Published: 21st December 2020
We do not have enough good translators to make Malayalam literature go global: Benyamin
The Sahitya Akademi Award-winning author of Goat Days was in conversation with author and academician Lijeesh Kumar
According to the 2011 census, only 2.88 per cent of the Indian population spoke Malayalam. The size is quite small, compared to the number of people who speak languages like Hindi, Telugu, Bengali and Tamil. However, the quality of the literature produced in the language is something that one cannot afford to miss. Picture this. The JCB Prize for Literature in 2018 and 2020 were conferred to two Malayalam authors — Benyamin for Jasmine Days (Mullappoo Niramulla Pakalula in Malayalam) and S Hareesh for Moustache (Meesha in Malayalam). The former, however, feels that not a lot of original work in Malayalam is celebrated globally, probably owing to a lack of good translators. He was in conversation with author, academician and screenwriter Lijeesh Kumar in a session of TNIE's Dakshin Literary Festival.
A recipient of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award and the Man Asian Literary Prize, Benyamin said, "We have had the privilege of reading works by international authors in Malayalam. We interact with global literature regularly. But sadly it doesn't happen a lot with Malayalam literature and the rest of the world." However, he says that Malayali authors who write books in English have played a great role in introducing Kerala to the global audience. "I would say that Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things is a Malayalam novel written in English. Similarly, authors like Shashi Tharoor, Manu S Pillai and Tanya Abraham have also spoken about Kerala to people across the borders," he said, adding that he is quite happy about Malayalam books getting recognised globally of late.
Somebody who shares an unbiased love for travelling and spending time alone at home, the author is now waiting to go out of his house, travel and meet people. But lockdown wasn't all that bad for him. "I started taking up reading challenges with people. Along with a few other writers, I authored a book. In fact, I even finished writing another book during the lockdown," he said.
His latest book Nishabda Sancharangal (Silent Journeys) talks about women and their travelling. "I pondered over this novel after an author asked me if I could document the journeys that women have undertaken. Historically, women started travelling even before men," he said, adding that one cannot talk about a place in South Indian without mentioning people who have left for abroad. "My village in Kerala is quite vivid. It has people who have migrated to various parts of the world. That has altered the perspectives and viewpoints of people there," he said.
Benyamin had spent the first two decades of his life there, before moving to West Asia. "Viewing our land from outside gives us a different perspective. My time abroad helped me view things satirically. It altered my perspective. It also made me realise my privileges and freedom," he said.