Translator's notes

Alappuzha Vellam

By Anitha Thampi

It is my firm belief that the poem would have been impossible to
translate out of Malayalam if one were not closely familiar with the
visual landscape and the intimate quality of nature that it meditates on. The water of the region is indeed reddish brown and reeks of iron. If one had not directly experienced it, perhaps one’s translation would have been helplessly literal and powerless to capture its rhetorical glimmer. Also, it would be impossible to plumb the depths of this poem if one were not familiar with the history of the tragedy of politics here. Without such knowledge, the translator cannot really distinguish the layers of meaning that the poem nurtures. And finally, if one did not know of the cultural politics of Kerala in which the northern waters of the Nila stand for elite traditional culture and the murky waters of Alappuzha, for radical non-elite cultural upheaval, the translation would have certainly missed the poem’s subtle meditation on this politics and the poet’s own implication in it. Alappuzha is a small town in Kerala with a globally connected but very specific story of its own. It even had a unique visual tapestry, much of which is intact despite the brutal assault of first-world-worshipping consumerism. It has a place in the modern history of this unique region in India: Kerala. It has witnessed momentous events in the cultural history of Kerala, and its unique idiom was the bearer of the literature of social change in the middle decades of the twentieth century, which altered the social and political fabric of society here like nowhere else in India. It is also, today, a melancholic place, of decline and devastation – of politics, ideals, nature. Anitha’s poem captures all of this with exquisite economy. Like a diamond set brilliantly, the many shades and lights of the town glint through those words.

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