Tiruppavai in French
Andal’s pasurams have been translated by Vasumathi Badrinathan
Vasumathi Badrinathan, classical vocalist, has translated Andal’s Tiruppavai into French. Le Tiruppavai ou Le chant matinal de Margali has been published by Editions Banyan, Paris. According to Vasumathi, her work is significant, amidst a gamut of translations in the area of contemporary literature.
“The 30 verses of Andal, one of the Azhwars, make for beautiful poetry and have to be read by all. Tiruppavai is a part of Indian culture and heritage, which should not be missed because of language barriers,” she says. “The translation will reach it to international audience, especially the French speaking population,” she adds.
The French work, launched last year, won acclaim in a panel discussion, organised by the Alliance Française de Bombay. It was attended by a large number of poetry-loving and French speaking audience, several officials from the French consulate, including Sonia Barbry, the Consul General of France in Mumbai. The conversation flowed in three languages — French, English and Tamil.
Author of short stories and poems, her linguistic felicity has enabled Vasumathi to translate works in Marathi and Tamil into English and French.
“I believe in building bridges across communities and lands through art and literature. The Tiruppavai translation a milestone in this context,” says Vasumathi, a Fulbright Fellow, Erasmus Mundus scholar and visiting professor to many universities, who has been propagating Carnatic music at international fora for the past several decades. Le Tiruppavai ou Le chant matinal de Margaliis currently available in the link: http://www.editions-banyan.com/ produit/le-tiruppavai/
In this email interview, Vasumathi speaks of her love for Andal, her French connection and more:
How did you gain such proficiency in French?
Well, right from an early I have been deeply drawn to languages. I learnt French, Russian, Spanish besides Indian languages. However I decided to specialise in French and obtained my Ph.D. in French at the Lille 3 University in France. I am close to French language. It’s a very soft, musical and beautiful language.
How did the translation happen – what exactly was the trigger apart from the fact that it is great poetry?
Most of my musical productions like Stree Gaanam, MahatmArpan, Vandé Bhaaratam, Muraağam, Darbari Darshan, Concerto Sangeetam, Swar Samvad, etc., have à spoken component to them in order to highlight their salient features. Whenever I perform to a foreign audience, I realise how keen they are to fathom the meaning of the lyrics presented. I try to bring them closer to the lyrical part by explaining the meaning in their own language.
With respect to Tiruppavai, a translated book is an ideal way of reaching out. Besides, today, the world of translation is dominated by contemporary literature. There is very little translation of old texts.
Tiruppavai being one of my favourite poems, I was very keen on translating it. French Indologists are far and few today and I felt I had a responsibility of translating this gem from Sangam literature and taking it to a wider readership. And above all I have a personal connect with this poetry.
During my travels I also noticed how that several Indians of Tamil origin, especially those of the third and fourth generations, living abroad in France and Francophone countries like the Reunion Island were cut off from our literature and our language though they are keen to understand more. This translation could be a bridge for such people to get closer to their roots.
All this triggered me to take up the Tiruppavai to be translated into French. It took me some years to complete this project.
Are you devoted to Andal?
Andal as a feminine figure, as a poetess, as a creator has always intrigued me. She’s an iconoclast in every sense of the term. As a child I used to be mesmerised by the black and white portrait with all its fine details and beauty with Andal standing at the centre, serene and lustrous. She’s timeless and eternally radiant. Her poetry is simple yet evocative and passionate. I belong to a Sri Vaishnavite family and my grandfather was a Sanskrit scholar. Many great scholars used to visit him and discuss these works. I grew up in this milieu, listening to the paasurams and about Andal all my life. With this background, I worked on another project a few years back and released an exclusive album of Carnatic music called “Tamilmarai Isai” — a collection of Azhwar Pasurams. It’s a rather one of it’s kind engagement with the Alwar poetry and music. The Tiruppavai translation was a logical flow from all of this experience.
Have your literary engagements taken you away from the music circuit at home because you haven’t been visible here for the past few years?
I have not been visiting Chennai of late during the music season due to domestic compulsions. It was difficult to move away from Mumbai for extended periods of time and to allocate two weeks at a stretch for Chennai music season. However, I have been presenting concerts in various venues in India and overseas.
Recently on January 26, for Republic Day, I curated and presented a special concert titled, “Vande Bhaaratam” in Bangalore. I continue to work on various projects and present them in different concerts and venues across the globe. My literary engagements have certainly not taken me away from music. Rather they share a complementary and symbiotic relationship ! And needless to say, I would be very happy to perform in Chennai again as and when Sabhas invite me !
What was the French literati’s reaction to the book?
Well, many French research scholars were extremely happy to see this book. Many of them are deeply involved in Indian literature and some of them do a lot of work in Indian music as well. The book was released by Editions Banyan, a Paris-based publisher specialising in Indian literature, towards the latter part of last year. It was well-timed and prompted many French readers to buy this book as an Xmas and New Year gift.