N. Kandasamy (1898-1977) a versatile, multidimensional Tamil scholar was an editor, translator, essayist, lexicographer, humorist, landlord, building contractor and film producer, rolled into one. During the period 1962 to 1967 in which he worked with the IFP, one of the works he works he undertook was an English translation of the classical Tamil text Narrinai from the best edition of that text then available. We present in this book that translation of Narrinai which appears for the first time in print here.
The translation is recommended to today's reader as a rare example of what a so-called linguistic translation can be when written by a real Tamil scholar whose doubts and obscurities arise out of the text itself and not from any limited capacity to understand it.
This publication gives occasion, moreover, for the publishers to pay homage not only to N.K. himself but also to a generation of Tamil scholars, who were not professional Tamil Pulavars, or pandits and had other occupations but who nevertheless shared a genuine passion for the language and its literary monuments, amongst whom N.K. was one of the most versatile.
There is an interesting story from the early days of the French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP) when in 1955, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, then the Prime minister of india, visited the institute N. Kandasamy Pillai (N.K) took Nehru aside and asked him to come to the Tamil Department of the IFP, saying that what Nehru had said after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi already existed in old Tamil. As puzzled Nehru was shown a Palm leaf manuscript of Kamparamayanam from which a specific passage was comrades and countrymen, the light has gone out lives and there is darkness everywhere
Though this story is probably a legend it does give us a glimpse into the personality of N. Kandasamy Pillai, a versatile, Multidimensional Tamil scholar was an editor, translator, essayist, lexicographer, humorist, landlord, building contractor and film producer, rolled into one who worked for the IFP, not at the IFP, from 1962 to 1967. During this period one of the works he undertook was an English translation of the classical Tamil Text translation of Narrinai which we present in this book where it appears for the first time in print.
The translation in typed manuscript form has been preserved in the library of the IFP (Narrinai, traduit par N, Kandaswamy Pillai, Institut Francais Indologie, Pondichery 1970, call No: Ta Lit-Cl 168) Since 1971. It is accessible to readers and has been read gone on to publish what the purported to be their own translation and editions of Narrinai while the translation of N.K. remains in the library of the IFP.
At a time where the slogans of classical Tamil are heard everywhere due to the efforts and funding of the newly established center of excellence for Classical Tamil, central Institute of Indian Languages Mysore, we though the best way to celebrate this little known or forgotten Tamil scholar would be publish his pioneering translation of Narrinai. Some of his document (diaries, manuscripts etc) may be laying undiscovered in the houses of his friends and it is hoped that this book will trigger an effort to unearth them.
We present his translation as it was left by him, we have inserted the Tamil text for the benefit of readers so that this volume is bilingual. This translation, which paved the way for many foreign scholars to the world of classical Tamil reveals to us in its exactitude the creative task for a Tamil scholar translation classical Tamil into English and remains a very valuable tool in reading and understanding classical Tamil literature and the process of its translation. It stands as testimony to the range of scholarship of N.K. (see the bio-sketch of N.K. by Dr. Arasu in this volume) and this book pays long overdue homage to him.
The first publication released in 1956, by the French Institute of Indology at Pondicherry was the French translation of the works of Karaikkalammaiyar by Leon saint-jean a Tamil vakil or advocate from Karaikkal. This man of literature well versed in both cultures and languages is better known by his pen-name, karavelane. He was never attached to the staff of the French Institute, expect by a sentiment of deep rooted affiliation. A militant Indian nationalist belonging to the league for Merger (Ligue pour I' Integration de I' Inde Francaise dans I Union Indienne), he pursued his higher Law studies in France and made one or two friends in the small world of French Indologists, Pierre Meile and jean Filliozat among them. A further encounter with Pierre Meile in India was significant but too short as meile was bound, at the time, to INALCO (the French SOAS) in Paris where he was prematurely faced with the time consuming task of teaching both Tamil and Hindi. Karavelane's association with jean Fillozat was, however, a long story. Karavelane had founded a Tamil literary Cankam in Karaikkal and dreamed of its growing, while Filliozat's main ambition was to give to French Indology the institutional structure required for a long awaited dialogue with tenants of traditional culture in india the Pandits.
The Indo-French agreement singed at the time of the Merger offered an opportunity to realize the dreams of both these two friends through the creation of the French Institute of Pondicherry (Institute Francais de Pondichery, IFP) Sponsored by the ministry of External Affairs; the place of Tamil studies there was confirmed be the excellent translation of the poems of Karaikkalammaiyar which inaugurated its collection of Indological publications. This was a brilliant start. What was to come next?
The small world of the judiciary in Pondicherry had always produced bilingual cultured personalities interested in building a bridge between Tamil and French. The best known example have spent time and energy in translating and publishing classical Tamil writings into French.
The Institute was therefore happy to welcome onto the permanent staff a retired court interpreter, R. Design Pillai, who after joining the IFP, added to his credit the very useful publication of detailed French summaries of Tamil versions of the great Puranas on Siva in Maturai (Tiruvilaiyatarpuranam), on Skanda and on Siva in Kancipuram which were considered as giving optimum access to Tamil mythology and iconography, then one of the major programmes at the IFP. In addition this local scholar was always ready to help social anthropologists who could not read the local legends in the original; for example he accompanied Madeleine Biardeau in her enquiry into Paccai Valiyamman, whose shrine is on the Cuddalore road in the vicinity of Pondicherry.
As far as the study of Tamil literature went, the IFP was unfortunately confined to secondary vacanam or prose renderings of the principle texts. Jean Filliozat had grater ambitions; he dreamed of having the literature of the Cankam translated. At a time when the computer and the capacity to generate concordances automatically were not even thought of, the planned the compilation of a complete concordance and dictionary of ancient Tamil literature of a complete concordance and dictionary of ancient Tamil literature as an important tool for this project.
In 1962 N. Kandasamy Pillai was invited, with the enthusiastic approval of Karavelane himself, to co-ordinate the date processing. He promptly organised it in his masterly way: cards were printed as well as registers. A general card index in alphabetical order and a separate concordance of each work were compiled by a team he recruited, and hosted in his own spacious residence in Palliakaram, a suburb of Tanjavur. Some theoretical work was also undertaken to provide the technical guidance needed for grammatical analysis.
All this worked perfectly, but the crucial matter of including an English version of each entry suddenly presented itself as a major obstacle The interpretations of the systematically recorded ancient commentaries and often the contextual meanings suggested by a sprinkling of modern interpreters conflicted with the ground rules of Western philosophy deem the real or etymological interpretations: called, by N.K.'s western colleagues, 'linguistic translation': this was what they were ultimately expecting from him.
The course of the dialogue was rendered the more difficult in that, whereas N.K. could simply close his eyes and quote the context if each card from memory the same card remained a puzzle for the foreign reader, without the option in those days of referring to a translation as none was close enough to the original to be helpful. In consequence, jean Filliozat decided, much against his inclinations, that when all was said done, "it would be untimely to offer to linguists semantic determinations which needed to be checked." He meanwhile published the existing material in three volumes as the first complete concordance of early Tamil literature. His ambitious project was thus postponed only to bloom eventually as a first in the field of Tamil lexicographical studies.
The idea of a "linguistic translation" had started to haunt N.K. In the solitude of his room he, slowly and painstakingly understood the immense task of making a, strictly for private circulation, word-for-word English version of Narrinai, with the aim of encouraging his foreign friends to acquaint themselves with original. It was impossible though for a purely mechanical work to come from the scholar and lover of Tamil poetry he was. He mastered the slightly obsolescent form of literary English he had cultivated in a personal library well furnished with the major English authors, with the Encyclopaedia Britannica as a reference tool, and which he was accustomed to practise with some of his distinguished friends.
Like P.N. Appusamy, author of later, only, too rare, translation of a selection of Cankam poems, N.K. has given us a few examples of what he himself wanted to see published: words such as A Garland of Tamil poetry which he printed for the Karanthai Tamil Cankam in Tanjavur in 1949, without even mentioning that he was the author.
But his exercise on Narrinai was to serve another purpose. He cared, first of all, about the accuracy of his readings. Though he appreciated the first edition (1915, with commentary), by Narayanacami aiyar published posthumously, and was well aware of all the collective anonymous erudition which lay hidden in the so-called popular edition sponsored by S. Rajam, he had readings of his own, often stored in his memory, derived from musings with his friends on a number of unpublished manuscripts they had earlier handled. The, then very recent, edition with a commentary by Auvai C. Turaicamippillai (2 vols, 1966-68, Madras, Arunai Publications) is never referred to explicitly and it might perhaps be surmised that N.K. unimpressed by its prolixity, did not give too much value to variant readings which he probably regarded as lectio facilior.
While translating, he also occasionally remembered the wish of jean Filliozat to prepare a dictionary in which different levels of meanings of words, or clusters: etymological idiomatic, metaphorical, etc. could be entered separately. Hence a few linguistic notes appear in his manuscript, such as botanical equivalents, which always pose a puzzle for translators, or notes on musical terms because, as a true native of Tanjavur, he had a soft spot for Tamil music.
That is why we find in his manuscript, interspersed with the transaction some new readings, alternate suggestions and even a few explanatory notes, some elementary and some quite scholarly; for example, the few place-names he cared to identify bear witness to the spontaneous empathy with which he could project his Tamil reading of a poem into his intimate vision of the Tanjavur region. There was nothing systematic about this and fate was to decide that the intended prelude to a friendly and fruitful dialogue with a would-be translator would remain in the unachieved format of that first English rendering.
That rendering is however, recommended to today's reader as a rare token of what a so-called linguistic translation can be when by a real Tamil scholar whose doubts and obscurities arise out of the text itself and not from limited capacity to understand it.
It provides now, moreover, the occasion for the publishers to pay homage not only to N.K. himself but also to a generation of Tamil scholars who were not professional Tamil pandits and had other ways to live their lived, who nevertheless shared a genuine passion for the language and its literary monuments amongst whom N.K. was one of the most versatile.
It is lastly our to remind future generations that erudition and scientific accuracy were not exclusively the importation and the privilege of a few foreigners expert in the handling of philological material. When we evoke, along with the name of N.K. those of Vaiyapuri Pillai, and his friend and partner, P.N. Appusamy as well as the names of all the pioneers who first edited Tamil classical literature, we refer to genuinely nimble-witted scholars with an acute feeling for criticism. Their works stand out still as models of scholarship and they themselves are memorable for their unostentatious devotion to their language and culture.
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