I had once been assigned translation of a piece on the freedom fighter Salihan, by P.Sainath. I then underwent one of the most traumatic phases of my relatively energetic life. Sainath’s reportage is so nuanced that you can very rarely hear the distinct voice of the author. His interventions happen in such a way that it resembles a pebble in a moving river. This piece was an exception. The poem written as a tribute to Salihan, in the end, was one emotional and moving piece I had ever translated in my life. I realised at the end that my eyes were wet. My trauma vanished to a greater extent with those tears, maybe.
Then, I was given the rare privilege of translating another nine pieces in the same series. Due to various constraints and the heart-warming reportage I took nearly over a month to complete the work. Travelling into the dalit basti of Sherpur and soaking my legs in the filth of caste discrimination to which I am also a party by being able to do nothing, landing with awe amidst the protests of Kalliaseri, participating in court trials in Panimara, closing my eyes when Koya tribals got dispossessed, and seeing the signature of INA warrior Laxmi Panda in Tamil. I had lived a life and felt one life is not enough to understand even a drop of India’s endless tradition of subaltern protests.
There are few observations I made during translating these pieces. Sainath has always used ‘we’ and not even a single ‘I’ in these stories. If the pieces had only reported the past achievements and struggles it would have been another nostalgic ‘Freedom at midnight’ kind of stuff. The master craftsman weaves the text in finer ways between past and present, making us realise how we had failed our freedom fighters’ dreams. You would expect the pieces to be serious. Emotions, complex realities, humor even in the cliff of death, all filled the terrain of thoughts and made me immovable for nearly a month. More than all this, the pieces offer hope, and hand over the sense of guilt with finest surgical precision through simple words.
Thank you Sainath for making us meet those foot soldiers of freedom. It will take a long time for me to come out of their struggles. I wish its longer and lasting.