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Working as translator and critic

Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan's work as a critic-translator has brought meaning to her life

When Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan joined the Bank of America in 1969 as a secretary, she had a game plan. She opted for a job in operations, sat for the Certified Associate of Indian Institute of Bankers (CAIIB) examinations and climbed her way up from a clerk to assistant manager before she retired in 1986. "I did not have a flair for accountancy," she says. "But I like to do full justice to whatever I do." She has done full justice to her second career too - since retirement, the Chennai-based 71 year-old has pursued her literary interests to become a translator of Malayalam literature into English, and a critic on arts.

Sankaranarayanan has always been interested in literature and fine arts. But to write about them, she decided to learn more. After resigning from the bank she did her M Litt dissertation on the influence of dance drama on life in Kerala and a post-doctorate on society and politics as seen through Malayalam cinema. A theatre lover, she attends rehearsals to interact with the cast before reviewing it. Her articles and reviews only fetch her about Rs 4,000 per month - but she's not complaining.

Her turn as translator also began after retirement. After reading a serialised story called Agnisakshi in journal Matrubhoomi, she got permission from the writer Lalithambika Antharja­nam to trans­late it - it was published in 1980 by the Kerala Sahitya Aka­demi. Next was author Matampu Kunjukuttan's book Brashtu (also being serialised) under the title Outcast - Macmillan published it. More followed: Inner Courtyard by Virago, London; and Inner Spaces by Kali for Women. "You cannot translate word by word," she observes. "The creativity of the translator is as important as that of the original writer."

Today, Sankaranarayanan works between two and four hours a day. Her remuneration, too, varies according to royalties and the publishers. "Once the books are sold, 5 to 10 per cent of royal­ties accrue to the translator," she says. "I may earn about Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 for each book." But finding new meaning to life after her husband's death 20 years ago is the real reward. "My literary pursuits have helped me live life on my own terms," she says.

Support comes in the form of her children. Daughter Asha, settled in the US, is constantly in touch and son Anand, a chef running his own eatery in Chenn­ai, lives in the same complex - although in a different building. Ask Sankaran­a­rayan why and she quotes Khalil Gibran: "There should be distance in your togetherness." Fridays, though, she has a regular dinner date, with grandson Amartya.

- Padmini Natarajan

Featured in Harmony Magazine
March 2007

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