Love to read books translated from Indian languages? At a time like this, a rare book becomes a rare treasure, especially if it is one that travels through the hearts of women who have crossed the realm of youth and navigate the turbulence past their middle age. Just as this reader assumed woefully that gone are the days when the lives and emotions of women crossing their 40s and 50s are placed at the crux of a short story collection titled,’The Solitary Sprout: Selected Stories of R.Chudamani’ demolished it all.
Who is R.Chudamani?
Known as one of the early feminist Tamil writers, R.Chudamani’s select stories are most relevant today as you would realise while studying each short story, a real life slice from our own lives and conversations.
Tamil short stories by R.Chudamani
In ‘A Chair and Death’, where the aged mother defies class distinctions by allowing her maid’s son to sit on the chair with the family while watching TV and then being forced by the objections of her family members to allow the child to sit only in her presence, the class and caste distinctions that continue to sway Indian families is examined sans judgment.
“Herself’ is a powerful short story. This captures a married daughter’s turbulent emotions when she returns to her parental home,with a longing to be thoroughly pampered by her mother and is shocked to find that her mother is no longer at her beck and call.
She struggles to discover that her mother has made an identity of her own. She questions her father about why he is not objecting to this and fails to understand his rationale that throughout her life, the mother has served the husband and children and now, she has found the true meaning of her life by making independent choices. The shock and confusion in the daughter’s mind is brilliantly captured in this story.
Reading R. Chudamani’s selected short stories, ‘The Solitary Sprout’ (translated from the original Tamil by C.T.Indra and T. Sriraman) gives a reader a candid glimpse of the hearts of Indian mothers as they age. Their strengths grow yet so does their vulnerability.
‘Paths that are so many’ springs with a lesson from Bhagavad Gita to Natesan Iyer who laments silently about his wife’s attachment to their children who are leading their own lives. As he begins to contemplate on the teachings of the Gita, he realises that the paths are many but when one adopts a mind of superiority, human beings tend to look down even at the choices of their nearest and dearest with a sense of disdain and an urgent need to correct them.
As a reader who enjoys exploring the nuances of vernacular narratives, there is no doubt that the English language loses much in translation. Yet this book, in its translation, has captured the brilliance of its writer’s genius in fictional imagination.
Very often, when you read a translation afterwards, the loss feels insurmountable. The loss in translation may not be intentional or the lack of craft but the impossibility of arriving at precision when language and its nuances become a barrier.
This book is an exception. Let me explain with an example of how the translators have thoroughly explored the nuances of language in their craft.
A short story titled ‘Not a Stepfather’ makes you wonder and curious.
Delving into the dilemma of a middle class Indian family that has to grapple with the dynamics of a step parent, the emotions from a child not ready to accept a new member of the family to the grandmother who can only look with suspicion, ‘Not a Stepfather’ highlights the positive aspects of having a step parent.
The translators carefully chose an English title that aptly demolishes the new member of the family as not being a step parent at all. Instead, it places the person as a more suitable parent for the child who longs for his parent.
Published by Orient Blackswan, “The Solitary Sprout” is a book that explores and travels into the waning phases of motherhood – particularly as mothers grapple with the challenges of growing older before the judgmental gaze of their loved ones and friends.