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VoW Book Awards 2024 Shortlist- English Translation Category

All great translations are actually transcreations , for the metaphor and nuance of each age , time , geography and demography is different. Even when a book is translated by the author herself, she is aware - even if it is in the deep unconscious- that the translation has a different readership and that many moons have passed since the  first publication. One could go on, and talk about  the growing salience of this genre of literature , but   this column is not a meditation on translation , but a short synoptic review of the five top translations from the Bhashas of Bharat into English for 2024.


The first of these ( in alphabetic order ) is the Gujarati classic- ‘Dukhi Dadiba and the Irony of Fate’ by Dadi Edulji Taraporewala  a tragic love story based on the world of the rich and powerful Parsi community  translated by Aban Mukherji  and Tulsi Vatsal. Published by Ratna Books , it brings alive the lifestyle of upper class Parsi society in late nineteenth century Bombay ( as Mumbai was then called). The Parsis were the most anglicised community , and their proximity to the members of the ICS and the helmsmen of the agency houses yielded them rich dividends , as they controlled the supply lines of the most profitable commodities – opium, liquor, cotton and salt.  Taraporewala’s vividly drawn characters, his true-to-life dialogues, the twists and turns of an often-improbable plot, keep the readers riveted. There is a pompous social climber, Darashah Davar; his beautiful but fickle daughter, Pareen; her handsome and virtuous music teacher, Dadiba; the wealthy but weak heir to the Bahadurshah estate, Jehangir; and last but not least, Jehangir’s mother Ratanmai who, uncharacteristically for a woman of her time, chooses truth and justice over and above her deep feelings for her son. The illustrations of the famous artist M.V. Dhurandhar  make these characters come to life even more vividly through the evocative

 Next on our list is Penguin’s  ‘My Poems Are Not for Your Ad Campaign’ by Anuradha Sarma Pujari, translated from Assamese by Aruni Kashyap , currently on a sabbatical at Boston . This short novella brings to light the transformative journey of a woman navigating the challenges and opportunities in the corporate world . Set against the backdrop of India's rapidly evolving economic landscape, the protagonist, Bhashwati  comes from Dibrugarh  to Kolkata  and  finds a ‘profitable assignment’ in  an ad agency .  But  as she navigates the corporate maze, she finds  it a challenge to  balance her  professional life with  the norms  of matrimony prevalent in the nineties .    The book offers a rich and insightful exploration of gender dynamics and  the changing face of Indian society during that era. It also offers the  readers an intimate glimpse into the  glam world of advertising and marketing peppered with anecdotes and experiences unique to India's cultural fabric.


Published by Eka Westland ,I Named My Sister Silence by Manoj Rupda has been  translated from Hindi by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar. The story is set in Chhattisgarh’s Bastar district, a region   which is often in the news on account of  being   the centre of LWE  . The Home Ministry and the mainstream media  catalogue the place as ‘volatile’ and ‘dangerous’ and most news reports are about encounters and ammunitions . Then there are case studies of successful interventions , the efforts of the government to establish value chains for the tribal produce , as well as the  conflict between the foresters and the tribals . However , this    novel does what any literary work should do: it  contextualises generalisations, and in the process, offers a poignant fiction about marginalised existence. It illustrates, as humanly as can be possible ,  the deeper  causes which divide  communities into factions suspicious of each other and  push lively forest villages towards eerie desolation.

The relationship between the narrator and his elder half-sister is the salient  feature  of the book. It is a bond born out of a tenderness which never bursts open but remains powerfully tentative. A girl of few words but strong resolve, the sister’s silence in the book operates as a critique of the loud, familial discord in the house, and similarly the loud and indecisive violence that would grip the region later. Without allotting space to superfluous dialogue, Rupda brings out the brother-sister attachment mostly through reported speech, intimate gestures, and food items as trivial as a chutney. He creates a distinct mood for the sister, and whenever she enters the narrative, we cannot help but be excited for the events that would follow.

The penultimate book in this offering is ‘The Man Who Walked Backwards and Other Stories’ by S. Ramakrishnan translated from Tamil by Prabha Sridevan . published by Orient BlackSwan) this  anthology of eighteen short stories by S. Ramakrishnan, the popular and critically acclaimed master of modern Tamil writing is a celebration of eccentricities of all kinds . They feature characters who defy conventions,   listen to their inner selves instead of conforming to familial and societal norms. We have , for example , a   mother who stays float as a compulsive   swimmer  to ‘drown’ her   domesticity and abuse, an environment friendly  thief who heals dogs and protects  trees and  the government clerk who is more passionate about pigeons than he is about the papers he is supposed to preserve , and of course , the man who walks only backwards, which is also the title story . There is a world of difference between those who look ahead , and those who see the world with this perspective . In Ramakrishnan’s own words, ‘The people in my stories do not face big challenges, they do not seek big victories. They are the dice that Time plays with.’ In this lively English translation by Prabha Sridevan that highlights the evocative nature of Ramakrishnan’s writings, the stories remind us that in the midst of the real and the everyday, there is place for myth and magic as well.


Last, but not the least, is   Seagull Books publication , ‘Truth/Untruth’ by Mahasweta Devi translated from Bengali by Anjum Katyal.   In a theme similar to  Udayan Mookerjee’s  No Way In , the winner of the VoW award for fiction in 2023, this is the juxtaposition of  two Kolkatas – of the slum-dwelling maidservants and of the affluent urban residents – are always rubbing against each other, always in danger of a spark catching a fire. The residents of flashy apartments employ these slum dwellers by the dozens to cook and clean for them, and safeguard their wealth. Even though the relationship is asymmetrical, Arjun and Jamuna are willing partners in a physical intimacy which leaves the latter pregnant , and unintentionally dead in a botched-up abortion which has to be covered up for Arjun’s reputation must be as clean as the satin sheets on which he sleeps . As reviewer Sayari Debnath puts is so succinctly : There is no mystery in Jamuna’s death – the why and how is revealed without any ceremony. The linear narration, as it moves ahead, gets murkier as one realises the extent of maliciousness that the so-called genteel class is capable of to safeguard their reputation and social standing. Devi’s exposé is as scintillating as it is morbid.

On why she undertook this translation, Anjum Katyal writes ‘hers was a voice that deserved to be heard as widely as possible, we( Seagull and the translator) began the task of making her oeuvre available to as broad a readership as possible in responsible translations that strove to do justice to a style as complex and nuanced as hers can be. The series continues to grow. Even then we had begun to realize the importance of being Mahasweta’.



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REC- VoW Book Awards 2024

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