Crying to Somasundereswarar



From Chapati Mystery:

Lapata: What do you think about the trend in translation in which a very large number of Indian words are retained in the translation? You have used a fair number of kinship terms, and also, of course, the wonderful bits of onomatopoeia, which work very well with the campy aesthetic of the collections, but not so much that a non-Indian would be hard-pressed to understand what’s going on.

Pritham K. Chakravarthy: When talking about Sri Sri,a great Telugu poet , his comentator says the words linger in your ears, humming rrrrrrrrr… I guess onomatopoeia is something every Indian language has. I have seen it otherwise only in comics… phatchaak… No comments about any other translation attempts.

Lapata: Speaking of the authors, I am very curious about the research you have clearly undertaken to put together their bios. There must be some good stories about your journeys to find these writers, especially the one that was anonymous. Can you share some anecdotes?

Rakesh Khanna: Ah, you have a 1st printing. After that came out the “anonymous author”, Prajanand (as he prefers his name to be spelled in English) contacted us and we met him… he turned out to be a college student from Coimbatore, 18 at the time he wrote those two stories. I heard he’s been writing some science fiction recently. We changed the bio and the spelling of his name for the 2nd printing.
Here’s an anecdote… The first author we got to sign a contract was Indra Soundar Rajan, who lives in Madurai and is a devotee of the goddess Meenakshi Amman. He suggested that we go to the Meenakshi temple and do a pooja and sign the contract on the Sangam Paligai, which is this slab of rock that according to legend was the site of a 2500-year-old assembly of Tamil poets.

PKC: It’s where the epic poet Nakeeran dared to challenge Lord Shiva’s grammar. Nakeeran was the Poet Laureate in Pandiya court during the Sangam era. The Pandiya king wants to know if a woman’s hair has a natural fragrance. He addresses this to all the poets of Madurai and promises a huge reward to the one that comes up with a satisfactory answer. Dharumi, a poor poet, badly needs the money promised. So he goes to Meenakshi Amman Temple and cries to Somasundereswarar. Suddenly Siva appears before him, in the guise of a stranger, and offers to write him a poem. When Dharumi goes to the Pandiya court and submits the poem, the king is greatly impressed. But when he is offering Dharumi his reward, Nakeeran challenges the poem, saying it is grammatically wrong. Dharumi takes this back to the incognito Siva. Siva becomes angry at being called a bad poet and curses that Nakeeran will have a terrible body itch, for which he will have to bathe in the Porthamarai Kulam in the temple for cure. Nakeeran does this. Then Siva appears before him in his true form and challenges his poem again. Nakeeran is sorry for insulting Siva, but stands by his complaint. Impressed with his confidence, and his love for Tamil, Siva chooses to forgive Nakeeran at the pond bank, where we signed the first contract.

“A Big Leg of Mutton, or: How to Consume and Translate Tamil Pulp Fiction”, Lapata, Chapati Mystery