Writings in Indian languages are more authentic than in English because they present a truer picture of Indian life, says multi-faceted Malayalam author Chandrika Balan, whose oeuvre includes 20 books in her mother tongue and four critical books and 36 research papers in English — and two of whose books have been converted into movie screenplays.
“Literature written in Indian languages can be said to be more Indian than Indian writing in English, for it writes more local colour realism and presents a cross-section of Indian life,” Balan, who has also translated widely from English to Malayalam and from Malayalam to English and has received the Katha National Award for English translation,” told IANS in an email interview.
The Sahitya Akademi, eminent publishers and reputed journals in India “give enough importance to translated works now. Translation has become part of academic syllabus too. So the situation is hopeful,” noted Balan, whose latest offering “Invisible Walls” (Niyogi/128 pages/Rs 250), the English translation of Malayalam title “Aparnayude Thadavarakal”, has just been released.
How did the present work come about?
“I began writing it as a short story as I am mainly a short fiction writer. The story started as Kamala’s; Aparna was not there in the picture at all. But then Aparna entered the story half way as Kamala’s friend and soon claimed the story as her own. When I developed the characters, the work became longer and turned out to be a novel, portraying two women who fight invisible walls,” she explained.
To elaborate, “Invisible Walls” is about two women, Aparna and Kamala, whose lives run in parallel, though they do not know each other. They dream of a world without walls, but invisible barriers surround and crush them. Kamala reads a book titled “Invisible Walls” about Aparna’s life on a train journey and thus the reader discovers a story within a story.
Given this theme, Balan, formerly a Professor of English in Thiruvananthapuram’s All Saints’ College, said Malayalam literature today, “especially the scenario of fiction, is full of variety in themes and forms of expression. Earlier, only literature written by Indians in English was considered Indian English literature. Now that Indian literature in translation is being given the importance and attention it deserves, our literature is also on the way of being promoted”.
How did the translating bug bit her?
Balan, the recipient of 15 awards, including the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award, the Katha National Prize, the Padmarajan Puruskaram and the O.V. Vijayan Puraskaram, said that while she previously did her creative writing only in Malayalam, she took a break from her teaching career for three years to work with Dr K. Ayyappa Paniker, the renowned English professor, poet and critic, on a Sahitya Akademi project on Medieval Indian Literature in English translation.
“I was the Executive Editor of that project. Editing the translations of eminent professors and writers from all parts of India, I educated myself on the art of translation. Katha Foundation of Delhi asked me to translate some Malayalam writers of their choice to English. When they were published, more offers came; but somehow I did not want to be a professional translator. I wanted to be known as a creative writer. So I took to translating my own stories.
Her first collection, “Arya and Other Stories” was published by Orient Blackswan.
Would she describe herself as a systematic writer?
“I am not a systematic writer at all, devoting a number of hours a day for writing. My dream is to become one. When an idea comes to mind, I develop an outline first and carry it around like a child within the womb. And when the urge for writing it comes upon me I sit late in the night to write down the first draft. The reworking and revisions will be done later; usually it is the third draft that is final,” Balan explained.
How did the foray into the movie world come about?
It began with noted Malayalam film director and screen writer Lenin Rajendran making a movie out Balan’s story “The Website” as “Ratrimazha” (“Rain in the Night”) “which brought him accolades. He has taken a Director’s freedom with the story”, Balan quipped.
Her book, “Njandukalude Naattil Oru Idavela” (An Interval in the Land of Crabs) has recently been made into a similarly titled movie by the popular young actor Nivin Pauly, with the director being Althaf Salim.
“That book is actually my memoirs on my cancer days; they turned it into a family story of a mother’s fight with cancer and brought in a lot of humour. But they conveyed the message of hope as I insisted,” Balan said.
She has also written a screenplay for Kerala’s Social Welfare Department, which turned it into a movie directed by Sanjeev Sivan.
“It is titled ‘Arunimayude Katha’ (The Story of Arunima); the theme is a critique on the extravagant weddings and craze for gold in Kerala,” Balan said.
Her dream now is “to write two novels — one on a village being transformed into a city and the other on (Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s wife) Sonia Tolstoy. Both require a lot of time and work and I intend to devote 2019 to that”, Balan said.