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A welcome initiative

Friday, May 04, 2018

The Indian Novels Collective's second shortlist of regional literature, which will be translated into English, was announced recently, says Ronita Torcato

They say eavesdroppers never hear any good, but the sweet sound of Konkani was music to my ears. Goan novelist, scriptwriter, critic and multiple award winner Damodar Mauzo had a captive audience in me while chatting with his niece Dimple Wagle who had brought her children to the Kitab Khana bookstore  for the release of the Indian Novels Collective's second shortlist of regional literature (classics only)  which will be translated into English.

The first shortlist of 20 Hindi novels was announced at a gala inaugural at the Jindal Mansion in Mumbai last September. The second shortlist spotlights Konkani, Marathi and Gujarati fiction.

Three rows ahead in the bookstore, best-selling novelist Kiran Nagarkar, author and columnist Anil Dharker and author/ translator Shanta Gokhale held forth in English with the felicity of their mother tongue, Marathi. This bi-lingual (make that multi-lingual) fluency comes easily to many Indians, given the multiplicity of languages spoken in the sub-continent, but  only a chosen few (like the aforementioned trio and newly appointed Rajya Sabha member Kumar Ketkar) can write with ease in at least two languages.

Apart from Ketkar, we spotted author and columnist Bachi Karkaria, poet/visual artist Sanjeev Khandekar and his artist wife Vaishali Narkar. The panellists discussing non-English literature and translation included poet/ translator Prabodh Parikh, theatre person Chirag Vohra and Abhay Sardesai, editor of an art magazine... a galaxy of writers, translators and bookworms were in attendance at  Kitab Khana.

For those who came in late, INC (not to be confused with the political party with which it shares the acronym) is a non-profit network of individuals set up with the objective of bringing regional classics to readers. INC Mentors and Friends will select 100 fictional works for translation which INC will publish by next year. Aren't translations already available? Of course they are, some excellent, some mediocre. But who wouldn't want fresh translations, good translations? In due course, INC plans to expand the project to poetry, plays and other genres originally written in the diverse languages that make India such a richly articulate space.

JSW Foundation is sponsoring the initiative and we missed its effervescent chairperson Sangita Jindal at the Kitab Khana, whose owners Amrita and Samir Somaiya are members of INC's Core Group along with Ms Jindal, Ashwani Kumar, poet and Professor-TISS and Anuradha Parikh of the G5A Center for Contemporary Culture.

Like the Jindal Mansion inaugural, INC's second edition also featured readings, conversations and views on Indian literary classics and their translated versions—spotlighting this time around, the Konkani, Marathi, and Gujarati languages.

Moderating the session, author and columnist Anil Dharker said he was glad to note the inclusion of more translations in the INC catalogue.

INC Mentor Kiran Nagarkar who said he absolutely refuses to read translations and prefers translating his own books, read a brief extract in Marathi and English translation from Nativist writer Bhalchandra Nemade's 1963 novel, Kosala.

INC Mentor Prabodh Parikh read Govardhanram Tripathi's Saraswatichandra in Gujarati translation and stage actor Chirag Vohra settled for an excerpt from Gujarati author, Pannalal Patel.

The venerable Damodar Mauzo read from his moving novel Karmelin which has been translated into 13 Indian languages and bagged the Sahitya Akademi Award twice; the first time in 1983 and subsequently in 2011 for Gujarati translation. Way to go, fellow Goenkar!

"You gain something and you lose something in the process of translation," observed Shanta Gokhale, adding "translations can't do justice to the original." I didn't intervene then but will do so now: Many workmanlike passages from the original Hebrew Bible have been rendered into beautiful English in the Authorised King James Version. A prime example is the Song of Solomon.

Responding to a question from the audience, Gokhale said that of the three languages she knows, Marathi is superior to English. Nativist political parties (who, it must be said, leave Ms Gokhale unimpressed) will rejoice. And the cow belt may love the fact that the initial series of translations include literary gems like Premchand’s Godan and Srilal Shukla’s Raag Darbari, among others. As Sardesai summed it, "Regional languages have opened up to readers thanks to English."

The shortlists for Group Three—Urdu, Punjabi, Dogri, Sindhi; Group Four comprising Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Group Five—Bengali, Assamese, and Oriya, will be announced by 2019. The translated works will be made available in an e-book format.

Best of all, the Indian Novels Collective has just signed a joint venture with Delhi-based publishing house Speaking Tiger.

Short takes

  • Indian Novels Collective is a non-profit network of individuals set up with the objective of bringing regional classics to readers.
  • Its Mentors and Friends will select 100 fictional works for translation which INC will publish by next year.
  • In due course, INC plans to expand the project to poetry, plays and other genres.
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