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Tuesday, February 16, 2010



In these columns day on Saturday, 2-1-2010, I had presented the first part of my review of Dr Rajaram’s work of English translation of Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural. The dynamics of Thirukkural has been richly complemented by various scholars from all parts of the world. Dr Albert Schwaitzer says: ‘There hardly exists in the literature of the world a collection of Maxims in which we find so much of wisdom.’ Mahatma Gandhi calls it: ‘A textbook of indispensible authority on moral life. The maxims of Valluvar have touched my soul. There is none who has given such a treasure of wisdom like him.’ Mahatma Gandhi has said that he came to know about Thirukkural from Leo Tolstoy. Leo Tolstoy has openly admitted that he has taken the concept of non-violence from a German translation of the Kural. Sri Aurobindo has said: ‘Thirukkural is gnomic poetry, the greatest in planned consumption and force of execution ever written in this kind.’ Rajaji says: ‘It is a Gospel of Love and a Code of Soul-Luminous life. The whole of human aspiration is epitomized in this immortal book, a book for all ages.’ K M Munshi, the founder of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and a great man of letters has said: ‘Thirukkural is a treatise par excellance on the art of living.’

Photo caption: Dr Abdul Kalam receiving a copy of Dr M Rajaram’s book of Thirukkural English translation at a function at New Delhi on 13-May-2009. Dr Rajaram is on the right of Dr Abdul Kalam.

Thiruvalluvar is a national poet of the Tamils and he is the greatest pride and possession of the Tamil people. According to Thiruvachakamani K M Balasubramaniam, Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural and Manickavachagar’s Thiruvachakam are supposed to be the body and soul respectively of the Blessed Mother Tamil. Thirukkural builds up the character and conduct of human beings. Thiruvachakam feeds their souls on its felicitous food of Divine Ambrosia and prepares them for their Eternal Beatitude.Thirukkural develops the intellect and brain and makes men live a life of honour, dignity and honesty. By adopting Thirukkural as a manual of daily living, any one can have his mind and body in the best of form. It is not therefore surprising that the great scholar Ariel paid this tribute to Thirukkural: ‘The Kural is the masterpiece of Tamil Literature, one of the highest and purest expressions of human thought. That which above all is wonderful in Kural is the fact that its author addresses himself without regard to castes, peoples or beliefs, to the whole community of mankind, the fact that he formulates sovereign morality and, absolute reason, that he proclaims in their very essence, in their eternal abstractedness, virtue and Truth, that he presents as it were in one group, the highest laws of domestic & social life’

In my view, Dr M. Rajaram’s work of English translation of Thirukkural is a truly a work of art by itself. A bad work of translation only transmits information. Judicial fidelity and transfixing freedom are the qualities characterising Dr Rajaram’s work of translation. A sublime work of translation like that of Dr Rajaram succeeds in performing a divine transmitting function. He succeeds in transmitting the unfathomable, the mysterious and the ‘poetic’ everlasting ancient wisdom of Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural.

Dr Rajaram’s English verse translation of 1330 verses of Thirukkural is marked by great fidelity to the letter and spirit of the original. It can easily be proved that Thiruvalluvar and Shakespeare are intellectual companions of equal merit and mettle. This is the view of Thiruvachakamani K.M Balasubramaniam. Thiruvachakamani also translated Thirukkural into English verse.

Let me give a few instances to illustrate this point of literaterary parity between Thiruvalluvar and Shakespeare.

In Verse 1091 of Thirukkural, Valluvar speaks of a maid’s two eyes one of which he says causes pain in the onlooker, namely the pain of love. This verse No: 1091 of Thirukkural has been translated by Dr Rajaram as follows:

The same verse 1091 has been translated by Thiruvachakamani K.M Balasubramaniam as follows: ‘One look doth cause the pain for which the other’s a balm so nice’.

We can see the parallel from Shakespeare for this verse 1091. To quote the words of Shakespeare: ‘What an eye, she has! Me thinks it seems a parley of provocation’.

Dr Rajaram has translated verse No: 1099 of Thirukkural as follows:

Thiruvachakamani K M Balasubramaniam has translated the same verse 1099 above as follows:
‘When one’s own eyes would meet her eyes

Communicative way,

The words of mouth will not at all have

aught of use or say!’

Shakespeare sings (the message of verse 1099 above): ‘Sometimes from her eyes I did receive fair speechless messages’. Is not this brevity the real soul of wit?

The most beautiful summary of Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural was made by Va Subbiah Pillai, one of the stalwarts of the Thirunelveli Saiva Siddhanta Kazhagam. I am presenting below his poetic summary:

The great Tamil Scholar and savant Mahamahopadhyaya U.V Swaminatha Iyer(1855-1941) in his ‘Thiruvalluvarum Thirukkuralum’ summed up the glory and grandeur of Thirukkural as follows:

As a literary genre, translation has a mode of its own. Therefore the task of the translator is quite distinct and different from that of the poet. The main task of the translator consists in finding out that intended effect (Intention) upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it THE ECHO OF THE ORIGINAL. This is the cardinal feature of any soulful translation which basically differentiates it from the poet’s work. Having read Dr Rajaram’s work of translation, I can say with certainty that his English verses succeed in broadcasting the ECHO OF THE ORIGINAL THIRUKKURAL.

Here the immortal words of Walter Benjamin (1892-1940), a German-Jewish man of letters are very relevant and wholly applicable to the work of Dr Rajaram: ‘Unlike a work of literature, translation does not find itself in the centre of the language forest but on the outside facing the wooded ridge; it calls into it without entering, aiming at that single spot where THE ECHO is able to give in its own language, the reverberation of the work in the alien one …….. And this very language, whose divination and description is the only perfection a philosopher can hope for, is concealed in a concentrated fashion in great translations’.

In my view, a good work of translation ultimately serves the purpose of expressing the central reciprocal relationship between languages. It cannot possibly reveal or establish this hidden relationship itself; but it can represent it by realizing it in embryonic or intensive form. There is no doubt whatsoever that there exists a central kinship of languages, marked by a distinctive convergence. Languages are not strangers to one another, but are, a priori and apart from all historical relationships, interrelated in what they want to express. Dr Rajaram’s work achieves this effect of showing that English and ancient Tamil are not enemies of each other; indeed they have a substantive and substantial fraternal relationship.

In this context, I cannot help quoting the beautiful words of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the great Russian poet: ‘Mankind is essentially a single organism, a single body, a single soul. But can we imagine a body surviving if it were hacked into little pieces (even if in these little pieces artificial dams were to be constructed, for normal blood circulation)? Would any body withstand such bestial torture? Yet mankind endures, somehow; even hacked to pieces it somehow exists, and its separate little pieces pulsate, breathe, hope, strive to coalesce. Clearly mankind is a special kind of organism, a special kind of body and soul, possessing supernatural powers of survival. The translation of various literatures from one language to another language is a mysteriously powerful mutual transfusion of blood between the sliced-up pieces of the single body of mankind. Were this not so, mankind would not survive.’

Dr M Rajaram has rightly dedicated this book to World Peace. I have no doubt whatsoever that Dr M Rajaram’s English translation of Thirukurral will promote the larger cause of international peace and goodwill in this decadent age riven by all kinds of malice, prejudice and hatred — in short proving Yevgeny Yevtushenko absolutely right.

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