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Translator's Note: Poonachi

It is a literary translator’s lot, as well as privilege, to work with texts that cover a range of milieus, time periods and genres. The one thing common to all these texts is that the worlds they describe are inhabited mostly by humans. In contrast, the world of animals is normally a staple of children’s literature. I haven’t had the opportunity – or, truth be told, the inclination – to engage, as a translator, with works of creative fiction for children. Poonachi, or the Story of a Goat features animals that think and feel but it’s not a novel meant for children. In fact, it may be the first Tamil novel about animals written for adult readers.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) and Mikhail Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog (1925) are two famous examples of this genre; and readers who are familiar with the genre would not be far off the mark if they expected Poonachi to be an intensely political work like these two texts.

We live in dark times, where our most intimate human feelings, as they have evolved

through the ages, are under siege. We are compelled to protect and assert their primacy in order to stay human and sane. In Poonachi, Murugan has done a marvellous job of creating a narrative that takes a feeble goat through an impressive range of basic human emotions and urges. As we track the destiny of this orphan goat, shaped by a force-field of humans and fellow animals, we realize that the author’s real theme is our own fears and longings, primordial urges and survival tactics. Through a feat of storytelling that is both masterly and nuanced, Murugan makes us reflect on our own responses to hegemony and enslavement, selflessness and appetite, resistance and resignation, living and dying. Poonachi is not just the story of a goat. Through his exploration of the life journey of an animal, Murugan leads us deep into ‘an intimate history of humanity’ and the irreducible human essence that we must fight to preserve.

Starting life as a foundling and going through the ordeal of being a miracle, Poonachi

experiences both the promise as well as the structural violence embedded in the life of a

female. In Murugan’s tale, Poonachi turns finally into a stone idol, harking back to hoary

tradition in the folk culture of Tamilnadu whereby the spirit an innocent girl destroyed by the random and ever-present violence of the world is worshipped as a deity, And this may well be the key to reading this novel as a literary text for our times.

As a translator, it was a novel experience for me to work with a narrative in which the feelings and experiences of animals, along with the endless manifestations of their physicality, are tracked and described with subtlety and flair. I hope a close reading of the text will lead the reader to discover and recognize herself in and through Poonachi’s world and the tribulations of her brief, pain-filled existence.

My grateful thanks to VK Karthika, my editor at Westland, for the grace, skill and

diligence with which she has edited this complex text. Needless to add, the errors that remain are mine.

N Kalyan Raman


15 December 2017


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