Tirukkural - The Book of Desire

Tirukkural - The Book of Desire

In Tamil literature, poet Thiruvalluvar’s Tirukkural holds an invaluable position. Over the many years that have passed by since its original publishing, the text has often been translated, however mostly by male voices. The third part of the Tirukkural, the Kamattu-p-pal, due to its intimate thematic concerns and tropes of female sensuality, has also been most heavily censored in its translations. Thus, it paved the way for award-winning writer, Meena Kandasamy, to produce the first feminist interventionist translation into English of the remarkable text.

“I started learning the Kural by rote like a lot of young Tamil children and I was fascinated by the text,” reminisces Meena of her inclination towards resisting the text. Reflecting on her translation process, she tells us, “For such a long time we have only one popular discourse — of looking at translation as a process of loss. However, as you see the rich cultural history of Tamil, and the mere fact of being in usage for several thousand years means that each word has developed layers of meaning. You get to play more, you get to allow the original poet that much more space to exist.”

She further adds, “The second thing is that it's also a daring (and a scary enterprise). On the left pages of the Book of Desire we have printed the Tamil text and the transliteration. On the right is my translation. Anyone could read the left-hand side and check if the right-hand side is doing the right thing. Imagine having to produce a work where thousands of readers will put you to instant scrutiny.”

Through Tirukkural - The Book of Desire, Meena Kandasamy has endeavoured to remarkably translate two hundred and fifty kurals that convey revolutionary messages pertaining to female desire and agency. And she does so by deftly navigating the the nuances of translating poetry wherein words and rhythm are found and not lost in translation.

Date 17-02-2023