From construction worker and tea seller to a passionate translator, Shafi Cherumavilayi a native of Kerala’s Kannur district has translated 250 stories, 14 books from Tamil to Malayalam.
Passion for reading Tamil
At his young age, Cherumavilayi had a small tea shop in Bengaluru where many construction workers use to halt in for a cup of tea and snacks. Some of them would have spirited discussions in Tamil, and Cherumavilayi was very much interested to learn the language. In the initial stage, he picked up film posters and newspapers and magazines to read Tamil. He then began to read books and as a hobby, started to translate them into his mother tongue Malayalam.
“Limited resources did not allow me to join a proper course. So, every night, after the day’s work, I would try reading the Tamil film posters I collected. I would also read every pamphlet, note, newspaper or book in Tamil, brought to the shop by the Tamil customers,” said Cherumavilayi.
The 56-year-old studied till 10th standard, after which he discontinued due to financial problems. To support his family financially he left home at an early age to work in Pune and later moved to Bengaluru to work in the tea stall. Following, he flew to Gulf where for three years he worked as a construction worker. “I use to work as a construction worker. My work will start at around 8 in the morning and writing was only possible at night, but I somehow enjoyed it,” he told.
The only means of reading was public libraries in his village were he used to read whatever he could.
“If I have some doubts while writing, I would ask them with the author over the phone. Initially, they all cleared my difficulties. I have a good rapport with all of them,” he says.
Labor in the day, Writer in the Night
It is noted that Cherumavilayi did not have a writing table in his house. He used to write in a dining table. “After the tiring work during the day, I can’t sit long hours. After two hours, I have to go to bed,” he says.
His first translation was a Russian story written in Tamil, which he later translated to Malayalam. It was then published in Janayugom, a Malayalam daily newspaper published by the Kerala State.
He returned to Bengaluru in 1997 where he worked in a textile outlet. He stayed at this job for around a decade, which was when he mastered Tamil.
No earning but a passion to follow
He also claimed that the translation work did not earn him income. Sometimes, publishers give Rs 10 per page which was not enough. “It will certainly not help me run my family which includes my wife, three children, and a daughter-in-law. My daily work at the construction site is my livelihood. I get Rs 750 a day. Hence, I work six days a week.”
Even though it does not earn him leaving the passion never allows him to stop. Once he has a pen in hand, it takes him less than a moment to get lost in the treasure trove of Tamil literature.
Several people call him a writer or a character very close to literature. Cherumavilayi has till now translated 250 short stories and 14 books from Tamil to Malayalam. He has translated works by Thoppil Mohamed Meeran, Perumal Murugan, Salma, G Thilakavathy, Cho Dharman, S Balabharathi, and R Madhavan.