To bridge the gap between the English reader and classics of Indian literature by making available quality translations and building reader communities that celebrate Indian storytelling
Our Back Story
A friendly chat about how no one in our children’s generation knew about the books that we or our parents had grown up reading and admiring, resulted in the seeding of this initiative. As parents, did we have the responsibility to do something about it? And wasn’t it the right thing to do, to make them read in their language, so that they could read their own literature? And is that even possible?
A series of conversations around reading, books and the curious case of missing Indian translations soon led to the formation of Indian Novels Collective.
Over the last year, more intense conversations about some of India’s best and most popular writers, diversity of Indian languages and the daunting task of sifting through the haystack to find what we call ‘a good translation’, has led to where we are, today.
We started by creating a shortlist of 100 Indian novels and initiating translations of those that had not been translated in English. We would be releasing the shortlist in five language groups, one per quarter:
Group One – Hindi (The shortlist was released on September 22, 2017)
Group Two – Gujarati, Marathi, Konkani (The shortlist was released on April 28, 2018)
Group Three – Urdu, Punjabi, Dogri, Sindhi
Group Four – Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam
Group Five – Bengali, Assamese, Odia
We hope to release the final shortlist of the 100 books by January, 2019. However, we shall start commissioning translations earlier.
Over time, we aspire to move to other genres like essays, children’s literature, short fiction, poetry and drama.
We acknowledge the audacity of the task. To start with, it is almost impossible to create a ‘definitive’ list, given the wealth of our literature. We also acknowledge that we will — in the process, leave out many masterpieces of immense value. Since the Jnanpith and Sahitya Akademi has been celebrating Indian writing for years, we do look upon their archives as a good starting point for our search of novels to include in the booklisting process. But we are primarily driven by the belief that books that have survived the test of time and been loved by generations of readers in their original languages, will be equally loved by future generations reading their translated versions. And therefore, with the guidance of our mentors and friends, we agreed to the following course of action:
The Shortlist should include books that are at least 20-25 years old and yet, not so old that the language itself would not be relatable. To avoid time bias, we are not including books that are too old or relatively contemporary. We will avoid choosing a work for purely historical reasons, unless the book continues to have relevance to the modern reader. We are conscious that old classics and masters require more diligence and effort to bring them to life in English and are more suited to academia.
For the same reason, the popularity of the novel will be a criterion for this project. A literary work that found readers in its generation is the ideal book for making it to this Shortlist.
Having said that, we would include works that reflect a multitude of voices. One of the reasons for doing this project is to showcase to the English readers, the multiplicity of narrative available across diverse Indian languages.
Many of our literary masters have been proficient in multiple genres. Barring a few exceptions, we will try to keep the author to the genre they were best known for.
To summarise — as difficult as such a shortlisting process may seem, the limitation of 100 titles has created a simple framework for us; work with Indian languages that have a rich tradition of the genre, eliminate time-bias by not getting too archaic or too current, work with a small mentor group to identify titles, socialise this initial list with readers at large and prune it down to 100 titles.
Identification of existing quality translations and sponsoring credible, contemporary translations of those that are currently not available in English, will be our next step.
Translations and Translators
Finding the right translators for the featured Indian languages is a daunting task. At the same time, there are good translations already available through the efforts of various publications in India and we are reaching out to the translators individually, as well as creating a panel of mentors to guide us by setting high standards and also in setting the right expectations. Holding translation workshops and setting up a peer review processes are other steps underway.
Building Reader Communities
Indian readers are ready to explore the diversity of storytelling that exists in our literature and this is the right time to create communities around great regional authors and their works. Our online presence and partnerships aim to build such communities through our website and relevant social media. Indian Novels Collective will be an open network to connect readers who have accessed the wealth of our languages, and to get those who have shied away from non-English literature and cafes, cultural centres and literary festivals across the world, to participate in this dialogue.