“Call us Indira and Francesca”; how ‘Moby Dick’ united two souls separated by seas
Thiruvananthapuram: The Herman Melville classic ‘Moby Dick’ became the improbable catalyst that led to the bonding of the Italian writer, Francesca Melandri and nonagenarian Indira Poduval of Poojappura.
Francesca, who is in town for the Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters ’19 was keen to meet the widow of E M Joseph Venniyur, translator of the world literature’s master work into Malayalam. “Probably it would be my mother who would be the happiest on this meeting,” said the Italian. It was her mother, Cesarina Minoli, who rendered the tale of Ishmael and Captain Ahab into Italian in 1958. Cesarina, a sprightly 95, lives in Rome.
As her tribute to her mother’s literary enterprise, in any land that she visits, the first query Francesca poses of her hosts is whether ‘Moby Dick’ has been rendered into their language. Then she sets about meeting the translator, if alive, otherwise their closest kin. She is delighted that MBIFL ’19 became an instrument in this quest, which led her to ‘Venniyur House’. Indira has only one copy left of the 1977 translation done by her husband, then priced re. 15, which was published by Kerala Sahitya Akademi.
When she read the immortal opening line “Call me Ishmael,” from the nearly crumbling yellow page of the novel for the sake of her 55-year old overseas visitor, there was a catch in her voice and a teardrop trembled on her eyelids, probably in memory of her departed husband of 37 years. “Joseph’s entire life was devoted to letters and for research into painting. In each of the alphabet in this book I glimpse his soul,” said the first female radio announcer in the state and younger sister of renowned singer, the late Santha P Nair.
The English announcer, who joined Travancore State Radio in 1949, was later absorbed by the Trivandrum ‘Aakaashavani’ station. It was in July of 1954 that Indira from the renowned Ambady household of Thrissur, a high caste Hindu family married the Christian Joseph Venniyur, as the summation of an infatuation with the English language. And thereby hangs a merry tale.
She recounts, how a young girl, she was entranced by the foreign tongue, since her father, the late R. Vasudeva Poduval as Superintendent of Archaeology in Travancore state, hosted the likes of eminent artist Svetoslav Roerich, American art historian Stella Kramrisch, among other distinguished English speakers. At that tender age, she resolved to marry an Englishman! Fortune found her a better option in Joseph, a ‘native’ Englishman.
“He was an adept at English; and that’s what drew us close,” she fondly reminisces. He was proficient in authoring autobiographies and was a perspicacious art critic. Michelangelo, Goethe, Albert Schweitzer and Dr. Faust are his significant contributions. He passed in 1982, while serving as the Station Director of AIR, Bombay.
Indira’s eldest, Mohammed Yusuf is a feature writer with Gulf Today in Sharjah married to Fathima. Dr Col Ajith Venniyoor is a senior oncologist with Royal Hospital, Oman. Married to Sandhya, they have a son – Dr. Vaibhav Venniyoor. The youngest son, Sajan Venniyoor, works at Deutsche Welle, Dilli and is married to Nisha, CEO of Red FM. Their son Pranav is a plus two student.