Just a Translator
I expect to keep writing here from time to time, as well Aliyah (especially when she returns in June.) But nothing can replace having someone so close to the action.
I’ve asked Donatella to introduce herself, and her post is below. (P.S. I can vouch for Florentine spinach and tomatoes in Krishnammal’s vegetable garden.)
I wish to introduce myself with the same words I was introduced -- at a meeting I attended with Krishnammal in 1992 in Tamil Nadu. On that rather formal occasion, everyone’s name - wonderful and mysteriously fascinating to me with its many musical syllables – was preceded by some title or qualification or description of professional position, but when it came to me the white-clad officer in charge of introductions cut it short by saying, in a rather more pragmatic than dismissive way: "She’s just a translator!" and gently swung his head to confirm, approve, tease a bit maybe ?! who knows?
Just a translator, no more no less, that’s what I am: born and bred in Italy, with a passion for travelling and an even greater passion for travelling to Asia and India. Working as a free-lance interpreter, I’ve always tried and often managed to take time off in winter to fly to my beloved continent and spend some time not only in a different climate but in a different world and culture, leading for a while a different but totally possible, both simpler, harder and more enjoyable kind of life…
And translating has indeed to do with the most special encounter I’ve made so far in my life. It was December ’91 and I was translating at a Conference on Nonviolent Movements here in Florence….. while day-dreaming of my imminent trip to India. As a matter of fact, I was looking for something to do or to give to a country that had given me so much , with its superb beauty and incredible horror, the intriguing gazes of dark Indian eyes, the smiles, the deep emotions, the endless circus that seems to be going on anywhere, anytime, anyway in Mother India.
Krishnammal and Jagannathan were among the guests of the Conference and their speech, telling of their amazing lives and the story of LAFTI, went straight to my heart and soul. It was love at first sight, I could say. Jagannathan, tall and smart in his hand-spun Khadi clothes, and lively Krishnammal, in her lovely, simple cotton saree, stood out among the crowd of gray Europeans. During the coffee-break, I went straight to meet them and talk to such an extraordinary couple. And when I told Krishnammal about my trip to India, not really knowing where to and what for, she took my hand and in her deep, warm voice said to me: " You come and stay with me, I’ll talke care of you like a mother!" She smiled and swung her head, encouragingly.
Her words, as any word she says, were absolutely true.
She took care of me like a mother during the month I spent with her and the wonderful people I met at LAFTI. I moved from one village to another, attended meetings and ceremonies, planted vegetables and sang with school children, watched sunsets and sunrises in the clear sky of the touchingly beautiful countryside of Tamil Nadu. It was one of the most profound and enriching experiences in my life. I wasn’t supposed to work or do anything special. My presence, my simple presence there, as a witness to their activities, as a spoiled Westerner who appreciates and is ready and happy to share the simple life of Tamil Nadu farmers was enough to encourage them to go on, to work and improve their living conditions by themselves and for themselves . This is what Krishnammal told me whenever I felt confused and doubted about my "use" there, apart from my personal enjoyment and spiritual enrichment.
Since then. I’ve been in touch with Amma and Appa, I’ve organised small-scale fund-raising campaigns and charity markets to help them in buying cows and starting the brick-furnace. I met Amma in Italy and helped as a translator when she met students and people in Florence.Last year I went back to Kuthir with my boy-friend as I wanted him to meet such extraordinary people. We spent a few days at the new LAFTI guesthouse and left full of hope and inner light!
In the aftermath of the tsunami, I felt sad and confused, not knowing where to go and what to do. Then one day Amma’s urgent appeal appeared on my computer screen and I immediately felt it was the right place to go, although I really don’t know whether my presence there will be of any help for the ysunami victims.
I’m just a translator but I’ll keep my eyes, ears, soul. and heart wide open to capture what’s going on around Amma and Appa (and I’m sure it’s going to be a lot) and put it down in writing to honour their generous work and let more people know about it.