Poet and freedom fighter Ramalingam Pillar’s autobiography En Kathai is considered to be the best autobiography in Tamil. Many scholars like Dr. Kamil Veith Zvelbil, author of Tami literature, have highly acclaimed this work. The autobiography is not only a fascinating life story written like a novel, but also a revealing study of political, educational and cultural climate language with humility and honesty.
Shashikala Raja has translated several books from English, Tamil and Hindi into Kannada. Last year Kamataka Anuvada Sahitya Academy, Bangalore has published her translation of Ek Kathai into Kannada, She has penned several poems both in English and Kannada. She is married to Kavignar’s youngest son Ram lingam Raja currently lives in USA.
Post Laureate and freedom fighter V. Ramalingam Pillai is popularly known as “Namakkal Kavignar” (Namakkal Poet) and his autobiography En Kathai is considered to be the best autobiography in Tamil. Many scholars like Dr. Kamil Veith Zvelbil, author of ‘Tamil literature,’ have highly acclaimed his autobiography.
Dr. K. R. Hanumanth has aptly said in his monograph Namakkal Ramalingam Pillai, (published by Sahitya Akademi in 1985): “Ve Ramalingam Pillai was a man of his times, influenced by the revolutionary ideas of the 19th and 20th centuries, but at the same time he was a conservative, whose roots ran deep into the ancient past of the Indian and Tamil culture.
I would like to express my gratitude to the Sahitya Akademi for having assigned me this project of translating Kavignar’s autobiography Ek Kathai from Tamil to English. En Kathai is not only a fascinating life story written like a novel, of someone with a keen perception from a remote farm-land village in Tamil Nadu, but also a revealing study of political, educational and cultural climate of the story of his early childhood, career as an artist (Gold medal awarded to him by king George V for his coronation paining during the Delhi Durbar), his involve mend in the freedom struggle inspired by Tilak, and latter his total dedication to Mahatma Gandhi as well as his connection with the Tamil post Subramanian Bharati, his patriotic literary and poetic efforts during his imprisonment by the British and his association with the dramatic artists- all written in a simple language with humility and honesty makes this a classic work of an artist, post, eloquent speaker, idealist, and a great story teller.
The author has used a sweet and simple language which is easily understood, yet it is almost poetic in diction and therefore it posed some challenges for the translation. I have consciously tried to maintain the same simple language as the original and have tried to bring the same the flow as the original. The author has some verses here and there.
As I felt I could not do justice to those verses, I have give the gist in prose and continued, but when he talks about the thirukkural, I decided to transliterate the original of Thirukkural for the benefit of the non-Tamil reader. I have taken the liberty of summarizing couple of passages in his discussion of Thirukkural, where his elaboration of Tamil grammatical nuance is suitable more for the Tamil scholars than the non-Tamil readers.
I decided to give the meanings of the few Tamil words that I have used in footnotes rather than in appendix, so that the reader does not have to go back and forth. I hope the readers find my translation as lucid and interesting as the original.
I would like to thank Mrs. Chitra Rumanian, Mrs. Lois Dowling, Mrs. Radhika Raja Shah, Dr. V. Lakshmi Narayanan and last but not least my husband Ramalingam Raja (the youngest son of Kavignar) for their valuable suggestions and also Dr. Karunakaran Krishnamoorthy for transliterating the Thirukkural verses for the non-Tamil readers. Finally I would like to remember my father Mr. A. Parameswaran, who encouraged and trained me to translate selected paragraphs from classics during my summer holidays even when I was a ten year old school girl. After reading the original Ek Kathai that I gave him, it was he who inspired me to translate this particular book. Every time I called him, he would ask me if I had taken up the project. He would have been very proud of me today were he to behold this translation, published by Sahitya Akademi.
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