A. J. Thomas
A. J. Thomas (born 10 June 1952) is an Indian poet writing in English. He is an acclaimed translator of poetry, fiction, drama and non-fiction prose from his mother tongue Malayalam, the language of Kerala, the southernmost State of India. He was the Editor of Indian Literature, the 200-page bimonthly English journal of Sahitya Akademi, (The National Academy of Letters, India) until 10 August 2010. In October 2007, this journal celebrated its Golden Jubilee of uninterrupted publication.
A. J. Thomas was born in Moonnilavu, a hilly region in south-central Kerala, in the foothills of the Western Ghats (Sahyadri), in the valley of Mount Illickan. For the first ten years of his life, he lived in an Eden-like situation in a hill-hamlet, Mechal, surrounded by pure nature where he enjoyed total freedom in the wilderness, like Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer rolled into one. His mother, though not much formally educated, was a poet by nature. She would treat the plants she nurtured and the animals she reared as her own children, and used to even talk to them endearingly, and quarrel with them if necessary. He owes his poetry to her. Later, in his early youth, it was during his two-year stay at Bandel, on the banks of the Ganges (Hooghly), in West Bengal that he began writing poetry in English. During the three years from 1973 to 1976 when he lived in Mananthavady, Wynad, a hotbed of intense political and cultural activity in those days of the beginning of the Emergency, his creative engagement began to take a definite direction.
When he moved from Wynad in 1976, to work with the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation, in it Aranyanivas Hotel in Thekkady, Periyar Tiger Reserve (Wildlife Sanctuary) in Idukki District, in the High Ranges of south-central Kerala, he had the opportunity to see internationally famous writers like Dominique Lapierre, Sir Angus Wilson, Salman Rushdie, and Indian writers like Pritish Nandy, M. T. Vasudevan Nair and others, which inspired him. Writers like V. Sadasivan, the Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan,the poet who spearheaded the resurgence of raw energy in creativity and inspired pride in literary activities, Satchidanandan, E. V. Ramakrishnan, U. R. Anantha Murthy, R. Narendra Prasad, his friend and classmate A. Anvar Ali, Paul Zacharia, and others with whom he was deeply involved during this period, witnessed his gradual rise as a poet and translator.
It was about this time that his first collection of poems Germination (1989) came out.
The first book of translation with which Thomas came to be noticed was Bhaskara Pattelar and Other Stories,a collection of Paul Zacharia's stories, which he did along with Gita Krishnankutty and the author. The translation of Paul Zacharia's story “Salam America” brought him the Katha Award. Next, he won the First Prize in an international translation competition conducted in 1996 by Kerala Medical Graduates in the Americas, which included a cash award and a trip to the United States to participate in the Annual Convention of The Associated Writing Program in Washington, D.C. and to attend an International Workshop in Creative Writing at the Writers’ Center, Bethesda, Maryland.
The verse-fiction, Ujjaini based on the life Kalidasa, by O. N. V. Kurup, the doyen of Malayalam poetry, in Thomas's translation, won very great critical acclaim.
He grew strong in his translation of Malayalam poetry, fiction and drama, publishing them from reputed houses like Penguin India, Rupa and Co., Roli Books, and of course, from the National Academy of Letters. For translating the novel Keshavan’s Lamentions, by the veteran Malayalam novelist M.Mukundan, he won the Vodafone Crossword Book Award 2007, which has been called the ‘Indian Booker Prize’.
Thomas goes on writing poetry in English regularly, publishing in leading journals and magazines like The Little Magazine. He reads his poems in prestigious forums in the national capital and other cities like Calcutta.
The National Academy of Letters, in one of its National Executive Board Meetings, suo motu elected him on a permanent basis, as a literary translator, to its Panel of Translators.