Author Interview: Translation is translating a wisdom into another wisdom, says Tamil author Jeyamohan

The English translation of Tamil author Jeyamohan’s new book – A Fine Thread – was launched recently. The book, a compilation of 16 stories ranging from art’s place in spirituality through the dreamy, incredible account of a young monk’s search for atonement to the examination of the social injustice inflicted upon the Dalits of India. Kunzum caught up with him on the sidelines of a talk around his new book. Some excerpts:

BSA: What inspired you to become a writer, and how did your journey into writing begin? 
Jeyamohan: My mother was a very good reader. And she used to write in Malayalam and Tamil. Though she hasn’t got much works published, but she’s practically a good literary person. She inspired me to write, and I started at a very early age. I started to write at the age of eight or nine. My works began to get published while I was studying in the 5th standard. And since then I’ve continuously been writing and I imagined myself to be a writer from the beginning. 

BSA: A lot of your books talk about socio-political and philosophical themes. Where does that come from? 
Jeyamohan: I have basic questions on life, death and about the cosmic order and everything. I consider myself as a philosopher who uses literature as my tool. That’s where it comes from.

BSA: You’ve translated several books, several pieces of literature into Tamil. What inspired you to translate those specific books into Tamil? 
Jeyamohan: I translate to understand a book in depth. For example, I translated Emerson into Tamil. It’s a way to understand Emerson in a more in-depth way, like Tolstoy translated Schopenhauer into Russian to understand him word-by-word. That’s why I translate. I translate a lot of Malayalam poets into Tamil. That’s a way to train my weapons. Like a cat sharpens its nails, I translate to sharpen my language. 

BSA: You are proficient in Tamil and Malayalam. How do you manage both the languages together? Don’t you want to shift to one language or the other at some point in time?
Jeyamohan: I write only in Tamil. Malayalam is a part of Tamil. Malayalam is a language that emerged from Tamil. Malayalam is a kind of new Tamil. I consider I am writing only one language. I used to write a lot in Malayalam also. But I don’t consider Malayalam as another language. I consider Malayalam as a mellowed down version of Tamil. The diction of Tamil and Malayalam are the same, so there is no problem in shifting one language into another.

BSA: You originally wrote your book, A Fine Thread, in Tamil and now that it has been translated into English, did you find that there are some differences in the way your language has been translated into English? Are there some parts of the Tamil language which are not translatable to English properly?
Jeyamohan: We read a majority of world literature in translation. Translation is a major process of human knowledge, which is happening throughout history for more than 2000 or 3000 years. Translation is continuously going on among languages. Indian literature has been created by translations done by our ancestors in older days. So translation is a major intellectual work. Translation is not translating a text into another text, it is translating a wisdom into another wisdom.
I consider the translation (of my book) is very good. It has a lot of changes in the English version because English is a totally different language. Some language nuances are lost in translation, but some new language nuances also emerge in the translation, so it is a new text. It is based on the original text. So it is a new text. We should consider translations as independent texts. That’s my understanding. 

BSA: Would you say that during translation there is some loss of the creativity of the original? 
Jeyamohan: I don’t consider it as creativity. Every language has its way of expression, sound, and some kind of particular images belongs to a particular language. They may be lost in translation, but it’s a natural process. Similarly, English is a more precise language than Tamil. So, when your work is translated into English, we can find that the text becomes more precise and perfect in the translation. So something is lost and something is added. That’s always happening. 

BSA: Would you tell us a little bit about your writing process?
Jeyamohan: I am a writer with a very strong subconscious. I write unconsciously. I always figure out my writing process like this: It’s dreaming through language. I used to mumble or I used to meditate the first sentence of a story. I used to chant the first sentence of a story in my mind as a mantra. Then I complete the story. If I cannot complete the story (in my mind), I cannot complete it ever. That’s the process. The story comes to my mind in a complete version. I never think or plan anything about the creative work before I start it. Even big novels I never imagined, I never have a plan before that starting point. I just start and I just finish it.

BSA: Would you say that reading and writing are part of the same process?
Jeyamohan: Writing is something… it’s like a spring that emerges in a land but there should be rain. Unless there is rain, there would be no spring. So reading is the major thing to create a work. I used to read a lot. I used to read in Tamil, Malayalam and English and I’m very much interested in Sanskrit literature, particularly classical Sanskrit literature. So that’s why I am writing. Only a scholar can write good works. That’s my idea. And there is a popular saying in Sanskrit – One who is not a rishi is not a poet. A good writer is always a scholar.
There is another saying about Kalidasa, “If a thing is expressed in Kalidasa, it is right” because he knows, the poet knows everything, like a writer knew everything. 

BSA: How many hours do you spend writing in a day?
Jeyamohan: Usually, I used to write nearly six or seven hours in a day. I used to write a lot of articles, literary criticism, philosophy writing and fiction. I used to write every day and I publish my work every day on my site. I have a lot of readers who come to my website daily and read it like a newspaper. So I used to write for nearly six to seven hours every day. 

BSA: And how many hours do you spend reading? 
Jeyamohan: Nearly six or seven hours every day. 

BSA: What would you say is the importance of reading in today’s day and age when a lot of children are lost in their cell phones?
Jeyamohan: That’s a major phenomenon these days. Young children are spending a lot of time on their cell phones, but that’s a natural process. In older days also, the children used to spend a lot of time listening to the radio and later, they started going to the movies. We are spending time on the Internet and cell phones. Some children naturally have a quest of life. They used to read. And still they are reading books. 

BSA: Do you write for your own pleasure, or do you write to put your stories out to the world? 
Jeyamohan: Putting our stories out to the world is the pressure of a writer. Expression is the way to learn. If you want to learn something, try to express it. While expressing it you will gradually understand your ignorance also. Then it leads to more reading and more understanding. So reading and expression are a part of the same process, two parts of one process. So it’s a pleasure. Aristotle once said, “the greatest pleasure in the world is learning”. So I am writing to learn. That’s my answer. 

BSA: Would you give us a list of, let’s say 5 authors or five books that you that have influenced you a lot? 
Jeyamohan: It’s difficult to say just five books, but I always prefer Tolstoy’s War and Peace. And Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, and Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks and in Tamil J.J. Silakuripukal by Sundar Ramasamy. And in Malayalam Vaikom Basheer’s Pathummayude Aadu (Pathumma’s Goat).

Pick up Jeyamohan’s A Fine Thread from any Kunzum store or WhatsApp +91.8800200280 to order. Buy the book(s) and the coffee’s on us.

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