In 2007, I was invited to translate three short stories by Vaikom Muhammad Basher for the Indo-Swedish translation project, a state-funded exchange programme between Sweden and India. I travelled to Trivandrum in Kerala where I spent two weeks working with the author, poet, editor and translator Rizio Yohannan Raj in her mother-in-law’s flat, on trains and in hotel rooms throughout the state. I had made a rough translation based on an English and a French translation and was then able to compare it against the original Malayalam with Rizio’s help.
When we came to Kozhikode in order to interview some people associated with the author we were suddenly invited to a book release for a translation into Malayalam of a short story collection by Sholom Aleichem (the author of Fiddler on the Roof). “Just imagine,” said Professor Karassery from the University of Kerala, “we have here a translation into Malayalam of a story written by a Russian-speaking man born in Ukraine who went to the United States and who wrote in Yiddish. Now you have come all the way from Sweden, and you are translating Basheer into Swedish! Basheer is the Sholom Aleichem of Kerala! You will stay for four or five hours, yes?” Of course we stay, but all I can understand of the proceedings are the words “Sholom Aleichem”. In the end it is I, not the translator of Sholom Aleichem’s book – he had come over all the way from New York for the occasion – who is asked up on stage in order to make a speech and receive the first copy of the book, hot from the presses and wrapped in pink tissue paper, from the hands of the famous author T. V. Nair. And it is I, not the translator of the book, who is mentioned in two daily papers the next morning.