Under my byline

Word for word

Posted in Books, Q&A by Rrishi on 8 June 2008

Q&A: Gita Krishnankutty

Gita Krishnankutty is an award-winning and well established translator from Malayalam to English. Her work won her the first Crossword Indian language fiction award in 1999, and this year two novels translated by her have made it to the Vodafone Crossword book award shortlist. Dr Krishnankutty has also won two Katha awards for translation. She has studied English literature and French, and lives and works in Chennai.

What impact does winning an award like this have?

I don’t know that it makes that much difference. Translations are not selling well anyway and I don’t have much hope on that score. They say it’s changing but as far as we are concerned — I look for my books in bookshops and I don’t see them.

Your writing and translation often have to do with women’s issues and identity. Is this a major theme of Malayalam literature?

I would think so, yes, because Malayalis have been concerned with that. Regional literature is very rich in all fields. We have so many languages and not enough being translated, except for Bengali and Malayalam. In Tamil and Telugu more are coming out now. We [translators] work very hard and sometimes I wonder why.

You have translated three books so far by MT Vasudevan Nair. As a translator, why are you drawn to his books?

I’ve always liked him. Also because he has written so much, he hadn’t restricted himself to any one genre: short story, screenplay, article, novel…

How do you choose what you will translate?

The way we do translations varies a lot. Some are commissioned by publishers, some we choose the text. Sometimes we’re told by the publisher to do a particular author. It’s not always entirely our choice.

What makes a translatable author? Are some more difficult to translate than others?

Anand [CP Sachidanandan] was difficult, he’s a very cerebral writer. You work your way into the text. He’s also very cooperative. I used to [ask to] find out whether I’ve got it right. That’s also an interesting experience, continuous feedback. The challenge of the text becomes quite exciting.

Besides translation, what do you do?

I listen to music. I taught French at the Alliance Française, but just for a short while.

Have learning and teaching French had any bearing on your translation work?

You do realise that you can move from language to language without too much difficulty. But I have not really used anything that I learnt there in Malayalam-English.

What are you working on now?

I have a few pieces here and there, nothing I’m ready to talk about. I have the urge to write but I’ve never written. Well, I’ve written one biography. It’s about the founder of ayurveda in Kerala, founder of the Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala [Aryavaidyan P S Varier]. That sold well, but I don’t hear about it now.

Memoir and biography seem to be making a comeback now — is this also true in Malayalam?

I see it happening and I think people like to read memoirs provided there’s enough material there. It’s always been interesting. There was a short biography of a sex worker recently translated — a matter-of-fact rendering [Nalini Jameela’s Autobiography of a Sex Worker, trans. J Devika]. In Malayalam it did extremely well.

Naalukettu: The House Around the Courtyard
M T Vasudevan Nair
Trans. Gita Krishnankutty
OUP
pp 208

Govardhan’s Travels: A Novel
C P Sachidanandan
Trans. Gita Krishnankutty
Penguin
pp 438

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