Listicle

Indian language translations to look out for in 2021

The year 2020 was consumed wrestling with a predicament of unimaginable proportions. However, things were not so bleak for translated works in Indian literature. Last year was especially pivotal in driving home the perseverance of translations.

Transcending the challenges posed by the worldwide pandemic, translations shone in their roles of bridging cultures and amplifying under-represented voices in Indian-language literature. Masterpieces like Pandey Kapil’s Bhojpuri novel Phoolsunghi and pioneering Gujarati writer Dhumketu’s short story collection Ratno Dholi were made available to the English-speaking world for the very first time. They also served as a reminder that our journey through the nuanced and variegated depth of our literary roots is ever-continuous. It will keep leading us to chart new territories every year.

With that in mind, we have compiled a list of the upcoming translations from across Indian languages, which are currently gearing up for their much-anticipated release. Diverse and thought-provoking, add these riches of Indian language literature to your reading list for 2021:

BENGALI

Kaste
by Anita Agnihotri
Translated by Arunava Sinha

Through the lives of farmers, migrant labourers and activists in Marathwada and western Maharashtra, Anita Agnihotri’s Kaste illuminates a series of intersecting and overlapping crises: female foeticide, sexual assault, caste violence, feudal labour relations, farmers’ suicides and climate change in all its manifestations. Translated as The Sickle by Arunava Sinha, this gripping fictional narrative tells the darkest truths about contemporary India. It is set to release this March, by Juggernaut Books.


Ether Army
by Sirsho Bandopadhyay
Translated by Arunava Sinha

This powerful novel narrates the true story of a handful of broadcasters in the port city of Chittagong in East Pakistan, who joined the Liberation war with the only weapon they had: a radio transmitter. We are hoping Westland Books releases it on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Bangladesh Liberation War.  


 
Mahanadi: A Novel about a River
by Anita Agnihotri
Translated by Nivedita Sen

Woven around the mighty river Mahanadi that originates in Chattisgarh, Anita Agnihotri’s novel documents the life and struggles of people through the confluence of myths, legends and archaeological anecdotes. First published in Bengali (2015), this translation by Nivedita Sen is expected to be released in May through Niyogi Books. 


Amrita Kumbher Sandhane

by Samaresh Basu

Written by the Sahitya Akademi-winning Bengali author Samaresh Basu, Amrita Kumbher Sandhane is narrated through the gaze of the protagonist, who has come to the Kumbh Mela—one of the largest Indian religious fairs —not out of any religious sentiment, but merely to see and understand people.
 

 
 
Chandal Jibon Trilogy — Part 2
by Manoranjan Byapari 

Translated by V. Ramaswamy 

While The Runaway Boy was released late last year, it introduced us to Jibon, who arrives at a refugee camp in West Bengal with his Dalit parents and later runs away to Calcutta to earn his living, we are anxiously awaiting Part 2 of the trilogy.



Chhera Chhera Jibon

by Manoranjan Byapari

Translated as A Tattered Life, Manoranjan Byapari’s most recent standalone novel is about a boy called Imon who goes to jail in his mother’s arms, and is let out in his early twenties long after his mother has passed.

 

Khwabnama
by Akhtaruzzaman Elias

Translated by Arunava Sinha

Published in 1996, Khwabnama captured the variegated experiences of the people of Bengal (present-day Bangladesh) during the turbulent times of the 1947 partition. Best known as critically acclaimed author Akhtaruzzaman Elias’s magnum opus, the novel also delves into the socio-political realities of that period—the communal riot, the rebellion of the peasants against the landlords and the conflict between different ideologies, among others. The English translation by Arunava Sinha will be released in July by Penguin India.

 


TAMIL

Generations
by Neela Padmanabhan
Translated by Kaa. Naa. Subramanium

Set in the 1940s around a community of Tamil speakers who live on the borders of modern Kerala, the novel offers a sensitively drawn profile of the passing of a traditional way of life into modernity and the nostalgia that comes with change. The book is expected to release this June, by Niyogi Books.

 

The Collected Stories of Imayam
Translated by Padma Narayanan

Imayam is one of the foremost and bestselling Dalit writers in Tamil, closely associated with the Dravidian movement and its politics. Speaking Tiger brings together his selected short stories in English for the very first time in this collection. We are eagerly looking forward to this one.


ASSAMESE

Five Novellas about Women
by Indira Goswami
Translated by Dibyajyoti Sarma

From the pioneer of feminist Assamese literature, here’s a cross-sectional portrayal of her lesser-known writings with a special focus on women. The lives of the rural poor, the situation of widows, the plight of the urban underclass and various social constraints under which people are forced to live, are depicted in these impactful narratives. The book is slated to release this July, by Niyogi Books. 

Incidentally, we have learnt of a collection called Tales from Assam by Ranjita Biswas, that is on the cards later this year, by Rupa Publications.


MALAYALAM

The Book of Passing Shadows
by C.V. Balakrishnan
Translated by T. M. Yesudasan

Set in a Malabar village of Christian settlers, C.V. Balakrishnan’s The Book of Passing Shadows resonates with the pathos of the human spirit caught in the travails of earthly life. Translated by T.M.Yesudasan, the novel has remained popular with readers since the Malayalam original Aayusinte Pusthakam was first published in 1984.


Theeyoor Chronicles
by N. Prabhakaran
Translated by Jayasree Kalathil

Theeyoor Chronicles by N. Prabhakaran follows the trail of a journalist who visits Theeyoor or ‘the land of fire’ to investigate uncanny happenings. Interspersed with history, myths, nature, political events, and everyday concerns of ordinary people—this novel is widely regarded as a masterpiece of contemporary Malayalam literature. We can’t wait for its release.


Lesbian Cow and Other Stories
by Indu Menon

The most outspoken contemporary feminist writer from Kerala, many consider Indu Menon a successor to Kamala Das, having inherited the same progressive outlook. In Lesbian Cow and Other Stories, she uses raw images, bolder language and empathetically records the lives of marginalised sections of society.
 
 
 
Collection of Stories
by Shihabudheen Poythumkadavu
Translated by J Devika

On the collection, translator J Devika says that ‘Shihabudheen’s stories are sometimes realistic, sometimes terrifyingly not…you can sense in his writing the deep anxieties of the Muslim male and all kinds of inversions…and crossings between the human and non-human universes.’ We wonder what this abstract collection would read like.

KANNADA

This Life at Play: A Memoir
by Girish Karnad
Translated by Srinath Perur and Girish Karnad

First published in Kannada in 2011—and being made available to English readers for the very first time—This Life at Play provides an unforgettable glimpse into the life of a towering figure on India’s cultural scene—actor, film director, writer, and playwright—Girish Karnad.

HINDI

A Silent Place
by Vinod Kumar Shukla
Translated by Satti Khanna

Originally published in Hindi as Ek Chuppi Jagah, Vinod Kumar Shukla’s evocative novel tells the story of a grief-stricken forest that has been stunned into silence. It then follows the adventurous journey of a group of children as they devise schemes to restore the song of birds and murmurs of human voices into the forest. Translated as A Silent Place by Satti Khanna, the book also explores a profound human philosophy through the children who endeavoured to help the forest overcome its muteness.


Fifty-five Pillars, Red Walls
by Usha Priyamvada
Translated by Daisy Rockwell

An iconic work of modern Hindi fiction, Usha Priyamvada’s Pachpan Khambe Laal Deewarein is hailed for its unflinching and deeply sensitive exploration of the emotional life of a single woman in Delhi in the 1960s. One of Priyamvada’s best-known works, we are eagerly waiting for one of our very first translations in collaboration with Speaking Tiger.


I Haven’t Seen Mandu
by Swadesh Deepak
Translated by Jerry Pinto

Recovering from a long spell of recurring bipolar psychosis, the celebrated Hindi writer Swadesh Deepak finished the manuscript of his memoir, Maine Mandu Nahin Dekha. Indian literature—in Hindi or any other language—has never produced anything as harrowing, yet strangely hypnotic as this. It remains one of the most revealing and powerful first-person accounts of mental illness and we are eagerly looking forward to Jerry Pinto’s translation to make it accessible to English readers.


Fragments of Happiness
by Shrilal Shukla
Translated by Niyati Bafna

In Shrilal Shukla’s Fragments of Happiness, an ordinary businessman from Delhi, Durgadas is apprehended for murder. Translated from Hindi by Niyati Bafna, the novel explores the psychological aftermath of the event by delving into the tumult of ordinary people coming to terms with their desires and helplessness. 
 

 
GUJARATI

Krishnayan
by Kaajal Oza Vaidya

Kishnayan is indisputably Gujarati literature’s biggest bestseller, having sold over 200,000 copies and gone into 28 editions. This tender, lyrical novel starts when Krishna is injured by Jara’s arrow, and gives us glimpses into Krishna’s last moments on Earth. The most important women in his life—Radha, Rukmini, Satyabhama and Draupadi—appear before him. The novel is stitched together with what they meant to Krishna.


MARATHI

Battlefield
by Vishram Bedekar
Translated by Jerry Pinto

A tragic love story between Herta, a Jew escaping Hitler’s Germany, and Chakradhar Vidhwans, a Marathi man returning from England to India, the novel was originally published as Ranaangan in 1939. Translated by Jerry Pinto, this novel is a rousing investigation of nationality against the backdrop of World War II. We are looking to read this fresh translation, sometime this year.


SPECIAL MENTION

Voices from the Lost Horizon: Stories and Songs of the Great Andamanese
by Anvita Abbi 

Voices from the Lost Horizon is the first-ever compilation of folk tales and songs, rendered to Prof. Abbi and her team, by the Great Andamanese people in local settings. It comes with audio and video recordings of the stories and songs to retain the originality of the oral narratives. 

Event update

How inclusive are we? Explore opinions discussed in an Online Literary Festival hosted by Indian Novels Collective and Belongg

On Saturday, 23 January 2021,Indian Novels Collective in collaboration with Belongg, hosted a day-long online festival on inclusivity in Indian-language literature. It witnessed sweeping participation from different quarters—from academia to literature, publishing to activism—giving rise to a dynamic, intellectually stimulating and creatively-charged interface.
 

For the first session titled Same-Sex Love and Desire in Colonial India we had academic, activist and author – Ruth Vanita, unpacking the articulations of same-sex desire in literature, through changing trajectories of time-space, starting from pre-colonial India and moving on to colonialism, proper. Talking about how same-sex desire never faced any persecution in pre-colonial India, Vanita elaborated on how it is just one part of a vast spectrum of desires and pleasures. She further added, ‘Employing a range of different kinds of tones, major poets wrote about same-sex relationships without any embarrassment or inviting any trouble.’ Vanita also delved into the vilification of sexual and romantic love outside the institution of marriage. She referred to the ‘systemic erosion of cultural institutions as a direct result of colonisation of the mind’ and how ‘the whole vision of life and literature shifted, due to exposure to western education and laws. Pleasure, devoid of any motive or any prospect for social reform, was rejected.’ However, Vanita reassured her audience that the journey has commenced towards reclaiming the confidence that we previously had lost in our literary culture, post 1857.
 

Moderated by the co-founder of Indian Novels Collective, Prof. Ashwani Kumar, the second session Sunrise Upon the Northeast: Literature from the Not-So-‘Mainland had three brilliant poets from the Northeast: Kamal Kumar Tanti, Sabreen Ahmed and Mona Zote, on the panel. Reflecting on the composite culture of Northeast India, Sabreen Ahmed spoke of how the aesthetics and ethos of reclamation of Miya poetry is more political than the humanist concerns, and cannot be limited to one single connotation. Kamal Kumar Tanti echoed a similar belief and went on to comment on how poetry is finding new publishing avenues in Assam. He added how both, physical spaces and digital media, are encouraging the circulation of poetry in Assam. For people writing in English, Sabreen emphasised that webzines are helping in creating visibility and scope for publishing in Assam. Addressing the lack of opportunities for Indian writers in regional languages, Mona Zote asserted, ‘If we want our literature to be read, translations should be the way forward.’ Going beyond the ramifications of the post-colonial coinage ‘Northeast’, the session celebrated the universal language of togetherness, as the poets recited their evocative poetry and reflected on the polyphony of their experiences, navigating through constant rupture, rapture, renewal and resistance.
 

Shanta Gokhale’s iconic works Avinash and Rita Welinkar brought attention to mental health issues, way before its representation was normalised in contemporary literature. In the third session The Ocean in the Closet: Writing and Reading Between the Lines, the prolific writer and our revered mentor spoke to Shefali Tripathi Mehta. Reflecting on how creative writing has its roots in reality around us, Gokhale shared some of her experiences and foregrounded the lack of acceptance stems from the stigma attached to mental illness. Calling out the culture of exclusion endorsed by society at large, Gokhale underlined the need for open conversations to generate awareness and empathy. In addition to mental health, the veteran author also expressed her views about writing and translation. Upholding the belief that translated text should always remain accessible to readers, Gokhale shed light on the role of translation in engaging a new readership and the transference of love from the source language to the target language — a love that also becomes the building bridge between different cultures, languages and world views. As the insightful session drew to a close, Gokhale also treated the attendees to a lesser-known trivia by revealing that Avinash was never published in Marathi.
 

For Holding up the Microphone: A Publishing Saga, we had four powerhouse women on the panel, which involved an in-depth discussion around the symbiotic need for independent presses to balance commerce and readership expansion. With Trisha De Niyogi of Niyogi Books moderating the session, we had Urvashi Butalia of Zubaan, Rita Krocha of Penthrill and Ruby Hembrom of adivaani on board (joining us via video messages). Addressing the shifting premises of the publishing industry, Urvashi Butalia mentioned how marginalised voices enrich our literature. She also added that dedicated readers and passionate colleagues act as great allies for independent publishers. For newer voices to be accepted, Butalia advised that readers ‘cultivate different curiosities’. Reflecting on the role of publishing in the dissemination of stories and preservation of knowledge for the next generation, Rita Krocha talked about the current publishing scene in Nagaland and how it has given a much-needed platform to emerging writers. Ruby Hembrom walked us through how she started adivaani for the preservation of Adivasi culture and knowledge, and the challenges of publishing adivaani books. Along with thought-provoking exchanges, the panelists also recommended some of their favourite titles, that would be great options for discerning readers to explore.
 

With an amalgamation of depth, texture and analysis, the last session of the day The Way I See It: Conversations about Challenges in Writing focused on literature’s potential for empowering different realities. Tracing the dual processes of disability, ability and their interconnected overlaps, the discussion drove home how literature can help one empower oneself through alternative innovations. Poet Soni Somarajan advocated integrating compassion to our societal framework and reminded us how one can choose to be one’s own self. Writer-cartoonist Bnim created a life-affirming impact of resonance with —‘I cannot walk, I can run; I cannot play, I can make people dance.’ Shedding light on the travails of exclusion, triggered by able-bodied ideals, disability rights activist and founder of Revival Disability Magazine, Anusha Mishra spoke about the active process of unlearning and relearning, and how she finally came to believe in herself. As the conversation progressed, Bnim expounded on the inclusivity ingrained in Telugu literary culture. Citing the example of Shakuni in Mahabharata, he also revealed how the present-day nomenclature of physical disability had its roots in the cruelty of mind. Critiquing the problematic representation of disabled experiences in contemporary cinema, Soni Somarajan and Anusha Mishra pointed out how that often contributes to further alienation. Anusha further added, ‘When you carry out sensitisation campaigns, you have to be careful about not triggering anyone’s trauma’ while also voicing the necessity for passing the mic to more disabled writers.

Literature performs as our elixir of resilience, a moral compass and coherence, helping us survive the worst of times and transcend the barriers that hold us back from realising our fullest potential of knowledge and humanity.

As the festival mapped the all-encompassing galaxy of Indian literature, it also reminded us how it forges meaningful connections with its readers, replenishing fissures in the process.

Listicle

Six books that address environmental issues in Indian literature

Observed every year on 22 April, Earth Day was first organised in 1970 to promote ecology and raise awareness of the growing problems of air, water, and soil pollution. In the light of current environmental concerns manifesting as the unprecedented deterioration of our planet’s biodiversity, it becomes even more significant that we understand the gravity and urgency of the worsening climate crisis. Indian literature has shed light upon the life-changing perils of natural calamities, even before ‘climate fiction’ or ‘ecocriticism’ as a genre became a part of our literary preoccupations.

In Indian novels, we have often encountered how the socio-political realities play out against the overarching backdrop of environmental depredation, establishing that you cannot grapple with the consequences of a crisis in isolation. Showcasing how the social and ecological realities are deeply interconnected, here’s a mix of six novels that provide introspection and engagement on the issue.


Konkani
Acchev by Pundalik Naik
Critiquing the expansion of the iron ore mining industry, Pundalik Naik’s celebrated debut novel Acchev (1977) details how the industry contaminated the Mandovi and the village Kolamba. Set in Ponda district in north Goa, the book provides a visceral picture of a massive environmental catastrophe by showing how the onslaught of industrialisation stripped the land of its natural flora and fauna while giving rise to diseases like tuberculosis. The novel also reflects on how the sociological framework and the indigenous culture of Kolamba were negatively impacted, as the shift started from agriculture to mining as a mode of occupation. Acchev is also the first Konkani novel to be translated as The Upheaval by Vidya Pai.


Kannada
Dweepa by N.A. D’Souza
First published in a weekly in 1970, Dweepa by N.A. D’Souza documents the displacement of farmers and the submersion of their land. Focusing on the construction of the Linganamakki dam on River Sharavathi in Karnataka, the novel portrays how countless villages were submerged due to the rising water level, followed by the loss of lifestyle and traditional values that had sustained communities in the Malnad region. Translated from Kannada by Susheela Punitha as Dweepa: Island, the novella also voices the travails of the dispossessed, who are forced to become the collateral damage of progress and development.


Bengali
Byadhkhanda by Mahasweta Devi
Published in 1994, Mahasweta Devi’s novel explores the cultural values of the hunter tribes, the Shabars—who were declared a ‘criminal’ tribe by the British in 1871—a stigma that continues to oppress the community in contemporary times. Focusing on the slow erosion of their lives due to the rapid clearing of the forest lands, the novel shows how ‘mainstream’ settlements violently encroach upon the hunting lands and homes of the tribals, in addition to the delicate equilibrium of nature itself. Translated as The Book of the Hunter, it is a powerful plea to understand how the indigenous communities and natural environs continue to be disproportionately affected by unethical and unchecked urbanisation.


Hindi
Parti Parikatha by Phanishwar Nath Renu
Published in 1957, Parti Parikatha—acclaimed Hindi writer Phanishwar Nath Renu’s second novel—unfolds against the backdrop of a newly-independent India. Set across the volatile Kosi river close to the India-Nepal border, the book focuses on the vast tracts of land in the Paranpur village, rendered barren due to the perennial flooding of the Kosi river every monsoon. Environmental consciousness goes hand in hand with sustainable developmental spirit—and this finds its representation through protagonist Jittan, who works with the villagers to increase fertile land for agriculture. Animated with myths and the variegated voices of the village’s cultural heritage, Parti Parikatha also establishes how ecological harmony and the well-being of the local community are inextricably linked. It is also available in an English translation as Tale of a Wasteland.


Assamese
Mereng by Anuradha Sharma Pujari
Based on the eventful life of Indira Miri, fondly known as ‘Mereng’—one of the torchbearers of education in Northeast India during the British era—the novel stands out in its lush description of the natural world when the setting shifts to the Kaziranga Forest Reserve after Indira’s marriage. It covers the earthquake that hit Northeast India in the 1950s and vividly portrays its enormous scale of devastation wrought upon the natural topography, infrastructure and the local inhabitants of Sadiya, the village in which Indira was posted as the Chief Education Officer of NEFA (North-East Frontier Agency). While celebrating Indira’s indomitable spirit—who helped rebuild the village from scratch—the novel also underscores how the ever-changing aspects of nature have found a place in Assamese literature.


Telugu
Kolleti Jaadalu by Akkineni Kutumbarao
The novel vividly brings alive the travails of villagers whose lives are woven inseparably with Kolleru, one of India’s largest freshwater lakes located in Andhra Pradesh. It also portrays how they find ways to survive when floods strike year after year without any substantial governmental aid. Narrated through the eyes of five-year-old Seenu, the novel details a vital but lost way of life, brutally destroyed as the market ultimately triumphs over the ecological environment. Translated as Softly Dies a Lake, this book serves as a poignant reminder of how we have contributed towards endangering our coexistence with nature and is a must-read for everyone who feels responsible for their only home: the earth.
 

Which Indian novels have made a meaningful impact in terms of creating consciousness about the need for environmental preservation in your mind? Tell us in the comments below.