Shifting perspectives

Shifting perspectives

Publishing trend

Mainstream publishers have always been translating popular novels by Hindi literary titans like Premchand, Upendra Nath Ashk, Bhisham Sahni, Krishna Baldev Vaid and Krishna Sobti, but in the past few years they are looking at contemporary writings that represent today’s India and are also commissioning fresh translations of iconic works to refine old expressions.

“Slowly, we are coming to a point where we know that there is a group of people who are bilingual but prefer reading in English, and those who are deeply interested in writers from the vernacular,”

Minakshi Thakur, publisher- Hindi and senior commissioning editor, HarperCollins, tells Metrolife.

“Our focus has shifted to living, contemporary writers – those whose books are indicative of the India and many Indias we live in today. We are selecting writers who have been writing for the last 20 years and will continue in the next decade or more, so their literature is mostly a record of post-post colonial and millennial contexts,” she adds.

The publication house set up their translations imprint, Harper Perennial, in 2008, and since then have published around 60 books in various Indian languages. They have published works of Hindi writers like Geetanjali Shree, Mohan Rakesh, Vinod Kumar Shukla, Krishan Chander, Ashok Vajpeyi, Surender Mohan Pathak and Vikas Kumar Jha, among others. Among the ones to be published in near future are Akhilesh’s Nirvasan, Vinod Kumar Shukla’s Deevar Mein Ek Khidki Rehti Thi and Hari Ghaas Ki Chappad aur Bauna Pahad and Gulzar’s novel on partition, Do Log.

“We are also trying to make these books available in other countries through rights sales in various languages. There are awards coming up which are devoted to translations. So there is awareness, but, of course, the sales need to improve,” she adds.

On the other hand, a testimony of renewed interest in classics is reflected by recent publishing of fresh translations of Saadat Hasan Manto’s short stories (My Name Is Radha, translated by Muhammad Umar Memon) as well as new translations of Bhisham Sahni’s novels (Tamas, translated by Daisy Rockwell; Mansion and Basanti, translated by Shveta Sarda; Boyhood, translated by Anna Khanna).

“We have been commissioning fresh translations of popular, iconic works because it was felt that some of the existing translations need to be refined,” points out Ambar Sahil Chatterjee, associate commissioning editor, Penguin Books India.

Because of this, Chatterjee says, they had to find professional translators who engage more meaningfully with original text in order make translations as seamless as possible. “Finding a good translator is not always easy. One can see that many of the translations done in the early twentieth century were perhaps borne out of the individual translator’s personal affinity for a particular text. Those translations would often convey the broad outline of the story, the main events of the unfolding plot, while not always faithfully capturing the flavour of the original story.”

Translations offer an intimate glimpse into the diverse literary culture of India. The main protocol for translating any vernacular language into English remains the same: the content has to be original. “Also, accessibility in terms of prose style and cultural context is important because the English reader should be able to relate to the book,” says Thakur.

One can’t help but notice how Hindi and vernacular literature has reduced under the giant popularity wave of the lingua franca – English. It did leave traces of destruction, but Ashok Maheshwari, managing director of Rajkamal Prakashan group, feels the momentum has again picked up and there is a renewed interest in Hindi writings.

“We have been publishing exciting, contemporary Hindi writings every year,” he tells Metrolife, adding that the 60-year-old publication house publishes around 150 books in Hindi.

“It would be wrong to say that people are not reading Hindi literature. We not only publish popular writers like Alka Saraogi, but also writings of new authors like Anuradha Beniwal,” he adds.

Thakur hopes the culture of reading will prosper. “This is a good way to know your country,” she adds.

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