Book List

Six must-read translations of Urdu novels

With over 50 million native speakers, Urdu is the seventh most spoken language in India. The Urdu language has a rich literary tradition in the Indian subcontinent, ranging from Mirza Ghalib’s poetry to Saadat Hasan Manto’s social realist short stories about partition.

The Urdu novel and short story was preceded by dastangoi or the oral storytelling tradition. The early Urdu novels that emerged in the nineteenth century were initially centered around urban social life and later expanded to include rural social narratives. In the twentieth century, under the influence of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, Urdu fiction, in particular, the short story form flourished and was concerned with social inequality and injustice. During the partition period, Urdu fiction primarily dealt with themes of migration, identity, and decolonization.

Here is a list of Urdu novels that are easily accessible in English translation. 

Mirat-al-Urus by Nazir Ahmad
Translated as The Bride’s Mirror by G.E. Ward

Published in 1869, The Bride’s Mirror deals with the themes of female education in Muslim society and social and educational reforms in the second half of the nineteenth century in India. The plot revolves around the contrasting life paths of two sisters from Delhi who are married to two brothers. Akbari, the spoilt and poorly educated sister lives a troubled life after her marriage while Asghari who is hardworking and well educated is able to deal with the difficulties she faces and forms a good relationship with her husband’s family and the local community. Through the story of the two sisters, Ahmad creates a compelling portrait of a rapidly changing society in Delhi in the nineteenth century.

Aag Ka Darya by Qurratulain Hyder
Translated as River of Fire by the author

The novel unfolds over two and a half millennia of Indian history, covering the classical, medieval, colonial, and postcolonial periods. The narrative moves seamlessly from one epoch to another, interlinked by four characters: Gautam, Champa, Kamaal, and Cyril who represent the various ethnic and religious groups that have populated the region. In the final post-partition period, historical continuity is disrupted with the division of people and creation of nation states. With its magical elements interlaced with parables, legends, and personal notes, Hyder’s masterpiece provides a sweeping overview of the history of the Indian subcontinent and sends out a clear message of inclusivity.

Ek Chadar Maili Si by Rajinder Singh Bedi
Translated as I Take This Woman by Kushwant Singh

Set in a village in undivided Punjab, the novel revolves around the lives of Rano and her young brother-in-law Mangal, who are forced to marry each other after the death of Rano’s husband, even though Rano has raised Mangal like her own son. Eventually, both Rano and Mangal reach a level of understanding and are able to form a conjugal bond. Tackling themes of sexuality, society, patriarchy across religions, this novel remains a classic in the Urdu literary canon.

Bazaar-e-Husn by Premchand
Translated as Sevasadan by Snehal Shingavi

Originally written in Urdu, the novel was first published in Hindi in 1919 and in Urdu in 1924. Set at the turn of the twentieth century in the city of Benares, the novel tells the story of Suman, an unhappy housewife, who forced out of her home by her husband, ends up becoming a courtesan. During this period, as a result of social reforms, the local municipal corporation orders the relocation of kothas or brothels to the periphery of the city. Suman faces social ostracism as a courtesan and eventually discovers an existence that restores her agency. Through Bazaar-e-Husn, Premchand exposes the hypocrisy of society and presents a critique of the demand for women to be the standard bearers of morality in colonial India.

Umrao Jan Ada by Mirza Hadi Ruswa
Translated by Kushwant Singh and M. A. Husaini

Published in 1899, Umrao Jan Ada is a fictional first-person account of an eponymous Lucknawi courtesan and poet, as narrated to the author. Set in the mid-nineteenth century, the novel recreates the decadence of Awadhi aristocracy and provides an insight into the social impact of the Revolt of 1857 in Lucknow. As a young girl, Umrao is kidnapped and sold to a tawaif or a high-class courtesan and trained in classical music and dance and literature. Through the use of psychological realism, Ruswa creates one of the most complex and memorable characters in Urdu literature.

Ajeeb Aadmi by Ismat Chughtai
Translated as A Very Strange Man by Tahira Naqvi

Situated in the Bombay film industry of the 1940s and 50s, the novel tells the story of Dharam Dev, a popular married actor and director and his infatuation with Zarina, a young dancer from Madras. With his help, Zarina becomes a famous actress and subsequently abandons him. The narrative follows the descent of Dharam Dev and his wife into depression and alcoholism. Chughtai, who was herself part of the film industry as a screenwriter and producer, explores the dark side of ambition, glamour, and infatuation in her characteristic irreverent prose.

About the blogger
Priyanka Lindgren has a background in linguistics and refugee studies. She is passionate about world literature, in particular, 20th-century South Asian literature in translation. She is the Culture Editor at The Lead, part of the International Women’s Initiative. She blogs about books and South Asian identity at thesouthasianreader.wordpress.com.

May 21, 2019

Indian Novels Collective

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  • BOOK EXCERPT

    Seeing but not SEEN


    Known as one of the greatest storytellers of the Partition, Joginder Paul has been the recipient of important literary awards, such as the International Award for Urdu Writing from Qatar, SAARC Life Achievement Award, Iqbal Samman, Ghalib Award, Bahadur Shah Zafar Award and many others. His fiction has been translated into several languages. With his unique writing style and choice of themes, he is known as one of the most innovative writers in Urdu.

    Joginder Paul migrated from Sialkot (now in Pakistan) to Ambala (India) in 1947, at the time of Partition, after which he married and left for Kenya where he lived for nearly 15 years. The experience of being a refugee and that of ‘exile’ reflected in a lot of his short and long fiction writings. He was familiar with multiple languages, with Punjabi as his mother tongue and school education in Urdu. Post this he pursued a Masters degree in English and taught literature until he retired as the principal of a college in Aurangabad. Joginder Paul chose to write in Urdu, with a conviction that Urdu is ‘not a language but a culture’.

    Grounded in human suffering and exposed to continental fiction, he found his own distinctive style of writing. While Joginder Paul’s first collection of short stories, Dharti ka Kaal, carried stories of Africa, the subsequent collections of his short stories project a deep concern for social issues, poverty and hunger, mostly in the Indian context. His novel Khwabro has been widely discussed as a poignant Partition novel with a television film made on it. The four volumes of flash fiction by him established him as a pioneer in the oeuvre. Each of his stories came to him with its own specific language and style, shape and size, as dictated by its own experience and content. Joginder Paul added new dimensions to Urdu fiction, both in content as well as form.

    It was the lasting experience of visiting a blind home in Kenya which several decades later compelled him to write his novel Nadeed, translated to English, as Blind by his daughter Sukrita Paul Kumar and co-translated by Hina Nandrajog. The English translation works towards maintaining the metaphorical significance of the word ‘Blind’ and the inter-relation of the allegorical and physical blindness in the narrative projected in Nadeed. Sukrita Paul Kumar and Hina Nandrajog, attempt to transpose the metaphysical dimensions of blindness, present in Joginder Paul’s work.

    Here is an excerpt from the translation:

    Sharfu

    Each of us has his own way of seeing. Who can tell how the other sees? As for me, I see the whole world within myself – lofty mountain peaks that pierce my insides, wide rivers in whose eddies I sometimes get trapped; dashing against the rocks, I smash into pieces, but my banks gather all the pieces from the flowing waters, put them together and carry me to a safe and secluded maidan.

    Within me lies the world-of-worlds. Many places in this world have been torn and worn by cruel seasons, but somehow I manage to patiently build kutcha-pukka bridges so that no part of me remains isolated. I arrive wherever I wish to reach the very moment the thought of getting there comes to me. I live in every speck and atom of this universe of mine.

    No, I am not making any claim to godhood! The truth is that I was born blind and I lie inside myself quietly. Quietly? No, that’s a lie! And … and it is also a lie that all of my fragments lie scattered. The truth is that all my bridges are broken. I comfort myself in vain. In fact, blind as I am, I’m unable to reach anywhere; even if I have to reach my mouth from my ears, I fall with a thud on the way.

    The mention of mouth, ears and all reminds me of a curious incident that took place a few days ago.

    The three of us from our Home for the Blind were sitting together after lunch when Bhola said, Yaaro, life stinks but if we spend it together it won’t be so bad.

    Bhola always comes out with meaningful observations, so both of us listen to him very attentively.

    The distance from inside to outside stretches across in an awfully tangled length, yaaro! I keep falling on my face even if I have to travel from my head to my belly.

    Yes, Bhola, precisely! This is the problem when it is one’s fate to fill the belly with just thoughts. And then with a full belly, who can remember the way back to the head?

    Shall I ask you something, Bhola? Why return to the head anyway? As for me, once my stomach is full I lie crouched in the middle with my legs under my belly.

    That’s it, Bhola. A full belly makes one feel one is on a swing.

    But for how long does a full belly remain full, yaaro?

    When the belly gets empty, the swing snaps, the bones crack, and the person feels them stabbing his feet.

    Yes, we should get back to the head as soon as the belly is full. sss

    But that is the dilemma! Once the belly is full, one can’t figure out the way back home.

    Right, Bhola! A man’s head is his home … but how to fill our bellies if we don’t step out of the house?

    And how to go back when the belly is full?

     

    Excerpt published with the permission of Sukrita Paul Kumar. The book is available in paperback and e-book format and is published by Harper Perennial.

    For reading the original in Urdu, please visit http://bit.ly/2WMAznS

    Translation

    Translation: A cultural transfer

    After tens of thousands of years of evolution through which language was fundamental for the development of mankind, we have reached the age of globalization. Though, today, there are few borders left that have not been breached by the internet, electronic mail and telecommunication, language may still be a barrier in communication and translation is necessary for successful communication.

    A language postulates in itself a model of reality and a phonic association with the universe it describes, so we cannot separate language from culture. Both linguistic equivalence and cultural transfer are at stake when translating. Translation is a cultural fact that means necessarily cross-cultural exchange and understanding.

    The translator’s purpose is not just to translate a printed literary text into another language but to be the mediator who could initiate and even induce the reader to internalize the representative text of an alien culture.

    I remember A K Ramanujan, who while translating U R Ananthamurthy’s Novel Samskara opined, “A translator hopes not only to translate a text but hopes to translate a non-native reader into a native one. This statement of Ramanujan’s “to translate a non-native reader into a native one” very simply but powerfully introduces the crucial notion of cultural translation. So, through translations of creative writing, cultural bridges of understanding are securely constructed.

    Early Translations

    In the early centuries of Christian era, Buddhist texts were translated into Chinese and later into Tibetan. In the 11th century, Sanskrit texts began to be translated into Assamese, Kannada, Marathi, Telugu etc. At the same time translation began to be done in the Persian language too.

    Zain ul Abidin (1420 -1470), the ruler of Kashmir, established a bureau for bilateral renderings between Sanskrit and Persian. Dara Shikoh’s Persian translations of the Upanishads and Mulla Ahmed Kashmiri’s rendition of Mahabharata are among the major landmarks along this stream.

    In the 17th -18th century, the great Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh set up a bureau and had a large number of Sanskrit texts translated into Punjabi.

    In 18th century, major universities in Europe had chairs in Sanskrit and Sanskrit studies had come to enjoy immense prestige. As the century progressed, Sanskrit studies immensely shaped the European mind. All the major European minds of the 19th century were either Sanskritists or by their own admission had been deeply involved in Indian thought –Humboldt, Fichte, Hegel, Goethe, Schopenhauer, Kant, Nietzsche, Schelling, Ferdinand de Saussure, Roman Jakobson.

    Translations in the British period

    The British phase of translation into English culminated in William Jone’s translation of Kalidasa’s Abhigyana Shakuntalam.

    The late nineteen eighties and nineties was an exciting period for the discipline of translation studies in India. Seminal writings like G N Devy, In Another Tongue: Essays on Indian English Literature (1993), Sujit Mukherjees’s Translation as Discovery and Other Essays on Indian Literature in English Translation (1994), Tejaswani Niranjana, Siting Translation: History, Post Strucuralism and the Colonial Context (1995), and many anthologies like Pramod Talgeri and Verman S.B (Editors) Literature in Translation from Cultural Transference to Metonymic Displacement (1988), A K Singh Edited, Translation: Its theory and Practice (1996), Dingwaney, Anuradha and Carol Maier (Editors) Between Language and Cultures: Translations and Cross Cultural Texts (1996), Tutun Mukherjee (Edited)Translation : From Periphery to Centre Stage (1998) and Susan Bassnett and Trivedi (Editors) Post Colonial Translation: Theory and Practice (1999) burst into the scene.

    Translation of Malayalam works in English

    The very foundation of Indian Literature is based on translations. India is a multilingual country. According to scholar G N Devy there are 780 languages spoken in India.

    Translation builds bridges and opens the door for those who would not otherwise have access to the original and thereby unite different cultures. The literary works of different Indian languages especially Bengali literature were translated into Malayalam during the early seventies. Premchand, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Paulo Coelho and Mario Vargas Llosa have come into Malayalam via English translations and found great readership.

    Translation has been gaining ground as an important discipline in literary field and has been growing rapidly in the multicultural world. Translation is an important tool to disseminate regional literatures, to make them go beyond the territories of their native domain and reach global readership. Translation is a creative process which involves two languages. It involves critical thinking and evaluation. Translation should be as far as possible close to the original in language, style and content.

    Be it the case of Indian languages or foreign languages, the cultural elements are in danger, while translations are done. Given the fact that Malayalam language is culturally rich with its traditional customs, beliefs and practices, translation of literary works from Malayalam to English becomes a challenge for the translator, as I mentioned above, the translator has to bring a non-native reader into a native one.

    Words like pooram, padayani, koithu pattu, palliyodam, kanji, appam etc…reflect the cultural aspects of Keralites which may not necessarily be found in the target language into which the source text is translated, especially in English. Hence translation is not a mere linguistic substitution, it’s a cultural transfer. The translator has to facilitate the message, meaning and cultural elements from one language to another and create an equivalent response from the receivers.

    When one talks of Malayalam works in English the titles that comes to mind quickly are Basheer’s Ente Uppupakoru Ana Undayirunnu, Thakazhi’s Chemmeen, S K Pottekkat’s Oru Deshathinte Katha and M T’s Randamoozham.

    Of late, there has been an increase in translation of Malayalam fiction into English. Benyamin’s Aadu Jeevitham was translated as Goat Days by Joseph Koyipally and Subhash Chandran’s Manushyanu Oru Aamukham translated as Preface to Man by Fathima E V, K R Meera’s Aarachaar translated as Hangwoman by J Devika, T D Ramakrishnan’s Sugandhi Alias Andal Devanayaki and Francis Itty Kora translated with the same names by Priya K Nair, Othapu by Sara Joseph translated as Othappuby Valson Thampu have made Malayalam fiction more visible internationally.

    The Indian literary scene has witnessed a great change as far as translation is considered in the last decade. Crossword awards have changed the translation scenario in India. Beginning with fiction and then adding on translation awards in its scheme of things have resulted in more and more Indian language fiction being translated into English.

    It’s noteworthy that Malayalam fiction has made its presence over the years. The list also includes among others, On the banks of Mayyazhi by M Mukundan- translated by Gita Krishnankutty, Kesavan’s Lamentations translated by Gita Krishnankutty, P Sachidanandan’ Govardhan’s travels translated by Gita Krishnankutty, Narayan’s Kocharethi: The Araya Woman translated by Catherine Thankamma, and Benyamin’s Jasmine Days translated by Shahnaz Habib

    The Juggernaut published Swarga, the English translation of Enmakaje by Ambikasuthan Mangad. Translated by J Devika, it qualifies to be a miserable exercise. I am citing an example here: in the Malayalam original, the sentence reads “Vanaprasthan mare pole kaatil kazhiyunna namukku ee kurish ottum cherukayilla.” (Pg 18)

    The English translation reads: “This cross doesn’t suit us who live in the forest, who seek a life of contemplation in the wilderness.” The author meant that the child is a burden to them who are living in the wilderness. Devika’s translation “this cross doesn’t suit us” is way off the mark. Likewise, other errors have crept in. The end result is that, the Malayalam novel which has 18 reprints so far, while being introduced into English, got lost in translation.

    A translator can enhance the original work or mess it up.

    Everyone familiar with translation, theory and practice is aware that translation no longer entails linguistic substitution or mere code– switching, but is regarded as a “cultural transfer.”

    Linguist Eugene Nida states that the role of the translator is to facilitate the transfer of message, meaning and cultural elements from one language to another and to create an equivalent response from the receivers i.e. the primary responsibility of the translators is to recreate in the target language the reader responses that the text in the source language had created. The ideal translation should therefore be accurate, natural and communicative.
    All said and done, translation is an attempt to introduce a literary work from one language to another. We have had access to world literature and Indian Literature because of translations.

    A gifted translator is a creator. He can remain close to the text and then render it creatively and bring the source language alive in the target language. Translation is a creative approximation of the original. The original and the translation must play in harmony, like jugalbandi. It’s here that translation becomes an art.

    Santhosh Alex
    Dr Santosh Alex is a Poet, Translator and Poetry Curator. He is the author of 35 books including poetry, criticism and translations.

    Saadat Hasan Manto

    Your opinion matters

    “He finally managed to scrape through with a third division – and you would be truly bowled over by the fact that he failed his Urdu exam!

    People now accept him as a great Urdu writer and I can’t help laughing when I hear this because the truth is that he does not know Urdu even today.” Extract from My Twin
    An essay by Saadat Hasan Manto on Manto

    Contested, maligned, unappreciated for the longest time, as we remember Saadat Hasan Manto on his 107th birth anniversary, let us look at what renowned historians, filmmakers and writers have to say about his craft as a short story writer and a chronicler of his times.

    The historian Ayesha Jalal, (who is Manto’s grand-niece) wrote in her book about him, The Pity of Partition: “Whether he was writing about prostitutes, pimps or criminals, Manto wanted to impress upon his readers that these disreputable people were also human, much more than those who cloaked their failings in a thick veil of hypocrisy.”

    “In 2016, could someone write as challenging material and get away with it?” says Suniya Qureishi, a relative of Manto who works for the British Pakistan Foundation. “Every time you see someone raise their head above the parapet challenging the ills of society, they are taken out.”

    “Manto’s stories were radical in their own time and they are still radical,” says the author and academic Preti Taneja. “Manto does not shy away from the idea that women have sexual needs and their own sexual vision that has nothing to do with being in love with someone else.” “Manto is as skilled as the best short story writers of the Russian and western tradition” says Taneja ‘and it is very sad that he has been erased from the literary canon.”

    “When I was at high school, he wasn’t part of our syllabus,” recalls Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif, whose work shares the black humour and political bite of Manto. “The people who read his books were considered rebels; edgy people who didn’t conform. Reading Manto made you realise that literature did not always have to conform. It does not always have to tell polite stories. It also gave me the idea that you can write about stuff that is happening right now. Somehow, we believed that something that happened in the past is the subject of fiction whereas what is happening now is the subject of news or commentary.”

    Salman Rushdie, author of Midnight’s Children, describes him as “unparalleled in his generation”. “There are few writers,” says Rushdie, “who straddle both India and Pakistan as he does, and who engage with the deepest problems of both countries.” According to Rushdie, Bombay was always Manto’s “greatest inspiration”.

    “He has been celebrated in academia and the arts circle but on a national level there has been if not a shame then a discomfort,” says the actor and film-maker Sarmad Khoosat who directed and starred in the recent Pakistani biopic on Manto.

    Last year, actor and filmmaker Nandita Das released a biopic on Manto. When asked why she chose Manto as her subject, she mentioned, “What drew me to the writer was his free spirit and courage to stand up against orthodoxy of all kinds. He wrote with a rare sensitivity and empathy for his characters.”

    Theatre activist and playwright Shahid Anwar, whose play Ghair Zaroori Log (persona non-grata) was based on six of Manto’s stories, said during an interaction with The Hindu in 2014: “The principal problem with Manto’s literary work was that somehow he got confined to the Partition and its framework.” No wonder that most of the stories that Anwar chose for his play, including ‘Hatak’, ‘Pairan’ and ‘Mummy’, are those that often go unnoticed in Manto’s body of work.

    “Manto remains unsung for the craft of storytelling, which was impeccable. His craft, the form of his short story is noted for its brevity at a time when Urdu writers exaggerated every word and more words were considered almost like fine art,” mentioned Javed Akhtar, poet, scriptwriter and a member of the Progressive Movement, in a conversation about Manto on his birth centenary.

    However, no piece on Manto is complete without Ismat Chugtai’s opinion about him. After Manto’s death, Chughtai wrote a letter to the people of Pakistan where she questioned the regime’s decision to honour the artist whom they had tortured and slapped with sedition and obscenity charges when he was living. She said:

    “And remember, gentlemen, what I tell you: even after twenty years, Manto would still strike his head against the bars of a prison, as he in fact did, and people would still have death anniversary celebrations for him after he died, as you in fact are. But during his lifetime, people would still kick him down. Look carefully to see if there is any Manto among you. Is there anyone among you who talks nonsense, who is extremely sensitive, who makes lots of silly mistakes and blunders, and who says things that no one understands? Is there anyone among you who thinks that no one understands him, who goes on showing his obstinacy, who sticks like a thistle on the hem of every passerby until he becomes unbearable? Is there anyone among you who thinks he’s a great writer, but nobody is willing to admit it, a pauper or beggar who asks for money, properly and improperly, someone people try to avoid because he is alone? Beware of such a fraud, for if he dies tomorrow, you might have to bow your heads before him. You might be compelled to write articles; you might be compelled to hold gatherings in his honour. But these things cannot compensate for Death, and the arrow which has pierced Ali Asghar’s throat may continue to irritate the throat of your conscience.”

    — From “Ismat Chughtai: A talk with one of Urdu’s most outspoken woman writers”, Mahfil, 1972

    Do you remember the first time you read a Manto story? If yes, please let us know your first reaction, as a comment below.

    Bibliography:
    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/11/saadat-hasan-manto-short-stories-partition-pakistan

    https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/sep/05/saadat-hasan-manto-bombay-mumbai-nandita-das-india

    https://www.thehindu.com/books/Walking-with-the-marginalised/article14458237.ece

     

    Further reading:
    https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/et-commentary/why-is-it-necessary-to-remember-saadat-hasan-manto/articleshow/14110530.cms

    https://www.amazon.in/Manto-Saheb-Friends-Enemies-Great-Maverick-ebook/dp/B07GFJP2FJ/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1557306791&sr=8-1-fkmrnull

    https://scroll.in/article/815074/manto-on-ismat-who-like-independent-india-and-pakistan-was-born-on-august-15

    https://scroll.in/article/895590/this-is-foolishness-when-ismat-chughtai-met-saadat-hasan-manto-for-the-first-time

    Rabindranath Tagore in Translation

    Remembering the Bard of Bengal

    “Where the mind is without fear
    and the head is held high,
    where knowledge is free.
    Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls.
    In to that heaven of freedom, my father,
    Let my country awake!”

    ― Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali: Song Offerings

    Rabindranath Tagore, author of the ‘profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse’ of Gitanjali became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature (1913). The prolific artist enticed the Bengali audience with his wide-ranging poetry, stories, paintings which overturned the conventional ideas and practices in the society. Tagore’s assertive viewpoints on nationalism and his understanding of the feelings and emotions of the Indian woman and the attitude towards them in his works were remarkable. The tendency to question and contest ways of the world lead to the discontent with the formal education system. Thus, In 1901 he founded an experimental school in rural West Bengal at Shantiniketan, where he sought to blend the best in the Indian and Western traditions, which became Visva-Bharati University in 1921.

    Tagore is also referred to as ‘The Bard of Bengal’. He modernised Bengali art by rejecting rigid classical forms and resisting linguistic limits. It was not just the structural alterations that Tagore initiated but also the thematic concerns. His works moved towards a stronger sense of realism by liberating the Bengali novel from its bondage of historical romance. His novels, stories, songs, dance-dramas, and essays spoke of topics, political and personal, and were popularly known for their lyricism, naturalism, and unnatural contemplation. Tagore’s novels are a radical statement of his unusual viewpoint which were ahead of the conservative times of 19th and 20th century India. Gora (1909), Ghare-Baire (1916), Choker Bali (1903) are some of his best-known novels. There have been several attempts to translate Tagore’s body of work into English, making it accessible to non-Bengali readers. In fact, Tagore himself translated many of his works into English.

    Here’s a quick glance into some of Gurudev’s most popular novels:

    CHOKHER BALI (1903)

    Chokher Bali was truly a norm-defying novel with a narrative shaped through passion, desires and an intricate network of relationships. Tagore’s novels condemned many taboos and unjust customs which deprived widows of their rightful existence; confined to live a mournful colourless life. Chokher Bali presents the woeful conditions of Hindu widows and the emergence of a new type of woman in quest of self-fulfillment through Binodini, the protagonist of the novel. An extra-marital affair with a widow and the closer depiction of female friendship in the novel created a ripple in the society by shattering the conventional identity of a widow as well as unsettling the idea of a successful married life.

    GORA (1909)

    Tagore’s longest novel, Gora, is a complex narrative with a rich philosophical debate on religion and politics. The concerns raised in the novel about the imagination of a nation seem very contemporary and compels one to question their concrete beliefs about a nation. The protagonists in the novel portray through their personal principles, a struggle for values in one’s own tradition. The novel accommodates questioning of various binaries like tradition and modernity, elite and the poor and presents an intersection of caste, religion, gender with nationalism.

    GHARE BAIRE (1916)

    The novel standing true to its title literally captures the concerns of the home, the outer world and the inter-relationship of both these spaces. The power dynamics within a household and the conflict between true and false patriotism within the nation form the prominent thematic thread of the novel. Influence of Western culture, as well as the revolution against it particularly in Bengal owing to the Swadeshi movement and the Partition of Bengal, comes across through personal narratives of the characters in the novel. The position of women in the Indian freedom struggle is examined through the woman protagonist who through the development of the novel undergoes a transformation. Tagore negotiates the various ideas of a ‘modern woman’ within a nationalistic scenario.

    SHESHER KABITA (1929)

    Shesher Kabita is considered a landmark in Bengali literature. The novel primarily is about man-woman relationships and the institution of marriage. Tagore yet again shows a masterly command of the trysts of human relationships. The themes of love, trust, passion, lust, and companionship keep the narrative intact. Tagore has brilliantly weaved poetry with prose in this novel. The fusion of the two forms adds to the creative beauty in exploring the ideas of platonic love. Tagore’s choice of ending the novel in an unconventional manner suggested a new way of looking at relationships.

    As we celebrate the birth of this multifaceted and revolutionary artist today, let us revisit and cherish the timeless contributions which altered the way our society and world thinks. Remembering the literary genius who weaved beauty and purpose in the most beautiful way.

    Hindi Literature

    The story behind the translation of Phanishwar Nath Renu’s first novel Maila Anchal

    Known as the first ‘regional’ novelMaila Anchal  narrates the life of an Indian village with a kind of sensitivity that was missing from the rigid, stereotypical portrayals in earlier novels of the period. Indian Novels Collective came across this rare document (below) carrying the preface and introduction to The Soiled Border – a translation of Renu’s first novel Maila Anchal – by translator Indira Junghare.

    Indira Jhungare shares the story of translating the novel and enlightens us with the various themes the novel carries. She also highlights the struggles faced while translating the regional dialects and idiolects while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of the meaning and style of the novel.

    Here are some interesting facts that you can find in the extract below:

    • Phanishwar Nath Renu was nicknamed ‘Rinua’ by his grandmother. The name was later changed to Renu (dust), which also became his pen name.
    • The village Maryganj around which the novel is centred, was named after an English woman Mary, the wife of an Indigo-planter Martin, who had lived there for past 35 years.
    • Maila Anchal consists of languages ranging from standard and colloquial Hindi to regional dialects such as Maithili, Bhojpuri, Magahi, Nepali, Bengali and the tribal language of Santhali, making it a difficult book to translate.

    As of 2015, Indira Jhungare was the Affiliate Faculty in the Department of Linguistics, University of Minnesota

    Translation Lists

    Six must-read translations of Bengali novels

    The Bengal renaissance that began with Raja Ram Mohan Roy in the nineteenth century had a profound impact on modern Bengali literature. During this period of social reform and intellectual awakening, there was a push towards modernity through critical analysis of orthodox aspects of society and religion. The second half of the nineteenth century saw the rise of the Bengali novel, which drew upon both Western and local literary traditions. The Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, a key literary figure in the renaissance movement, remains the most well-known Bengali writer in India. His most popular novels include The Home and the World and Chokher Bali.  

    Here is a list of Bengali novels that are easily available in English translation.

    Pather Panchali by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay
    Translated by T.W. Clark and Tarapada Mukherji

    Published in 1929, the novel first appeared serialised in a Calcutta periodical a year earlier. It tells the story of the Roys who live in rural Bengal and later move to Varanasi in search of a better life. Bandyopadhyay’s evocative narrative paints a vivid picture of rural life and the scenic beauty of the Bengali countryside and captures the loses the family faces on their journey to the city.

    Shesh Prashna by Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay
    Translated as The Final Question by the Department of English, Jadavpur University

    Set in the expatriate Bengali community in Agra, the novel follows the life of Kamal, a young Anglo-Indian woman who challenges the traditional position of women in society. She is independent, lives and travels alone, and enters into relationships with different men. With its focus on female sexuality and its anti-patriarchal stance, The Final Question remains as relevant today as when it was published in 1931.

    Hajar Churashir Maa by Mahasweta Devi
    Translated as Mother of 1084 by Samik Bandyopadhyay

    Written as a response to the Naxalite movement in West Bengal, the novel deals with the pain and frustrations of Sujata whose Naxalite revolutionary son has been killed by the police. With her son’s identity reduced to that of corpse no. 1084, Sujata struggles to make sense of her son’s choices and her position in society. Set across the course of a single day, the narrative interweaves the past and the present to explore Sujata’s complex relationship with her son and society and her journey towards acceptance.

    Tithidore by Buddhadeva Bose
    Translated as When the Time is Right by Arunava Sinha

    Situated in Calcutta during the first half of the twentieth century against the backdrop of the Indian independence movement and the threat of war, the novel revolves around Swati, the youngest daughter in the Mitra family. Swati rejects her brother’s colleague offer to marry her and instead finds herself attracted to Satyen, a professor at her college. They share a love for literature and communicate mainly through letters. The lyrical, slow-paced narrative, with its focus on domestic life during a period of political upheaval, provides for an immersive reading experience.

    Pratham Pratisruti by Ashnapurna Debi
    Translated as The First Promise by Indira Chowdhury

    Set across the late eighteenth and early twentieth century in Bengal, the novel follows the dreams and struggles of four generations of women. Through The First Promise, Debi explores the impact of colonialism on caste practices, the move from the village to the city and the subsequent change in family structure, women’s rights issues, and social and educational reforms.

    Sei Samay by Sunil Gangopadhyay
    Translated as Those Days by Aruna Chakravorty

    The novel blends history and fiction to create a vivid picture of the elite in nineteenth-century Bengal. Set against the backdrop of the Bengal renaissance and the Revolt of 1857, it tells the story of the wealthy Mukherjee and Singha families in a rapidly changing society in Calcutta. Several historical figures, from Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the reformer and writer to Michael Madhusudan Dutt, the poet populate the narrative, which adds to the social realist elements of the novel.

    About the blogger
    Priyanka Lindgren has a background in linguistics and refugee studies. She is passionate about world literature, in particular, 20th-century South Asian literature in translation. She is the Culture Editor at The Lead, part of the International Women’s Initiative. She blogs about books and South Asian identity at thesouthasianreader.wordpress.com.

    Women Writers in Indian Languages

    10 Indian language women writers who should feature on your reading list

    India has a rich literary heritage. The diversity in cultural and lingual spheres has given rise to varied narratives with unique viewpoints. Many women writers throughout our history have strived to write fearlessly and question stereotypes. This Women’s Day we share a list of ten women writers who have broken stereotypes and challenged the way women are written about.

    Qurratulain Hyder
    Urdu
    One of the most outstanding literary names in Urdu literature, she is best known for her magnum opus, Aag Ka Darya. It tells a story that moves from the Fourth Century BC to the post-Independence period in India and Pakistan. The female characters in most of her works are portrayed as independent individuals rather than being known through the male lens.

    Kamala Das
    Malayalam
    Kamala Das is best known for her fearless and unapologetic treatment of female sexuality and questioning patriarchal norms. In her autobiographical novel, My Story originally published in Malayalam, titled Ente Katha, Das recounts the trials of her marriage and her painful self-awakening as a woman and writer.

    Mahasweta Devi
    Bangla
    Mahasweta Devi has been known as one of the boldest female writers in India. Her Bengali novel, Hazaar Chaurasi Ki Maa delved into the life of an ordinary Indian mother fighting against all odds to retain the memory of her dead son. Rudali, based on the life of Sanichari, a poor low-caste village woman and a professional mourner, is an ironic tale of exploitation and struggle and above all survival. A powerful text, Rudali is considered an important feminist text for contemporary India.

    Indira Goswami
    Assamese
    Indira Goswami continually addressed social injustices in her work. Her writing was spurred on by widowhood and social injustice. From her first novel, Neel Kanthi Braja (Shadow of Dark God, 1986), she examined the social and psychological deprivations of widowhood to Tej Aru Dhulire Dhushorito Prishtha (Pages Stained With Blood, 2001), where she writes about a young female teacher in the neighbourhoods of Delhi that have been affected by anti-Sikh riots in the wake of the assassination of Indira Gandhi by two of her Sikh bodyguards, her characters stand out and are imprinted in your mind forever.

    M K Indira
    Kannada
    Malooru Krishnarao Indira is a well-known Kannada novelist. Her most popular novel, Phaniyamma is based on the life of a child widow. It is a real-life story of a widow whom Indira knew during her childhood. While Gejje Pooje revolves around the life of prostitutes and the social stigma associated with it. Indira’s works have been a strong critique of various unjust practices related to women in the society.

    Lalithambika Antharjanam
    Malayalam
    Lalitambika Antharjanam, is popularly known for her short stories and powerful woman narratives in Malayalam literature. Her novel, Agnisakshi tells the story of a Nambudiri woman, struggling for social and political emancipation. The novelist highlights the women’s role in society and critiques the social institutions that limit women and curtail their freedom.

    Bama
    Tamil
    Bama, the Tamil, Dalit, feminist novelist who rose to fame with her autobiographical novel Karukku, which chronicles the joys and sorrows experienced by Dalit Christian women in Tamil Nadu. They portray caste-discrimination practised in Christianity and Hinduism. Bama’s works are seen as embodying Dalit feminism and are famed for celebrating the inner strength of the subaltern woman.

    Kundanika Kapadia
    Gujarati
    Kundanika Kapadia is a Gujarati novelist, story writer and essayist who won the Sahitya Akademi Award for Gujarati in 1985 for Sat Pagala Akashma – a revolutionary feminist work in Gujarati. The novel raises questions about the status of a married woman accorded to her by a male-dominated society and struggles to find an equal voice and liberty for women.

    Krishna Sobti
    Hindi
    Krishna Sobti is popularly known for her bold and daring characters in her novel. Her most acclaimed novel Mitro Marajani is about a young married woman’s exploration and assertion of her sexuality, which set the Hindi literary world aflame and is seen as a major feminist work.

    Forthright as ever, Sobti said, “I don’t like being called a ‘woman writer’. I would rather be called a writer who is also a woman…”

    Irawati Karve
    Marathi
    Though not a novelist, Irawati Karve’s refreshing approach to Mahabharata in her collection of essays, Yuganta: The End of an Epoch, have left a lasting mark in literature. Scientific in spirit, yet appreciative of the literary tradition of the Mahabharata, she challenges the familiar and formulates refreshingly new interpretations, all the while refusing to judge the characters harshly or venerate blindly.

    Do you have a list of your own? Do share it with us in the comments below.

    Event

    Celebrated in Song: Portraits of Women in Fiction and Music @KGAF20

    Last Friday evening (February 8, 2019), The David Sassoon Library Grounds witnessed a houseful celebration of literature, captivating the young and old, alike. First on stage was Ashwani Kumar, co-founder of Indian Novels Collective, addressing the gathering. He introduced the Novels to the audience and highlighted the need to experiment with genres to popularise Indian classics.

    The audience was allured by the fascinating collaboration of Vidya Shah, Priyanka Setia and Indian Novels Collective. Vidya Shah has been exploring women through her music since many years now. In 2009, she directed a two-day exhibition and music concert — ‘Women on Record’, celebrating music of women in the gramophone era, in which she paid a tribute to iconic female voices (of that era) by performing their music. Looking back, it fit perfectly with the theme that Indian Novels Collective wanted to celebrate this year at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.

    Priyanka Setia — theatre artiste and Bollywood actress, has been a part of the Indian Novels Collective family. Talking about this unique association with Vidya Shah, Priyanka Setia commented, “Vidya is so loving, so giving. It never felt like I was collaborating with her for the first time; it was very comfortable to work with her. Performing with Vidya was a beautiful experience!”

    The evening commenced with a tribute to Krishna Sobti and her fierce depiction of Mitro followed by Damodar Mauzo’s ‘Karmelin’.

    Priyanka Setia enticed the audience with the characters’ unapologetic sexuality. On the one hand, Mitro unabashedly expresses her sexual desires while Mauzo’s Karmelin uses her sensuality in a calculative and controlled manner. The excerpts read from the Novels helped the audience capture the essence of the characters. Vidya Shah corresponded to these characters with some beautiful Ghazals from Janki Bai’s Raseeli Tori Akheeya and Begum Akhtar’s Humari Atariya Pe followed by Humko Mita Sake for Karmelin.

    We then moved on to Dharamveer Bharati’s Sudha whose is a more layered and complex story, a personification of a man’s ideal woman, to which Vidya Shah harmonised with Begum Akhtar’s Patli Kamar Lambe Baal, Kamala Jharia’s Na Tum Mere Na Dil Mera and finally closed the show on a high note with Begum Akhtar’s Aye Mohabbat Tere Anjaam Pe Rona Aaya.

    The readings by Priyanka Setia left the audience wanting more as she teased them by withholding the end. Vidya Shah’s mesmerising voice with a varied selection of songs blended with the women characters being read effortlessly, adding charm to the classic Indian writings and experiencing Mitro, Karmelin and Sudha — the three women from Indian literature in an entrancing way. The characters indeed, came alive and left their imprints on the minds.

    Indira Chandrasekhar, the curator of the literary gathering at KGAF Literature summed up with, “Thank you, Indian Novels Collective. It’s really such an honour to have you. You always bring the most extraordinary programme to Kala Ghoda Literature. And Vidya, of course I am such a huge fan… and Priyanka, it was such a beautiful reading. To listen to you two together was just immense privilege. Thank you, Shinjini and Ashwani, for making this happen.”

    The enchanting fusion of music with literature at the event yet again created a remarkable narrative, a narrative upholding the uniqueness in the portrayal of women, acknowledging the differences and bringing out the complexities in Indian literature.

    World Hindi Day

    Six translations of Hindi works that are a must read!

    To mark the first Hindi Conference held in Nagpur between January 10-12 1975, World Hindi Day is celebrated every year on January 10. Hindi is one of the most widely spoken languages in India. The rich and diverse culture the country represents is extensively reflected in classics of our regional literature. Hindi novels, with its immortal themes, are often neglected by monolingual Indian because of their inability to read Hindi as fluently as English. Translation of regional Indian languages thus holds a paramount position in the accessibility of Hindi literature too.

    On this World Hindi Day, we celebrate our loved language by bringing to you six Hindi Novels which have been made accessible to an English reader in translation.

    Godan By Munshi Premchand
    Translated as The Gift of a Cow by Jai Ratan and P Lal

    Godan, written by Munshi Premchand in 1956, is one of the greatest novels of modern Indian literature. The novel is an important social documentary dealing with the poor economic conditions of the Indian peasants. It revolves around the social deprivation of a poor couple and the importance of a cow in the village context. The characters – Hori and Dhania – have since become immortal icons of social and class struggle. The realism, artistry and tenderness with which he has created the characters here, particularly that of Hori, are unparalleled and unsurpassed in Indian fiction.

    Raag Darbari by Shri Lal Shukla
    Translated by Gillian Wright

    Raag Darbari, published in 1970, is a commentary on the disconnect between what we practice and what we preach. Rangnath, a history student visits his village and stays there to notice the stark differences between the ideals he learnt at university and the practices of his uncle, the village head. One of the most hard-hitting satires of modern India against the myriad instances of manipulation, abuse, and machinations of power struggle, Raag Darbari remains one of the most telling narratives of the chasm between libertarian ideals and social dogmas.

    Gunahon ka Devta by Dharamvir Bharati
    Translated as Chander and Sudha by Poonam Saxena

    This passionate love story revolves around the intertwined and inseparable viciousness of marriage and caste hierarchy. Chander is from a lower caste than Sudha and that is why he doesn’t dare ask for Sudha’s hand in marriage from her father. While Sudha seems to be ‘modern’, she cannot stand up to the social pressure to get married to the man of her father’s choice; Chander also forces her to abide by the wishes of her father. This, then, is the turning point in the novel but it is also through this tragedy that the story becomes appealing to the readers; making it a bestseller till this day.

    Tamas by Bhisham Sahni
    Translated by the author

    Tamas is the ‘reflective response’ to the partition of India and Pakistan. Partially based on true events that Sahni witnessed himself in the communal riots during India’s Partition in 1947, the novel follows the life of people from both communities – Hindu and Muslim, and from various classes and backgrounds, as tensions in cities build up. It presents a snapshot of a violent and fractured period in Indian history and through fictionalization allows the reader to inhabit the minds of those who perpetrated and suffered through its worst crimes.

    Mitro Marajani by Krishna Sobti
    Translated as To hell with you Mitro by Gita Rajan and Raji Narasimhan

    Mitro’s mystique is well summed up by her mother-in-law Dhanvanti: “No one can fathom this girl. When she’s good, she’s better than the best. When she’s bad, she’s worse than the worst.”

    The vampish bahus of soap operas are nothing but inferior versions of this hell-raiser, who is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating characters in Indian literature. Its an unapologetic portrayal of a married woman who brooks no limits to her sexuality is as compelling, pertinent provocative today as when it shook the Hindi literary world in 1966.

    Adha Gaon by Rahi Masoom Raza
    Translated as A Village Divided by Gillian Wright

    Rahi Masoom Raza’s honest and controversial novel unfolds during the latter years of the Raj and the first decade of Independence and portrays the rival halves of a zamindar family, their loves, fights and litigations. It attacks the creation of Pakistan and explores the abolition of the zamindari system and its impact at the village level. This is a semi-autobiographical work set in the author’s village of Gangauli, in Ghazipur district on the fringes of Avadh.

    Dr Raza becomes the voice of millions of Indian Muslims, who had nothing to do with the making of Pakistan and who refuse to leave the place they call home.

    Event

    Musical Readings at the Times Lit Fest

    Indian Novels Collective’s houseful event, Musical Readings at the Times Lit Fest proved that there will always be takers for a good story regardless of the era it is set in and most importantly, the language it was originally written in.
    One usually does not associate the Times Literary Fest with readings of Indian novels, but not only was this Indian Novels Collective’s second time at the Times Literary Fest but it was also a full house with the audience not wanting the readings to end! The event in question being Musical Readings with Priyanka Setia and Yuki Ellias. Viewers had the pleasure of hearing Yuki Ellias read excerpts from Manik Bandyopadhyay’s novel, Padma Nadir Majhi and Priyanka Setia read portions from Usha Priyamvada’s novel, Pachpan Khambhe Laal Deewarein.

    Set in pre-independent India in a fictitious village by the banks of Padma river in present-day Bangladesh, Padma Nadir Majhi is about a local fisherman, namely Kuber, who finds himself exploited by a small businessman. This was narrated by theatre professional, Yuki Ellias with notes of the flute played by Easwaran Anantram (Vivek), which transported one to Ketupur where the novel was set.

    Meanwhile, actor and performer, Priyanka Setia read pages from Pachpan Khambhe Laal Deewarein accompanied by violinist, Sanchit Chaudhary. Written by Usha Priyamvada, the book captures the anguish of Sushma, a hostel warden who’s the sole breadwinner of her family and how she feels obliged to give up pursuing the love of her life as she considers it her duty to look after her three younger siblings.

    Had it not been for these readings, the audience would not have even heard of these books.

    Yuki Ellias echoes these sentiments too when while recollecting her childhood and school-life and admits that there is a bias towards Hindi and English. Despite being half-Bengali, Yuki had never heard of Padma Nadir Majhi, who knew more about Bengali poetry, limericks and films,  thanks to her Bengali mother who happens to be an avid reader.

    However, that is not the only reason that prevents people from reading Indian novels. Priyanka Setia points out, “We live in India where every state has its own language. Most people try to read in their own language. I am also Punjabi and so have read a lot of Punjabi literature.  So for me also, first is Punjabi literature then comes Hindi literature.”

    While reading as a hobby is commonly pursued by those who are more inclined towards the arts. Even those not inclined towards the arts, often find themselves reading English novels, if not voraciously, at the very least, a few books here and there by the author or genre of their choice. Like Setia succinctly states, people read English literature as its easily available and trendy.

    If only they knew what they were missing out on. Despite being set in pre-independent India, Padma Nadir Majhi perfectly captures how fisherman and for that matter, most blue collar workers and labourers from the unorganized sectors are treated. Rules pertaining to labour laws are not even half as stringent as they should be with workers, farmers and fishermen being grossly underpaid, overworked and made to work in the most inhuman circumstances. Yuki Ellias draws parallels with the novel which also touches upon how a petty and corrupt businessman, Hossain Miya is migrating fishermen to another island to set up a colony of sorts when she says, “All of us are trapped in a  certain sense of being kidnapped, taken to an island to work like dogs. Of course, we get funded for it but exploitation has not changed, it’s maybe gotten worse.”

    While Padma Nadir Majhi captures the plight of how fishermen are exploited, Pachpan Khambe Laal Deewarein is a story of a hostel warden who is also trapped by her circumstances. Despite finding love, she chooses to resist it and instead fulfil her duty towards her family, who without saying anything expect her to support them since she is working. When she finally does find herself getting attracted to a younger man, Neel, she finds herself subjected to a lot of scrutiny from both her colleagues, students and her family who comment about petty things like how much she goes out and what time she comes, while they assassinate her character, simply because she for once decides to befriend a younger man and thinks about herself.

    Pachpan Khambe Laal Deewarein perfectly captures the loneliness and isolation most single working women experience. On one hand, elder, unmarried, working women are viewed as a burden and by virtue of their being women, expected to be sensitive to their families’ needs and put their family first as it is in a woman’s DNA to be family oriented! Setia talks about the hypocrisy while narrating the conversation, Sushma’s aunt, Krishna Masi had with her mother who commented on her high salary and how that will prevent her from attracting suitors, because of which they are okay with her marrying anyone. To which her aunt points out, had Sushma done the same when she was younger, they would have dissuaded her and told her to focus on her studies, instead! Quite telling right, even of 2018?

    Just like how older films are dismissed as they will not be contemporary enough, the same applies for novels, especially regional literature about which, awareness is abysmal, however that also is just a notion; Regardless of the time or place it is set in, an evocative story is timeless, the only barrier being our impressions and language, the latter problem, which forms the very basis for Indian Novels Collective’s existence – to reach all kinds of readers, regardless of their nationality, mother tongue or age.