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.

BOOK EXCERPT

Indian Writing: History and Perspectives

An eminent poet, critic, translator, playwright and travel-writer, K. Satchidanandan is often regarded as a torch-bearer of the socio-cultural revolution that redefined Malayalam literature. His first collection of poems, ‘Anchu Sooryan’ (Five Suns) came out in 1971 and since then he has published more than 20 collections of poetry. He has also authored an equal number of collections of essays on literature, philosophy and social issues, two plays, four books of travelogues and a memoir in Malayalam, besides four books on comparative Indian literature in English. He has won 51 awards including the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award and National Sahitya Akademi Award, Knighthood by the Govt of Italy, Dante Medal by Dante Institute, Ravenna, International Poetry for Peace Award by the government of UAE, and Indo-Polish Friendship Medal by the Govt of Poland.

His latest work, ‘Positions: Essays on Indian Literature’ features a careful selection from his essays on Indian literature, written over the past 25 years. The book contains essays that look for paradigms based on Indian textual practices and reading traditions, while also drawing freely on Indian and western critical concepts and close readings of certain texts. The first part of the book discusses questions on the idea of Indian literature, the poetics of Bhakti, the concept of the ‘modern’, the location of English writing in India, the conflicting ideas of India, projected especially by the subaltern literary movements and the issues of literary criticism and translation. The second part of the book discusses the work of individual authors including Sarala Das, Mirza Ghalib, Kabir, Rabindranath Tagore, Saratchandra Chatterjee, Sarojini Naidu, Kedarnath Singh, A.K. Ramanujan and Kamala Das.

‘Positions’ contribute to the growing, yet insufficient, corpus of literary studies in India.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

THE PLURAL AND THE SINGULAR

The Making of Indian Literature

Whenever I think of Indian literature, a story retold by A.K. Ramanujan comes to mind: Hanuman reaches the netherworld in search of Rama’s ring that had disappeared through a hole. The King of Spirits in the netherworld tells Hanuman that there have been so many Ramas over the ages; whenever one incarnation nears its end, Rama’s ring falls down. The King shows Hanuman a whole platter with thousands of rings, all of them Rama’s, and asks him to pick out his Rama’s ring. He tells this devotee from earth that his Rama too has entered the river Sarayu by now, after crowninghis sons, Lava and Kusha. Many Ramas also mean many Ramayanas and we have hundreds of them in oral, written, painted, carved and performed versions. If this is true of a single seminal Indian work, one needs only to imagine the diversity of the whole of Indian literature recited, narrated and written in scores of languages. No wonder, one of the fundamental questions in any discussion of Indian literature has been whether to speak of Indian literature in singular or plural. With 184 mother tongues (as per Census, 1991; it was 179 in George Grierson’s Linguistic Survey of India, along with 544 dialects, and 1,652 in 1961), 22 of which are in the Eighth schedule of the Indian Constitution; 25 writing systems, 14 of them major, with scores of oral literary traditions and several traditions of written literature, most of them at least a millennium old, the diversity of India’s literary landscape can match only the complexity of its linguistic map. Probably it was this challenging complexity that had forced an astute critic like Nihar Ranjan Ray to conclude that there cannot be a single Indian literature, as there is no single language that can be termed ‘Indian’.

Excerpt published with the permission of the publisher: Niyogi Books Pvt Limited.

BOOK REVIEW

The Man who learnt to Fly but Could not Land

Here is a novel that speaks to millions about the instability of our country’s current fragile condition. The death of democracy. The sweeping of power from the smaller public to transfer of it to the ones who control economy and government in their pockets. The Man Who Learnt to Fly but Could not Land is at once a whisper to the artistic society and a scream to the political pivots.

A poet and political activist, Kottoor was active in political and literary circles in Malabar but never moved centre stage to etch his name in history. He symbolises many such activists who are the lifeline of any movement. They remain anonymous or, at best, as footnotes in the pages of history. We don’t know their names or their achievements or about their families. But each person must have had his/her own story. KTN Kottoor, a fictional character, was one such person.

Through Kottoor, we step into the main political movements that rocked Malabar and meet the leaders who were at the forefront of those struggles.

The Man Who Learnt to Fly but Could not Land is thinly veiled fiction. It barely hides that the author borrows everything in its pages from real history and from the events of the Freedom Struggle. This is a book about India’s cultural history, and in that sense, it is a good one. For those who are familiar with cultural and political scene in the last century, it’s difficult not to recognize nearly every character as a real person or escape the novel’s use of inter-textuality. It doesn’t try and hide cheeky references either. This intermixing of fact with fiction is something that struck me right at the first sight. As the author goes on shifting voices, from active to passive, to passive to active, from second to third person throughout the book, you continuously question yourself what is real and what is not. It is almost a Ramachandra Guha biography stuck in an intermixing fiction like that of Thayil.

KTN Kottoor struck me at many different levels. His efficiency at judging political situations at a young age is something we can hope each one in the youth to have to save this country from doom. His poetic sense and his incredible clapback at stupid reviewers was such a spectacular scene to read. He laughs and says an incredible line which even today after a whole century is applicable at many levels, “….what they have read is not the poem. They have been reading the time and context of the poem. I am not a party to that.”

Though this book has a whole plethora of characters, a plate full of people who are different from each other in many many ways, yet this unusual satiable and acceptable protagonist is the apple of my eyes. I have not come across at such a dominating and strong protagonist presence in a novel in a very long time. Rajeevan’s style of storytelling and commentary has left me moved. There is not even a single moment in the book where you are not remembered of the protagonist. This is something that often only biographies have but to achieve this in a novel is really commendable.

One of the most striking scenes of the book comes right at the start when Kunjappa Nair, the father of Kottoor dies. The scene and it’s striking narration catches the breath of a reader. There is no gloom in the scene but rather a sensation of realisation in it. The way “independence” required a “sacrifice” is such a strong catchphrase. Rajeevan’s striking power of telling the scene with robust prose and ensuring that the reader gets not gloom but rather the sense of freedom and liberation after reading the part. The scene that made Kottoor who he is even the one that makes the reader cling to the book.

Why to name the book with such a long title? The title strikes you as a lightning bolt after you are done with the book. Kottoor learns to fly, to fly till the sun and enjoy the fluttering winds of the higher skies, above the clouds. He gets up from stratch, from his father’s death’s misery, grows wings and flies at the highest points. But as the country is caught in chaos in its rebirth, the life of this idealist is caught in the maelstrom. Not knowing how to land properly, he goes missing into thin air like a kite lost after the string is cut.

The additional writeups are masterpieces in themselves. One is hit by a sense of conflict when reading it, is it the author speaking through the protagonist or is it the protagonist acting like th author? As one ponders over this fact and tries to unknot to the tight and complex knot, he is sucked into the short prose’s unimaginable beauty in language and it’s attachment to the realism and it’s sense of current timing. The poems etched to perfection, liked diamonds formed under pressure, present fractured and hidden within miles of paragraphs.

An essential quality of works like these is a kind of boredom with the sheer exhaustiveness of details. This results in a constant turning of the pages to the endnotes. As a reading experience, this book is exasperating as well as exhilarating. T. P. Rajeevan handles the jargon and maxims with quite an expertise, satisfying the need of the themes. His style, depending upon the demands of the mood in the stories, could be racy or reserved, flowing or laconic, narrative or symbolic. While weaving the language into the fabric of his style, he maintains a logical balance to form a regular pattern. A novel with a difference, it tells us very human stories that make us smile, laugh out loud and sometimes get jolted. Hard. At other times it evokes poetry that makes the heart sing. The book is part fiction, part biography and part cultural criticism and it’s through its irreverential blurring of these lines that the book delights. This is among the best historical fiction I have ever read. Complex and fascinating. A treat for globetrotters who like to get under the skin of complex places.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Hachette India for sending me a copy of this book in lieu of an honest review.

Originally published on A Hindu’s View

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.

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.

Collaboration

A book a day keeps anxiety at bay

Books steadfastly continue to be our safe place, comforting haven and trusted confidantes both through tranquility and turbulence. With that in mind, Niyogi Books with Indian Novels Collective has prepared a special treat for you this World Book Day that will help you choose your pick from a compelling mélange of Indian language literature in translation and enjoy a meaningful reading experience.

At the price of INR 1, we invite you to visit the Amazon Kindle Store and delve into the collection of twenty beautiful, exciting and thought-provoking titles that Niyogi Books has on offer. Starting tomorrow i.e., 24th April, 2021 each book will be available to be downloaded each day over the next 20 days from 00.00 hours to 23.59.

Here is a look at the books that we have in store for you:

24 April: The Heroine and Other Stories by D. Jayakanthan (translated from Tamil)

D. Jayakanthan’s short stories depict the life of common people in Tamil Nadu in the middle of the 20th century and reflect his progressive thinking. Selected and translated by the author’s daughter, these stories sensitively explore situations in the lives of both the marginalized and the middle class and comprise some of the best of his writing. Each story in this collection delves into the depths of the human psyche, revealing the hidden strengths ordinary people find within themselves when faced with extraordinary circumstances.

25 April: Ballad of Kaziranga by Dileep Chandan (translated from Assamese)

Ballad of Kaziranga is not a love story (although it does seep in), but rather, the story of love three friends share for the beautiful and majestic Kaziranga, in their own unique way. It is through the lives of these three men and their dreams, aspirations and sometimes, even their frustration and anguish that Kaziranga unfolds itself. A riveting story, it also throws light on the current state of affairs in the national park and the problems plaguing it.

 
 
 

26 April: Blossoms in the Graveyard by Birendra Kumar Bhattacharyya (translated from Assamese)

Blossoms in the Graveyard is the story of Mehr, a young girl from a village in what is at that time, East Pakistan. It is the story of her journey from dependence to self-reliance, both emotionally and physically. Parallel to her story, is the narrative of a land that is struggling to assert its identity, and moving towards a hard-won Independence in a crucible of blood and tears. Mehr is the symbol of the land. Jnanpith Awardee Birendra Kumar Bhattacharyya has told the story with a fine understanding of all the issues involved, in a non-partisan way. Though fiction, it deals with events and issues of recent history.

27 April: Elegy for the East by Dhrubajyoti Borah (translated from Assamese)

Before the relentless march of history, the lone individual is helpless. Yet it is men whose collective efforts give history its momentum and ushers in change of eras. These changes are tempestuous at times—like a churning that brings up both nectar and scum. Elegy for the East explores the utter helplessness and travails of man in face of exactly such overwhelming odds. A narrative not far from truth, where an uncaring, anonymous, and overbearing State creates and/or co-creates situations of social and political strife, and where innocent and beautiful dreams of the masses die in the stony bed of terror and counter-terror. This novel is a work of fiction; the characters bear no resemblance to any person dead or alive. Yet they walked amongst us all–in flesh and blood, in thoughts and dreams. Fiction that reflects reality in a more truthful way.

28 April: Brink by S.L. Bhyrappa (translated from Kannada)

The English translation of the epic Kannada novel Anchu by the renowned author S.L. Bhyrappa, Brink is a love saga between Somashekhar, a widower, and Amrita, an estranged woman. The novel deliberates on the moral, philosophical, and physical aspects of love between a man and a woman. At the core of the story is compassion. An enthralling read, the novel has stood the test of time like Bhyrappa’s other novels. Packed with internal drama, tension, and flashbacks, the book promises to impart an aesthetic experience to the reader.

29 April: Kasturba Gandhi: A Bio-fiction by Giriraj Kishore (translated from Hindi)

Kasturba Gandhi: A Bio-fiction is the fictionalised biography of Kasturba Gandhi, a lady as strong and great as Mahatma Gandhi. A lady who earned a place in history because of her personal sacrifices and strength of conviction in what was right as much as on account of being the wife of Mahatma Gandhi in his fight for basic human rights for Indians in South Africa and the Indian Freedom Movement. The book gives a glimpse of how a strong woman can empower herself staying within the folds of tradition and convention. It offers a rarely portrayed facet of Gandhi – a family man, a father, a husband. It shows how his transformation from Mr Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to Mahatma Gandhi happened with the support of a woman who was a silent partner in the struggle.

30 April: A Plate of White Marble by Bani Basu (translated from Bengali)

First published in 1990 in the original Bengali, A Plate of White Marble tells the tale of the ‘new woman’ of an era that just witnessed the independence of a nation. Bandana, the protagonist, though grieves over her husband’s early death, never conforms to the social connotation and ideals of ‘widowhood’. This first translation brings a significant Bengali novel with important social concerns to a wider audience.

 
 
 

1 May: A Day in the Life of Mangal Taram by Anita Agnihotri (translated from Bengali)

Anita Agnihotri’s stories traverse a wide range of human emotions, discover the myriad complexities of relationships, and also takes the reader through a journey into the dynamics of an Indian reality, where the unheard voices still wait to be deciphered by a sensitive writer. A Day in the Life of Mangal Taram is a careful selection of 14 stories out of over 200 short stories written by Anita Agnihotri spanning over three decades.

 
 
 

2 May: Island of Lost Shadows by E. Santhosh Kumar (translated from Malayalam)

Island of Lost Shadows is a story of intrigue, nerve-wracking tension and suspense, raising questions relevant in the present-day context of terrorism and sedition in the guise of revolution and social change. Through the voices of a myriad and sharply sketched characters, the author brings to life the troubled times of the Seventies when sadistic excesses were the norm. He also explores the human mind and its tendency for corruption and depravity. A compelling tale that keeps the readers engrossed…

3 May: Giligadu: The Lost Days by Chitra Mudgal (translated from Hindi)

Giligadu: The Lost Days, by the 2018 Sahitya Akademi Award winner Chitra Mudgal, is a multi-layered novelette, short in length yet deep in meaning and messages for urban India. Set in a time frame of 13 days, with two senior men as the main characters, it analyses the relevance of older values in present-day life and the need to change with the times. A page-turner that leaves the reader satisfied and encourages introspection.

 
 
 

4 May: Beasts of Burden by Imayam (translated from Tamil)

The first novel of one of the best writers today, Koveru Kazhuthaigal is located in the early 1970s when ritual status and payment in kind were giving way to cash wages. It is a tapestry of despair, courage and a journey both outward and inward and a story of decline and change in a village seen through the eyes of a washerwoman (vannaatti) Arokkyam, who serves a dalit community of agricultural labourers. The novel gives us an extraordinarily detailed picture of a lifestyle that has now passed—reclaimed and told with pride.
 
 

5 May: A Fistful of Mustard Seeds by E. Santhosh Kumar (translated from Malayalam)

The 12 stories in this book, originally written and published in Malayalam over a period of almost two decades, explores moral dilemmas, personal traumas and delves into the dark recesses of the soul. These insightful and deeply moving stories illuminate the elevations and abysses of the human condition. Sensitive, thought-provoking and perceptive, each story is a vignette into a different realm of emotional experience.

 
 

6 May: Land Lust by Joginder Paul (translated from Urdu)

Evocative and crisp, Joginder Paul’s stories in Land Lust offer poignant glimpses of the unequal multiracial relations in colonial Kenya. Translated from the original Urdu, they evoke insightful moments of compassion from within the harsh xenophobic environs. Land Lust attracts empathetic attention to divisive follies of race and colour, and progress and development even more pertinent today than earlier. The writer deftly and gently asserts the dignity of the black people by including their voice and predicament in these stories.

7 May: Laila Ke Khutoot: The Letters of Laila by Qazi Abdul Ghaffar (translated from Urdu)

Laila ke Khutoot has been hailed as the ‘first specimen of a truly psychoanalytical fiction in Urdu’. Set in the early twentieth century, the Letters of Laila are not only a courtesan’s search for identity but also an exposition of the exploitation of women by a complacent and hypocritical society. The letters are by turn witty, philosophical and deeply moving.
 
 
 
 

8 May: In the Glow of Your Being by Govind Mishra (translated from Hindi)

The modern Indian woman – equal to her male counterpart in every aspect of life, be it education, career, intellect, ambition, and the rest – has no equality when it comes to individual freedom or choices, shackled as she is by the fetters variously named ‘tradition’, ‘Indian culture’, or ‘value systems’. In the Glow of Your Being examines the issues faced by the modern Indian woman and probes deep into the question of a woman’s freedom and its denial by society. It delves into an intelligent, working woman’s dilemma: how, though working alongside her male colleagues, she is expected to be unaffected by any emotional baggage that such close association triggers off, more so if the woman has both beauty and brains.

9 May: Kayakalpa: The Elixir of Everlasting Youth by Lakshmi Nandan Bora (translated from Assamese)

Anuj Kripalani is an internationally renowned scientist who apparently has everything—scientific breakthroughs, awards, fame, wealth and a fine family. A deep personal crisis makes him return to India, to rediscover himself and to find out an answer to the question that has always haunted the human race from time immemorial. Anuj thus sets forth on a physical, emotional, spiritual and scientific journey in India. But the answer to the question—the key to rejuvenation—continues to elude him till he finally learns the secret, in which he is helped by a yogi’s Kayakalpa treatment and modern science.

10 May: The Story of a Timepiece: A Collection of Short Stories by Sankarankutty Pottekkat (translated from Malayalam)

The Story of the Timepiece: A Collection of Short Stories, written by award-winning writer S.K. Pottekkat, aptly showcases the author’s penchant for melding realism with romanticism. These short stories touch upon themes of universal interest. Written in the author’s unique style, both prosaic and poetic, they depict complex characters and human relationships in realistic, everyday situations, often reflecting the social consciousness of the pre-Independence period

11 May: The Musk and Other Stories by Arupa Patangia Kalita (translated from Assamese)

The Musk and Other Stories, an eclectic mix of short stories and a novella by acclaimed Assamese writer Arupa Patangia Kalita, sheds light on some of the burning issues that reverberate through the Assam Valley. Set against the breathtaking scenery of Assam with its lush green fields, meandering rivers and mighty mountains, the book pushes one to reflect upon the current political situation of Assam.
 
 
 

12 May: Jallianwala Bagh: Literary Responses in Prose & Poetry Edited by Rakhshanda Jalil (translated from Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi)

Jallianwala Bagh massacre, the butchering of unarmed innocents, is a historic event that haunts the human mind even after the lapse of a century. 1650 rounds fired in a matter of ten minutes, the blocking of exits, preventing help reaching the injured are all acts of unmitigated bestiality. Through a selection of prose and poetry – the direct outcome of this horrific event and an introduction that traces the history of events leading to the massacre – Rakhshanda Jalil, a literary historian and translator from Urdu and Hindi, attempts to open a window into the world of possibilities that literature offers to reflect, interpret and analyse events of momentous historical import.

13 May: Generations by Neela Padmanabhan (translated from Tamil)

Generations is an intricate tale, simply told by a master of fiction about a community of Tamil speakers who live on the borders of modern-day Kerala. Set in the 1940s, it is a novel of generational change and conflict, and how the boy Diravi grows up to take charge of his family, which embodies a distinct culture. Amidst the background of language, myth, and ethnic consciousness, we are offered a sensitively drawn profile of the passing of a traditional way of life into modernity and the nostalgia that comes with change.

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.