Eminent translator and writer Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan’s words emanate raw power. They flow with the grace, fury and energy of a river in spate. She has translated a number of acclaimed works from Malayalam such as Lalithambika Antarjanam’s Agnisakshi, C. N Sreekantan Nair’s Kanchana Sita, Matampu Kunhukuttan’s Bhrushte (Outcaste), Kovilan’s Thattakam, P.Vatsala’s Agneyam, and Sara Joseph’s Oorukaval (The Vigil), into English. Her translations have been published by the Sahitya Akademi and major publishing houses such as the Oxford University Press and Aleph. While having to temper her writing to suit the tone and theme of the works she translates, her irrepressible spirit shows through in the excellent forewords or translator’s notes that she writes. In her translator’s note on Agnisakshi, Vasanthi is critical of the two women protagonists, who she says “do not gain any self-fulfillment or satisfaction from their attempts to change their lives.” As is evident in her evaluation of this iconic work in Malayalam, strong convictions, fierce independence and uncompromising positions, form the ethos of Vasanthi, the scholar, the translator and the poet.
Those high standards make her a critic with an unclouded vision, a rarity. She is famous for her extremely frank reviews that while not hesitating to call out pretentiousness and mediocrity, are warmly appreciative of artistic merit. Her keen eye and heightened sensibilities have shaped her creativity and have given her writing the zest and power that make it so distinct. She has served as a member of the jury for various national film festivals and was the curator for several editions of the Women’s International Film Festival. She has a Ph.D in cinema.
Sita, originally published in the July 2001 issue of Samyukta: A Journal of Gender and Culture (Vol.I., no.2), is part of her extensive writings on Sita in the Ramayana. Apart from published works, she has also a yet to be published study comparing the representations of the various Sitas in Chintavishtayaya Sita by Kumaran Asan, Kanchana Sita by C. N Sreekantan Nair, ‘Asoka’, a short story by Sara Joseph and G. Aravindan’s film, Kanchana Sita. Interestingly, she has translated all these literary works into English from Malayalam. The sheer scope of this monumental study reveals the scholarship Vasanthi has garnered on the subject. In an interview with G.S. Jayasree, the editor of Samyukta, Vasanthi speaks of her Sita, who she feels ought to have been as bold, independent and self- respecting as the Sitas in canonical works.
This week, Samyukta Poetry is honoured to feature Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan and her Sita. Though we usually present a clutch of poems, the singularity of this work- the starkness of diction, the appraising tone and the nuances of thought, the way it talks about a perception or the ideal growing bigger than the original-merited a solo run. The river of words that Vasanthi lets flow, demands a cleansing flood. Fire countered with water. Sita will compel you to return and re-read. And she will surprise you every time.