Shafi Cherumavilayi, a daily wage construction worker in Kannur district, Kerala, taught himself Tamil and has transated the works of Thoppil Mohamed Meeran, Perumal Murugan, and others into Malayalam.
Amidst the lush greens of Kannur district in Kerala resides an author who is also a daily wage labourer. Shafi Cherumavilayi has, so far, translated the works of Thoppil Mohamed Meeran, Perumal Murugan, Salma, G Thilakavathy, Cho Dharman, S Balabharathi and R Madhavan, Thoppil Mohamed Meeran, Perumal Murugan, Kanthasamy, Salma, G Thilakavathy, Cho Darman, S Balabharathy, R Madhavan, Melanmai Ponnusamy, Meeran Mohideen, and Subra Bharathi Manian.
Shafi, who calls himself an avid literature enthusiast, has translated 250 short stories and 14 books from Tamil to Malayalam. His first encounter with Tamil was when he was employed at a tea shop in Bengaluru in the early 1980s. He found an affinity towards the language and started to explore movie titles, dialogues, newspapers, and magazines. He then started reading books in Tamil and began to translate them into Malayalam, his mother tongue.
He considered his stint at translating a hobby until the day his work was published in a Malyalam newspaper. He soon moved out of Bengaluru, went back to Kannur, and reached out to newspaper editors and publishers, seeking permission to translate their books. His first book was a translation of the Tamil book Ananda Shayanam Colony, a compilation of short stories by Thoppil Meeran, and was published in 2008.
In an interview with The News Minute, he says: “I started by 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.”
Shafi, who works as a construction labourer, spends his nights translating books. Speaking about his childhood, he says he was born in a lower-middle class family and his father sold fish to make ends meet. However, he always had access to books.
“Public libraries in my village were of great help to me. I used to read whatever I could. I did all kinds of jobs to get books,” he recalls. “At my school, the teachers encouraged us to read literature. But after that, there was no inspiration for me to start writing. Everyone around me was struggling to make ends meet.”
In 2013, when the internet led to a boom in online book sales, he translated the book Avan–Athu = Aval, says the Hindu. There has been no looking back.
However, Shafi confesses that he would like to take to writing full time, if only if there was an alternative way to make ends meet for his family.