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From Nippon, with words

K. P. P. Nambiar, a fisheries man, is on the biggest mission in his life, compiling a Japanese-Malayalam dictionary.


HERE'S A man in his early sixties, who is passionately in love. With Japan and its language. He nursed this passion for 40 long years, before he got the right opportunity to realise his dream. K. P. P. Nambiar is now neck-deep in all things Japanese and Malayalam. For five hours a day, he goes on painstakingly with the business of preparing a Japanese - Malayalam dictionary. This magnum opus of his life began three years ago and he's half way through it.

No, language is not his area of specialisation. It's fisheries, and that took him first to Japan, way back in the early sixties. He was there to study fish behaviour, but ended up studying Japanese behaviour and language too. In six months flat, he could speak Japanese fluently. "It's easy to learn how to speak it, but writing and reading is not that easy," Mr Nambiar explains. Unlike other languages, there are four ways of writing Japanese: with Chinese characters, Romanised Japanese, in Hiragana, Kathakana. He went back several times to that country as a UN FAO consultant and as director of Asia Pacific. Later, he lived there for some time too.

The dictionary that Mr Nambiar is writing gives two ways, with Chinese characters and in the kathakana way. He has given the pronunciation in Malayalam too. "Malayalam has a great advantage in that you can write any kind of pronunciation, as we have so many letters, unlike other languages," he said. But there is one thing in common with the Japanese and the Malayalis: cultural perception. This is what prompted him further to start on this dictionary. The original Japanese works are often not translated into regional languages, directly. It comes through the English language, thus losing much of the earthiness, that is common to both Japanese and Malayalam.

This is not his maiden venture though. He translated `Malayude Sabdam' from the Japanese, 20 years ago. Current Books published this book, originally by Kavahata Yasumaria, a Nobel Prize winner. Another work was `Nippon Theki,' which the National Book Stall published.

" Back in the olden days, the Japanese had more time and they were very nice to visitors. Still, the Japanese are a closed society and that sets them apart," he remarked.

The manuscript of the dictionary he is preparing is carefully kept in a plastic cover. "I am sceptical about the fonts of the Chinese characters that will be needed. I wonder if any publisher here will have it, that's my only worry," says the man who steadfastly pursues his dream, in the quiet confines of his homely apartment at Thevara, Kochi.

PREMA MANMADHAN

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