Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Saanthan's World of Writing

CREATIVE WRITING: Please do not tell me that you have not heard of a Lankan writer in English named Ayathurai Santhan. It is gratifying to note that at least a few non-partisan academics and writers have read him and appreciated his uniqueness in creative writing. He writes in Thamil too.

His short stories are remarkable for its conciseness and subtle observances. But don't dismiss him as a Thamilian writer from the north of Lanka. This I say because I feel in the histories and anthologies of Lanakan Literature in English, Thamil writers of this country are not well or fully represented.

The reason the compilers say is that they do not know Thamil and therefore they have no way of knowing what was happening in the Thamil literary scene in this country.

This cannot be true, because some columnists particularly yours truly had been writing about this scene for several decades in English. But the irony is that they do not read these columns and assume that there is no Lankan Thamil Literature.

Most people are ignorant as to assume that the readers in Thamil here depend on what is churned out in Thamilnadu for their reading pleasure. This is far from the truth.

There is a vibrant Lankan Thamil Literature. This maybe due to the assertion by some of the fringe ultra-nationalists whose rationale is: the Thamilians in this country should go back to Thamilnadu as they are the descendants of invaders and therefore they are aliens and pariahs of this country. It is this arrogant attitude that hurts me.

Righteous indignation

Having released my pent up righteous indignation, let me talk about Santhan's (His name should be pronounced as Saanthan) collection of his works in Thamil. It is called Saanthanin Eluththuulagam (meaning Saanthan's World of Writing). Published professionally in Thamilnadu by Annai Rajeswari Pathipaham, 41 Kalyana Sundaram Street, Peramboor, Chennai 600 011.

This comprehensive collection Saanthan's creative writing in Thamil has 312 pages. The cover of the book has a sketch of Saanthan portraying of the writer as he looks today. He was born in 1947 in Suthumalai, Maanippaai. He has lived in Colombo and other places during 1966 -1980.

Saanthan has written 15 books in Thamil and four in English. His works had been translated into Sinhala, Hindi, Russian and English. Twice he has won State Literary Awards - in 1975 for the book in Thamil and 2000 for his work in English. He worked for the Government as an Engineering Draftsman and now retired.

A writer in Sinhala Cyril Perera who was his boss was also one of his mentors. He has visited Moscow as guest of the Lanka - Soviet Friendship Association in 1982, and Kenya in 2003. His two pieces of travelogue on his visit to these two countries and his experiences of travel are fascinating.

They read like short stories.

The book is divided into four sections: Short Fiction, Travelogues, Stories and Mini Stories, In the Eyes of the Critics. Asokamitran one of the leading Thamil writers in Thamilnadu, the late K.Kailasapathy and Dr.

Genuine feelings

N. Subramaniam have evaluated his works. They identify genuine feelings and freshness and commitment in his writings.

His short fictions are: Krishnan Thoothu (22 pages), Theadal (18 pages) and Vealihalin Kathai (21 pages). The titles of these short fictions could be translated into English as The message of Krishnan, In Search of and the Story of the fences respectively. There are stories that include short skits.

Here is a translation by me of one of skits titled Peyar (Name):

"Kanapathipillai decided to open money lending with interest shop. He was thinking of having a name for it. Days passed, but he couldn't get one.

He approached his friend Subramaniam who was clever in such matters. The latter thought for a while." Name it "People's Interest Lending Shop!" he said."

Here's another story: Podian

"When Amarasingham returned home, his Mrs. told him the news: The Podian (servant boy) who went the CWE at 1.30 p.m has not returned home. It's 5.00 P.M. now.

"What is to be done now? he asked

"Why don't you put an entry in the Police Station and come?"

He thought for two minutes.

Amarasingham rose up from his chair and asked "What is his name?" "Oh! Podian...Podian's name..."muttered Mrs Amarasingham. Even after thinking hard, she could only remember that even the Podian must be having a name; "Wait, let Baby come, I'll ask her and let you know.

Awaiting the arrival of Baby, Amarasingham sat on the chair again.

Sardonic comments

So witty are all his stories, long and short, they are subtle sardonic comments on people, society and life at large. But he also writes in short, pithy sentences that are unusual in customary Thamil writing.

I wish that I analyze all his stories for the benefit of non-Thamil speaking readers; but I cannot do that in a column like this. Hence I ventured to translate the very short pieces. Here is another one- Koalangal (Designs)

There was a great man in one place. He had three shawls with him.

One was Shawl with gold thread work.

One was a Kadar (Gray Cloth) shawl

One was a Red coloured shawl.

If you want to read his stories in English, please read his works already published. This columnist has translated one of his stories under the title "Thanks". It is included in the collection bridging connections - An anthology of Sri Lankan short Stories edited by Rajiva Wijesinha.

Saanthan is a Lankan writer in Thamil that has now started writing in English and had received laurels from people who matter, including Professor emeritus D C R A Goonathilaka. That's a positive sign.














10.15 REVIEW
10.30 SONG


10.55 SONG


2.55 SONG

Spotlighting the Eastern stage

Spotlighting the Eastern stage
By L.A. Leon

Is there an English theat rical tradition in Batticaloa? The answer I think, is yes and no. If we look for an English theatrical tradition outside educational institutions, the answer probably is no.

There never seems to have existed a Drama Society or club independent of any institution. On the other hand to the question “Did schools in Batticaloa stage English plays?” the response is positive.

Drawing on past experiences of English plays in schools, it could be said that an English theatrical tradition in Batticaloa existed in some leading schools in the town (St. Michael’s College, St. Cecilia’s College, Vincent Girls’ High School, Methodist Central College, and Shivanada MV).

There has existed a tradition of staging scenes from Shakespeare plays at special school functions.

Some over-used escape literary plays other than scenes from Shakepeare, like Cindrella, Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs have been continuously staged at most school functions. They are still in the forefront as popular forms of entertainment at school functions.

The prevalent stage in the English theatrical tradition can be related to the common factor referred to by Tissa Jayatilaka in his address Sri Lankan Drama in English.

“The state of affairs that we find in the English theatre of Sri Lanka is the natural outcome of a historical fact. Western dramatic literature is a tradition brought by the British to Sri Lanka and just as much as most other “things British” absorbed by the locals, are confined to those that form the urban sector of our society. This tradition too struck roots in the very congenial surroundings provided for it by the urbanized Western-oriented lintelligentsia of the land which were quick to accept uncritically, and quicker to ape those nuances of western taste that they deemed fashionable.”

The use of role plays and then dramas to motivate the teaching and learning of English became popular in schools in and after1986 with the Ministry of Education taking the initiative to organise school, district, provincial and national level English drama competitions. Due to time constraints, easy accessibility, simplicity, and popularity, the above mentioned popular plays have constantly been staged.

In the past few years, English drama stages in Batticaloa have seen a slight deviation from the common, over-used traditional stage presentations.

The experiences of the DELIC graduates in adapting stories into stage plays actually done as an enrichment activity in language development during the training period has enabled some enthusiastic teachers to stage such adaptations for the English drama competitions. One such adaptation was the short story The Diamond Necklace by Nirmali Hetiarachi.

Similarly sections from Treasure Island and Oliver Twist were adapted and staged by students of Methodist Central College and St. Michael’s College respectively.

From the series of one act plays The Bishop’s Candlesticks was presented by Vincent Girls’ High School, The Proposal by Anton Chekhov and another play The Richmond Hotel was staged by the Batticaloa Delic trainees in 1995. There may be still others that I am not aware of.

Several reasons could be considered for this break away from the usual Shakespearean plays. For instance:

1. Those involved in the production of Shakespearean plays were the older generation of “English medium educated” teachers familiar with such plays and the language. The casts were mostly from students who had done English elocution and often the same set of students participated year after year in different plays making it easy for the directors/teachers to train.

2. Most of the new generation of English teachers of today are not familiar with or do not have the confidence to handle Shakespearean plays and the students who are not fluent in English do not have the ability to memorise and present the dialogue. This actually discourages teachers from going in for Shakespearean plays.

3. Although, the general audience is attracted by the movements and actions, they fail to understand Shakespearean langugage and the over-accented elocution in English.

To date, stage direction has been made by English teachers who have had a little or no stage experience, nor were they aware of proper theatrical techniques involved.

The teachers did what they thought was best to make the presentations entertaining, even cinematic style and movements were used in stage plays. These producers/teachers often failed to make the casts internalise the characters, or to make them understand their role in relation to the whole play. These lapses on the part of the directors made the characters ineffective.

My intention here is not to denigrate the excellent contribution made by English teachers to English theatre in Batticaloa, but to emphasise the need for creating awareness in theatrical techniques and stage performances.

In this frame of reference, it would be gratifying if the Fine Arts Department of the Eastern University, Sri Lanka take the initiative to educate and encourage school teachers to present better stage performances in the future.


A new set of riders
While tracing the Engli- sh theatrical tradition in Batticaloa, I considerit relevant to review Riders to the Sea performed at the Fine Arts theatre, Eastern University on November 19, 1997.

I deem that a new dimension and a transitional phase for English drama in Batticaloa has been prompted by S. Jeyashanker of the Department of Fine Arts, in collaboration with the English Language Teaching Unit [ELTU], of the Eastern University through the play Riders to the Sea by J. M. Synge. I am sure it was a challenging venture, and calls for the commendation of the principal, teachers and students of St. Cecilia’s College who came forward to work out on this experimentation.

Although Riders to the Sea carries the traits of a symbolic play it also holds the universal theme of conflict between man and nature, a theme that knits well into the life and experiences of the fisher folk of the coastal belt of Sri Lanka. Riders to the Sea, presents an insight into the nature and condition of existence of fisher folk pitted against the forces of the universe, sometimes friendly and sometimes hostile. The success of a play depends on the ingenuity of the producer. In any play the choice of realistic or unrealistic stage sets, costuming, and make up lies with the producer. As such the localising of the stage sets, costuming, make-up and music, made Riders to the Sea realistic in a local context, a plus point to the producer S. Jeyashanker.

The producer very effectively used a bare stage with a few essential movable properties. The choice of cast for the female characters was apt but the cast that formed the male characters had their limitations - I think, generally maximum interpretation of male character is not possible for a female and vice versa-but this is a limitation that could be overlooked. The costuming matched the day to day dress of our local fisher folk.

Although the movements of the characters were meaningfully performed in keeping with the situation demanded, the meaningfulness of the dialogue fell within certain limitations. Voice training and finer voice modulation would have ensured that the general audience, which is usually enticed by glamorous costumes and actions, follow and understand the dialogue better. This would have enhanced greater involvement of the general audience.

Another strategy brought into play was the localised drum beat and the Tamilized chorus on and off stage, which effectively conveyed communal or group emotion from the start to the finish. In this nexus, the introduction of the characters with the chorus and drum beat, and speaking out pieces of the dialogue contributed to set the mood for the play from the start. Background sounds; (sawing, nailing) off stage evoked suspense in the minds of the audience who actually hoped to see a coffin brought in.

On the whole Riders to the Sea was a success story and this was reflected in the behaviour of the audience who physically and emotionally accepted this temporarily as the real world.

The stage production of Riders to the Sea has gone through various phases of a proper theatrical regime thus making it the first play to experience organised development, so I would consider this to be a milestone in the English theatrical tradition in Batticaloa. I hope this would pave the way for better and more stage presentations in English in the future.






Wednesday, October 14, 2009

AJ on About another matter


Literary historians tell us that Sri Lankan Tamil poetry has a distinctive tradition which begins from the Sangam Age, and the name Eezhaththup Poothanthevanar has been cited in this regard.

This tradition continued uninterrupted during the period of the Jaffna Kingdom circa 12th century A.C.

While this tradition continued uninterrupted, one should also bear in mind that the hegemonic poetic conventions of South Indian Tamil poetry did have a great impact on the Sri Lankan Tamil poetic tradition and conventions.

Modern Sri Lankan Tamil poetry had its beginnings in the nineteen forties, with the self-styled renaissance. In the nineteen sixties, the Progressive Writers’ Association launched a movement to stress the ‘Ceylonness’ of Ceylon Tamil Literature. In Ceylon Tamil poetry this took the form of the speaking voice, rooted in the rhythms of speech, verse drama etc. In the nineteen eighties, responding to the political travails of the Tamil community, Ceylon Tamil poetry began to speak of the loss of life, the destruction of property and the anguish of displacement. Thematically, ethnicity began to supersede class and caste, and there are poems which searingly indict state terrorism and barbaric military operations. This phase also throws up armed militants, especially women who also wrote poetry. Translations from English to Tamil and Tamil to Sinhala add a further dimension. This, in brief, is the context in which Sivasegaram’s transcreations should be viewed. (I am indebted to S. Pathmanathan for helping with this contextualisation).

This collection of Sivasegaram’s transcreations is political in the best sense of the word. He is a fluent bilingual who is equally at home in English as in his mother tongue, Tamil. His characteristic tone is a withering sarcasm and his poems go straight for the jugular.

As a committed Marxist, he can see the integral connections between tyranny and oppression in different countries; they are all manifestations of the same phenomenon. He writes (About another matter):

It is true that

when I speak about one thing,

it seems to be about another.

It is hard to avoid one

while speaking of another.

Writing about Pinochet is

also writing about Suharto, Marcos and Hitler.

The man who went missing in Chile

remains buried in Chemmani.

The mass graves in Mirusuvil and Sooriyakanda

were dug as one pit.

And the crowbars that demolished Babri Masjid

were forged in the fire that engulfed the Jaffna Library,

the heat of whose flames

blasted the statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan.

The poem The killing hands refers to the same phenomenon:

The very hands that buried young boys at Sooriyakanda

buried young men at Chemmani.

In God bless America, the poet dons the person of an American citizen caught in the inferno of 11th September who addresses the President of the United States of America:

Your Excellency the President

of the United States of America,

I, an American citizen,

speak from a room in a burning tower

where lights suddenly went off

following the impact of an air plane

that struck like a thunderbolt.

The poem is a scorching indictment of America’s crimes against humanity, beginning with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima:

But my vision pierces through the darkness and

the walls of the building:

half a century of history unfolds before me.

I see bloodstains on the military hands

that uphold American domination.

The poem does not confine itself to a mere expression of righteous indignation. It ends in a note of hope:

I do not lose heart,

for the liberation of America is interwoven

with that of the world.

Let the collapse of this tower be a symbol

of the fall of a terror

that made America the enemy of the world.

Let it be the beginning of the end

of a goddess of evil bearing the trident

of exploitation, oppression and war.

This powerful poem concludes on an ironic note:

Your Excellency the President

I love America

more than I love my life that will soon depart:

not the America that you seek to save,

but the America that strives to save itself from you –

an America that the whole world would love.

God bless that America!

If I have given the impression so far that Sivasegaram is obsessed with America, today’s sole hyper-power (In Castro’s vivid description), I must correct it. If America looms large, it is because that is \today’s political reality; it is the sponsor and fount of global state terrorism today.

A poignant poem like The prison focuses on gender oppression and suffering:

I attained age.

Eggs, head bath, sari, imprisonment,

broker, donation, dowry, thaali.

I ended imprisonment at home

to be imprisoned elsewhere.

Did not my mother know?

Did not my sisters know ?

Did someone forget

to tell me something?

These lines bring home to me the nugget of truth in the cliché: the personal is the political.

His poems on the Trincomalee Harbour and the Kelani River do not dwell, as conventional poems would have done, on scenic beauty, but link them up, respectively, to people waiting for days on end to travel by ship to the North (at a time when the A-9 highway had been closed), and to the bodies of youths killed during the 1987-1989 insurgency and thrown into the river.

Sivasegaram’s is decidedly a Third World Voice, the voice of the oppressed and the downtrodden everywhere clamouring for justice and freedom. His poems do not play hide-and-seek with the reader, who knows immediately where the poet stands.

A.J. Canagaratna

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Presenting a long tradition of Tamil poetry: problems of translation

Presenting a long tradition of Tamil poetry: problems of translation

S Sivasegaram*

The Rapids of a Great River: The Penguin Book of Tamil Poetry. (Ed. Lakshmi Holmstorm, Subashree Krishnaswamy and K Srilatha), Penguin-Viking, 2009, pp. 222 + xxvii, Indian Rupees 499.00.

Precision of translation and faithfulness to the source have always been important to the translation of poetry. A translator, as AK Ramanujan once argued, could be re-creating a poem. There are, however, limits to the liberty that a translator may take with the source for the end product to be called a fair translation. Ambiguity of meaning in the source, difficulty in translating idiom, usage and phrases unique to the source language and culture are real issues; but they are bad excuses for purposeful omission, introduction of extraneous matter, distortion of meaning, and plain bad translation. The translator, when dealing with apparent ambiguities, could, rather than take liberties with the poem indicate uncertainty by the use of quotation marks or explanatory notes as necessary.

A number of translators, once convinced of their interpretation of the meaning and the message of a poem, tend to drive home their point by introducing matter that is alien to the source. Some even deliberately misinterpret phrases, downplay their significance or even omit them. Such subjective approach can be as harmful as, and at times more harmful than, poor language skills.

The reader is kindly asked to note that capitalisation is used to distinguish between long vowels from their shorter counterparts and to indicate retroflection in consonants in the transliteration of the titles and text of poetry given in italics in the paragraphs that follow.

Before commenting on the translations themselves, I should say that it is rather strange that the anthology starts with a song of praise of Visnu from paripAdal, which according to the late Vaiyapurippillai, highly regarded as an objective scholar of Tamil studies, as well as other serious scholars, belongs to the late Sangam period when the Brahminic religion had made inroads into Tamil society. Whatever the intention, this stands in contradiction of the fact that the earliest extant Tamil poetry is secular, despite the various pre-Brahminic forms of worship and rituals that existed in Tamil society. Also, selections from cilappatikAram and rAmAvatAram tend to over-represent the praise of ‘Hindu’ gods, which constitute a tiny fraction of the two essentially secular works.

The translations of Sangam poetry in the anthology are by AK Ramanujan, a much reputed poet in his own right, to whom the world of Tamil literature owes much for his translations of Sangam literature into English. But he too has displayed a weakness for over-emphasis. For example, he uses the term ‘king’ to refer not only to the king kiLLi vaLavan but also to the ancestors of his intended victims in (puranAnURu 46, p.14 ). The source does not have the word ‘king’. Although kiLLi vaLavan’s lineage is stated in the source, the pedigree of his adversary is in terms of the generosity and sharing practiced by the ancestors. The use of the term king to the latter is probably due to Ramanujan’s reliance on existing commentary. Again, in puranAnURu 187 (p. 17), nAdu (country, countryside) is translated as “field”. Also we have “(Earth,) you are only as good as the good young men in each place”, whereas the source does not qualify the men as good or young. These are minor flaws, but avoidable since they do not in any way add to the poetic value.

There is also the frequent substitution of names of plants with ones familiar to the reader in English, which would not harm the translation, except where the pant itself has some significance by way of association with various moods, and that does not seem to be a major problem in this volume. A more serious flaw, and seemingly the only one of its nature in Sangam translations, concerns a literal translation of the Tamil phrase cen nAp pulavOr as red-tongued poets (puranAnURu 107, p.15 ), whereas the term cen nA refers to erudite speech, as the word cem also means good, pure etc., as in cen tamizh, implying proper Tamil.

A serious mistake, rather uncharacteristic of Ramanujan, occurs in puranAnURu 192 (p. 20): “So, we are not amazed by the great, and we do not scorn the little”, whereas it should have been “So, we are not amazed by the great, and even less do we scorn the little”.

Cilappatikaaram has been translated with considerable care by Lakshmi Holmstrom. Yet in Canto 1 (p. 21), the translation uses the term king, which is absent in the source, to indicate that the reference is to the Cola king. Using it in the first stanza is acceptable although not essential; but its repeated use in the remaining stanzas seems unnecessary. A more serious flaw concerns the translation of “kongu alar thArc cenni” (referring to the head wearing a garland spreading fragrance) as “(the Cola king whose) garland is covered with pollen”. The latter may be imaginative translation, but the former seems more characteristic of the style of the author. There are several such avoidable defects which, however, do not seriously harm the essence of the poems. But, translating “thaLai avizh naru malarE” (meaning “good/fragrant flower breaking its bonds” i.e., the opening out of the petals released from the binding sepals) as “flowers just beginning to shed their petals” (Canto 7 verse 16, p. 22) and “muLai vaLar iLa nakaiyE” (bud-sprouting tender smile) as “teeth like tender buds” harm both meaning and poetic sense. Translating “mata annam” (Canto 7 verse 23, p. 22) as “artless swan” is inappropriate since the word “mata” means beautiful, tender or young in this context and not “artless”, although the term “matavan” means “ignorant man”.

The language of the thevAram period is closer to what we know as Tamil today than is the language of the Sangam and post-Sangam periods. Indira Peterson’s translations of the thevAram are remarkably faithful to the source, with the occasional slip like translating thOdu in “thOdudaiya ceviyan” (Sampanthar, book 1, hymn 1, p. 39) as “woman’s earring” is incorrect since the ornament became associated with women alone rather recently. In fact, wealthy men wore ornamental earrings until a century ago. Also in the same stanza, the word cudalai (cremation ground) is translated as “burning ground” which alters the meaning considerably. Norman Cutler’s translations of Kaaraikkaal Ammaiyaar are among the most impressive Saivate poetry in the volume.

Translations from the tirukkuraL by PS Sundaram are weak and often distort the meaning of the source without adding any poetic value. Translations of Maanikkavacakar’s verses in pp. 42-45 are flawed in terms of choice of words as well as omissions and fail to do justice to the source. Also, the translations of the Siddhar poems (pp.68-73) seem imprecise in several places.

I do not quite consider Sekizhar’s verse (pp. 48-51) poetry. The translation could have done without any pretence to verse and been written as a passage.

Translations of Nammaazhvaar by Ramanujan are perhaps the most beautiful of religious literature in the volume. In translating Aandal, names like Madhusudanan and Narayanan Nambi are transliterated in their Tamil form while Madhavan, Govindan and Madurai take a Sanskritised form. Preference for Sanskrit persists in the translation of Kamban too, who, interestingly, Tamilised several words with Sanskrit origin so that the link of the words to their foreign source was not readily evident.

In the translation Goplakrishna Bharati’s songs of Nandan the phrase ‘inta nandan upacAram collavO?’ (meaning “May this Nandan greet you?”) is rendered as “Untouchable as I am, may I not serve you?” I seriously doubt if Goplakrishna Bharati ever used the term “untouchable” in his work, especially in the speech of Nandan.

The tendency to take liberties persists in the translations of modern Tamil poetry. For example, in Subramaniya Bharati, the phrase “nINda pozudAka” (for long) is rendered as “eternally”. The line, “vEndum poruLaiyellAm manathu veRutthu vittathadi” (My heart rejected all things that I desire) is rendered as “denying my hearts desires”, which distorts the meaning.

What needs to be pointed out at this stage is that Tamil poetry since its early Sangam period relied strongly on its metric rhythm. Powerful rhythm added strength to many poems well into the last century. Subramaniya Bharati’s poems dealing with the national struggle and even some of the ‘religious’ poems drew much of their strength from their rhythm. The absence of any sense of rhythm in nearly all the translations loses something for the reader without compensating the loss in any way.

The flaws in the translation of traditional Tamil verse with which I am familiar made me doubt the precision of a considerable number of modern poems with which I am less familiar. I am unable to comment on the quality of the translations where I do not have ready access to the source. But some of the selections themselves raise questions about the understanding that the editors have about what poetry is or what Tamil poetry should be about. I give below a few of the selections that very much disappointed me.


No point in blaming the waves,

so long as the sea exists.

Nakulan, (p. 95)

Which came first?

Nobody loves fear

and nobody fears love.

–But which of these came first?

(Si. Mani, p. 106)

(I have come across a number of Indian and Chinese proverbs that sound more poetic than these ‘poems’.)

Perfect pitch

A stack of betel leaves

betel nut



water to gargle.

A flask of ice.

A bottle of brandy.

Matchbox, cigarette

ashtray, and

you my friend,

to chat with.

In such a death too

a kind of bliss.

Nakulan (p. 97)

(This verse seems at best a mediocre parody of Omar Khayyam’s lines translated by FitzGerald:

"A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness--
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!").

Unless the intention was to include poems that represented the worst of Tamil poetry, I cannot understand how these lines could find their way into a serious ‘book of Tamil poetry’. There are cleverer and even seemingly poetic imagery which have passed for poetry in Tamilnadu at a time when free verse was poorly understood by the ‘new poetry’ movement.

Despite the ease with which many of them could be translated to English without gain or loss of meaning or poetic sense, the temptation to add meaning seems to have been strong. There are other problems relating to insensitive or reckless translation. I will give a few examples from some poems with which I have been very familiar.

The line “inRennum kalth thuLikaL vizhuvathanal” by Pramil have been translated on p. 114 as “Because of the hurl and fall of Today’s stone flakes”. A lot of meaning has been lost in this much acclaimed poem of Pramil. The lines mean “because of the fall of stone droplets called Today”. (Besides, Pramil intentionally violated Tamil grammatical rules about ‘junction’ in kalth thuLikaL which should strictly have been kaRRuLikaL). The imaginative phrase ‘droplets of stone’ (‘droplets’ of a solid rather than a liquid) has been substituted with “stone flakes”, defeating Pramil’s intention.

Nuhman’s poem titled “Last evening, this morning” in translation (pp. 122-123) has a number of poor substitutions.

akalvathu (leaving) is translated as “going about their business”

kAkki udaiyil thuvakkukaL thirinthana (Guns clad in khaki walked about) is rendered as “Khaki clad men patrol, guns held aloft”.

manitha vAdai (human scent) is translated as “smell of human beings”.

ivvARAka/ inRaya vAzhvai/ nAngaL izhanthOm/ inRaya malaiyai/ nAngaL izhanthOm (Thus, we lost today’s life, we lost today’s evening) has become “and this was how / we lost our evenings / we lost this life”. There is a clear shift in emphasis which robs Nuhman’s lines of their subtlety and in the process alters the meaning.

In “Buddha murdered” (pp. 123-124), the phrase “yAzh nUlakatthin padikkattarukE/ avarathu cadalam kuruthiyiR kidanthathu” (his body lay in blood, besides the steps to the Jaffna Library) has been translated as “He lay upon the steps of the Jaffna Library drenched in his own blood”. This seems, once again, to be a result of the translator’s insensitivity to the restrained style of Nuhman. Also “ninety thousand books” in the source become “ninety thousand rare books”. This is uncalled for interference in a process of adding ‘colour’.

There are also instances where common phrases are translated literally with loss of meaning. Devadacchan’s phrase (p. 141) rendered “when the current failed” uses the term “kaRant / karantu” (current) referring to electric power in much of Tamilnadu and in Sri Lanka, where the term “laiR” (light) is also used. The use of “current” in place of “power” is perhaps due to overestimating the significance of the term “current”.

For some unclear reason, the place and date (Jaffna/10-11-83) of the letter forming Urvasi’s poem (p. 146) have been omitted. They are important since they identify a place and period in whose context the poem acquires much of its meaning.

There are a number of errors of carelessness which could have been avoided in a short anthology of this nature with help from a competent editor or someone familiar with the sources and having a sense of poetry.

A recent reviewer who hailed the anthology had commented that the translations of some of the modern poems were dull. The poems referred to were from Tamilnadu, and I suspect that much of the dullness comes from the source.

The main weakness of the translations seems to be that, like the compilation, several of the translations have been rather hasty, especially since there are some commendable translations of poems old and new and there is no major evidence of linguistic incompetence.



Writer of poetry and literary criticism in Tamil, and retired Senior Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A life of letters


Apparent in Siriwardena's works, but never intimidating the reader, was the depth of his learning and experience, whether it was about literature, politics, art, or film.

India seems to have little time for the literature, films and art of any of its neighbours... The loss, unfortunately, is India's.

Selected Writings of Regi Siriwardena: Literature and the Arts - Volume 1, edited by A.J. Canagaratna, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo, 2005, p.131, price not stated.

IT is a pity that little is known in India about Sri Lanka other than its conflict. In any case, India seems to have little time for the literature, films and art of any of its neighbours, except for the few works that have attracted international notice. The loss, unfortunately, is India's, underlined by this book of selected writings by Regi Siriwardena, the first of a projected two-volume set that brings together the work — spanning more than half a century — of a writer, poet, activist, journalist, playwright and critic. This volume collects his writings on literature, films and the arts.

From a different era

Siriwardena belonged to a generation of Sri Lankans that was born and grew up in the pre-independence years and that was fired by the hopes and possibilities that the country offered at its freedom in 1948. Though Sri Lanka never quite managed to live up to that promise, Siriwardena's inspiration never deserted him. Aside from publishing several collections of plays and poetry, he helped found the civil rights movement in Sri Lanka, counting the 15 years that he worked as editor at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in Colombo as his most fruitful.

With his death in December 2004, Sri Lanka lost one of a rare breed of intellectuals who stood firm against Sinhala majoritarianism, was not afraid to criticise Tamil chauvinism and militancy, and could not suffer hypocrites, fools or social pretensions. Apparent in his works, but never intimidating the reader, was the depth of his learning and experience, whether it was about literature, politics, art, or film. He was fiercely critical of inaccessible writings.

Reviewing a compilation of essays on Sri Lankan poetry for the Lanka Guardian in 1996, Siriwardena called for the democratisation of literary criticism. "We should write literary criticism in the way George Orwell wrote it, so that it's open to any intelligent and generally educated person. Of course, that would be the end of academic criticism as we know it and have always known it, but then, all the better."

Accessible writing

His own work was completely accessible. Whether it was a discussion of Pushkin's The Bronze Horseman or of Yeats's right-wing politics in his poetry, or telling readers why he hated free verse, there was nothing abstruse about Regi's writing; rather, it was written to draw in even the uninitiated but at the same time, never dumbed down. Until the end, his work sparkled with a never-ending supply of energy, wit and irreverence.

Take for instance the poem he wrote on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 2002 — 80 pentameters in all. Titled "Birthday Apology and Apologia", the poem begins by expressing embarrassment at such longevity, and mourns the passing of those younger, snatched by Sri Lanka's violence. The poet holds his mother's "sturdy peasant genes" responsible for being able to witness the planet's "eighty revolutions around the sun" but gripes also of the diabetic legacy of his father.

But I shouldn't complain: to compensate,

I have acquired immunity to some

Infections — post-modernism, for one,

And free verse, for another. I'm glad, too

I never caught, as my late brother did,

The Sinhala nationalist flu. An early shot

Of Marxism, perhaps, took care of that.

In her introduction to the book, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the director of the ICES that has published this collection as a posthumous tribute, notes that Siriwardena "signified the creative imagination of Sri Lanka for much of the latter half of the twentieth century, an imagination, rooted in the national but universal in aspiration; an imagination that was openly political but also deeply spiritual".

Feet in two worlds

It was this that gave him his leftist politics, made him learn Russian at 15, seek out the "untranslatable" Pushkin in the original, and Yeats, Blake, Eliot, Edward Said and Shakespeare, while at the same time enabled his authoritative grasp on Sinhala literature, drama and cinema. Siriwardena captures his East-meets-West legacy poignantly in the poem "Colonial Cameo":

In the evenings my father used to make me read

aloud from Macaulay, or Abbot's Napoleon (he was short

and Napoleon, his hero; I his hope for the future).

My mother, born in a village, had never been taught

That superior tongue. When I was six, we were moving

house, she called at school to take me away.

She spoke to the teacher in Sinhala. I sensed the shock

of the class, hearing the servants' language...

A notable essay in the collection is "A Borrowed Tongue", written in July 1979, about sub-continental writing in English. He concludes that the Sri Lankan mastery of English was "disabling" when it came to describing the social environment from which the writer drew his inspiration. "The barriers are most evident when Sri Lankan novelists in English try to write about the village... I find in the prose a betraying quaintness and false poeticality when it seeks to express the thoughts and feelings of peasant characters".

The vast material included in the book has been thoughtfully arranged and grouped by the editor, A.J. Canagaratna, a long-time associate and friend of Regi's. A little more attention to the proofreading, and corrections to the irregularities in the setting would have removed unnecessary distractions in a valuable collection.




Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Monday, September 14, 2009

about another matter

about another matter
(Poetry Anthology-July 2004)

Poems of S.Sivasekaram in translation

Butterflies of my dreams

Countless butterflies flapped their wings
In my childhood’s sleep
Butterflies that my mother saved for me
Butterflies that my mother’s mother saved for my mother
And I saved for my children

In these nights that reek of gunpowder
My children scream in their dreams

Who stole my children’s butterflies?
And who but I could restore them
To the hours of sleep of the children of my children?

S. Sivasekaram (1997)

A tribute to trees tall and erect
You love to tread on grass,
Short shrubs, you kick and trample.
Trees tall and erect refuse to bow.
Sword in hand you cut them down

Fools you know not the wonder of trees
That rise from root and fallen seed.

The day your weapons weigh you down
And metal yields to make a rope
That binds your hand and wrings your neck
The fallen will rise-
Like a forest around you

S.Sivasekaram (1989)



Above the earth, beneath the earth,
hillocks and mountains,
rocks and fragments,
standing upright, fallen down,

Her husband, the sage, was a stone.
The god was a liar, but
no stone he,
only a male deity he lived
to survive the curse.
And she who had lived like stone
coming alive for that instant alone
truly became a stone.

On a day much later,
a god who crossed the seas to rescue a lover
only to thrust her
into burning flames-
who feared the town’s gossip
and exiled her-
a god, yet unworthy of touching a stone-
stumbled upon her.

Had she not changed again
Stone becoming woman
To live like a stone with a stone,

Had she remained truly a stone
she might have stood forever,
a mountain peak, undestroyed by time.

S.Sivasekaram (1980)

Translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom

History of Muneeswaram Temple

Saturday, September 05, 2009


Prof. M.H.Goonetilleka

The photo of renouned Sri Lankan Scholar Prof. M.H. Goonetilleka is examining masks of traditional Sinhala Theatres of Sri Lanka in The museum of Lisban University


Friday, September 04, 2009

Mr.N.K Pathmanathan: The Great Nathaeswaram Player of Sri Lankan Thamils

Thirdeye Little Magazine

"Third Eye" is concentrating on creative writings in English and
theoretical debates on them.

It gives equal importance to translations and also reproduces earlier
writings in English by Thamils.

It will try to identify and establish a literary tradition in English among
the Thamils."



Like almost all literary critical terms, ‘realism’
is very elastic. A curious feature about the noun ‘realism’
is that magnet-like it seems to attract all kinds of
qualifying adjectives which only help to make confusion
worse confounded.

One such adjective is ‘magic’ . Under the rubric of
‘magic realism’, one finds lumped together such diverse
writers as Brogues, Marquez, Salman Rushdie and Gunter
Grass. Literary labels such as ‘magic realism’ and ‘absurd
drama’ tend to be somewhat misleading as they are
likely to blur the specific differences between writers who
operate broadly in the absurdist mode, produce works
which possess their own distinctiveness; one is hardly
likely to mistake the work of one for the other. For instance,
Genet’s plays have a political dimension which
Beckett’s don’t have. Similarly, though Salman Rushdie
and Gunter Grass are categorised as ‘magic realists’ by
some critics, along with Marquez, neither Rushdie nor
Grass traffics in the supernatural, as Marquez does in
One Hundred Years of Solitude. Besides Grass and
Rushdie use fantasy for politically satiric ends. This dimension
seems to be missing in “One Hundred Years of

Marquez’s novel is regarded as one of the
ur-texts of magic realism and a whole cult has grown
round it; It has won the plaudits of so many renowned
critics so that any one who tries to query the claim that it
is one of the ‘undeniable classics of the century’ feels
like the boy who pointed out that the emperor was naked.
Undeniably the narrative is like a tidal wave
which swaps the reader off his/her feet. It’s only on a
second reading that the nagging doubts take firm root.
It’s not the supernatural element that necessarily disturbs

All literature depends on conventions and certainly
one can have no objection to a serious writer
structuring his/her work using the conventions of the
supernatural. I’m not referring here to ghost stories, horror
stories and such like genres or types which make no
claim to operate in the realistic mode, though the successful
ones are chillingly real.

Rather, I’m thinking of the restrained use of the
supernatural element in Hilary Mantel’s “Mr.Fludd.”
In that novel, Mantel resurrects a long-dead person
(Mr.Fludd) who rescues a lively novitiate from the con-fines
of a constricting convent, settles her in a hotel and
disappears after paying all the bills. Here the ‘supernatural’
has been so successfully assimilated and integrated
with the mundane that one willingly suspends
one’s disbelief. Mantel uses the convention of the supernatural
to point up the soul-destroying routine of an Irish convent.
As far as I’m concerned, the trouble with
"One Hundred Years of Solitude" is that the magical/
supernatural element seems to have taken the bit between
its teeth and run away. The effect, on this reader at
least, is that the ‘magic’ has gobbled up the ‘realism’.
The pervasive effect of the larger-than-life characters and
happenings like the heavenly ascent of Remedios the
Beauty ( an irreverent parody of Mary’s Ascension) is to
make the massacre of over 3000 people during the strike
of the workers of the banana company sound like the
stuff of legend. And it so turns out that except for Jose
Arcadio Segundo and one or two others, no one else in
Macondo believes that this massacre really occurred.
Someone could argue that the success of the company’s
propaganda campaign in brain-washing almost the entire
population into believing that the massacre never
took place is a pointed political indictment of the manner
on which foreign capitalist companies operated in the
‘banana republics’ of South America. But this is rather
specious as the overall political thrust ( if any) is deflected
by the over(?) -indulgence in the magical / supernatural
element for its own sake and the sex orgies
which serve no other purpose than an exhibition of Spanish

‘Machismo’, this word makes one realise that
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” is really an epic novel
in which Marquez celebrates, albeit in a muted key, the
Conquistador’s conquest of the new World. Buendia’s
founding of the republic of Macondo is a miniature replay
of the Spanish conquest. Buendia himself seems to
be a literary mutant of Don Quixote. Aaron Norgrave
writing about the “Piano in Race and Class” (Vol.40,
No.3,July-Sept.98’) states that the epic novel depicts the
totality of relations as naturally given but rounded from
without by a controlling ideology…. The epic novel celebrates
a society in the face of both theoretical and practical
attacks by presenting heroes who are lone champions
of the system’s values who, locked in their myths,
embody society’s contradictions and thereby overcome
them.” Buendia and his son the Colonel are two such

The controlling ideology seems to be
Hispanism: hence the celebration of machismo and the
flaunting of sexual prowess. The reverse side of this
ideology is the bit role assigned to the autochthonous
people and women; as if to compensate for this, the gypsies,
especially Melquicades who is endowed with al-most
mystical powers, are glamorized and the matriarch
Ursula who is Spanish, naturally looms larger than

The air of exoticism is so all-pervasive that
it makes one feel that “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is
the literary equivalent of orientalism. It is the product,
to use Raymond Williams’ phrase of a ‘Residual culture’:
a rich existing amalgam of legend, religious mysticism
and prodigious feats ( especially sexual) . This
novel makes one feel that, whatever its provenance,
magic realism is a specifically Latin American phenomenon
and will wilt if transplanted wholesale elsewhere.

For Tamil writers ( and readers) who in their
disillusionment with socialist realism are in danger of
being seduced by ‘magic realism’, which in my opinion
is a mode pregnant with reactionary possibilities, a
comparison with K.Rajanarayan’s “Kopallakiramam”
will be illuminating. The CO-presence of the legendary
and quotidian actuality in that novel is accepted by the
reader without any sense of strain because unlike in "One
Hundred Years of Solitude" where the chosen strategy
of authorial narration leaves no space for the author-narrator
to distance himself from the events he is narrating,
Rajanarayan recounts the legendary/ miraculous
through the mouth of the matriarch and her account is
ironically counterpointed by the unspoken thoughts of
Akkaya who thinks the matriarch is exaggerating. This
counter-pointing makes it possible for the reader to accept
the co-presence of the legendary and the mundane
actuality, without any sense of jarring incongruity.

How then account for the fad ( for that is what
I think it is ) of magic realism? Perhaps the reading
public fed up with photographic naturalism and the introverted
inspection of innards, longs for escape into an
exotic world filled with improbable heroes and prodigious
events. Above all it longs for narration, a long
lost art. Marquez has very skillfully tapped into the readers’
subterranean lodgings and through his gift for
fabulation and by projecting the self as the other has
cleverly concealed his real project of celebrating the
Hispanic conquest of the New World.

Even a work which creates a world that is not
subject to ordinary realism must possess its own inner
imaginative logic and consistency, this is lacking in
Marquez’s novel whose narrative laws are entirely arbitrary,
unlike in Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children” where
once the initial assumption that children born at midnight
on 15 August 1947 are in telepathic communication
with each other is granted, the rest holds together
through its competing inner imaginative logic ( Regi
Siriwardena-personal communication).

Mr.A.J.Canagaratna is one of the few Tamils in Sri Lanka,
who has been writing essays and criticism in English for decades.
His translations from Thamil to English is considerable.

'Third Eye' Magazine (Januray 2000).

Thursday, September 03, 2009


Mr. R. Kandiah holds a Masters Degree in English from the University of Calcutta and a Diploma in Education from the University of London.
He took up to teaching as his favoured vocation and has taught English Language and Literature at several levels including in educational institutions like Mahajana College, Tellipalai, the Jounier University College, Palaly, The Teachers' Training College, Palay and in the Collgiate Section (Department) in Jaffna College, Vaddukoddai.
Well versed in both Tamil and English Literature, he has shared his knowledge, experience and wisdom with his many students and lovers of literature.
Deeply philoshophical, he is an ardent admirer of Jittu Krishnamoorthy, the well - known world teacher and had taught in one of Krishnamoorhty's Schools in Chennai.
A pacifistby nature he is never confrontational, ever when he is personally affected. He would rather more away than put up a fight- he understood that violence never resolved any problems.
He is married to SAHIDEVI(SAHITHEVI) Thiyagarajah, a product of Ramanathan College, a tamil scholar herself and keen social worker.

Mr.S. Rajasingham



With borrowed plumes why should I decked my bride

When beauty unadorned in her excels

The glossy glory of invented spells?

To sing her grace why should I need a guide

When in her wondrous mind and form reside

The spring of all the muse that ever swells

Within my soul and other passions quells?

If yon ethereal light is cast aside

Can there be life and beauty on the earth?

If but the flower fair be hid away

How can the brush a perfect picture paint?

The bloom and gleamy orb possess the worth

That art inspires, and not the dye or clay:

Why then should I with stolen rhymes her taint?


FREE-WHEEL (Collection of Poems)

First Published in 1950

Second Edition: 6-8-1966, Batticaloa.

Some Opinions on the 1950 Edition

R.H. Wickremasinghe, C.C.S., M.A. (Oxon):

“I think some of the poems excellent. English poetry I have always been greatly interested in and I hope you will write more in the future”

Fr. T. F. Long, O.M.I., M.A. (Cantab):

“This is poetry as distinct from facile versifying ‘More o’ that strain, an it please you’”

Review in the Messenger, Colombo:

“Witness the magnificence of the concluding sestet…

One feels here is the authentic voice of the true poet”

Review in the Times of Ceylon:

“This Jaffna poet contrives to please many in presenting his poems on varying subjects.”

Printed at the Catholic Press, Batticaloa.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009



Creative Art of Kularaj

Cover design of the little magazine "Kalam" published by Varithamby of Akkaraipattu.
The 10nth Special Issue was edited by S.jeyasankar.
The cover painting is the creation of K.Kularaj. Kularaj is best known for his traditional paintings.
The painting depicts the legend related to Kokaddicholai Thanthonri Easvarar of Paduvankarai, Batticaloa.


Prohibition (Ceylon)
After Lewis Carroll

“You are old, Prohibition” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white
And yet you incessantly stand on your head –
Do you think, at your age it is right?

“In my youth” Prohibition replied to his son
“I feared it might injure the brain.
But, now I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old” said the youth “Your stomach’s too weak
For anything stronger than milk
Yet nightly for whiskies and sodas you creep
- your inwards will change to pulp!

Said prohibition, “you’re wrong, my boy,
It’s arrack and toddy that’s bad.
Whisky’s the stuff you can jolly well enjoy
It’s the slinkiest drink I’ve had.”

“That’s why we must close the arrack and toddy
Taverns, the East’s dissipation.
We’ll live then on whisky. What ho!, Everybody!
A wiser and soberer nation.”


Saturday, August 29, 2009


Pillai Alutha Kaneer (Tears shed by the child) is a play written in Thamil by S Jeyasankar senior lecturer in drama and theatre arts, Eastern University. Jeyasankar who engages in theatre and research activities is also a traditional theatre (Koothu) performer. A poet in Thamil and English he writes essays on literary subjects, is a coordinator of Third Eye Local Knowledge and Skill Activists’ Group and Third Eye English Forum, and is the co-editor of the literary journal Third Eye. This journal also comes as Moontravathy Kunn in Thamil.
Jeyasankar who prides himself as a man born in Yaalpaanam is married to a painter of repute, Vasuki.
The book can be obtained from 30, Old Rest House Road, Madaalakalappu at Rs 75/- per copy. Susiman Nirmalavasan has illustrated the inside pages and the cover. The book is dedicated to Meikandan Saravanamuththu the “pioneer theatre artiste who engaged himself with school children and practiced the art of theatre as an educative and entertainment medium.”
The play is based on Paalukku Paalahan (A Baby for Milk) written by one of the most successful playwrights and producers of Thamil plays, Kulanthai M Shanmugalingam which relates the original story of Antonio Gramsci. Jeyasankar’s play is translated into English by S M Felix.
Jeyasankar has this to say in his introduction: “The play tries to depict the importance of self-consciousness of men about their living environment....the modern knowledge system made by men had constructed that the men as the centre of the universe and failed to recognize even the role of women in history.”
The book consists both the Thamil and English versions. Readers who cannot read Thamil can read the English version. Of importance is that this play is written as a drama script for performance.
For instance the opening scene has this direction :

The story

The story of the play is simple. A mouse has drunk the milk meant for a baby, regrets and goes in search of some milk to be given to the crying child. It first asks the goat but the goat says she is all dried out of milk because of the drought. If the mouse could bring her some green grass then she would be able to give the much needed milk for the baby. So the mouse goes to the field to get some grass. Here again it’s the same story. The field wants water to wet the grass. What can the mouse do now as the child keeps on crying? Its next move is to run to a pond. But there is absolutely no water in the pond as the frog and the stork that flew over the pond endorse. The pond advises the mouse to bring a mason to build a reservoir or something like that.
The mason is approached fast but he again says he has no cement, stones, timber etc to build a bund. The tired mouse gets irritated because the frog and the stork are making noises. The mouse then runs to the mountains to get some stones.
After a long harangue of retelling what had happened so far in pursuit of milk for the baby, the finale comes when all of them get together planting trees and collecting the material that is needed. In the process they succeed in working together to obtain milk from the goat to feed the baby.
The Thamil version is more explanatory than the English version. The dramatic element is aptly incorporated. The dialogue is written in Yaalpaanam speech patterns. I would have liked if the drama had been written in Maddakaalappu speech particularly when it was staged in that city.

Sunday Lakbimanews;30.08.2009

Monday, August 24, 2009


30TH December, 1985

My heart doth speak of thee
From its fathomless depth in brief
It had be seemed your form only
Within its four walls with love and grief.

My eyes hath seen your celestial face
Within which it beholds your dimension still
Its lens discloses your beauteous grace
And reveals back in yours with firmness and will.

Look look look advocates
my heart to my eye
By providence doth my eye
Besiege your golden glare
Its substantial sovereign
And hypnotic to comply
Which absorbs me within
Your richness so fair.

By: Annamalai Mahadevan