A decade and a half ago, during a Fulbright year in India, I had the privilege of studying Thiruvalluvar’s Thirukkural with my Tamil teacher, Dr. K. V. Ramakoti. As part of my exploration of the connections between people and land in Tamil language and literature, we would read and discuss each of the book’s 133 chapters at length, delving not only into their many and nuanced meanings, but also into their poetics and forms. I memorized verse after verse and even attempted composing in Thiruvalluvar’s form itself.
In the years since, when we spoke on the phone or I was able to see him in India, he would often say, “Wouldn’t it be good if someone finally did a proper literary translation of the Thirukkural?” I would always agree, but it never crossed my mind that this someone should be me.
Till suddenly it did.
When I told Dr. Ramakoti I was considering an attempt, he said, “Oh, good, finally you got it.” I think I couldn’t entertain the idea until I felt my understanding of Tamil was clear enough and my facility as a poet strong enough to do any kind of justice to the task.
Now, after several years of work and the support of a National Endowment for the Arts Literary Translation Fellowship, I’m pleased to say that I’m almost finished with a version that I would feel good about publishing. So stay tuned or sign up for updates to learn when the translation will be released.