Translator's Note

More than inspiring

Print edition : July 22, 2016

I SETTLED in to read this story, an indulgent smile very much on display. After all, Expectation and the Event began much like a parable and was written at a time when the short story as a genre had barely reared its head. I expected the author to deliver a banal homily with a grandmotherly air, as if addressing a brood of children. But the intelligent and unexpected end jolted me out of my complacency and sharply reminded me of the enormity of the task at hand.

Though the language of this nuanced story was reflective of the period, it had the lucidity and precision of modern prose. Ammani Ammal was sure of her craft, judiciously structuring her sentences to suit the tenor of modern storytelling. Here is a graphic description—an assembly line of perfect thinking, if you will—which even a talented writer of today would be hard put to better: “First they chopped it into bits, then pushed it into the grinding machine along with the others, pounded and squeezed all the juice out of its body to make it into mush, torturing it in ever so many ways, before finally turning it into paper.”

The writing was peppered with words not much in use these days and a few of them were Sanskritised, in keeping with the times. For example, ‘himsai’ and ‘prasiddhi’. But they were not hard to decipher, and lent a certain old-world charm to the writing.

With trees, birds and squirrels tossing quips back and forth, the writing at first revealed a certain freshness and innocence, tinged with a sense of fun. But with the clever insertions of advertisements and headlines, the author naturalised the story, firmly putting it in the Tamil context. This not only evoked the times but also lent credibility to the story. (Even after a hundred years, the attitude of newspapers and advertisements has not changed—‘Man dies climbing tree’, ‘Yogi living on air’ ‘Sparrow virility potion’, ‘Novel hair remover’.)

In the end, we realise that all this takes place in a classroom and the author neatly turns the story on its head, forcing the reader to take children seriously. Intertwining so many elements effortlessly and seamlessly, the author reveals a high degree of sophistication, surely the hallmark of a successful modern story. While building the story in English brick by brick, I always kept this larger picture in mind and inched towards it. The story, as an organic whole, readily fell into place.

Curiously enough, the English title was given by the author herself, printed as a sub-title. It is to our immense regret that we could not get any details about the author. We do not know who she was, only that she was immensely talented. A good writer always goads a translator into giving her best. Ammani Ammal more than inspired me. Subashree Krishnaswamy, Translator.