Utterly delightful

Print edition : November 11, 2016

IMAGINE a tiny village in a bygone era in Tamil Nadu where no one had ever sat on a chair. That is the setting of this utterly delightful story where making a chair is on the “agenda” of a colourful, irrepressible family. In fact, the true protagonist of the tale is the chair. Naturally, the entire village queues up to sit on this novel piece of furniture. But suddenly the villagers seem to have a new use for it: to prop up corpses (even they seem to have moved from floor-tickets to chair-tickets!) And not because it is a necessity but… well, because it is available. A stingy uncle, the butt of all jokes, who is seemingly the antagonist in the story, exhibits a surprising grace and sagacity at the end of the story, completely taking unawares both the characters in the story and the readers. A heartwarming coming-of-age tale.

This story bristled with kinship terms, begging not to be flattened out. Besides, there are simply no equivalents in English. The graphic descriptions—

preparation of a betel leaf to be chewed, for instance—were so exquisitely written that it was both a challenge and a pleasure to match them word for word. There were folkish riddle-chants, too, that relied on alliteration and rhyme. Of course, the story hinged on humour, and finding the right tone and pitch was an education in itself. Translating this story was highly rewarding.

Dilip Kumar and Subashree Krishnaswamy