Thomas Hitoshi Pruiksma, who is well known on Vashon and beyond as an author, translator, teacher and performer, has just launched his most recent book, “The Kural: Tiruvalluvar’s Tirukkural,” a new translation of the classical Tamil masterpiece on ethics, power and love.
The translation of the book — which Hitoshi Pruiksma said had humbled him — has been years in the making.
In the Tamil-speaking world, “Tiruvalluvar’s Tirukkural” is revered as a guide for how to practice compassion, goodness, and good sense in the nitty-gritty of daily life — from the life of the home to the work of leaders to the ways of love in the human heart.
“Its great practicality, openness, and ecological wisdom make it astonishingly relevant to our time,” Hitoshi Pruiskma said, in a written introduction to the book on his website. “Yet this masterpiece of world literature, on par with the Tao Te Ching and the poetry of Rumi, has long lacked translations that make its guidance, vision, and playfulness available to readers in English.”
Hitoshi Pruiksma first fell in love with the book in 2004, when he spent a year on a Fulbright Scholarship in the state of Tamil Nadu, in south India. There, he had a chance to study the book with his Tamil teacher, the late Dr. K. V. Ramakoti.
The poetry of the book had a profound effect on him, as he also felt the power of its influence throughout Tamil Nadu.
Verses from the book, he said, were emblazoned on city buses, and he also overheard countless conversations among ordinary citizens who discussed their interpretations of the book’s meaning.
“I wanted to see what these poems might teach me about what it means to live well in a time when the question of how we live is more important than ever,” he said.
Hitoshi Pruiksma’s translation of the book, he said, began to emerge in 2016, when — almost on a whim — he started a daily practice of translating one verse each morning. Encouraged long-distance by his beloved Tamil teacher, he kept going, and with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, has now completed his work.
The book, published by the venerable Beacon Press, has been well received.
“In the astonishingly fresh and vibrant translations that adorn this book, Tiruvalluvar’s voice can now reach the universal audience that so deeply needs its universal wisdom,” said Andrew Harvey, a British author, religious scholar and teacher of mystic traditions.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author of “World of Wonders,” said the translation “provides a refreshing remembrance and illustration (without the usual reprimands and dire warnings) of how to be a good steward of the planet and what it means to live a good life — a much-needed map of astonishingly humane guidance and care.”
The long-awaited translation adds to the body of Hitoshi Pruiksma’s other works. He has also published the poetry volume, “The Safety of Edges;” “Give, Eat, and Live: Poems of Avvaiyar” (translated from the Tamil); and “Body and Earth,” with the artist C.F. John. He speaks and performs widely, teaches for the Cozy Grammar series of online video courses, and has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, 4Culture, Artist Trust, and the U. S. Fulbright Program.
In the era of COVID, with his husband David Mielke, Hitoshi Pruiksma has also created a delightful series of YouTube musical videos, “Broadway in the Yurt,” viewable at tinyurl.com/5n8tysd6.
On Tuesday, Jan. 11, Elliott Bay Bookstore hosted a virtual reading of Hitoshi Pruiksma’s translation of ‘The Kural.” Find out more about the event, which was recorded, at tinyurl.com/wmdrkp54. Find out more about the book and the author at thomaspruiksma.com.