M. T. Vasudevan Nair, Translated by N. Gopalakrishnan
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Women of character and strength, reveal his failings, one by one. And, Sudhakaran runs; from village to town, from town to city and city to city. The city now is Varanasi. This ancient city reminds him of all that it stands for—dharma, lust and death—and that there is no place where one can hide one’s mistakes. Of all places one cannot hide in Varanasi, where memories hold the city together; and, where Kalabhairavan, astride his fierce dog, punishes everyone before salvation.

Varanasi, in his trademark austere writing style, is Jnanpith laureate M. T. Vasudevan Nair’s latest novel. Non-linear and set through the protagonist’s reminiscences, this novel is MT’s experiment in style. The narrative is in the unusual ‘alternating person view’, where the narrator smoothly shifts between the first, second and third person. Complemented by a steady stream of paradoxes and allusions, legends and parallel realities, this novel makes for an engaging read.

Translated by Sahitya Akademi award winner N. Gopalakrishnan, this work is laced with the flavours of the original Malayalam, even as its protagonist leaves his native far behind and for too long. However, Sudhakaran and other etched characters of Varanasi are here to stay, for a long time to come—like the grand old city itself.

Born in 1933 in the small village of Koodallur, Kerala, M. T. Vasudevan Nair is the best known among his generation of storywriters in Malayalam. A chronicler of life in the matriarchal joint family of Kerala, a milieu he describes with intimacy in novels such as Nalukettu (1959) and Kaalam (1969), he won the Kendriya and Kerala State Sahitya Akademi awards respectively for these two novels. He is also among Kerala’s most popular script writers and directors of mainstream cinema. He has won four National Awards for his screenplays. The very first film he wrote, produced and directed, Nirmaalyam (The Floral Offering) won the President’s Silver Medal in 1973 and Kadavu (The Ferry) won the Japanese Grand Prix. He was also awarded the Jnanpith in 1996.

Apart from short fiction in which he has excelled, Nair has published novels and novellas, travelogues, literary criticism, books for children and a sizeable number of miscellaneous notes, reviews and memoirs. Nair’s stories have been translated into several languages in India and abroad. He was associated with the editorship of Matrubhumi periodical publications for over four decades. The Government of India honoured him with the Padmabhushan in 2005.

The Translator

Born in Kottayam, Kerala, on 1 February 1934, N. Gopalakrishnan is a well-known writer and translator. He has translated P. V. Narasimha Rao’s Insider (DC Books, 1999) into Malayalam, two novels by M. T. Vasudevan Nair, namely Iruttinte Atmavu (The Soul of Darkness, Tarjuma Publications, 1999) and Vilapayatra (The Funeral Procession, Tarjuma Publications, 1999), E. Vasu’s Vandematharam (Son of the Nation, Tarjuma Publications, 2007), and K. P. Ramanunni’s Sufi Paranja Katha (What the Sufi Said, Rupa, 2000) into English. He also translated Ramakanth Rath’s Odiya Classic Sri Radha into Malayalam in association with poet P. M. Narayanan (Mulberry Publishers, 2002), which received the Kendriya Sahitya Akademi Award in 2007.

Translator’s Introduction

Varanasi (Six parts)

'Varanasi' published in the Indian Cultural Forum (Indian Writers Forum), online edition | 29 August 2020.
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