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Multilingual Translator

Santhosh Alex in conversation with Sahitya  Academy winning Malayalam Short Story Writer E.Harikumar

Saturday 2 January 2010, by Santhosh Alex



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SA: You are writing since four decades.Your new Short Story Collection Anitayude Veedu (Anita’s House) has been recently published. Kurakal (Cockroaches) was your first short story collection. How do you evaluate your journey from Kurakal to Anitayude Veedu? (Anita’s House)

 EH: I have come a long way from Kurakal to Anitayude Veedu. The stories in Kurakal were written during my life in Calcutta. I had a lot of friends as artists – painters and sculptures and they have inculcated in me a deep interest in arts. The National Library in New Alipore has provided me with enough books in arts and culture and as a natural corollary I was fascinated and to a very great extent influenced by paintings. The influence of paintings in literature can be very troublesome, and luckily for me and for my readers the phase has lasted only for 10 years. I have come through three distinct phases in writing.The first one, as explained above, that influenced by paintings and sculptures. The second one was a search into my inner self. My stories have become a direct mirror to my inner trauma and contradictions, a result of my own experiences in life. The stories between 1970 to say 1983 or so are good examples of this phase and some of the best stories that have made me acceptable to my readers have been born out of this period. Early in 1980 I had a big misfortune financially and this resulted in my shifting of residence from Mumbai to Kerala. As a result of this turmoil , may be, I have started observing around me, their turmoil, the hardship to make a meager living and their dreams and fancies.This was the begining of the third phase of my writing, a phase based on other’s life rather than my own. This in my opinion is the most fruitful period of my literary life, since eight novels and eight collections of short stories have come out of this period which saw me coming out of troubled waters. I have also started using a wider canvas to portray the life of the common man.

 SA: The stories in the collection Anitayude Veedu depict contemporary society. Are the characters Rajitha and Nalinini real? Kindly express your views on these characters.

 EH: The characaters in the story Anitayude Veedu (Anita’s House) are fictitious and a figment of my imagination. Nalini is 30 unmarried and have own strong sensibilities and sensuality. I do not know of any such women in my real life. Beyond all sensuality Nalini is seeking solace in somebody, knowing very well that is ephemeral. She lives in a world of imagination, but at the same time is fully aware of the realities around her, which could be painful.

 SA: When did you start writing? What was your first published story?

 EH : I started writing at the age of 16 or 17, but my first serious story appeared in a periodical in 1962 at the age of 19.The story is titled Mazhayulla Oru Rathriyil ( On a rainy night ) and it is about a woman who lost her only son long back at the age of 3 0r 4.

 SA: Kindly mention the names of some books and authors that drew your attention?

 EH : The book, that first caught my imagination, was Victor Hugo’s “ Les Miserables ”. I read this book at the age of 16, and it has since influenced my thoughts. I have found in my father the same attributes that made the metropolitan of D. a unique person. My father was very compassionate to the poor and used to offer them help even at the cost of ignoring his family. I also liked Hugo’s book ‘The Hunchback of Notredam”. I have read and immensely liked the books of Dostoevesky, but somehow I was not very much influenced by Leo Tolstoy. Of modern writers I like Hemingway and Tennesse Williams, D.H.Lawrens etc. I like many Malayalam writers like Uroob, S.K. Pottekkat, Karoor, M.T.Vasudevan Nair, etc.

 SA: Your stories represent man’s agony and his struggle to overcome them. How do you translate you ideas and plots into stories?

 EH: Each class of people has their own handful of problems and just because one belongs to a lower or higher class does not alleviate their sufferings. So I have created characters, especially children, from all classes of the society. I meet these characters in my daily life from the shabby dwellings in the slums or from posh houses in the heart of the cities. I have come to realise that the poor you are the higher is their self – pride. For example, in my story “Ettavum Mahathaya Kazcha (The Greatest Show). I have created an eight year old boy doing wayside circus with his meager equipment, together with his six year old sister. A man repentant for not giving the children help finds an opportunity to pay them. He meets them in one of the by – lanes and offers them ten bucks. And to his surprise the children stop their miserable breakfast and ask the man to stop for a while. The boy takes out his ransack and perfrom a show only for the benefit of the man who offered him ten rupees. He did not want alms!

 SA: Having penned 12 short story collection and 6 novels, you have created hundreds of characters. Have any of these characters conversed with you during or after creation?

 EH: Do you mean models on which I have based certain characters? I have used real characters in some of my short stories, when they are so tempting and either the memory or their presence so impel me. But I try to change their destiny so that my stories do not clash with their real lives. Usually I copy their mannerisms and may be base my stories on a particular incident, which for them may be trifle, but has made my imagination spark with ideas. Such characters do live around me and they rarely recognize their image in my stories.Where they find their mirror image in my stories, thank God, they are friendly with me and to certain extent thankful too, because they themselves might want to vent off a little pressure that might have mounted on account of the incident in question. 

 If you are meaning the characters I have created out of my imagination, yes most of them are still with me and they do converse with me in my dreams, in my creative moments. Some characters, in fact most of them, leave a painful mood in me, because they bring along with them memories of my childhood, my troubled past, since all characters I have created have my imprint in them, taken from my past.

 SA: Writing is creation. Translation is recreation.Your thoughts on translation and translators.

 EH: Translation is recreation within the framework of the original work. The translator has limitation beyond which they cannot take freedom. I mean the translated work should represent the original author’s style and diction and the only change that is allowed is limited to the limitation of the language to which it is being translated. For example certain words and idioms are better translated or replaced with similar idioms prevailing in other language, which may not be a word by word translation.

SA: In this age of Information Technology do you think readers are dwindling in numbers? Your take on this.

 EH: I do not subscribe to this view. There have always been a few serious readers only and their numbers have not dwindled. Any innovation will make a temporary inroad into an existing way of life, but in the case of I.T. the switchover was only short-lived and readers are coming back to books. The TV or Computer or for that matter Internet will never replace books. There may be radical change in the mode of reading, but it will depend on how fast our society will take in the fast developments in information technology. The printed book might give way to e-books, but the readership will remain same.

 SA: Critics have started analysing Malayalam writing before and after O.V.Vijayan.Do you agree with analysis? Reasons for yes or no.

 EH: Do they ? If so, i t is their folly. Since the time of O. Chandu Menon ( author of the Novel “ Indulekha ” written in 1889 , or the earlier poet Irayimman Thambi ( 1782 – 1856 ) there have been a number of prominent writers in our language, who have contributed to the growth and modernisation of our literature. Drawing a dividing line based on a single author is not the correct approach.

 SA:  In one of your articles titled Satvam Nashtapedumbol (When you lose identity) you have opined “When language becomes dearer than breath excellent works are created.” If it is so what do you think about the kichdi (mixture of languages) Bhasha being used in satellite channels. Do you see it as a threat to writing?

 EH : I am against the use of the Khichi Bhasha being used in satellite channels. It is again a sympton of the disease of which I had mentioned in my article Satvam Nashtapedumbol (When you lose Identity), and should be treated. This does not contribute to the growth of the language, on the other hand herald the deathknell of it. It is a direct result of the western domination of our culture and way of life.

 SA : Your tips to budding writers.

 EH: Be sincere to your writing and never for a moment underestimate the reader. The reader has the final say and you have to satisfy him.

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