13 November 08 | Chad W. Post

One translated book I recently had to add to the 2008 translation database is Zero Degree by Charu Nivedita (translated from the Tamil by Pritham K. Chakravarthy and Rakesh Khanna), which was published by Blaft Publications earlier this year.

I have to admit that until reading Rakesh Khanna’s comment on an earlier post, I had never heard of Blaft, but I really like their mission statement:

Blaft Publications is a new independent publishing house based in Chennai, India. Our releases so far include an anthology of Tamil pulp fiction, a translation of an experimental Tamil novel, a book of drawings, and a book of English short stories.

However, in the future, Blaft has much wider goals. We are planning to eventually branch out into translations of fiction from other regional languages of South Asia, English fiction, comic books, graphic novels, children’s books, non-fiction, textbooks, how-to-manuals, encyclopedias, and kitchen appliances.

All of their titles are available in America, but apparently only through Amazon.com, which is unfortunate. After reading the first half of Zero Degree, I’m pretty sure there are a number of booksellers out there who would be into this book—it’s the first Tamil title I’ve encountered that includes a dedication to Kathy Acker and a reference to the Oulipo. . . . Rather than summarize the book—I plan on writing a full review in the near future—I thought I’d share the translator’s introduction:

We would like to let Zero Degree speak for itself, after taking just a moment to disavow our personal support for any political agenda that this book or its characters may have, and also to point out two idiosyncratic difficulties the book posed for the translator.

First, in keeping with the numerological theme of Zero Degree, the only numbers expressed in either words or symbols are numerologically equivalent to nine (with the exception of two chapters). This Oulipian ban includes the very common Tamil word å¼, one, used very much like the English one (“one day”, “one of them”, etc.). The way Charu Nivedita works around this constraint in Tamil is a notable feature of the original text. However, Tamil has some better substitutes for this word than English does. For instance, there are two pronouns each for he and she: Üõ¡/Üõoe [Ed. Note: I can’t figure out how to get the script to appear correctly online—sorry about that.] (roughly “that man”/“that woman”) and Þõ¡/Þõoe (“this man”/“this woman”). The lack of single-word English equivalents sometimes results in less graceful constructions than Tamil makes possible. We have done our best to make these sentences easily readable without using the forbidden numbers.

Secondly, many sections of the book are written entirely without punctuation, or using only periods. This reminds the Tamil reader of an ancient style of writing, before Western punctuation marks were adopted into the script. However, in English, omitting punctuation, besides being confusing, would fail to give this effect. Therefore, we have inserted punctuation marks in many chapters, except where it seemed important to the meaning of the text to leave them out.

Zero Degree was first published in Chennai in 1998. It is the author’s second novel, and features many of the same characters that appeared in his first, Existentialism and Fancy Banyan. It did well enough for a second and third edition, and was also translated into Malayalam by Balasubramaniam and P. M. Girish. In Kerala, the book generated a great deal of . . .

[The remainder of the translators’ note was destroyed by a computer virus.]

Pritham K. Chakravarthy
Rakesh Khanna

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