Inspiring tale of a Daily wage Worker & his Passion for Literature!May 08, 2019
A good read is a subtle form of celebration. Be it a novel that has scenes to connect with our life or a poem that rouses our emotions, a piece of literature that is well written has a profound connection with our behaviour and value-systems.
When man is struck with ignorance or agony, there can't be a better motivational boost than an effective form of literature. While there are thousands who benefit out of inspirational and informative reads, this man, from a very humble background has contributed more to literature than he got from it.
Shafi Cherumavilay, a daily wage construction worker in Kannur district has translated about 250 short stories and 14 books from Tamil to Malayalam. He spends his entire day toiling in the hot sun and working in construction sites to earn his bread.
In the night, he spends his time reading books and attaining pleasure out of translating them into his own mother tongue.
He has contributed to both the languages of Tamil and Malayalam by introducing multiple Tamil books to the literature lovers of Kerala. He has translated works by many acclaimed writers including Thoppil Mohamed Meeran, Perumal Murugan, Kanthasamy, Salma, G Thilakavathy, Cho Darman, S Balabharathy, R Madhavan, Melanmai Ponnusamy, Meeran Mohideen and Subra Bharathi Manian.
When questioned about his invaluable service to literature and his passion for reading, he starts pouring out his enthusiasm by stating his favourite line:
"Enna thaan ennaya poosikttu porandalum, udambula otra mannu thaan ottum". This is Shafi's favourite line which means "Even if you drench yourself in oil and roll on the ground, only the mud you deserve sticks on you". The line finds its place in the book Madhorubagan, one of the literary works of Perumal Murugan.
Shafi's simple start
Shafi's father is a fish vendor. Though he struggled with poverty right from childhood, he never gave up his passion for reading. He managed to borrow books from the library and enjoyed his time reading. Despite dropping out of school, he never gave up reading and learning things. He has worked in tea shops and as a footpath seller. With the meagre amount of money he saved, he bought books. Public libraries were helpful to Shafi and he did any type of job to save the money to buy books.
Shafi, in one of his interviews, speaks of his childhood inspirations. "In school, our teachers inspired us to read literature. But after that, we were left with no inspiration. We were struggling to make two ends meet"
Love for Tamil
In the 1980s, he worked in a tea shop in Bengaluru's Vivek Nagar. The place was inhabited by many Tamilians. Though he did not aim to learn the language Tamil he got to learn the language by interacting with the tea-shop customers, reading film posters etc.
Later, he began reading magazines and newspapers. As a hobby, he translated his favourite segments into his mother tongue, Malayalam.
He took the translating job seriously when the story he translated was published in a Malayalam magazine. He decided to leave the garden city to his own town of Kannur in Kerala. He contacted the Tamil writers on phone seeking permission to translate their books and poems.
His works got recognition and his first book was a translation of the Tamil book, Ananda Shayanam Colony, a collection of short stories by Thoppil Meeran. It was published in 2008.
He states the following in his interview
"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,"
Honours to his contribution
For his literary works, he has been awarded the following; Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer Literary award, Tirupur literary award and Nalli-Thisai Ettum Award.
Shafi was asked about taking up writing as a full-fledged profession.
His replied, “How will my family live? As long as I am free at night, I will not have any shortage of time," he ends with a serene smile.
Writing is an art which doesn't shine its merciful rays on everyone. Shafi is bestowed with a profound knowledge to read and translate the goodness from other languages into his mother tongue. Unfortunately, the much-revered art doesn't fetch him his daily bread, just as the coolie job does.