Word trends

February 10, 2019

I am a very slow translator, except when I translate my own writing. One of the main reasons is that I become engrossed in the dictionaries (in English and Tamil), while translating. One word leads to another, triggering a series of thoughts, away from the work in progress (this is a live demo). Dictionaries are not just about words, and words are not merely about meanings. Here is a footnote from the (Oxford) Dictionary app:

“word trends: Youth was once the ultimate state, envied and romanticized by those who had left it behind, with youths themselves celebrated as the possessors of beauty and potential. But that time has passed, with the Oxford English Corpus telling a sorry tale of the state of today’s youth: unemployed, disaffected, nuisance, and drunken are some of the most common modifiers, while almost all of the verbs associated with youths are violent or threatening, with attack, smash, vandalize, intimidate, and assault all scoring highly. And youths cannot simply meet—they congregate, gather, and even plague: intimidating gangs of baseball-capped youths congregating around the newsagents | a shopping parade plagued by nuisance youths. Teenagers fare equally badly, commonly being the object of verbs such as kill, stab, arrest, and molest and described as troubled, rebellious, spotty, or pregnant.”

Unintended mercies

February 10, 2019

During all the serious browsing and writing, we do manage to find some unintended relief and mercies. Late last night, I needed to translate thaali and chiragu into English. My wife suggested nuptial chain/thread for thaali, but no word came to mind for chiragu. Google search threw up a lot of jewelry ads. I clicked on a Tanishq ad for a mangalsutra costing Rs.46521. I decided to use the words nuptial chain and pendant. When I tried to exit that page, a message popped up.

/Dear Customer,
Please let us know the reason for your non-purchase and how could we help serve you better!/

I didn’t want to disappoint Tanishq. I left my answer there.

‘I was searching English words for Thaali and Chiragu. Found rough equivalents. Thank you.’

That small good deed kept me going (and awake) for another couple of hours.

(P.S. Any better alternatives are welcome)

Thirukkural’s Kaamathupaal: The Book of Love

July 24, 2018

After another long break, I have resumed Thirukkural translation on my Thirukkural website. The first few chapters of Kaamathupaal are published in the bilingual Tamizhini e-magazine.


August 1, 2017

Trees that thrive on this planet,

clusters of plants in bloom with joyous fragrance,

creepers that throng those trees,

healing herbs, weeds and grass and such:

By what profession do they live?


Men may not plough, nor sow,

not raise bunds, nor water their crop

but if the skies grant rains,

will not the land abound

with trees and various grains and grass?

There is not a thing I fear

Oh men, embrace my religion

and toil not!


Tax not your flesh and body

Nature shall yield food.

See, your task here is to wield love.

– Subramania Bharati

(Translated by me)


இந்தப் புவிதனில் வாழு மரங்களும்
இன்ப நறுமலர்ப் பூஞ்செடிக் கூட்டமும்
அந்த மரங்களைச் சூழ்ந்த கொடிகளும்
ஔடத மூலிகை பூண்டுபுல் யாவையும்
எந்தத் தொழில் செய்து வாழ்வன வோ?

மானுடர் உழாவிடினும் வித்து நடாவிடினும்
வரம்புகட்டாவிடினும் அன்றிநீர் பாய்ச்சாவிடினும்
வானுலகு நீர்தருமேல் மண்மீது மரங்கள்
வகைவகையா நெற்கள்புற்கள் மலிந்திருக்கு மன்றோ?
யானெ தற்கும் அஞ்சுகிலேன்,மானுடரே,நீவிர்
என்மதத்தைக் கைக்கொண்மின்,பாடுபடல் வேண்டா;
ஊனுடலை வருத்தாதீர்; உணவியற்கை கொடுக்கும்;
உங்களுக்குத் தொழிலிங்கே அன்பு செய்தல் கண்டீர்!-

– பாரதி


May 12, 2012

Lakes and rising water
lead to a rich harvest,
in other countries.
In the land of Karikala,
surrounded by Kaveri,
just the paddy left behind,
stuck in the stubbles,
more than suffices.

– An anonymous Tamil poet, 20 centuries ago, in a time when such dreams could be dreamt.


ஏரியும் ஏற்றத்தினாலும் பிறர் நாட்டு

வாரி சுரக்கும் வளன் எல்லாம், தேரின்

அரிகாலின் கீழ் உகூஉம் அந்நெல்லே சாலும்

கரிகாலன் காவிரி சூழ் நாடு

நூல்: பொருநர் ஆற்றுப்படையின் பிற்சேர்க்கையாக உள்ள வெண்பா


Gems and potatoes

April 14, 2012

They are digging for potatoes.
The gems that come their way
they cast aside with their iron bars,
and keep digging for potatoes.

– translated from an obscure Tamil text (திருநாகைக்காரோணப்புராணம்) quoted in U.Ve.Saminatha Iyer’s  autobiography. (உ.வே.சா – என் சரித்திரம்). I am glad I didn’t shove away this gem.

The full poem in original:

புன்மை சால்கிழங் ககழ்ந்திடும் போதெதிர் போதும்
அன்மை தீர்மணி சுரையிரும் பாலகற் றிடுவார்
வன்மை மேவிய தாயினு மாண்பறி யாரேல்
மென்மை மேவிழி பொருளினு மிழிந்ததாய் விடுமே.

I know no fear – Bharathi

October 26, 2011

I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When united
the world stands
against me,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When rubbish
I am dismissed as,
and trashed,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When a life
of begging
I must resort to,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When everything
I love
is lost,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When the eyes
of pretty women
pierce me,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When I am fed
poison by my
closest friends,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When an army arrives
with spears
smeared with flesh,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When the sky
shatters and descends
on my head,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.


My translation of the song “Achamillai achamillai” by Bharathi.

On this Diwali day, I am inspired to do this translation, thanks to Mahirl Malar ( my 3-year old daughter). Last night, she was refusing to step of the house, in fear of crackers. I told her to recite ‘Achamillai’ song, everytime she hears a loud burst. She started doing that in her inimitable way, and tone, with wild gestures of bravery. Voila:  she dragged me down for a walk to watch the big boys having a blast.

The day has dawned

October 11, 2011

The day has dawned

thanks to my penance.

The damned dark moments

have all disappeared.

Spreading its rousing

fresh golden rays,

it’s risen with splendor:

the wisdom, the sun.

– part of a poem by Bharathi, translated by me and posted on Facebook.

Here is a wonderful rendition of the song by Bombay Jayashree (Pozhudu pularndadhu).

Ool (karma) in Thirukkural

September 14, 2011

After translating 370 couplets from Thirukkural, I ran into a translator’s dilemma, when I encountered the chapter on Ool (ஊழ்). Should I translate this chapter, when I dont believe in it (after a superficial skimming), or shall I skip this chapter and move on to the next one? After a lot of deliberation, I decided to give it a deeper reading before coming to a conclusion. And, I am glad I did that. Instead of posting the kurals one by one of Facebook and Twitter, like I’ve done before, I am giving the entire chapter here on my blog;  since, there is a lot of scope of misinterpreting individual kurals, in this chapter, without a holistic perspective.

I am refraining from using the word fate or destiny, since there is a significant difference between ool and fate. [I am writing ool instead of oozh, since I belief zh doesnt serve the purpose for non-Tamils anyway.)  Fate, as per OED, is the development of events outside a person’s control, regarded as predetermined by a supernatural power. Ool or karma, in an Indian context as per Hindu, Jain and Buddhist traditions, and as rightly put in OED, is the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future.

This belief was at the core of Gandhi’s thoughts.  “I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless.”

Swami Vivekananda, also, put it eloquently : “Men generally lay all the blame of life on their fellowmen, or failing that, on God, or they conjure up a ghost, and say it is fate. Where is fate and who is fate? We reap what we sow. We are the makers of our own fate. None else has the blame, none has the praise.”

The way Thiruvalluvar has dealt with Ool  is very interesting. As in most other kurals, it is more poetic than spiritual. The rationality is probably too rational that it almost sounds irrational for self-professed rationalists like me. While, I definitely still dont subscribe to the idea of previous and future births, I am viewing this as a poet’s liberty to exaggerate, and make his point.

Ool is almost a character in my other favourite Tamil classic, Chilapathikaaram.

So, here is the Chapter 38 from Thirukkural : Ool

Constructive ool causes tireless endeavor leading to prosperity;
destructive ool causes indolence. [371]

Malign ool blunts one’s intelligence;
in its turn, benign ool sharpens it. [372]

Even if knowledge comes through profound books,
one’s innate wisdom remains dominant. [373]

The world is stratified based on two factors:
wealth and wisdom; and, they are not correlated. [374]

While seeking wealth, positive aspects can turn harmful;
and negative aspects beneficial. [375]

Strive hard, we may; but what we don’t deserve doesn’t stay,
and what we deserve, we can’t dispose. [376]

One may amass wealth worth crores, but can consume
only as ordained by the Ordainer (based on ool). [377]

Even those who possess nothing to enjoy will ‘renounce’,
if only one can escape the misery that is to be suffered. [378]

Why bemoan the misery caused by ool,
when one enjoys the good without complaint. [379]

Is there anything mightier than ool? It remains dominant
despite all plans devised to counter it. [380]

It is interesting to note that Valluvar doesn’t say constructive ool causes prosperity; it causes effort. Throughout these 10 kurals, Thiruvalluvar is building up Ool as a very potent character, like in the best works of fiction,  and then deals ool a deadly blow (and answers the question he asked in kural 380), when he says later on,

“Even if god has given up, perseverance will yield positive results. ” [619]

“Those who persevere without ever giving up, will defeat even ool”. [620]

The original couplets in Tamil :

அதிகாரம் 38 : ஊழ்

ஆகூழாற் றோன்று மசைவின்மை கைப்பொருள்
போகூழாற் றோன்று மடி.  [371]

பேதைப் படுக்கு மிழவூ ழறிவகற்று
மாகலூ ழுற்றக் கடை. [372]

நுண்ணிய நூல்பல கற்பினு மற்றுந்தன்
னுண்மை யறிவே மிகும். [373]

இருவே றுலகத் தியற்கை திருவேறு
தெள்ளிய ராதலும் வேறு. [374]

நல்லவை யெல்லாஅந் தீயவாந் தீயவு
நல்லவாஞ் செல்லவஞ் செயற்கு. [375]

பரியினு மாகாவாம் பாலல்ல வுய்த்துச்
சொரியினும் போகா தம. [376]

வகுத்தான் வகுத்த வகையல்லாற் கோடி
தொகுத்தார்க்குந் துய்த்த லரிது. [377]

துறப்பார்மற் றுப்புர வில்லா ருறற்பால
வூட்டா கழியு மெனின். [378]

நன்றாங்கா னல்லவாக் காண்பவ ரன்றாங்கால்
அல்லற் படுவ தெவன். [379]

ஊழிற் பெருவலி யாவுள மற்றொன்று
சூழினுந் தான்முந் துறும். [380]

Gandhi and Thirukkural

August 25, 2011

In his autobiography, Gandhi wrote “A Gujarati didactic stanza likewise gripped my mind and heart. Its precept ‘return good for evil’ became my guiding principle. It became such a passion with me that I began numerous experiments in it.”

For a bowl of water give a goodly meal:
For a kindly greeting bow thou down with zeal:
For a simple penny pay thou back with gold:
If thy life be rescued, life do not withhold.
Thus the words and actions of the wise regard;
Every little service tenfold they reward.
But the truly noble know all men as one,
And return with gladness good for evil done.

The resemblance of this Gujarati poem to the chapters in Thirukkural on “செய்நன்றியறிதல்” (Gratitude) and “இன்னாசெய்யாமை” (refraining from harmful deeds) is striking.

Particularly these kurals :

The way to punish those who harmed us
is to shame them by doing them good.

Those who know the true value of a favour, will see
for the quantum of favour, a tree, where there was a grain.

No wonder, Gandhi later said : “I wanted to learn Tamil, only to enable me to study Valluvar’s Thirukkural through his mother tongue itself…. It is a treasure of wisdom…”

As I had written in this note, I have been doing my own version of Thirukkural translation on a public Facebook page. If you are interested in knowing more about Thirukkural, you can follow this page, or choose to read any of the numerous translations, already available.