Monday, October 25, 2010

Litanies of Dutch Battery

Book in the rack!

For reasons seemed obvious to me, writing a book was an ostentatious indulgence. Translating another had to be an impossibility. Yet it happened, thanks to an improbable sequence of events and to internet.

P.K. had given a recco on account of our shared heritage of Kochi nativity. Sreekumar brought the book on a return trip from India. Upon reading the article here, Sunil asked about the English version, prompting a few exchange of emails between myself and N.S. Madhavan's friend Rizio. Fortunately Madhavan was visiting a writers' haunt in Ghent, New York. We spoke about Kochi and other things during the long ride to Philly. I played Billy Joel's New York state of mind in the car, which could as well have been Kochi state of mind!

Kochi has a much shorter and recent history, unlike the narrative of ancient India. The ports of Kochi have always welcomed visitors from distant shores and made them her own. The human landscape around the small town of Kochi showed a microcosm of the world. You could travel a few miles to see Jews, descendants of the Dutch, French, Portuguese, the English and Central Asians moving about in their own natural habitats. Hindus who fled from persecution by the Portuguese in Goa and tradesmen from north, as far as Kutch have added to the texture.
The fast pace of turns in history have given them the gift of endearing ideosyncracy, all the while being ruthless observors of life - this is on show with full force in their language, which has a unique rhythm and cadence.

Translating that is a hard act to follow. Nevertheless, here it is.

N.S. Madhavan is a significant writer from India with an uncanny sense of history whose genius will guide you to rare insights into the Indian mind.

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