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Friday, March 14, 2014

Interview with Murali Chemuturi on His Latest Translation of Raamayana

Debra:  Murali, welcome and thank you so much for agreeing to this interview.  Could we begin with a little information about yourself:  where you live, your family and hobbies?

Murali: Hi, Debra. I thank you very much for having me. I am from India and live in the south Indian city of Hyderabad. I come from a rural background with my father being a farmer tilling about five acres of land and my mother a home maker. I have five siblings, two brothers and three sisters. My wife of 40 years, Udaya Sundari, worked as a teacher for some time but is a home maker now. We have two sons with four grandsons and one granddaughter. 

My sons live in the USA. I am an Industrial Engineer with a post graduate diploma in computers, a diploma in electrical engineering and hold an MBA.  I was awarded the Fellowship of the Indian Institution of Industrial Engineering. I worked in professional organizations for about 30 years, starting in 1970, and have been a freelance consultant since 2001. 

My hobbies have been reading and writing. I was a voracious reader and try to write my ideas and publish them wherever I can.

Debra:  Murali, I have noticed on Amazon that you are quite a prolific writer with a number of books available.  What is your favorite genre?

Murali: I have been writing articles since 1978. I was on the editorial committee of a house magazine at my workplace between 1979 and 1988. I wrote many articles in that magazine and specialized in conducting and drafting interviews with the top management executives of that time. I began writing books in 2007. 

My genre is non-fiction. I wrote five books (one of them with a co-author Tom Cagley) on software development, drawing upon my personal experience, study and observation. Then I wrote a book on personality engineering in collaboration with Ronda Bowen. 

I am not into fiction. My idea in writing is to record the experience and knowledge I gained in my life, and make it available for those that may be looking for this kind of knowledge.

Debra:  Your latest work is the translation of Raamayana.  For those of us not familiar with this ancient work, could you tell us a little about it, its origins, original author, and its purpose?

Murali: Raamayana is an ancient epic of India, describing the life of Raama who lived 880,154 (as of 2014) years ago. It is perceived as a religious book of Hindus. But it is not so. However, it gives a description of the righteous way of living which is practiced by Hindus. It is also believed that Raama was an avatar of Vishnu who is perceived as a God by Hindus. The book was originally authored in the language of Sanskrit and it comprised of 24,000 Slokaas. 

A Sloka is like a poem, usually having four or two lines and follows a grammar of its own. The whole book was authored as a compilation of songs. It details the way of life in ancient India and Sri Lanka. One interesting aspect is that it records existence of aero planes and describes air travel in some detail that is credible. It is believed that devoted recitation of this epic would cleanse the person from all of his/her past sins, as well as those of past four generations and the next two generations. But, I must admit that most Hindus do not read the original. Perhaps they might have read an abridged version but not the original. It is also believed that one must be virtuous to be given the opportunity to read the full original text. It was authored by a saint by the name of Vaalmiki who was referred to as Maha Rushi Vaalmiki. Maha Rushi roughly means “a great researcher”. 

The lore about Vaalmiki goes that he was a dacoit (in India and Burma, a member of a class of criminals who engage in organized robbery and murder) looting the passengers traveling though forests. One day he was given an audience with a divine Rushi who changed him. Then Vaalmiki became a devotee of God and practiced virtuous deeds. The Raamayana was revealed to him by the creator. He recorded that the whole story flashed in front of his eyes like a movie and he recorded it truthfully. It is also believed that he was a contemporary of Raama.

Debra: Since this translation turned out so beautifully, will you be turning your hand toward other ancient texts – religious and otherwise?

Murali: Thank you for your kind words. After finishing Raamayana, I began writing a book about management for the 21st century. Once I finish that, I am contemplating translating Bhagavadh Geetha into English. Of course there are many translations of it in English, but in my opinion, they did not present the accurate version. I wish to present it as it was narrated. I wish to translate the letter but not the spirit. Who knows what the spirit of an ancient text was anyway? 
 It has about 700 Slokaas. 

I also desire to translate the story of Lord Krishna. It may surprise you, but there are some researchers in USA who believe that Jesus Christ was none other than Lord Krishna! There are many ancient texts In India and Maha Bhaaratha is a very important book among them, but it is beyond me to translate it. It has 100,000 Slokaas! I also have an idea about writing one more technical book. I am not sure how many I can complete before my health fails. I am 63 years old now.

Debra: Do you think today’s modern Hindu female relates to the female images of Raamayana?
Murali: I am not sure she does. But exceptions are always there, and a few would relate, but most may not. The culture has changed with the times. The world moves on a one-way street; no turning back. What is lost is lost. We cannot resurrect the past. Another pertinent question is would the modern Hindu males relate to Raama? I have to give the same answer. Most would not, but few may.

Debra: Do you believe that your book will make the messages within the original text more appealing?  (I do.)

Murali: Today, Sanskrit is unfortunately less popular even in India. Most of the Indians cannot either understand or speak Sanskrit. Today, English is the most common language in India. So my purpose was to make it available for those people who are proficient in English to be able to read and learn about their heritage, and for others to do research and understand the world in ancient times. Now that the message is in a language that is clearly understood by many, it becomes possible for people to emulate it if they wish to. Yes, I believe it is possible to spread the message of Raamayana through my book.

Debra: What audience do you think your work will appeal to most?

Murali: It appeals to all Indians and those that have an interest in other cultures and heritage. It should appeal to researchers of ancient texts and religions.

Debra: Have you had any feedback (positive or negative) about making this work more “reader friendly?”

Murali: I gave out the manuscript to a few of my friends and well-wishers, including you. I requested them to give me feedback about the book. I received very little feedback. Of course, I took one decision when I began translating Raamayana. That is, whenever I faced a dilemma about making it more readable or staying true to the original, I would stay true to the original. At some places, the description of the seasons or forests or a kitchen may not be interesting to the average reader, but those are the places that give information to researchers about the conditions of ancient India. 

Overall, I gave precedence to accuracy and keeping as close to the original as humanly possible over readability, and making it a racy and “un-put-downable book.” It would not be a book you read in one sitting. I expect the reader would put down the book many a time before the book is finished, but I also expect the same reader to be picking it up again and again in his/her life.

Debra: I agree with you completely.  I find myself reading just so much, absorbing it, thinking about it and then returning to it to read more.  It is a lot to take in, especially for someone from a different culture.  What would you like to see someone like me, a daughter of Northern European Ancestors, for instance, glean from your work?

Murali: I read the book Exorcist by William Peter Blatty sometime in 1978/79. In the first iteration, I found it rather slow paced and loaded with more information than story. When I hit the last page, I immediately went back to the first page! I read it four times before I stopped. 

I believe Raamayana is like that. When I read the complete book the first time, I already knew the major milestones in it as well as the ending. Still, it held my interest. When I finally froze the translation, I had read my book eight times. I was not bored! I suggest that you read it any way in the first iteration. When you read it a second time, contemplate about a few things given in the book. In Baala Kaanda there are a few chapters about the advent of the river Ganga on earth. 

There are theories and theories about why sea water is saline. There is no really satisfactory explanation about it. Some researchers believe that a watery astral body collided against earth and dumped saline water on earth. In fact, there is now a satellite to planet Jupiter, Europa, which is full of ice. Could these chapters be describing that event? 

In another chapter, Raama asks Bharatha some 30 questions about his rule. Contemplate about those questions. I will give just one more topic and stop. In the last book, Yuddha Kaanda, after killing Raavana, Raama abandons Seetha after grieving so much for her, mounting an impossible expedition and killing Raavana with a great effort. Contemplate as to why he did that. 

There are umpteen aspects in Raamayana. You mine and you gain it. Ancestry does not make a difference. Bharatha at one place in the second book, Ayodhya Kaanda, states that wife beaters go to hell. Until a rule was promulgated under Queen Victoria in England prohibiting wife beating between 6 PM and 6 AM, wife beating was widely prevalent in Europe. If I am not mistaken, the rule is still in place.

Debra: I’m assuming that you felt translating this book was a “mission” for lack of a better word, so it’s clear that you had drive – but was the task difficult for you?
Murali: Debra, never, even in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would be translating Raamayana into English. I am not a great scholar of Sanskrit or English. I am so-so in both the languages. It was not the objective of my life. Even after I began the work, I was not sure that I could complete it. I took it as an order from the God. Was the task difficult for me? No, it was impossible for me. I did not have the capability to accomplish this task. I did not write this book. I do not have any illusions about it. It was written by the Divine using my hand.

Debra: Do you have a target audience?

Mural: I like to target the audience of all Indians irrespective of their religious affiliation. See, Alexander, Plato, Socrates, Homer, and Julius Caesar were not Christians, but all people of European descent, wherever they may be presently living, would look up to them as their heritage. Similarly, for all people of Indian descent, irrespective of their religion, Raama and Raamayana are their heritage. 

Was Raama a Hindu? No, obviously not! In fact it may come as a surprise to you, the word “Hindu” is not from Sanskrit! It originated in the ancient Persia to denote people living on the eastern side of the river Sindhu (presently called Sind and it is in present day Pakistan). 

Then there are many researchers all over the world in the universities carrying research on things ancient. I would like to make this authentic translation available to them.  If you happen to see the program, Ancient Aliens on History Channel, you would see ancient India being referred to many times. I know none of the PhDs coming on that program ever read Raamayana. It would bolster their arguments, and of course every adult who is interested in gaining knowledge, as Raamayana is a storehouse of wisdom and knowledge.

Debra: Have you considered adding more artwork?  It is so compelling.

Murali: Yes, I did. I know the pictures that I included in the book are not really an accurate depiction compared to the description given inside the text. Raama did not look as shown in the pictures. But these pictures are popular in India. One inaccuracy in the pictures I like to point out. Raama had a mustache if not a beard. It was mentioned in Raamayana itself. One handicap I faced was that I am not an artist to render the picture of Raama and others as described in the text. And I do not have the resources to pay artists to draw pictures conforming to the description given in the text. I would have loved to give accurate pictures of the cities of Ayodhya and Lanka, the pictures of Raama and others as well as that of Raavana and his family members.

Debra: Why should we read Raamayana and how does it concern me?

Murali: Why do we read books at all? One reason is we need entertainment to pass time usefully and learn something in the process. There are entertainers in romance, drama, action, and thrillers. This book is not in that category.

Second reason is, we read to learn a skill to get through exams and eke out a living for ourselves and our family members. There are text books and technical books in this category. I wrote a few in this genre. Raamayana is not this type of book.

Then we read books to learn about history and heritage. Raamayana comes under this category. It covers the history of some portion of this planet in an ancient time. If you wish to learn that history and heritage, then this book is a candidate for you.

We also read the biographies of people, real life heroes and heroines, to learn and emulate those qualities that made them great. This book also comes under this category. Raama was a hero in his own right and Seetha was a heroin in her own right. There is much to learn from those two individuals, and the way they conducted their lives in adversity, and still stayed true to their beliefs. For all those that are looking for great people to emulate, this book certainly is a candidate.

We also read our books to learn to live a righteous and meaningful life. All our religious texts come under this category. Unfortunately most religions denigrate all others to safeguard their own flock, but the people are recognizing that there is good in all religions and places. Academic research has contributed much toward this change in outlook. India has many books in this category. Three Indian epics stand out in this set and they are Raamayana, Maha Bhaaratha and Bhaagavatha. Raamayana is the present book. All those who are interested in righteous living, and other interpretations of righteousness besides their own, should read this book.

What happens after death is as yet unknown, and the research in that direction could not make much headway. Some believe in rebirth and some do not. They both are just beliefs. No one knows the truth. This book also says, just like the other religious books, that it grants cleansing from sin and salvation. Those looking for salvation also may read this book. 

I read this book originally to learn about my heritage, but I found in it some profound truths and management aspects applicable even in today’s organizations. I felt that I could have benefited a great deal if I read it when I was much younger. I strongly feel that if this book is read in the youth of life, the person would be very successful in all aspects of his/her life. I hope I answered your question. If I left out any aspect, I would be glad to clarify further.

Debra: Murali, that was a great explanation. Thank you. You read Raamayana, obviously. What is your personal experience? Could you associate any special event with reading this book?

Murali: It may sound unbelievable but it did help me. Recently, in October 2013, someone visited a police station with a few people in tow to lodge a formal complaint against me and my family. Had police took that complaint, I would have been in jail now, counting the bars. I strongly believe that I was protected by the God as a result of reading this book with sincere devotion. Second, Raamayana is perceived as a Hindu book and I was thinking of self-publishing it. But as it happened, I got a professional royalty paying publisher, that too in USA, to publish the book! I consider it a miracle.

Debra: Murali, thank you very much.  This interview with you, in and of itself has been very enlightening and I feel honored to have been allowed to conduct it.

At this point, I open the blog up to anyone who has a question.  Everyone should feel free to ask.

Murali: Thank you very much Debra. I can be contacted on my email: murali@chemuturi.com and I promise to respond to every email I received.

Murali’s Author Page can be viewed on Amazon:  http://goo.gl/B1DLtT

To purchase Raamayana go here:  http://goo.gl/O63bzM 

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