Keeping original essence, message and local aroma intact

K K Gangadharan's works speak for his love for languages. He has translated around 200 Malayalam stories and four novels into Kannada, besides a few Tamil and English stories.

Language has always been the bone of contention between people. Some people go to any extent to show their love for languages. Most often such fanatic attitude leads to negative incidents. But there are yet a few who show their love for languages in a very positive manner.

K K Gangadharan, 60,  is one such person. Born into a Malayali family in a village called Pathanadukkam in Kasargod District, he migrated to Kabbinasethuve village in Coorg District in his childhood.

Courtesy: K K Gangadharan.

“Since First Form (today’s VI Grade), I had to travel to Somwarpet for schooling, which was seven miles away from my village. My father used to give me 50 paise for bus fare but I would always walk down to the school, to save that money. I had no great needs for which I saved but I simply enjoyed counting the money in the form of notes after a long time”, recollects Gangadharan.

An incident

Gangadharan always topped the class in  all the subjects, including Kannada.  While he was in seventh standard, one of his teachers by the name Neelamma and a few of his classmates, who were sons of well-to-do planters used to harass him. He says they were not too happy that a Malayali topped the class in the Kannada exams.

Little Gangadharan was very hurt by the teacher’s attitude and waited for an opportunity to tease her.  One day, his classmates told him that the Neelamma was absent. Thus he took courage and wrote ‘Neelamma – Blue Mother’ and ‘Kempanna – Red Brother’ on the classroom black-board. (Kempanna was Neelamma’s father’s name)

To his misfortune, Neelamma entered the class and took him to the Head Master who caned him black and blue.  The little boy went home crying profusely with his swollen palms.  But his father, though nursed the wound, scolded him for his prank and advised him to always respect teachers and elders.  

“Can you imagine what would be the response to such an incident by parents in today’s world?  Anyway, that was my first translation, which I can never forget and I consider those wounds as my first remuneration”, says Gangadharan.

His first article

Similarly memorable is his first Kannada article which was published in a local newspaper ‘Shakthi’, when he was about 19-years-old. He, along with his friend, heard about this powerful ex-serviceman turned local goon who had misused the money from the hundi of the famous Muthappa Temple in Kabbinasethuve.

Young blood could not tolerate this.  He wrote an article about it on the advice of one of his close friends and sent it under a pseudo name to ‘Shakthi’.  They were surprised to see the article published promptly under the title ‘Muthappa Devarige Makmal Topi’.

“Translators have to be very careful to preserve the original essence, message, local aroma and standard at the same time making it attractive to the new audience,” says Gangadharan.

But little did the youngsters realise that the small piece would turn the entire village upside down. The local goon went around looking for the author of the article.  He made a lot of enquiries in the village, which was very sparsely populated. He went to the ‘Shakthi’ office but on grounds of professional ethics, they did not leak out the details of the author, though they themselves did not know the true author. After a year of a fruitless hunt, the man called for an Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Temple Committee and owned up his theft and deposited the money into the hundi.

“It was then that I realised the power of this little pen”, says Gangadharan, who is well-known in the Kannada and Malayalam literary circles today.  He took on translation as his main interest, though he has never studied Malayalam formally.  He worked as extra-departmental staff member in the Postal Department for a short stint, served in the Kothari Coffee Curing Works, Hassan from 1970 to 1973 and joined the Railway Mail Service (RMS) in 1974, from where he retired in 2009.  He worked in Arsikere, Tumkur, Madikeri and Mysore but since 1979, he has been in Bangalore.

Literary career

Gangadharan began his literary career under the guidance of Sri Amrit Someshwar, former Professor at Vivekananda College, Mangalore by writing a few stories and poems in Kannada.  Then he started translating popular short stories of Malayalam into Kannada.

During his stint in Mysore RMS, he was fortunate to have been associated with Gangadhara Murthy, former Professor at National College, Gauribidanur and late S Narayana, editor of ‘Odanadi’, a monthly magazine. They encouraged him to translate works of great Malayalee writers.


Gangadharan’s translated version of the essays of the legendary E M S Namboodiripad, Indian Communist leader and the first Chief Minister of Kerala, appeared in ‘Odanadi’ as a series. His first story translation published was that of Malayali novelist Dr Punathil Kunhadbdulla, which appeared under the title ‘Panchaliya Prapancha’ in the Kannada monthly ‘Mallige’.

Gangadharan went on to translate around 200 Malayalam stories and four novels into Kannada, besides a few Tamil and English stories too.

K K Gangadharan’s translated book ‘Damayanthi’ was released last year by Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa. Courtesy: K K Gangadharan.

“I am lucky to have got the opportunity to translate the works of leading Malayalam writers such as Kamaladas, M T Vasudevan Nair, Thagazhi Shivashankara Pillai, Vaikom Mohammad Basheer, Malayattoor Ramakrishnan, S K Pottekkad, M Mukundan and Balakrishnan Mangod, some of who are Jnanapeeth awardees.”

Most of his translated stories have appeared in leading Kannada magazines and newspapers such as Sudha, Prajavani, Kannada Prabha, Mayura and so on.  Besides these, he has written hundreds of features, profiles, interviews and articles for leading regional dailies and magazines.  His published books are;

‘Damayanthi’ of K Kavitha, which appeared as a series in ‘Sudha’ in Kannada and ‘Mathrubhoomi’ in Malayalam, simultaneously. The book was released in 2009 by Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa.

– ‘Balalida Balige Belaku’ by K Kavitha, which won the ‘Kumkumam’ Award in Malayalam.

– Gangadharan has also translated Malayalam writer Paul Zacharia’s novel to Kannada and is titled ‘Bhaskara Patelaru Matthu Nanna Badukugalu’. This novel was later translated into Kodava language.

– A collection of Kamala Das’s stories.

It is surprising to see Gangadharan still literally ‘writing’ all his works, as he is not comfortable with computers. He can be contacted at 9945976401.

– ‘Nirgamana’ of Sudhakaran Ramanthali, which won the Urub Award, is under print.

– ‘Chandana Maragalu’ of Kamala Das is under print, along with a novelette of Dr Purnima Bhat.

“The best part of it all is that I have hardly met one or two of these writers and getting permission from them was very simple.  I am prompt in sending 50% of whatever remuneration I get when the stories are published to the original writers and some writers do not even acknowledge that.”

Opportunities galore

Gangadharan says that because of the spurt of many private channels and print magazines, opportunities for artists and journalists have multiplied.  However, he does feel that translators are seen only as second class writers, though translation is an art by itself and not anybody can become a good translator.

“Translators have to be very careful to preserve the original essence, message, local aroma and standard at the same time making it attractive to the new audience,” says Gangadharan.  All his translations have been well received by the readers and well-appreciated by the original writers.

“The returns are just 6% to 8% of the price as royalty in case of Kannada publications, while in Malayalam, the returns are nearly 18-25% of the price.  Anyway, I have no complaints.  I write for my personal satisfaction and enjoy it thoroughly.  My wife Radha is my first reader and critic.  She has been very supportive throughout.  Right now, I am writing a column on Malayalam cinema for ‘Roopathara’ and concentrating on translations”, says Gangadharan, who is busier than while in service. He had the additional responsibilities of a Director of RMS Employees’ Cooperative Society for nearly 21 years and of a President of the society for seven years and of a Treasurer of the RMS Employees’ Union (Karnataka Circle) for eight years, then.

Gangadharan lives in a two-bedroom rented house in the busy Manjunathanagar locality. His only son Sharath works for a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company. It is surprising to see Gangadharan still literally ‘writing’ all his works, as he is not comfortable with computers. He can be contacted at 9945976401.

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