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In Our Translated World

Reviewed by R.S.Sugirtharajah

This collection brings together nearly eighty poems by Tamils from Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia and Singapore and the  Tamil Diaspora dispersed in Europe, the Americas and Australia.  As the editor, Chelva Kanganayagam, says in his deceptively erudite and witty  introduction, this is not a historical record but a contemporary testament to the poetic impulses of the Tamils in their effort to articulate their identity in an increasingly interconnected and yet isolated  world. This commanding and seductive volume is  the  product of the vigorous  efforts of the Tamil Literary Garden, Canada, whose efficiency, transparency and integrity have become an enviable benchmark among the  literary organizations in the Tamil speaking  world. This distinctive volume is modelled on the Harvard Loeb Classical Library series, where the original text is placed side by side with the English translation. The juxtaposition of the original and the translated texts will enable readers to see for themselves  the different hermeneutical strategies employed by the translators to arrive at their  creative and imaginative solution. These poems show that there are no such things as untranslatable words.              

In a  brief review like this, it is not easy to do justice to each of  these poets and their poetical experimentations. The volume deals with weighty issues - migration and exile; loss of love and land; clash of native and cosmopolitan values;  the nostalgic yearning for the past and the  uncertainty of future prospects,  confidence and trepidation in transacting daily routines, the intricate interface between native innocence and  urban unease. What comes  out clearly through these poems is not only the anxiety and humour but above all the humanity of the Tamils.            

As the reader will note, this volume is not a simple, straightforward translation but an act of creative, imaginative re-enactment. The translators have ruthlessly  dissected  the original and  elevated  the key narrative movements and striking  idioms so that they appear dazzlingly  fresh. Their translations are  a witness to  the emotional power of words and language.  Anthea Bell, a long time translator,  once commented  that "translators are in the business of spinning an illusion. The illusion is that the reader is reading not a translation but the real thing". These thee translators,-  Thangappa, Ramaswamy, Thayanithy-, have   spun plenty of illusions for the reader. Be prepared to be mesmerized.   

University of Birmingham