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Invisible Walls – Chandrika Balan

Invisible Walls – Chandrika Balan

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Invisible Walls – Chandrika Balan

Tanya Singh


You’ve written ‘Invisible Walls’ in Malayalam, as well as English. What was the process of translating like? Could you tell us about the challenges in translating Malayalam – the language, as well as its cultural context – into English?

The novel was written in Malayalam first and then I did the translation. My profession was teaching. I was formerly Professor of English in a college in Trivandrum. Readers and critics have asked me why I don’t write directly in English. I have told them that English is the language of my brain and Malayalam is the language of my heart. In the translation, my brain was working on what the heart had completed as a text.

The style and the cultural context of the source language definitely varies in the target language. So I made slight changes while doing the translation. It is the privilege of the author when she is the translator too. There were no serious challenges as such because I had done translations early. I had translated into English veteran Malayalam writers like T.Padmanabhan, C.V.Sreeraman, Lalithambika Antharjanam and many others ; and I have published a collection my self-translated stories too — ARYA AND OTHER STORIES. I have also translated into Malayalam the works of eminent writers like Harold Pinter, Laurent Graf, Ruskin Bond etc. Being a bilingual writer made things easier for the translator in me.


The structure of your book and its chapters is very interesting, with parallel and defining storylines. There is intense anticipation for readers, and we wonder whether the stories will intersect. How did you conceptualise this book?

Thank you for the good words on the structure of Invisible Walls.

When I started writing the novel in Malayalam, my intention was to concentrate on the complex life of a metropolitan girl Aswathy , trapped in her marriage to a conservative man and the extremes to which this girl rebelliously goes. The original title was ” Aparnayude Thadavarakal (Aswathiyudethum)” — meaning ” The Prison Houses of Aparna (Aswathy’s Too)”. Aparna entered the original story as the protagonist’s friend and soon started taking the story away from the protagonist. In the second draft I made Aparna the protagonist. I changed Aswathy’s name into Kamala in the English translation as some of the readers in Malayalam found the names Aparna and Aswathy to be very similar and commented on the resultant confusion.So I changed her name to Kamala, Aparna being the heroine of the novel Kamala reads on a train journey. In spite of the sparks of rebellion in her, Aparna allows herself to be dominated whereas Kamala chooses to be the architect of her own destiny.

I knew some of the readers would think that the two stories might intersect; but I thought  such an intersection to be too ordinary.


Aparna and Kamala have distinct personalities and similar issues, yet they see the world in completely different ways. Is there an Aparna as well as a Kamala inside you? 

I like this question. I think there is an Aparna and Kamala in every woman. Aparna is the helpless woman trapped in social conventions. She could not even love anyone; all her friends in the campus walked around as couples and enjoyed their love relationships, but Aparna was always alone. She had no way other than walking into the marriage arranged by her family. In spite of being superior in intelligence, she has to submit to the patriarchal authority of her husband. Whereas Kamala lives her life the way she wants. She defies social conventions boldly. Kamala is Aparna’s dream ; Aparna is Kamala’s reality. You see, in the end Kamala is disturbed by Sidan’s possessiveness which may upset their personal freedom.


What has been the most challenging aspect of publishing this book? And who are the people in your life who have supported you in this journey?

It was my friends who insisted that this novel should be translated and published in English.I remember with gratitude Suneetha Balakrishnan and Sarita Mohanan Varma who goaded me on.

In my writing life, I’ve enjoyed the whole hearted support of my husband. Because of the hostile attitude that society took to my themes and language, I had taken a break for 18 years in my writing career when I was in my mid- twenties.I took up the pen again mainly because of the support of my family. My guru Dr. K. Ayyappa Paniker, eminent poet, critic and translator, was instrumental in bringing me back to writing.


Who are your favourite authors, or books that have inspired you in the past? Our readers would love a list of recommended reads from you.

I like the poetry of W.B.Yeats, Sylvia Plath, T.S. Eliot, Anna Akhmatova, Maya Angeleou, Pushkin, Philip Larkin, Tagore, Ayyappa Paniker, A.K.Ramanujan and Kamala Das.

In drama, Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, Peter Shaffer, Edward Bond, Caryl Churchill, Djanet Sears, Girish Karnad, Vijay Tendulkar , Sharon Pollock and Yvette Nolan are my favourites.

 When it comes to fiction, my likes are with Emile  Bronte, Sylvia Plath, Harper Lee, William Golding, Doestoevsky, Marques, Haruki Murakami, Alice Walker, Shashi Tharoor and Eleena Ferrante.


When could your readers expect another novel from you? Is there anything that you are working on currently?

At present I am gathering materials on Tolstoy’s wife on whom my next novel is based. My plan is to commence writing by August 2019 and finish in one year. It is a very challenging theme as Sofia Tolstoy is a misunderstood and misinterpreted person. The whole world showers praise on her husband, throwing all her support and sufferings into the shade. I will be re-reading her in my own way.


About the Interviewee:

Chandrika Balan is an Indian bilingual writer who has published books in both English and Malayalam, under the pen name Chandramathi, ചന്ദ്രമതി in Malayalam. She is an award-winning writer of fiction and translator, and a critic in both English and Malayalam.