Modernism’s world famous playwright Henrik Ibsen’s Et Dukkehjem (A Doll’s House) has found earlier translations in Tamil. But what is special about the present translation by Kasinather Sivapalan is that it is in spoken Eezham Tamil, making the reading and staging of the play homely to Eezham Tamils in their country and in the diaspora across the world. A Doll’s House, written in 1879 and said to be the world’s most performed play by the early 20th century, is not new to Eezham Tamils. Even 50 years ago it was staged in Jaffna, scripted in Tamil and directed by veteran writer, the late Mr E. Mahadeva (Thevan-Yaazhppaa’nam), who was Mr Sivapalan’s teacher at Jaffna Hindu College. The current translation by Mr Sivapalan, produced in Norway where he is in exile now, comes as a publication of Mithra Arts and Creations in Chennai.
Born in 1944 to teacher parents at Pa’l’lik-kudiyiruppu in the Trincomalee district of the country of Eezham Tamils, Mr Sivapalan is an Attorney-at-Law in Ilangkai, Solicitor (England and Wales) and Barrister and Solicitor (Australian Capital Territory).
Mr Sivapalan was a founder member and Deputy Chairperson of the NorthEast Secretariat on Human Rights (NESoHR), established in 2004 and envisaged as a human rights commission for the evolving State of Tamil Eelam. After the assassination of its Chairperson Rev Fr. M X Karunaratnam by Sri Lankan armed forces in 2008, Mr Sivapalan had to escape from the island. He found asylum in Norway. NESoHR is recently revived in exile, with Mr Sivapalan as its Chairperson.
What makes Sivapalan’s translation of Ibsen’s play a remarkable success is his long experience and expertise in theatrics, says veteran Eezham Tamil stage artist, playwright and director, A C Tarcisius, writing a foreword to the translation.
Mr Sivapalan was pivotal in founding Naadodika’l Theatre Group in 1969, and he inspired him in conceiving the idea of designing a curriculum to train stage artists, Tarcisius further says. Sivapalan has also founded another theatre group Munnoadika’l in Trincomalee.
Apart from Tarcisius’s foreword in Tamil, Prof Ilangko Balasingham of the Norway Oriental Fine Arts Academy and Prof A Mangai of Stella Maris College, Chennai, have also written a foreword and an introductory note in Norwegian and in English respectively to the translation appearing with the title “Pe’n Paavai.”
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Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906), born in Norway in a family of Danish–Norwegian ancestry, is regarded as one of the founders of modernism in theatre, the father of realism, and as the most frequently performed dramatist in the world, after Shakespeare.
For 27 years he was living in Italy and Germany in a self-imposed exile and A Doll’s House was published in 1879 while he was in Germany.
A Doll’s House is acclaimed as a pioneer revolutionary theatrical piece and literature that had a tremendous impact on feminist thinking in the West. It universalised the issue of gender throughout the world, literary critics say.
But the universalism in Ibsen’s play is more than the issue of gender.
The realisation and courage of the main character Nora in the play, in defying the society-imposed norms of the institution of ‘home’ in seeking liberation, and her decision to leave home, husband and even children, are also applicable to people on whom the institution of State (however genocidal it is) is imposed as the norm to follow by the world’s Establishments.
When Helmer the husband says that he would be prepared to ‘change,’ Nora implies that it may be considered at another time if that miracle happens, but then she has no faith in miracles. Even for that change they should first get separated, Nora insists.
There was no physical violence, but psychological violence is worse than that.
In the context of Eezham Tamils as a genocide-affected nation, Nora should be an inspiration for those who are still conditioned by the norm and name ‘Sri Lanka’ or by ‘being Sri Lankan and being Tamil’, to realise and to break away.
Any Eezham Tamil who consciously reads the play would feel the universalism transcending gender.
Sivapalan has not chosen the task of translating A Doll’s House just to mark his life in Norway.