He has translated works by Thoppil Mohamed Meeran, Perumal Murugan, Salma, G Thilakavathy, Cho Dharman, S Balabharathi and R Madhavan.

This daily wager has translated 250 short stories 14 books from Tamil to Malayalam
news Human Interest Thursday, June 28, 2018 - 17:10

"Nee ennaya poosikitu porandalum, ottra mannudhaan ottum po": This is one of the Shafi’s favourite lines, which translates to “even if you rub oil onto your skin and roll on the ground, the mud that is bound to stick, will stick”. It is a quote from the book Madhorubagan, written by Perumal Murugan.

Shafi Cherumavilayi introduces himself as a daily wage construction worker in Kannur district of Kerala. When someone asks what he does, he will immediately reply: “Koolipani aanu” (daily wage work).

But many would like to call him a writer or a person very close to literature. Shafi has translated 250 short stories and 14 books from Tamil to Malayalam.

He has translated works by Thoppil Mohamed Meeran, Perumal Murugan, Kanthasamy, Salma, G Thilakavathy, Cho Darman, S Balabharathy, R Madhavan, Melanmai Ponnusamy, Meeran Mohideen and Subra Bharathi Manian.

Learning Tamil was not his aim at any point in life, but learnt it while he was working at a tea shop in Bengaluru's Vivek Nagar in early 1980s. The area was inhabited by many Tamilians

In the beginning, he picked up Tamil by reading film posters and later by reading newspapers and magazines. He then began to read books and as a hobby, started to translate them into his mother tongue.

It became more than a hobby after a short story that he had translated was published in a Malayalam newspaper. After he returned from Bengaluru to his native town, Kannur, he started contacting writers over the phone, asking them for permission to translate their books.

Many short stories were translated by him for different magazines and his first book, a translation of the Tamil book Ananda Shayanam Colony which was a compilation of short stories by Thoppil Meeran, was published in 2008.

"I started with reading stories in magazines. If I loved them, I’d write a letter to the authors and get a copy. I’d also ask them if I could translate them. Many of them granted me permission," Shafi says.

In the past 10 years, he has translated 14 books, including novels and short story compilations. Among them, three books - Sa. Kandasamy’s award-winning novel Visaranai Commission, Melanmai Ponnusamy’s Minsara Poo and G Thilagavathi's Kalmara - were translated for Kendra Sahithya Academy.

Shafi, however, would not call himself a full-time writer.

"I work as a construction worker. My work will start around 8 in the morning. Writing is possible only at night, but I enjoy it," Shafi told The News Minute.

"While writing, if I have some doubts, I’d clarify them with the author over the phone. Right from the beginning, they all happily cleared my doubts. I have a good rapport with all of them.  Meeran had visited me at my house," he shares.

Shafi's father was a fish vendor. Though the family went through severe poverty, Shafi somehow managed to get home books to read during his childhood. He could not complete his school education but he never quit reading.

"Public libraries in my village were of great help to me. I used to read whatever I could. I did all kind of jobs to get books," he recalls.

Without completing his formal education, Shafi went to Bengaluru to earn money.

"I worked in a tea shop and as a footpath seller. From my small earnings, I used to buy books," Shafi said.

Speaking about the inspiration behind his writings, Shafi recalls, "At my school, the teachers encouraged us to read literature. But after that, there was no inspiration for me to start writing. Everyone around me was struggling to make ends meet," he smiles.

When asked whether he is considering writing as a full-time profession, Shafi dismisses the thought. “How will my family live? As long as I am free at night, I will not have any shortage of time," he smiles.

Shafi has been honoured many awards for his work, including the Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer Literary award, Tirupur literary award, Nalli-Thisai Ettum Award.

“These days many people interested in literature visit my home and we hold discussions. This is my passion,” he shares.

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