From The Critical Flame:
Bhanumati Mishra: First and foremost, what does translation mean to you? What drives you to publish translations of Indian writing into English?
Mini Krishnan: I publish translations of Indian writing because in them lie our own histories, our sense of identity and belonging; because we need to breathe our native breath; because it is our historical duty in a largely illiterate country to preserve our words, our worlds, and slow their disappearance. In the indigenous writing of the subcontinent lay the memories and history of a people who are rapidly losing their languages. What better service than to retrieve and reinterpret a body of work which is emotionally important for India?
BM: Tell us about your tryst with regional languages, and also about the early influences in your life besides your father, who was the editor of the Deccan Herald in Bangalore.
MK: In the 1950s, while I was growing up in Bangalore, to function only in English was fashionable and those who didn’t were looked down upon. Gradually, Malayalam faded from my Anglo-Indian existence. No one ever suggested that I learn the Malayalam alphabet, and I must confess I wasn’t very keen either. We were coping with both Hindi and Kannada in school and trying to master another language—even if my origins lay in its culture—was not a welcome proposition. Meanwhile, I enjoyed textbook Hindi in school and sailed through the Hindi Prachar Sabha exams outside it. I was old enough to enjoy lofty and subtle poetry and something in me stirred as I studied Harivansh Rai Bacchan, Kabir, and Rahim. The melodrama and sentimentality, the lyricism and those rich overblown descriptions—it was all me.
In Standard IX, when I began to memorise English poetry, my mother often responded with a faint smile. “There is something very similar in Malayalam, only better.” Poetry in Malayalam was better than poetry in English?