Nights and Days in Ujjaini

This Post is long due… because I had met MNN Chettan (Madassery Neelankandan Namboothiri) two months back to receive a copy of his translations of the Malayalam’s beloved poet Vishnu Narayanan Namboothiri… 

I have been close to MNN Chettan for a while here in the US…. My acquaintance with Poet Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri though go back to when I was a kid…  Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri was a close friend of NN Kakkad another beloved poet of Malayalam. Our house is just behind their house and we have been for all these decades close just like an extended family…

Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri used to come over to visit NN Kakkad and I have several fond memories of me sitting in their living room… though I had nothing to do with poems as a kid… NN Kakkad’s house was a kind of library and probably the place that first introduced me to OV Vijayan, Mukundan, Anand, C Radhakrishnan, Malayatoor and many other writers whose world of word I got a glimpse of through the books. I should say that it was my stepping stone into reading…

Though I was not into poets.. this is also a place I have seen many great malayalam poets in flesh and blood regularly… Later when I started reading poems and attempting to write them I have always wished I could have dabbled in poetry before so I could have had my personal interactions with these poets.. Now these are all childhood memories for me….

Why this background story…. because some books are beyond the books.. they connect you on a much different level that runs very personal….. This translation presented to me by MNN Chettan is surely one I will treasure. It also adorns our living room along with a present I received from the Kerala Literature festival in 2020 about my beloved town Calicut… ‘mmade kOyikkOde’ to be precise….

The way the book is structured is in a very interesting way.. while most of the translation usually only have the translated part.. here you can see both translation as well as the transliteration…. this I felt was unique…

I always like to think of translation just like flowing of thoughts and experiences.. it starts flowing from one language over to another… taking routes that are always different for different efforts.. I also like to look at every translation route having many interesting touch points or stops..

It all starts with the work in the original language… then it is steps into how the translator has been inspired by the work… Then there is this fascinating process of asking permission to translate… not the real permission but more metaphorically…. the permission you take before embarking on something… asking to help find the way when lost…. then the translator lifts the burden of the work on their shoulder and starts moving towards another language….

Now this is where the journey gets so interesting for the translator…. because en route the translator makes several stops where he or she converses with the original author or poet… In this specific case both MNN chettan and Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri have know each other for ages… from their college times if I have not mistaken….. So what fascinates me as I read it is the numerous conversations MNN chettan the translator would have had with the poet… And I do have a slight issue referring to MNN chettan as the translator because he is a poet himself who has penned his own works…

Before we go further I want to let you all know that MNN chettan is also a scientist and researcher in Nuclear Chemistry here in California for the past 60 years.. He has two collections or poetry of his own and translated the works of Kumaran Asan and Vyloppilly Sreedhara Menon…

The conversations between them would not have been a translator to a poet… but at multiple levels as poet to poet.. friend to friend.. and more…. I am sure each of the work would have helped MNN chettan go back in memories and meet his friend over and over again.. and even take strolls into worlds that only poets are allowed to get into…

As I read the poems… I too went back in my memories… the many times I have seen Vishnu Narayanan Namboodiri and also when you go back in memory.. you don’t meet just one person but you spend a lot of time there…

I want to thank MNN Chettan and Rajam Chechi for the warmth they extend every time we meet… and for writing and presenting us this book.. Also to everyone in every way who have been part of this effort… You all have a special place in our home and hearts….

I want to leave you with the last few verses of the poem ‘തീ പിടിച്ച പുര’ A House on Fire…

No Matter! Let’s
go and sit on the porch,
without delay, and
find out the causes
of the fire, and spin
a string of ideas;
on it, let us tie
together what was,
what we see now,
and what is to come;
and thus carry out
history’s mission;
and then we can dream
of new rain clouds!

Categories: Book Reviews, Books, Poets and Poems

Tags: , ,

1 reply

  1. A very beautiful description. Translation is a difficult thing, even more difficult than writing our own poems. The writer is a translator and knows the difficulties a translator has to overcome. Even if we find appropriate words,how do we express the feelings we get while reading the original book?

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