India Today - - LEISURE - —Moeena Halim

Writer Namita Gokhale hates the term ver­nac­u­lar, a con­de­scend­ing relic of colo­nial­ism that doesn’t do jus­tice to India’s rich lit­er­ary her­itage. For­tu­nately, “that prej­u­dice to­wards In­dian lan­guages is now gone”, says the co-founder and di­rec­tor of next week’s Jaipur Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val (JLF).

With pub­lish­ers de­vot­ing big­ger bud­gets and au­thors fa­mous for their own works turn­ing their hand to trans­la­tion, works orig­i­nally writ­ten in In­dian lan­guages are be­gin­ning to break the strangleho­ld of so-called ‘In­dian writ­ing in English’.

Last year, Sri­nath Perur’s English trans­la­tion of Vivek Shanbhag’s Kan­nada novella Ghachar Ghochar (Pen­guin) made it to The Guardian’s list of Best Books of the Year and The New York Times Crit­ics’ Top Books of 2017. Tamil writer Peru­mal Mu­ru­gan’s Songs of a Coward: Po­ems of Ex­ile also won global ac­co­lades. “While the Euro­pean mar­ket was al­ways open to trans­la­tions, with a fre­quent ex­change be­tween France, Ger­many and India, the English mar­ket was gen­er­ally re­sis­tant,” says Gokhale. “Now that is also chang­ing.”

It’s been a long time com­ing, and many peo­ple helped make it hap­pen. Ar­shia Sat­tar set up the Sangam res­i­dency in 2007. Aditi Ma­hesh­wari of Vani Prakashan has worked doggedly to pro­mote Hindi lit­er­a­ture. Mini Kr­ish­nan, ed­i­tor of Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity Press, has pushed In­dian lan­guage fic­tion in trans­la­tion. And Mita Ka­pur, founder and CEO of the lit­er­ary agency Siyahi, or­gan­ised a sem­i­nar, ‘Trans­lat­ing Bharat’, in Jan­uary 2008 to bring to­gether lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional trans­la­tors and pub­lish­ers. Trans­la­tions were al­ready billed as the in­dus­try’s “next big thing”. But it’s taken a decade for the re­sults to be­gin to show. “The in­dus­try has notched up its act in this area, not only in the qual­ity of trans­la­tions but also num­bers,” says Ka­pur. “You see many more au­thors be­ing trans­lated into var­i­ous lan­guages. Many more In­dian lan­guage trans­la­tions are be­ing sold on book shelves. It’s a good time and we have to keep the pace go­ing.”

Gokhale says JLF has also played a sig­nif­i­cant role. Though its big name in­ter­na­tional guests garner most of the at­ten­tion, the 10-year-old fes­ti­val has al­ways fo­cused on show­cas­ing In­dian writ­ing, both in English as well as in In­dian lan­guages, she claims. Five years ago, for in­stance, the Jaipur BookMark was launched at JLF to fa­cil­i­tate the sale and ex­change of rights, both be­tween In­dian lan­guages and in­ter­na­tion­ally. “I knew that a lit­er­ary move­ment in India would hap­pen only if the dis­tances be­tween the lan­guages were breached,” says Gokhale.

HarperColl­ins India’s im­print Peren­nial, ded­i­cated ex­clu­sively to trans­la­tions, is cel­e­brat­ing its 10th an­niver­sary too. With more than 100 ti­tles un­der their belt, they’ve hand­picked 10 of their favourite Peren­nial books to be pub­lished as keep­sake edi­tions this year. Ama­zon-owned West­land plans to go a step fur­ther. Each of its English books will be trans­lated into eight or nine In­dian lan­guages this year, and the pub­lisher has tied up with Hind Yugm for its first orig­i­nal Hindi ti­tle in 2018.

Such ef­forts have brought new and bet­ter trans­la­tors into the fray, in­clud­ing suc­cess­ful writ­ers like Jerry Pinto, who are well


known for their own works. Pinto, who has trans­lated three Marathi books since 2013, traces the new in­ter­est to the “new­found con­fi­dence in India as a po­ten­tial world player”—which has made the coun­try’s lit­er­ary her­itage a point of pride. But Rahul Soni, au­thor, trans­la­tor and ed­i­tor at HarperColl­ins, isn’t sure read­er­ship has in­creased along­side the greater at­ten­tion. “Trans­la­tions have be­come, over the past few years, one of the things that peo­ple talk about and deem im­por­tant,” he says. “Has the read­er­ship grown? Not too sig­nif­i­cantly, I would think, but slowly and steadily.”

One rea­son for that is pub­lish­ers still don’t de­vote the same re­sources to­ward mar­ket­ing trans­la­tions that they do to works orig­i­nally writ­ten in English, says Shanta Gokhale, known for her trans­la­tions of Marathi plays. “Pub­lish­ers only send re­view copies to news­pa­pers and news web­sites. If any mar­ket­ing is to be done, the writ­ers/ trans­la­tors do it, gen­er­ally via so­cial me­dia, for which no mon­e­tary in­vest­ment is re­quired.”

The claims for JLF notwith­stand­ing, the high-pro­file lit­er­a­ture fes­ti­vals cater pri­mar­ily to au­thors who write in English, she says. “Not much dis­cus­sion can hap­pen about In­dian lan­guage lit­er­a­ture at these fes­ti­vals be­cause nei­ther the or­gan­is­ers nor au­di­ences would have read the lit­er­a­ture in the orig­i­nal.” Even Mum­bai’s Gate­way Lit­fest, which is ded­i­cated to lit­er­a­ture in In­dian lan­guages, only in­vites writ­ers who can speak in English, while the Kala Ghoda Arts Fes­ti­val’s events for Marathi and Gu­jarati lit­er­a­ture in­vari­ably at­tract an au­di­ence so small it is “very dis­heart­en­ing for par­tic­i­pants”, she adds.

This year, the Ra­jasthan Pra­gatisheel Lekhak Sangh will hold the Par­al­lel Lit­er­a­ture Fes­ti­val across town from JLF, high­light­ing the lit­er­ary works of writ­ers in Hindi and other In­dian lan­guages over 24 ses­sions, from Jan­uary 27 to 29. But it re­mains to be seen whether any of the JLF literati will deign to turn up, or when, if ever, an In­dian trans­la­tion com­mands the kind of read­er­ship drawn to Ja­pan’s Haruki Mu­rakami or South Korea’s Han Kang.

“One can hope,” says Soni. “And I think fo­cus­ing on the qual­ity of trans­la­tion is the place to be­gin.”

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