Meet Them on the Rooftop
By Priyangwada Perera
The day I was given the Sinhala translation of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstockings, my whole world changed. That was when I was a child. The brilliant translation was done by Vijitha Gunaratne. The specialty was that all his translations of Lindgren’s books are always done from the original language-Swedish.
Pippi Longstockings, Emil of Lonneberga, The Brothers Lionheart, and Ronja are some of the fascinating child-stars Gunaratne arranges to meet in Lindgren’s books. Gunaratene, either lesser known for his entire prowess or purposely forgotten by many, has an impressive background with regard to drama and theatre in Sri Lanka and Switzerland. He is also a cinematographer.
His latest is another Lindgren favourite, Lillebror ech Karlosson pa taket, is brilliantly brought to us in Sinhala as Chuti Malli saha Wahala Uda Karlsson. The book starts in the fascinating manner all his stories do. Living in a in a normal home on a well-known street in Stockholm, Sweden, Chuti Malli is the youngest of a family of five (the parents and three children). The blue eyed boy is mostly left to himself. His brother and sister are fifteen and fourteen and Chuti Malli is just seven.
One day, Chuti Malli finds a new friend-Karlsson, a short, plump and if not cocksure boy who is over-confident about his own brilliance. Karlsson lives on the rooftop, in a small house that is hidden behind the chimney. He is not ordinary. Afterall, who has a button on your stomach which when pushed, can start a small motor connected to a propeller on your back? This propeller allows Karlsson to fly but the sad part of this fascinating friend is that nobody is willing to believe in Karlsson.
Till the arrival of Karlsson on one sweet day out of nowhere, Chuti Malli had his best friends - Krister and Gunnilla. Not even the best friends are sure about this new found friend Karlsson Chuti Malli is excited about. The existence of Karlsson is a problem to all as no one seems to know if Karlsson is real or not for sure - except Chuti Malli who knows the truth.
Anybody who has read Gunaratne’s other Lindgren translations would vouch for his use of vocabulary which is a real treat. It is always interesting to think what it must have been in the original language. Things get lost in translation and since most of the Lindgren translations you find here in Sri Lanka are translations of the English translation, what you read tend to be a bit far from the original. Since Gunaratne has cut the middle man that is the English translation and made his straight out of the original, he gets as closer as anyone can get to the original feeling through his translations. Furthermore, Gunaratne coins terms and phrases which are really unique and appropriate.
It is amazing how he has absolute comfort with the language to handle the translation so freely and flawlessly. With the differences in not only language but also in culture, tradition and society in which the original story takes place, it is hard for a translation to do complete justice to a foreign book.
This is commonly experienced by many a Sri Lankan reader who reads translations but it is in this regard where Gunaratne has shown his colours. His skills and the understanding of both languages break the barriers a translator is normally faced with and result in a translation that is as good as the original book.
Karlsson is a strange guy. Personally, what I have with him is almost a love-hate relationship. Karlsson is different from all previous heroes and heroines Gunaratne has brought to life. He is quite mischievous. You should hear him brag. However, Chuti Malli and Karlsson make a fine pair.
Their strange combinations of food will have you making faces at the oddity of those combinations but at the same time will make you want to test them on your own. What is the best syrup for fever? Chocolate chips, sour lozenges, raspberry jelly, biscuit crumbs and toffees mixed with chocolate. Karlsson instructs Chuti Malli to make the medicine and instead of a mere teaspoon, Karlsson gulps down a heavy dose and he is cured in seconds.
However, he is too shrewd to defeat even our clever Chuti Malli into getting everything he wants. Chuti Malli does not mind because Karlsson is Chuti malli’s dream come true. Or should we say Karlsson is Chuti Malli’s dream? Karlsson is the best at everything - as Karlsson himself declares. Once Chuti Malli meets Karlsson his life thereafter is never the same again.
Have you ever had a secret that you were dying to share with someone but you knew for sure no one is going to believe you? You want to prove yourself right but at the same time, you cannot risk the heartbreak of not being taken seriously. For Chuti malli, that secret is Karlsson.
Karlsson is so dear to this little boy that he feels it is his duty to care for and look after him. Chuti Malli’s birthday party, Karlsson’s ghost dance, and the dog magic; all these take you to a beautiful world. Here’s a warning - the chapter where the robbers come may cause hysterical laughter. Krister and Gunnilla and the ghost and company had me cackling for an entire week.
One can afford to do a psychoanalytical reading of the book. There is a thin line between Karlsson and Chuti Malli’s imagination. Is it the little boy’s suppressed rebellious self? Can it be that the not-so-good-or-obedient version of Chuti Malli finds life in the form of Karlsson?
Is that why he can never produce his good friend to his parents? Karlsson always disappears before Chuti Malli can get his parents to meet his best friend. Whether to read between the lines and dissect the story or to take it as it is on face value, the decision is up to you. Reagardless which option you choose the book will still be an excellent read. Having tried both, I chose to settle down for what comes on the surface without probing into the story too much. That way, the child in me is kept alive.
The book is never specific for a particular age group. If you are the age of Chuti Malli or a grandma, it will still appeal to you. How old is Karlsson? He says, “I am at my best age.” which is the best advice for anyone of any age. Why do we worry about how things were different when we were younger?
There is simply no need of comparison. To think we were more beautiful in our prime may leave us with pointless regret. Waiting for a better day to be happy and look grown up or younger is an empty hope. Take it from Karlsson, we are all at our best age - be it the previous year, this year or coming year, the best is the present. That is where you make things happen. Meet Chuti Malli and Karlsson on the rooftop to learn that magic. Remain at your best age.