Event

The Monsoon Reading of Mohan Rakesh’s ‘Ashaad Ka Ek Din’

The Monsoon Reading of ‘Ashaad Ka Ek Din’ —the first modern Hindi play by Mohan Rakesh held at Jindal Mansion on Friday, July, 5, 2019 was attended by a motley group of theatre lovers and some renowned artistes. Sangita Jindal, Amrita Somaiya, Ashwani Kumar, Anuradha Parikh — the core group members of Indian Novels Collective, were all present to support and conduct the evening’s proceedings. Ashwani Kumar began the event by shedding light on the iconic play by Mohan Rakesh and introducing the performers for the evening with verses from Kalidas, celebrating clouds and rains in the city. He also thanked veteran actor, Saurabh Shukla and curator of Literature Live, Anil Dharkar for gracing the occasion. Mrs Sangita Jindal, chairperson of JSW foundation, extended a warm welcome and spoke passionately about JSW foundation’s association with Indian Novels Collective and the group’s translation project that aims to make Indian language classics accessible to English readers and popularise readings of classic Indian literature. She urged the audience to make the effort to broach Indian languages and keep the traditions and cultures flourishing, with adequate support.

Dolly Thakore — well-known and respected senior theatre artiste and critic, began by paying tribute to Girish Karnad and spoke of her association with the playwright and her privilege of getting to work with him. Ram Gopal Bajaj, legend of Indian theatre and former director of National School of Drama, spoke of his fond memories of Karnad. He hailed him for his plays like ‘Tughlaq’ that made a mark of excellence in Indian theatre and literature. He then went on to speak of Mohan Rakesh’s ‘Ashaad Ka Ek Din’ and his experiences with the work.

The play reading began with Meeta Vasisht — versatile actress, director, producer and Priyanka Setia — another noted actress, playing the parts of Mallika and Ambika, respectively. The performers tried to give a sense of the Vachika Abhinaya(or spoken word) to the audience, which was beautifully conveyed through their camaraderie and expressive reading. The audience was also regaled with songs sung by Priyanka Setia at intervals, to match the theme and mood of the reading. Meeta Vasisht vivaciously contrasted the melancholic mood with a lively folk song, tirading her lover for leaving her. She spoke about the beauty of diverse folk traditions across India which have enriched art.

Ram Gopal Bajaj personified Kalidas with his mesmerizing performance. The fluidity of shifting characters was almost child’s play to this master performer. Meeta Vasisht also spoke about how she was moved to tears, the first time she read Malika’s monologue of ‘Ashaad Ka Ek Din’. The reading ended on a lighter note with her encouraging the audience to join in a song.

The audience got a feel of the greatness of Mohan Rakesh’s work with the guest artistes urging them to go back and read more. Mrs. Sangita Jindal felicitated Dolly Thakore, Meeta Vasisht, Priyanka Setia and Ram Gopal Bajaj – thanking them for enthralling the gathering with a rich sense and feel of this masterpiece by Mohan Rakesh.

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:

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. 
 
 

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.


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.

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.


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. 
 
 

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.

BOOK REVIEW

Battlefield by Vishram Bedekar
A Reader’s View

‘If we’re thinking of Nationalism as revenge, if this becomes rooted in our history as a way of thinking, what becomes of man’s evolution? I shudder to think.’ Vishram Bedekar Battlefield, originally published in Marathi in 1939 as Ranaangan, translated into English by Jerry Pinto.

Europe is on the brink of World War II. Chakradhar Vidhwans is making his way back to India from London after two years of living there and Herta, a Jewish girl is escaping Hitler’s Germany to Shanghai just like thousands of others. A chance encounter between them leads to a whirlwind romance and seeking solace in each other’s arms in the grim times. Will their love last? It is for you to read and find out.

In essence, the quote above gives you the environment in which this book was based in, one that is relevant even today. Bedekar’s ship that the story unfolds on is a battlefield representing all that is going on, on the shores that the ship keeps anchoring itself to time and again. The world is divided—there is race, class, religion, border conflicts and the experiences these characters face on the ship turns out to be the amplification of these very conflicts on ground. Bedekar places a plethora of characters and each of their experiences showcases everything that is wrong with the human world. The book begins at the end of the story and then it goes into reminiscing about how the story ended up at that juncture. Parts of the book to do with the romance specifically do feel very melodramatic and dated like the black and white movie era but I guess it is the language of the times.

It is a slim, quick read and Jerry Pinto’s translation yet again made me feel like I was reading a book written originally in English and not a translation because it felt so seamless. My first reaction to the book was mixed. There were parts that worked for me and informed me and there were parts that felt overtly dated. But then, I attended the digital launch of the book and some facts that were thrown in by the author and translator, Shanta Gokhale, gave me a context to this book and made me see it in a different light.

Some facts that Gokhale shared during this launch conversation were that, this book remains the only novel that Bedekar ever wrote, as he never wanted to be a writer. He wanted to be a filmmaker and was in London studying for the same but had to return midway to India due to WW2. The book partly came from his own experience, his angst and was his commentary on the politics of the times. He wrote the book in a month flat and published it anonymously since he was never interested in making a name as a novelist. In this book he experiments with the forms of the novel—parts written in autobiographical first person, parts written in the third person and parts epistolary. It broke all the conventions of Marathi Literature at the time, one that Gokhale says no one picked up from and experimented further. This remains the only work of its kind from the time.

Another fact that I picked up was that of China giving shelter to over 20,000 Jews in exile during WW2 when most other countries restricted their entry at the time, a historical fact I had no idea about. What piqued my interest was the fact that the European Jews on the ship were headed to Shanghai, a land so far away from their own, one that made me research further on it and know more.

This mix of facts stated above will give you a context as to why this book holds such an important place in the Marathi literary canon and understand its place and subject in-depth.

Jerry Pinto at some point during the book launch conversation mentioned that one would pick up a translation for an author and not because of a translator, but I would humbly disagree with this thought because I, as a reader, follow works of a translator and that’s how I have been introduced to so many great authors I would not have known of otherwise. Jerry Pinto, Arunava Sinha, J. Devika, Jayasree Kalathil, N. Kalyan Raman are just some of the Indian translators whose work I follow and blindly pick up in order to be exposed to the authors they introduce me to as a reader. It is the same practice I follow with some of the International translators as well. Translators are as important to me as the authors they translate. How else would I even access those authors otherwise?

Battlefield by Vishram Bedekar is the first in the list of translations of important Indian language literature that Indian Novels Collective and Speaking Tiger Books plan to bring to the table for English readers.
 

About the blogger
An ex-advertising professional, now a free soul, Tanaya Pandey, loves to travel (pandemic has put a full stop to that for now), read and is an avid movie buff. In an exploratory phase of her life, she uses books as a medium to traverse the country and the globe, learn about newer cultures, stories and expand her worldview. You can reach out to her on her bookstagram handle thekitabiyatri.

Book launch

‘A translation of this beautifully written literary work helps us bring connections across cultures and helps us see the work in a new light.’
Daisy Rockwell on why Pachpan Khambe Lal Deewarein by Usha Priyamvada needed translation

‘Main yahan chhatri ke neeche khadi hun aur wahan mera akelapan bheeg raha hai.’

Sahitya Akademi winner, poet and critic – Anamika – recalls her first reading of Pachpan Khambe Lal Deewarein during the official launch of the translation by Daisy Rockewell. While sitting at her ancestral home and the rains pouring down continuously, she could see Sushma Sharma in the rain, standing under an umbrella while her loneliness gets drenched in the downpour. It’s so strange how we relate a book to the emotion it evoked and the atmosphere we read it in – even if we eventually forget the plot. That’s the imprint brilliant books like Pachpan Khambe Lal Deewarein leave on their readers even when years have passed and the book becomes a mere recollection of emotion.
 

Daisy Rockwell, Anamika and Shinjini Kumar in conversation on the translation of Usha Priyamvada’s Pachpan Khambe Lal Deewarein
 
Pachpan Khambe Lal Deewarein, one of Usha Priyamvada’s best known works has now been translated into English by Daisy Rockwell. The novel narrates the story of Sushma Sharma – the novel’s protagonist – who is a lecturer at an all-women’s college in Delhi and the sole bread earner of her family in Kanpur. Dragging on to life with responsibilities and duties, Sushma’s life is turned topsy turvy with the arrival of a charismatic and young individual – Neel. Torn between making a ‘selfish’ choice of choosing her love or fulfilling her duties, Priyamvada’s novel explores the unseen shackles that bind women and dilemmas they constantly find themselves in. Pachpan Khambe Lal Deewarein has always been a much loved novel which was also adapted as a TV Series for Doordarshan. A brilliant piece of modernist literature which till date had only appealed to the Hindi-speaking audience could now enrapture the world breaking apart the language barrier.

A stimulating discussion during the book launch between Daisy Rockwell, Anamika and Indian Novels Collective’s co-founder Shinjini Kumar opened the many facets of the rather simple novel of women’s desires. The translator’s note which is a window to the entire text perfectly captures the essence of the book. It views the book from different angles, analyses it from various perspectives and enables the reader to receive it as they desire. She feels that public spheres, including the literary spheres often tend to sideline women’s stories as being ‘too dated’ even if they hold their relevance even today.

Being an open-ended novel, Pachpan Khambe Lal Deewarein shatters the common notion of ‘happy ending’ and inculcates the reality of women’s lives into its plot. Using shringar as an aesthetic and also as a metaphor, it symbolises how Sushma’s attire was all colourful even when her life lacked hues. Anamika beautifully put together the reality of Indian literature saying that ‘aesthetics, ethics and poetics go hand in hand in India.’ The vivid imagery employed by Priyamvada has been deftly translated keeping the cultural context in the language it is being translated to.

Women centric stories aren’t only limited to India. It’s astounding to see how parallels can be drawn between different cultures wherein women face similar dilemmas. Rockwell drawing cultural parallels between Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is one of the prime highlights of the launch. It establishes the fact that women’s dilemmas sacrifices are universal and not constrained.

The opposite of Pachpan Khambe Lal Deewarein happens in Priyamvada’s second novel – Rukogi Nahi Radhika where the protagonist leaves her widower father for her future with Manish – the man in her life. A thread binds both the novels together, as they deal with liberation in different senses.

Elaborating on her translation of this Hindi classic, Daisy explains how translation is about ‘choices’. Choices so as to capture the exact essence of the text as it is in its original language. While people usually critique what was ‘lost’ in translation, we should rather focus on what is ‘gained’ – expressions, literary tropes and windows to different cultures which otherwise would’ve been impossible.

Pachpan Khambe Lal Deewarein which has been Indian Novels Collective’s favourite since a long time – with our dramatised reading of the book in 2018 and publishing its translation now in 2021, we hope to unfurl the novel’s beauty to as many audiences as possible. A book where the Khambe stands for shackles and strength both, it evokes individual emotions in the reader who can receive it as their own consciousness allows them to. Daisy Rockwell’s beautiful and crisp translation of Usha Priyamvada’s novel has thus opened new doors to the Hindi literary world.

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

Women Writers in Indian Languages

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

Updated on 8 March 2021

Often, the inspiration for a significant change is born from the most mundane of battles. Here are fifteen women from across Indian languages who gave us a glimpse of the inner workings of society from behind the four walls. Yet, their writing has radically questioned the patriarchy and societal inequality, and created an inclusive, thought-provoking representation of women in Indian literature.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, let us celebrate them by celebrating their written word.

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 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.

Further reading:
Safina-e-Gham-e-Dil (1952)
Translated into English as Ship of Sorrows by Saleem Kidwai (2019)

Spanning roughly three decades (1920s to 1950s), Safina-e-Gham-e-Dil is Qurratulain Hyder’s second work and derives its title from a poem by Faiz Ahmed Faiz. This novel is the coming-of-age story of a privileged set of six friends from Awadh that combines autobiography, fiction, and the documentation of time and place. The author debuts in this story as Anne Hyder and fictionalises her experience during the communal riots in Dehradun.

Aakhir-e-Shab ke Hamsafar (1979)
Translated into English as Fireflies in the Mist by the author

Set against the four decades of East Bengal’s history—from the dawn of nationalism in the 1930s to the restless aftermath of the bloody struggle for an independent Bangladesh—Aakhir-e-Shab ke Hamsafar is told through the impassioned voice of Deepali Sarkar. Hyder perceptively follows the trajectory of Sarkar’s life—from her secluded upbringing in Dhaka to becoming a socialist rebel, from her doomed love affair with Rehan Ahmed, a Muslim radical with Marxist inclinations, to her ultimate transformation as a diasporic Bengali cosmopolitan. The novel also explores the growth of tension between Bengal’s Hindus and Muslims who had once shared a culture and a history. Hyder received the Jnanpith Award in 1989 for this book.

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.

Further reading:
Ente Katha (1973)
Translated into English as My Story (1988)

Originally published in Malayalam, this autobiographical novel provided a lens into the personal and professional experiences of Kamala Das, as an independent-minded woman navigating a patriarchal society. She introduced her readers to the concept of female sexuality, a notion that was non-existent in the conservative society of Kerala, until then. The book managed to evoke such a widespread reaction that it went on to become a cult classic and has stood the test of time, as one of the most enduring accounts of the life of a woman writer in India.

The Sandal Trees and Other Stories by Kamala Das
Translated into English by by V C Harris and C K Mohamed

Originally written in Malayalam by Kamala Das under the pen name Madhavikutty, the stories in this anthology (1995) deal with the nuances of human relationships and intrigues of love, life and death. The title story ‘The Sandal Trees’ is the English translation of ‘Chandanamarangal’ (1988) which charts a four-decade-long sexual and emotional relationship between two women that echoes the relationship between Kamala and the college girlfriend in My Story.

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.

Further reading:
Jhansir Rani (1956)
Translated into English as The Queen of Jhansi by Sagaree and Mandira Sengupta (2010)

Mahasweta Devi’s prolific writing career was launched with the publication of Jhansir Rani (1956). Drawing from historical documents, folk tales, poetry and oral tradition—the novel constructs a detailed picture of the legendary Indian heroine, Lakshmibai, the Queen of Jhansi, who led her troops against the British in the uprising of 1857, now widely described as the first Indian War of Independence. Simultaneously a history, a biography, and an imaginative work of fiction, this book is an invaluable contribution to the reclamation of history by feminist writers.

Chotti Munda Ebong Tar Tir (1980)
Translated into English as Chotti Munda and His Arrow by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (2002)

The wide sweep of this novel ranges over decades in the life of Chotti, the hero of this epic tale, in which India moves from colonial rule to independence and then to the unrest of the 1970s. Written in 1980, it raises questions about the place of indigenous peoples on the map of India’s national identity, land rights and human rights, and the justification of violent resistance as the last resort of a desperate people.

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.

Further reading:
Tej Aru Dhulire Dhushorito Prishtha (1986)
Translated into English as Pages Stained With Blood (2002) by Pradip Acharya

Considered a classic of modern Assamese literature, Tej Aru Dhulire Dhushorito Prishtha is, perhaps Goswami’s most famous work which first appeared in a serialised form in the monthly magazine Goriyoshi. Depicting the carnage of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi after Indira Gandhi’s assassination through a semi-autobiographical lens, the novel is a first person account of a young woman who teaches at Delhi University.

Dontal Hatir Une Khowa Howdah (1986)
Translated as The Moth-Eaten Howdah of the Tusker by the author (2004)

Dontal Hatir Une Khowa Howdah revolves around the lives of Brahmin widows in a Vaishnavite satra of southern Kamrup in Assam, while also drawing upon the author’s own experiences of childhood and adolescence. Written in the dialect of the region, just after the Second World War, the novel holds up a powerful picture of transition that unsettles an apparently ‘timeless’ agrarian culture and the unchanging rhythms of orthodox religion within a layered, intricate social canvas. It was made into an award-winning film Adahya, by Santwana Bordoloi.

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.

Further reading:
Phaniyamma (1976)
Translated into English by Tejaswini Niranjana (1989)

Phaniyamma leads the austere life of a widow and never complains or rebels, but she does counter when inhumanity is sanctioned in the name of traditions. The novel works as a critique of the inherent social hypocrisy and demonstrates how Phaniyamma emerges as a powerful figure despite the atrocities posed by widowhood. The novel won the Karnataka State Sahitya Akademi Award and the English translation by Tejaswini Niranjana won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1993. It was also adapted into a film that won several national and international awards.

Tungabhadra by M. K. Indira (1963)

M.K. Indira’s first novel Tungabhadra (1963) was a pioneering work. It portrayed the struggles and aspirations of rural women, and was able—through its use of evocative detail and regional dialect—to create a rural world with unprecedented realism. It also received the Karnataka State Sahitya Akademi Award.

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.

Further reading:
Agnisakshi (1976)
Translated into English as Agnisakshi: Fire, My Witness by Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan (2015)

Set against the history of Kerala, and the life, customs, habits and culture of the Namboodiri community alongside the Indian National Freedom struggle, it also highlights a woman’s struggle for social and political emancipation. The narrative follows three strong-willed female characters – Unni, Thankam and Tethi, as they struggle to search for their own freedom from the rigid and oppressive structures of Brahmanical patriarchy. The novel received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1977.

Cast Me Out if You Will: Stories and Memoir (1998)
Translated into English by Gita Krishnankutty

Offering a chilling testimony to the brutal oppression suffered by women at all levels of Indian society, Cast Me Out if You Will (1998) is a unique collection of short stories and personal memoirs, which captures early moments in India’s nationalist and feminist movements. A compilation representing half a century of writing and activism— this is the ideal introduction to one of India’s best-loved and foremost feminist authors.

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.

Further reading:
Sangati (1994)
Translated into English as Sangati: Events by Lakshmi Holmström (2005)

Published in 1994, Sangati seeks to create a Dalit-feminist perspective and explores the impact of manifold social inequities, compounded by poverty suffered by Dalit women. Translated from Tamil by Lakshmi Holmström as Sangati: Events, it rejects all received notions of what a novel should be, delves deep into a community’s identity and underlines the fighting spirit of the Paraiya women against the double-edged oppression of caste and gender discrimination.

Kusumbukaran (1996)
Translated into English as The Ichi Tree Monkey: New and Selected Stories by N. Ravi Shanker (2021)

This collection features the Dalits of rural Tamil Nadu as the protagonists and celebrates the everyday acts of rebellion and fortitude. Translated from Tamil by N. Ravi Shanker, this recently released short-story collection bears testament to the raw energy and vitality one can always encounter in Bama’s widely acclaimed writing.

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…”

Further reading:
Zindaginama (1979)
Translated into English as Zindaginama by Neer Kanwal Mani and Moyna Mazumdar

Set in the small village of Shahpur in undivided Punjab, Zindaginama is a magnificent portrait of India on the brink of its cataclysmic division. Detailing the intricately woven personal histories of a wide set of characters, Krishna Sobti’s magnum opus imbues each with a unique voice, enriching the text with their peculiar idiom. Described by Ashok Vajpeyi as an ‘abridged Mahabharata’, it received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1980.

Gujrat Pakistan se Gujarat Hindustan (2016)
Translated into English as A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There by Daisy Rockwell (2019)

Part novel, part memoir, part feminist anthem, A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There is not only a powerful tale of Partition loss and dislocation, but also charts the odyssey of a spirited young woman determined to build a new identity for herself on her own terms.

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, has 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. Yuganta received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1968, making Karve the first female author from Maharashtra to receive it.

Amrita Pritam
Punjabi
Leading poet, novelist and essayist, Amrita Pritam was the first Punjabi woman litterateur to be felicitated with both, the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1956 for her magnum opus Sunehade and the Jnanpith Award in 1982 for Kagaz te Canvas. A crusader for gender equality and a woman’s right to live, love and write sans constraint, the iconic writer paved the way for many young writers through her writing and life. Recipient of the Padma Shri and the Padma Vibhushan, Pritam authored 100 books in different genres—poetry, fiction, essays, biographies, memoirs—as well as a famous autobiography titled Raseedi Ticket (The Revenue Stamp, 1976).

Further reading:
Pinjar (1956)
Translated into English as Pinjar: The Skeleton and Other stories by Khushwant Singh (2005)

Pinjar relates the story of a Sikh girl who was abducted by a Muslim because of a land feud and she chooses to remain with him rather than be rehabilitated in India after Partition. Translated by Khushwant Singh, the novel is widely considered one of the outstanding works of Indian fiction which engaged with the Partition from a woman’s perspective.

Raseedi Ticket (1976)
Translated as The Revenue Stamp (2015)

Maintaining a non-linear, fractured rhythm, it includes recollections of her travels, the making of specific books, references to fellow-writers and snatches of conversations with loved ones, but the bulk of the text contains reflective lines and notes to herself that she has learnt from her life experiences, the most memorable and sustained being love.

Popati Hiranandani
Sindhi
A versatile Sindhi writer, a forthright feminist, and an outstanding social activist, Popati Hiranandani was a formidable presence in twentieth-century Sindhi literature. Recipient of several awards, including the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1982 for her autobiography, Hiranandani tried her hand at multiple genres: the novel, short fiction, poetry and biography, as well as literary criticism. Her works not only depicted the urban milieu of Sindhi culture, but also delved deep into the life of Sindhi middle-class and the plight of women in the social structure. Among the several works she published are poetry collections: Ruha sandi runch (1975), Man Sindhini (1988), short stories: Pukar (1953), Zindagi-a-ji-photri (1993), novel: Sailab zindagi-a-jo (1980), etc.

Further reading:
Munhinji-a Hayati-a Jaa Sona Ropa Varqa by Popati Hiranandini (1980)
Translated into English as The Pages of My Life: Autobiography and Selected Stories by Jyoti Panjwani (2010)

The award-winning autobiography poignantly captures the two vastly different worlds of pre- and post-Partition India through the author’s journey as a homeless, community-less, displaced woman. Translated as The Pages of My Life: Autobiography and Selected Stories, it also provides remarkable insights into the Sindhi society, and the social and political upheaval following the great tragedy overtaking the country.

Yaddanapudi Sulochana Rani
Telugu
Considered among the top fiction writers of her time, novelist Yaddanapudi Sulochana Rani heralded a new era in Telugu fictional literature in the decades between the 70s and early 80s. She introduced pulp literature to a new generation and brought novels to the mainstream, in Telugu. Her prolific writings reflected contemporary trends, complexities of urban relationships and the working of a woman’s mind. Employing her signature nostalgic style, the immensely popular writer threw new light on romance and popularised reading among the middle-classes, especially women. Some of her best-known works, which used to be serialised in Telugu magazines, include Secretary, Jeevana Tarangalu, Kalala Kougili, etc. Many of her literary works have been adapted into films and TV serials.

Further reading:
Meena

The novel revolves around the eponymous character Meena, her silent rebellion against her mother, her escape from an unwanted wedding, her attempt to reunite feuding families, and how she succeeds in marrying the love of her life, against all odds.

Secretary

Narrating the romance between Jayanthi—who joins as a secretary in an elite ladies’ society ‘Vanitha Vihar’ and industrialist Rajasekharam—the novel Secretary created tropes of a wealthy, stylish landlord, and luxurious cars that captured the fantasies of many. Written 50 years ago, the universal appeal of this bestseller still continues to charm the readers. It remains relevant in its portrayal of social reality, celebration of self-made, modern women and their quest to break free from punitive norms. It was also adapted into a 1976 Telugu film and won Rani laurels across the commercial stream.

Ismat Chughtai
Urdu
Universally regarded as one of the four pillars of modern Urdu fiction, Ismat Chughtai has received many awards and accolades, including the Padma Shri, in 1976. Her formidable body of work, including short stories, screenplays, novels, novellas, sketches, plays, reportage and even radio plays, created revolutionary feminist politics and aesthetics in twentieth-century Urdu literature. Her style was bold, innovative, rebellious, and unabashedly realistic. Ismat analysed feminine sexuality, middle-class gentility, and other evolving conflicts in modern India.

Further Reading:
Tedhi Lakeer (1943)
Translated into English as The Crooked Line by Tahira Naqvi (2006)

Published in 1943, Tedhi Lakeer is centered on Shamman who grows from being a rebellious, independent-minded girl to a politically-conscious feminist activist involved in the Indian independence struggle. In this critically-acclaimed, semi-autobiographical novel, Ismat Chughtai exposes the intellectual and emotional conflicts against the backdrop of an enormous socio-political canvas.

Dil ki Duniya (1918)
Translated as A Chughtai Collection: with The Quilt and Other Stories & The Heart Breaks Free & The Wild One by Syeda Hameed and Tahira Naqvi (2003)

Narrated in the first person from a child’s point of view, the novella follows the lives of a varied group of women living in a conservative Muslim household in Uttar Pradesh. Dil Ki Duniya, much like Tedhi Lakeer, is autobiographical in nature as Chughtai draws on her childhood memories of life in Bahraich.

Basanta Kumari Patnaik
Odia
The first and only Odia woman writer to have received the Atibadi Jagannath Das award—the highest award of the Odisha Sahitya Akademi—Basanta Kumari Patnaik was an eminent novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet and essayist. Her notable short story collections include Sabhyatara Saja, Palata Dheu, Jibana Chinha. The three novels that established her reputation as a major writer of fiction are Amada Bata (translated as The Untrodden Path), Chorabali and Alibha Chita (translated as The Undying Flame). Considered one of the pioneers in Odia literature, Patnaik’s writings reflect a deep understanding of the domestic and social world of twentieth century Odisha.

Reading Recommendations:
Amada Bata
Translated into English as The Untrodden Path

Amada Bata became the first Odia novel to be successfully adapted into a memorable film and remains an iconic classic, both in Odia fiction and cinema. Set in a middle-class household, the novel’s protagonist Maya is a remarkably perceptive and resilient character, gifted with the ability to dissect the ‘veneer of civilization’ at large, through its practice of customs and rituals. Patnaik, in Amada Bata, compels readers to rethink the fundamental ethical assumptions associated with the duties and responsibilities of individual women.

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

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.