about the career and give space to each other, they would say. Perhaps, by this time I have heard and gone through all these. Still I want to be separated from my legally married wife and in the process from the children also. I have been going through various literature, debates, articles and discussions regarding marriage discords and often I wonder how we have put up with each other for the last twenty years.

When people decide to separate, in the public imagination, one of the partners becomes the villain in the plot and the other, the victim. Here I do not know whether I am the villain or the victim as I am very much inside the plot. At times, I think I am the victim of oppression. At times I feel that I am the villain. Today, as most of the people would sympathize with a woman who is going through marriage discords, there are more chances that people consider me as the villain in this family drama. I do not want to dispute that fact. I could be a villain, especially seen from the woman’s perspective. I am the family breaker because I want to get out of this shit called marriage. I believe, after these twenty years that there are different ways to lead a fruitful life. Having children is not a sin. But living a life that one does not want to lead for the sake of children is the worst sin possible. That is a crime done by one against his/her self. Living under the same roof, fighting for something that cannot be solved and still leading a life of togetherness for the sake of children makes a wonderful farce than a meaningful life. Children grow up seeing this constant bickering between parents and they get depressed. People keep doing this thinking that they are sticking together even when they are fighting like cats and dogs, only for the sake of kids. In fact they ruin the kids in the process. Children could grow meaningfully under one parent rather than under two warlords up in arms against each other day in day out.

I am selfish. The sole aim of my life is to read and write; nothing more nothing less. Whatever happens in between is a by-product of my passion for reading and writing. I came to Delhi with the dream of becoming a writer. I could have taken up a ‘ten to five job’ anywhere when life was really difficult. I fought the temptation to do that and remained a freelancer all these years. In between I took up some jobs and left in no time. I learnt one way to live the life of a writer without doing anything else; to be frugal in life. I brought down the level of my desire for having a so-called good life. I stopped socializing and dressing well. I work for money also because I have to look after the children and give them a decent and dignified life. But I do not use that money for the gratification of my personal desires. If at all I spend money, I spend it on books, my personal telephone bill and a few other vices like an occasional drink at home and cigarettes. I am in a process to cut them down too. I do travel but whenever I travel the expenditures are taken care of by others. I travel for others and I do not travel for pleasure. Though I accompany my family on vacations, I personally feel that I do not need any vacations out of work because when I read or write I feel I am on a perpetual vacation.

Some people like my frugal living. Some people detest it. It is not necessary that your partner also likes all what you do. It is not necessary that your freedom is always entertained by your partner. Every day and every moment you evolve but it is not necessary that your partner needs to see you as an evolved or an evolving person. There are certain fixed ideas that you cherish about your partner. He or she is like that or has to be like that. But how can one fit into that idea. As a writer I go through long periods of depression but you have to show a cheerful face when you are in a family situation. Sometimes you do not make any money. But you have the hope of making it at some point. But you need space and time to do things. You cannot be completely hammered into certain boxes of ideal life. I am not an ideal man. I am a man who has erred and is prone to err. Some people deeply love me and they like to see me as what I am. I do not consider that our life partners are supermarkets that everything could be obtained from there. At times life’s meaning could be sought elsewhere also. Happiness could be found outside marriage. Marriage or family is not a certificate for happiness. The root of my marital discord lies in my apparent devotion to another woman. I am countered with the question: If my partner was doing the same, would I have put up with it? My answer is, if I have created such a situation that my partner has to look out for solace elsewhere, then definitely I have to put up with it. If I have gone elsewhere seeking solace or finding it, then one has to think what has gone wrong or right.

You call it cheating on the partner. You call it breach of trust. You call it crime. You call it moral corruption. You call it irresponsibility. You call it extra marital affair. You call it illegal. You call it hundred and one names. But I do not think that I could be accused of any of these. I have found happiness in another person, which my partner has failed to give me. But the issue is, in the public perception, the person who finds happiness out of marriage is wrong. The person who suffers inside the family is right. I am not judging either here. What I want to do is only this much: I just want to live and live in freedom. I want to read and write. I want to live a meaningful life and I do not think that meaningful life comes only through family life and compromising with all what it demands. I know that I am going to pay a heavy price for my decision. I know that I am going to be rendered useless for some time. I know that even I may face social ostracism. But I am not going to live a life that does not give me any dignity. I am walking out to freedom. May be I am a weak person that’s why I have to find freedom by walking out. But the stronger one remains for the children. Death is better than a life lived in oppression and indignity.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Aam Aadmi Party and the Kerala Model or a Political Party’s Suicidal Thinking before Birth

(Arvind Kejriwal)

“What do you think about Aam Aadmi Party? Is it going to make a big difference in the political scenario of Kerala?” I asked an auto-rickshaw driver when I was travelling from Trivandrum city, the capital of Kerala, to one of its suburbs. The man initially felt a bit hesitant to answer my question and after looking at my face in the rear view mirror, perhaps reassured by my unthreatening face, answered my question initially with a smile and then with the following words: “People want some kind of change but the problem with the AAP is that it does not have any organized leadership. Generally we all believe in an able leadership. Those people who have come up as leaders of the AAP here need to prove themselves first before they take on the existing political system.” Kerala has very well organized auto-rickshaw unions; of Congress, of CPM, of CPI and of the BJP. Auto-drivers show their union affiliations in making subtle changes in their uniforms. All the auto-drivers are supposed to wear Khaki shirt and Khaki pants. If they prefer to wear dhoti/lungi, it could be white. Generally most of the auto-drivers who believe in Congress politics opt for white dhoti and white shirt with an unbuttoned khaki shirt worn over it. Those who belong to the left unions make it curt by wearing a white dhoti and khaki shirt. The right wing union members wear a saffron lungi and khaki shirt; they sport a saffron or sandal paste Tilak (religious marker). The auto-drivers in this well organized sector are generally educated, clean, non-abusive, politically aware and people friendly in nature. There could be exceptions when some of them indulge in a bit of moral policing but that is not yet a norm in Kerala. Some of the auto-drivers take up charity work once in a while contributing to the general social health of the state. Some of them ply their autos as part time ambulances and offer free ferrying for women devotees of local temples for some organized festivals. Social work undertaken by these auto-drivers is not clearly defined by their religious or political affiliations. Hence one could see a Muslim auto driver doing social work during a temple festival or a Congress or CPM union member offering ambulance service or free ferrying of devotees for a Hindu festival. There are efforts by religious and political groups to cash in on this charity by demarcating them as sectarian acts but as a community of workers often auto drivers show the tendencies of transcending the political and religious boundaries in order to be ‘human beings’ who do a particular work or job with social responsibility and dignity. If at all they are vertically as well as horizontally divided it is in the area of their liking for certain film stars. They are not ‘fans’ in the traditional meaning of the term but they prefer one actor/actress over the other. The glossy pictures that decorate the interiors of these clean and well maintained auto-rickshaws clearly say their ‘liking’ for certain actor/actress. Most of the auto-rickshaws carry the names of local deities or they are named after their own children, mostly of their girl children. No autos carry the pictures of any political leader even if the owner/driver is a staunch follower of a political party or a particular ideology. Had Aam Aadmi Party looked for support base and propaganda base amongst the auto-drivers in Delhi, no auto-driver in Kerala would flaunt AAP’s symbol, ‘broom’ on their auto-rickshaws. The problem of AAP in Kerala starts there itself.

(Autorikshaws in Kerala)

I do not think that I need to furnish more details why I have decided to start an article on the effect of AAP in Kerala with the auto-rickshaw sector. My idea is to say that what AAP had targeted and still targeting in North India, as political and social issues, do not seem to have any relevance or reason to be addressed in the socio-political scenario of Kerala. Definitely corruption in the system as a poll and political issue exist in Kerala too. However, the complexion of this corruption is slightly different. When I reached Kerala this time, for a university seminar, a few friends came to receive me at the Kochi Airport. We were supposed to pick up a friend from a nearby railway station who was coming from another city. We had half an hour in our hands and one of the friends suggested that we could have a small peg of brandy to start the evening. A friend who was driving the car dropped two of us in front of a bar and went further to take a U-turn and to park the car elsewhere. I asked my friend why he did so. He told me that Kerala Police was so strict that they make everyone who drove undergo the ‘breathing test’. Rs.1000/- is fine. Police do not accept any bribe. If found drunk, you are given a notice and you are supposed to go to the special court to pay the money. Besides, the police make you to sit through and watch a video regarding the ill effects of drunken driving. Even if you have political connections or even connections within the police, you are not let off. This clamping on drunken driving has brought down accidents considerably but ironically the rate of alcohol consumption has not come down in Kerala. On the contrary it increases considerably per annum. People who want to drink, buy it from government run beverages shops, go home and drink. Those who visit bars and other drinking joints use public transport or autos to reach home. Those who take a chance and escape the clutches of the police are considered to be the lucky ones. But in Kerala one cannot be really lucky in this front.

 (people queuing up before beverages shop in Kerala)

Auto-drivers and Policemen are union members and both of them wear khaki uniform. What makes them distinct is that while the auto-drivers could be divided along the religious and caste lines if need be, police force cannot be under any religious or caste group in Kerala. Police force is always an instrument of the state ministry and operates according to the demands of the Home Ministry of the state. Unlike the police force in the North Indian states, in Kerala, generally police force does not involve in extortionist tactics. There used to be a time that Police brutality was rampant in Kerala. But over a period of time Police force has become people friendly. However, it takes out its brutal force when they act according to the wishes of the state in order to curb mass protests against the state government or organized movements of the people for their rights. But as the public is vigilant on these matters police brutality on individuals has come down or almost nil today. I saw a poster in my village which demanded a public apology from the local station house officer who slapped a construction worker. A mere slapping could evoke public outrage in Kerala, which is unthinkable in states like Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. Most of the public servants ‘behave’ though their strength as members of certain unions gives them some kind of insularity. But in most of the cases they provide service as per the wishes of the people though it does not make Kerala, God’s own country as it is claimed. Corruption is rampant though not so much in the national scale but public is so alert that the corrupt cannot just get away with their acts. People so far have been reacting to it by changing their rules religiously after every five years and giving a chance for improvement in governance. What remain unfinished or unsolved are a few public issues such as corruption in politics-religion nexus, Dalit issues, large scale land reforms, environmental issues and third gender issues.

(Kalabhavan Mani, an actor with Dalit background acting as a police officer fighting against system in one of the mainstream Malayalam Movies)

In the bar I found a couple of boys who worked as ‘waiters’ there. We ordered a few drinks and for them comprehending what we said seemed to be difficult. One of the boys called another one and in somewhat accented Malayalam he repeated the order that we placed. My friends informed me that these boys were from Bangladesh or Orissa. There is a huge presence of people from Bangladesh, Orissa, Bihar and even from Nepal. Most of the menial works are done by these people. Some of the C-class theatres in Kerala show Oriya and Bengali mainstream movies for their entertainment. This shows that in Kerala, today, as far as an average educated Malayali is concerned, he is unwilling to do ‘certain’ kinds of jobs. Within Kerala a new job giving community has come up against the former job seeking communities. The new generation youngsters either wait for a government job to happen to them, or relay on their family fortunes, or migrate to Gulf countries or just spend their time idly. In short, Kerala does not have any concrete demand for a social revolution because social change is a constant part and parcel of this state. The mainstream movies debate political corruption as well as systemic corruption as their staple themes and suggest all the possible solutions for such issues. Unlike the national mainstream movies, Muslim is not the ‘real other’ in these movies. There are Dalit actors who act as police officers and ministers who work towards a better future righting the wrongs either by persuasion or by force. There could be several other detrimental ideological aspects to these movies, however for the purpose of this article I would say that these films actually flag out issues and constantly lampoon and ridicule even the living political personalities in spoofed characters. Mimicry and comedy programs in television channels have become strong social critiques in their own rights and these programs have now spilled over even to religious festivals held right in the temple premises where they discuss, debate and even suggest solutions through these comedy programs. There is an overlapping of the secular over the religious, and the aesthetical over the political. One has to accept the fact that these programs function not only as a safety valve for the millions of people in Kerala but also they help to form an opinion about politics and governance from within the aesthetical.

 (Oommen Chandy, Congress Leader and present Chief Minister of Kerala)

Kerala, in that sense poses an extremely strange problem to the AAP. Let me recount a few examples. One of my family members is a very strong left wing union activist. He tells me that the AAP does not have a real program in Kerala even if there are very famous social activists and writers have joined the force. I met an AAP activist in my village; in fact he came to meet me when he came to know that my book on Arvind Kejriwal was recently published. According to him, the membership drive has still not gathered momentum mainly because most of the village people know each other and have been devoted followers various political outfits for a long time, mostly without too many complaints. One of my cousins, who works in a private firm and comes from a traditional left background tells me that the AAP workers have distributed pamphlets and membership forms in all the local shops but the people are still not sure whether to ‘take a look’ at it or not. Though, the AAP leadership in Kerala claims that there is a strong following for the party, the general feel betrays such confidence. While returning to Delhi in a evening flight that took off from Trivandrum and had a stop-over at Kochi I found the chief minister of Kerala, Oommen Chandy at seat number 1A (window seat) and the opposition leader and veteran left leader, V.S.Achuthanandan at seat number 1F (window seat). As his age demands VS has two young assistants with him and they sit a row behind him. The Chief Minister is left alone with a local edition of Times of India. No fan following. No airs around. To complete a triangle, a well known film start who often portrays police officers and politicians, Sreeraman was sitting a row behind me. None disturbs none. None runs for autographs. Kerala is different in many ways. AAP has to find a new way to define itself in such a Kerala.

(V.S.Achuthanandan, fondly called as VS, CPM leader and opposition leader in Kerala)

Kerala’s political space is almost occupied by other political parties and organizations. In a way, these parties are at logger heads on each other on many issues. And when it comes to religious and caste voting patterns, major parties go all out to appease religious equations. Where else in the world you could see Mother Mary and Che Guvera in the same poster? Where else in the world you could see a left party’s local youth wing endorsing a Church festival? Kerala in that sense is radically different. I am not attempting to say that Kerala is heaven. No, it has its own problems and so many issues are still unaddressed as I mentioned elsewhere of which religion-politics nexus is a major one. But AAP’s ideology, Swaraj is not going to work here. Nor does the issue of corruption is going to work the way it has worked for Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi or elsewhere. Then what exactly is the poll strategy of the AAP in Kerala? Is it going to be reduced to the level of an exercise of knowing how much vote could swing for or against the new party and thereby knowing whose vote bank has been eroded in the process? In Trivandrum former IPS officer Ajit Joy is the AAP candidate for the Lok Sabha election who would fight against the sitting MP Shashi Tharoor and BJP’s veteran candidate and former central minister, O.Rajagopal. Noted activist and writer Sarah Joseph will contest from Thrissur. A few more names including that of the noted journalist Anita Pratap are heard as AAP candidates. Going by the Delhi experience, one could see that even the unknown names could bring forth a surprise. But Kerala is a different society which refuses to be surprised. It believes in patterns and an informed sort of political thinking, which believes in logic than surprises.

(Activist writer Sara Joseph)

If so what could be done? Many people that include noted writers and even strong Marxian writers like B.Rajeevan have expressed that there is a space for the AAP in Kerala. But the nature of that space is not yet defined. Is it going to be corruption alone? If so it has been fought in different ways in Kerala’s politics and people have come to a conclusion that so long as the political parties deliver ‘goods’ corruption is okay. The acceptance of the CPM’s transformation from a proletarian party into a bourgeoisie party has been accepted by the people of Kerala in a strange way. And more strangely they have embraced the critique of it from within the party in form of V.S.Achuthanandan is also lauded and celebrated equally. Is AAP’s agenda going to be land reforms? If so, it has been done and still movements are on for the same in different places. In that sense, do these people need AAP’s support for their struggles? Will they vote for AAP? Is AAP’s agenda going to be Police reforms? If so what about the Police force that is more or less prone to self criticism in Kerala? Is it going to be Public Distribution System? If so most of the middle class still buys things from ration shops in Kerala. I had a plateful of ration rice (sold for Rs.2/- per kilo) from a well to do relative’s home and it tasted really good. However while reading the history of Chengara Land Struggle I came to know that most of the landless Dalits are given APL (Above Poverty Line) ration cards divesting them of the benefits of the BPL (below poverty line) card holders. Is that going to be a poll plank alone?

In Kerala, in my view, AAP's role is not of pragmatic politics. It has to function as a supra structure for the AAP elsewhere and has to produce recognizable benchmarks and dignified political and intellectual debates for the party. Kerala model of development, which is absolutely different from the mindless corporatization of Gujarat style development could be and should be one way of giving a model of debate for the party. Even Arvind Kejriwal himself has lauded the Kerala style of decentralization in his book Swaraj. If so, can corruption alone be a poll issue for the AAP in Kerala? Now the AAP has opposed the arrival of Sheila Dixit as the governor of Kerala. It sounds like a very naive argument though there is some sense of indignation in bringing a failed chief minister in Delhi as the governor of a comparative better state like Kerala. The urgent need of AAP in Kerala should not be targeting the parliamentary seats or even testing the mandate for the time being. It should further the debate to a new dimension and think about things that would help the party to evolve a better idea of governance and delivery of services. While I have not lost faith in Arvind Kejriwal, I am supposed to be presented with more and more persuasive arguments to believe in what the party is going to do in Kerala. Kerala needs a change but obviously the AAP cannot take up the responsibility of that change for it does not have the followers or agenda to take it up. But in the meanwhile, it has got good will and intellectual back up here. Their job is to provide an intellectual structure and ideology to the party if it need to gain power or to prevent it from its possible degeneration, which still I think is avoidable.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Translation and Catharsis

I still remember my first attempts to translate from English to Malayalam. It was sometime in 1986. I had a very old writing table with two drawers. In a home where three people lived (my mother, elder sister and myself) in close proximity there was nothing to hide from each other. My mother knew that I wrote a lot that included love letters, love poems and stories showing the physical and emotional angst of a young man. She was discrete in acknowledging my writings. Whenever I showed her a poem that expressed more universal ideas than the broken feelings of an immature heart, she recited them in tune. Some of the poems she learnt by heart and recited aloud when she worked in kitchen. I knew the subtexts of certain lines which my mother either did not see or even after understanding it pretended that she did not. Those lines, when I heard them sung by my mother embarrassed me. Yes, I was telling you that there was nothing to hide between us. My sister did not take much interest in my poems or literary pursuits but I think she has always admired me silently. During my childhood, women generally hid two things; their undergarments and their sanitary napkins. Public display of undergarments was considered to be a taboo hence most of them, even the educated ones preferred to dry their washed undergarments away from public notice. Men generally did not have much to hide. Especially the men in Kerala actually did not hide anything from anybody. Ironically, public display of undergarments was a thing of pride for most of the men. Often they moved around in folded lungis and bare chests.

I have digressed enough. The drawers of my writing table were always empty or it was a haven for discarded things. But the surface of the table was always full, with books, notebooks, pens, periodicals and newspapers. The presiding deity of the table was a blue table lamp. Even today I do not know why people use table lamps especially when everyone knows that using table lamps would cause damage to eyes. I think, table lamp is a nostalgic import. It came from the old times when there was no electricity. Oil lamps or lanterns were used by people who had something to do at night. Writing table enveloped by darkness, and a person reading or writing something with his face, chest and an opened book before him lit up by a lamp is a great picture that emanates the idea of concentration, scholarship and a philosophic way of life. When electricity came, lamps and lanterns were rendered useless. But the nostalgic picture of a scholar sitting at a table at night, as if it were an etching by Durer, prevailed all over the world. From the pre-electricity days these oil lamps crossed over to the post-electricity life in the form of table lamps. It exuded some kind of romanticism. But table lamps were a must for those people who lived in small rooms where other people slept. Also bedside lamps helped people to read books or letters or even write something without disturbing others. These are called reading lamps. However, they lack the charm of the good old table lamps. I had one and I loved it.

This blue lamp was the first witness of my attempts in translation. When I read John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, which I had obtained from the collection of my uncle, I felt too close to a character named ‘Rosashan’ who suckled a dying old man. In a poem I tried to translate that scene from the novel. I was not translating the novel but I was translating that scene in a poetic form. Translation, in a conventional sense is all about creating a work of literature from one language to another without losing the verve and beauty of the original. There are different ways of translating. Some of them are word by word translations. Some are trans-creations, where without losing the quality of the text you re-write in a different way. Whatever may be the style and manner of translation, a translator cannot move far away from the original. One has to stick to the original and one has to make certain explanations when culturally alien concepts are translated into a different language. There was a time when people used to think that they could even translate the names of people and places in the original to a culturally familiar context. But that is a wrong way. You cannot translate Bhibhooti Bhushan of Bengali into Gopalakrishnan in Malayalam, though they sound similar. I was not too serious about translating literature or articles when I was in my late teens though I made such ambitious attempts once in a while. One of them was a poem by Lu Zhun, a Chinese poet. Those were Haikus, a poem in three or four lines. I found the form very interesting as I found its resonances in the small little Malayalam poems called ‘Muktakangal’ (literally meaning ‘pearls’).

Later I found there is an aspect of translation in every walk of life though we do not do it quite consciously. We call it influence and either try to overlook it or become addicted to it. This translation is a way of life. For example we a very interesting work of art. If it is seen by an artist, he/she may tend to do something to that effect though in a different form. It happens with movies, songs, fashion, gait, speech and even food habits. There is constant translation and transcreation going on every time in our lives. But translation of a literary piece is not autonomous. It does not have an independent existence from its original even if the translator is an equally gifted writer as the original writer. The autonomy of the original cannot be claimed by the translation though most of the literature read all over the world and are deemed to be great come to us through translations as they are originally written in different languages. In a displaced sense we attribute autonomy to translations but this autonomy is partial at times and often illusionary. But in the case of other walks of life even if we translate ideas and aspects we can claim a bit of autonomy to the translated expressions as we could make them a part of our very being. While a translator cannot claim the authorship of the original, a painter could claim the authorship of a copy provided the original is not known to too many people. However, once found out, it becomes a work of plagiarism and it falls from grace. Or rather such plagiarism is known as copies. But parodying can be transcreations in the case of a work of visual art while different translators of the same work of literature could instil some sort of different energy to the translated work while faithfully following the original still escape the possibility of being parodies.

Many years later, as a way to escape from routine and as a way to escape to freedom, I embarked myself to the journey of translating literature even while writing my own original works. I was not a largely published author then (even today I doubt whether I am a ‘published’ author as I do not have a big publishing houses to back me up or give me handsome commissioning amounts) and I was not even expecting that one day someone would publish my writings or translations. But I deeply believed that I wanted to translate and write at once. As I said in the first chapter of this series, it was a way of confronting a crisis and finding a temporary solution till another crisis is posed before me by external or internal contexts. The first book that I took up for translating was ‘Oru Laingika Thozhilaaliyude Aatmakatha’ (Autobiography of a Sex Worker) by a former sex worker, Nalini Jameela, who is now an established organizer of sex workers, social worker and author. Of all literature before me why I chose to translate this book still remains a mystery even to myself. When I read it I thought the voice of this woman was to be heard by more people. Her story moved me completely. I had not been to a brothel at that time. I never knew how a sex worker behaved though I have seen stereotypical sex workers in streets. They were absolutely wretched people and having physical relationship with them looked like a bleakest possibility. Still people picked them up. I had never been to the places where organized sex work took place. The scenes I had seen in the movies were inadequate to tell me how those women lived, thought or felt. But Nalini Jameela’s story felt true and I was in pain while reading it. I thought of translating it and I did begin.

You may not believe that I finished translating that book in less than two weeks. I sat in the morning and kept on translating the lines for almost five hours a stretch. They were small sentences, as if they were an intimate conversation. There were curious anecdotes, painful escapes, romantic escapades, street fights, face to face with law enforces, exploitations, threats, quarrels, haggling, compassion, kindness and love. Amongst these layers I found how she slowly became empowered both in thoughts and deeds. How she stood up to the society and spoke her mind. It was painful for her but she did it. When I was in London, as a student I had seen a few videos of those daring women who for the heck of it had sex with hundreds of men in one go. In the world of porn industry, they became record holders and stars. But they too were human beings. At some point they had to tell their intimate people that they were sex workers and they had achieved such mad feats in their lives. One of the documentaries followed the life of a South East Asian girl who had gone to the US to become rich and became a sex worker instead. One day she decided to go back to her country and tell her parents that she was working in the porn industry. The documentary was heartbreaking for me. When I read Nalini Jameela I felt the same pain. The translation was a sort of Catharsis for me. Interestingly, J.Devika, a feminist scholar, activist and a friend of mine, translated it much better and this book was brought out by Penguin in 2005.

Surprises were waiting for me in the same year. Translation was not going to be just a medium of catharsis for me. It was going to be a part of my discipline. I have never been given any awards for translating ten internationally acclaimed literary works into Malayalam. But I think that I have not even thought about eking out a living through translations. Translating a piece of literature is a way of life for me; something keeps me glued to my seat, clams me down and give a different sort of spiritual high. I would like to talk more about my other translations. But before that in the next chapter I feel that I need to shed light on certain dark areas of my life. May be it can start with me as a person and my experiences with sex workers.