Translation - no easy task!


Much as it may sound highly unlikely, I did take up the assignment of translating the biographical sketches of the Alvars, from Kannada to English for someone, though I was barely familiar with the subject. The alvars are the front runners ofBhakti movement in South India during the early part of Kalyug, whose works are all in Classical Tamil.

Though I took up the responsibility purely due to my affection towards both  English and Kannada, the job was quite challenging language wise more so as the original Kannada text had been written in a very involved style. To break them into digestible bits and finding the right words to suit the subject was a problem. It was more like a crossword puzzle. My mental Thesaurus kept throwing at me only politically wrong synonyms. I had to not only find the right words keeping in mind the dignity of the subject, but had to keep the metaphysical quotient of the matter very high. In order to avoid prolonged agony, I myself fixed a last date for the completion of the work, without imagining that this self imposed deadline would only increase my mental stress. To the irritation of my housemate aka husband, I used to talk alvars, walk alvars, drink them, eat them, dream them and sleep (?) them. Doing 12 of them was no piece of cake.

All their works being in Tamil, there were impossibly long Tamil words to transliterate to English .This was a task requiring utmost concentration, more so when I had to key them onto my computer. That being the case, a strange thing happened one day. After typing a long para containing nothing less than 7-8 long names of their works__ all transliterated titles, my space bar started behaving very oddly. Every time I asked it to push a little to introduce a left out letter in between, it would start eating up the letters of the bit to be pushed. When ‘backspace’ erases words, it does so from right to left. But this space bar was erasing them from left to right with every tap. So, the more I repaired the previous word, more letters would vanish from the next word!

Moreover, the system software engineer must have been a Brahmin boy. Every time I wrote the words Vedas and Brahmin, it would always change  on its own the first letter to capital without as much as  ‘if you please…’

By the time I completed the assignment, even my normal vocabulary had changed and I was dying to go back to my comfort zone and my mindless blogs.

One day, I was immersed in the contemplation of what constituted real happiness (see, this is what I meant by my vocabulary being influenced), when I remembered a profound adage, “Happiness is when you can reach where it itches.” None of the itch gels give you as much happiness as your own fingers reaching the trouble spot and scratching the life out of it. Long nails add to the pleasure. But, not all are blessed with hands long enough to reach the spot. I was helped in this by a man in Maui, Hawaii. No, he was not a psychiatrist asking me to divert myself, so that the itch would not be noticed. Nor was he a medicine man capable of projecting my itch on to a voodoo doll. This gentleman was a politician. He had stood for council elections. Unlike our  Indian politicians who conduct their door to door campaigns without getting down from their ‘raths’, this man came walking down the long sloping driveway. He rang the doorbell, said his say and gifted us some candies and, and… a back- scratcher! This extremely useful item was a thin, long bamboo strip, whose one end had been split and bent like fingers and the whole thing was coated in varnish to keep off the borers. How thoughtful of him to think of such a simple solution for a malady as common as common cold! It is such a welcome gadget particularly for those who suffer from Pruritis geriatrics_ sounds like a character from Asterix comics, doesn’t it? Well, it only means the itching of the dry skin due to old age!

I insisted that my son and daughter- in- law vote for that person irrespective of their party affiliations. When we packed our suitcases to return home, the first thing that went in was my precious back- scratcher. So, now I am the happiest person on earth according to the adage.

Do you think dabbling in metaphysics might have something to do with the tipping off of that delicate thing known as the balance of my mind?


24 responses »

  1. vimala madon says:

    When your computer misbehaves, have you ever tried asking your kid for help. If you haven’t, don’t even think of trying! The ultimate insult was their reaction when I was designated Gen. Mgr, Technology on promotion. ‘Mum,’ they said, ‘is it ok if we tell our friends our mum is a general manager and leave out the technology bit?’

    • vimala ramu says:

      My dear Vimala,
      You wouldn’t have given this advice if you had known that except for my youngest grandchildren who are in US, I don’t have any kids at home.My other grandchildren are all very much grown up. One of them is married too. I need not tell you about my own kids, who are all nearitng the end of their services.
      So, it is all trial and error for me !

  2. vimala ramu says:

    Yes, there is lot of high funda in these small adages. Thank you, Seetharam.

  3. Seetharam says:

    As usual well written Vimala. I read somewhere the definition of happiness. When you have an itch ( not the seven year one ) don’t scratch for a long long time. And THEN scratch like mad and enjoy it ! The person who gave you the back scratcher knew this secret !

  4. vimala ramu says:

    Thank you,Deepika

  5. deepika says:

    Ha! ha!
    Still laughing.You are just too good.

  6. nuggehallipankaja says:

    thanks for the reply. Thinking my first two comments had not been registered, I attempted another, and also committed spelling mistake for- ‘struggle’

    sorry.professor of English and Sanskrit !

  7. vimala ramu says:

    Yes,Pankaja, I did survive the attempt, though I cannot say the same of my ‘mind’ as you can see from my blog!

  8. nuggehallipankaja says:

    I know not what to say. Words fail me !You are fantastic! Did the Alwars come in dreams and inspire you?
    I know how difficult translation works could be, since I have striggled in that field also. And doing such a heavy subject-God,are you alive?

  9. vimala ramu says:

    Thank you ,Geetha. I am sure the thingamajig must be available in India too, probably in plastic. Whatever it is, see that it doesn’t hurt the skin where you cannot see.

  10. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    A pleasure to read such a witty account. And very, very informative too. Even my mother has these skin itches and a whole lot of medicines from allopathy to homeopathy cannot help her when the syndromes start. I did not know the name of the disease. Now, I do! Of course, I do not have the back scratcher. I only wish it was available in India! Could have been a great reliever and handy for my mother. But I remember, my father had a wooden one, a sleek, slender hand like object, more of a craftsman’s delight. But I have misplaced it somewhere. It was extremely useful even to us who did not have chronic rashes or itches! A write can evoke so many memories, buried a long time back! Thanks, a lot, ma’am, for this hilarious piece!

  11. vimala ramu says:

    Yes, you are right.

  12. Shernaz says:

    Yours was actually the first piece I read and really marvelled at the way you went from something so serious to a humorous conclusion with great wit right through. Will come back to it when I need a good laugh again. Thanks for livening up this space.

    • vimala ramu says:

      Ha, Ha, fooled you all, didn’I ! You must have thought Vimala has gone serious, that too in this column. I don’t know why Shail replaced the accompanying picture of Alvars with a computer. Even she must have been confused as to how to categorise it.
      Anyway, thank you Indrani and Shernaz for visiting my post.

      • Dear Vimala, I replaced the pictures of the Alvaars with the computer because you had a problem with the computer keys in the write-up and most importantly, I did not think that it would be right to feature the Alvaars in a humour column. We need to respect religious sentiments too.. This I realized when it was pointed out to me by a reader.

  13. Indrani Talukdar says:

    I couldn’t stop laughing with this one, you really are something when it comes to humor. Marvellously written. Great 🙂

  14. Well Vimala, you have ventured into a sphere though should not be alien to us, I am afraid is a bit too ! Being from an orthodox Iyengar family only of late I have realized trhe imortance and import of Divya Prabhandam ( no little thanks to your firiend-my wife- Vyjayanthi ! I have started visiting some of the 108 DivyaKshetrams not just to pray but to know their Sthala-puranams and each one has taken me a step closer to getting to know about some of the Alvzhars !!! Thanks, you`ll be adding to this in your own inimitable way. Happy Deepavali, belated though it might be, our wishes .

  15. Beyniaz says:

    Your mind is very well balanced if you can churn out humorous anecdotes like this one! Thank you! 🙂

  16. Dear Vimala, you do seem to be the queen of wit. You started off with something so serious and then you finally ended up with the scratching fiddle. Only you could do it and get away with it:)

  17. vimala ramu says:

    Thank you Sonal and Sneha.

  18. Sneha says:

    Wow ! The firmaments of your imagination run vivid enough to engage us in a beautiful read. Loved it !! 🙂
    And yes, we’ve discussed all this over the phone so many times : your translation of the Alwars.
    I must say you’ve done a splendid job and some of them are now useful for me in the research I am doing.

  19. Sonal Shree says:

    ‘system software engineer must have been a Brahmin boy’-

    your imagination certainly soars beyond my imagination.

    As far as your back scratcher is concerned, I can empathize well because I possess the same handy bamboo piece and also a plastic one 😉

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