Place: India

Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

This week, news of trans literature in Argentina, an inaugural book fair in Patagonia, and awards season in India.

Our editors report on literature’s integral role in political resistance and in supporting underrepresented voices, as feminist and trans theory workshops are organized in Buenos Aires and fuegino literature is promoted in Patagonia. In India, our reporter leads us through the awards season successes, celebrating many translated titles.

Allison Braden, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Argentina

Last month, a primary election that predicted a decisive win for the opposition in Argentina’s upcoming presidential elections sent the economy into convulsions, and the peso’s precipitous drop in value made headlines around the world. Amid the debate around the country’s future, the candidates have been conspicuously quiet on an issue important to many Argentine women: abortion, which remains illegal in most cases. But where the politicians are silent, Argentina’s women are not. Anfibia, a digital magazine of literary journalism launched by the Universidad Nacional de San Martín, is offering a workshop to challenge dominant ways of knowing and to provide women with tools to narrate experiences of violence. Also in this year’s lineup is a four-part workshop and practicum on trans theory, which seeks to answer whether it’s possible to develop a collaborative theory of the trans experience to guide, not only personal creativity, but also policy. Trans literature has won acclaim in Argentina recently. Rising literary star and trans writer Camila Sosa Villada, for example, unites literature and performance. According to a recent profile, “Camila is poetry onstage and puts her body on paper” (my translation). Her book Las malas was showcased at this year’s Feria del Libro in Buenos Aires, the largest book fair in Latin America. READ MORE…

What’s New in Translation: September 2019

Looking for what to read next? Our staff share their latest discoveries in new translations.

It is another month bringing us various gifts in the form of translated literatures, and our editors have selected the finest. Read below to find reviews of a short story collection detailing the various and complex natures of India, a haunting and poignant Swedish novel, unsettling tales from Israel, and a poignantly feminist work from Palestine.

ambai

A Kitchen in the Corner of the House by Ambai (C.S. Lakshmi), translated from the Tamil by Lakshmi Holmström, Archipelago Books, 2019

Review by Ben Dreith, Assistant Editor

C.S. Lakshmi, who writes in English and Tamil under the pseudonym Ambai, is a scion of post-revolutionary Indian feminism and women’s studies researcher who was raised and educated in Mumbai, Bangalore, and New Delhi. Of her work, the most recent to appear in English is A Kitchen in the Corner of the House, a mellifluous and courageous work translated by Lakshmi Holström, a dedicated scholar who passed away in 2016. She will be missed, and her efforts, evident in the enduring legacy and themes of A Kitchen in the Corner of the House, may inform the concerns of Indian feminism in the English-speaking world for generations.

The book is a collection of stories, told from multiple voices and perspectives, which centers on the travails and aspirations of women across a broad socio-economic and linguistic spectrum. The voices in A Kitchen in the Corner of the House reflect the varied cultural expectations and norms that simultaneously thrive and jostle for distinction within the Indian nation, which can be too easily regarded as a seamless whole by outside observers. What unites the characters in the stories, though, is a keen sense of subjective solidarity amongst women who are draped in desperation—and hope.

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Translation Tuesday: “At the Hotel” by Tripura

Soft, dark, infant-faces. Secret fox-faces. The faces of a tiger, who had just killed a buffalo and was stripping it to the bone.

This week’s Translation Tuesday features a befuddling slice-of-life translation from the Telugu Writer Tripura. The movement of the dialogue is through a flow of floating statements and people that occurs over an hour in the dining room of a hotel. As if the hotel itself is listening, snippets of conversation drop readers into mid-century southern India. The effects of modernism inform the layout of this story, and the semi-public space of the hotel demonstrates the use—and imposition—of English in speech, as well as the untranslatable cultural particulars of the Telugu. It is a statement to the density of subjectivity and the messiness of codes. Sparse narration and memorable voices place the reader well within the confines of a time of great change and exploration in this genre-bending piece. 

At the Hotel

Eight in the morning. The patter of rain above. Wet inside.

“My pop said he’d bury me if I did shit like this. Brainless.”
“That’s old people, ra. These old hags need to be shot by a firing squad, like Hitler
massacred the Jews.”
Empty cups in front, cigarettes at the ends of lips.

#

“Have you guys read Dharma Bums?”
“Leave it. These Beatniks are just rootless fellows. The Angry Young Men seem better.”
In the cups, coffee getting cold.

#

“Fucking idiot. Said there was no touching the file if I didn’t give him a tenner. And a kid, an upstart to boot. Got him to sign it after throwing the ten at his idiot face. What to do. Can’t die, no.”
“Idiots nowadays are like that only. Work’s done only if the money’s in their hands.”

Empty idli plates on the table. The first man’s pockets are searched for a beedi. READ MORE…

Poetic Solidarity Across the Himalayan Divide in Burning the Sun’s Braids

The Chinese state . . . is unable to extinguish the fire of protest among Tibetans in exile and Tibet.

For the poets who bear witness, language has been both weapon and shield, but perhaps most importantly, it has always a chance to reach both inward and outward, so that the defiant strength against cruelty may arrive from any direction. The Tibetan poems collected by Bhuchung Dumra Sonam in Burning the Sun’s Braids is a testament to this endless realm of perseverance. In the following essay, Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Tibet, Shelly Bhoil, writes about the urgent and moving works in this formidable collection of resistance and courage.

Bhuchung, which means “a little boy” in Tibetan, was ten or eleven years old when he was smuggled out of Tibet for a better life as a refugee in India. During his escape with a group of familiar strangers in the winter of 1983, this little boy, for no particular reason, held on to the visions of black boots from his fantasies, but had no idea that he would never get to see his parents again. Years later, in a moment of existential rage, he tore apart a notebook of poems he had penned during his college years. Lines from one of the earliest poems he recalls having written are telling:

Like a stray dog I cling
to the dry worldly bone . . .
In a blossoming garden of hatred
this little boy
drowns in tears of sorrow . . .

From the torn pages of this notebook were to emerge Bhuchung Dumra Sonam as a prolific poet, essayist, publisher, and translator.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

We come to you this week armed with manifestos from Hong Kong, recipes from India, and voices giving shapes to poetry in Barcelona.

We look both backward and forward: a revolution in China, an election in India, poets uniting in Barcelona to cohere past and future with performance and verse. This week our editors are here with literary news items that display a history starkly immediate, a present gathering visions, and tomorrows which hope that remembrance may also be an act of resistance. 

Charlie Ng, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Hong Kong:

The May Fourth Movement was one of the most influential events for China in the twentieth century as it powerfully revolutionised Chinese culture and society. The cultural movement complemented the political Xinhai Revolution led by Sun Yat-sen in heralding China’s modern era. Its centenary is celebrated across the Straits, and Hong Kong is no exception. Hong Kong’s Dr. Sun Yat-sen Museum is in collaboration with the Beijing Lu Xun Museum to organise “The Awakening of a Generation: The May Fourth and New Culture Movement” Exhibition, displaying relevant collections from both Beijing and the Hong Kong Museum of History to the public, including the handwritten manuscripts of Chen Duxiu and Hu Shih. The exhibition will also showcase visual and multimedia artworks that are inspired by the event.

The Hong Kong Literary Criticism Society has inaugurated the “Hong Kong Chinese Literary Criticism Competition 2019” to promote literary criticism in Hong Kong, and the launch ceremony of the competition was held in the Hong Kong Arts Development Council on May 18. Hong Kong writer Yip Fai and Chinese scholar Choy Yuen-fung from Hong Kong Baptist University were invited to give a talk on the necessity of literature and literary criticism, moderated by the chairman of Hong Kong Literary Criticism Society, Ng Mei-kwan.

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Classic Texts in Translation: David Buchta on the Bhagavad Gītā

It’s the fact that it’s been this vibrant text for millennia that makes it such an important text for us to read today.

Today’s post is the first installment in our new blog series, “Classic Texts in Translation,” in which we speak with scholars and experts about the challenges of translating canonical texts from around the world. In today’s interview, Assistant Blog Editor Nina Perrotta talks with Professor David Buchta of Brown University about the Bhagavad Gītā, an ancient Sanskrit text that forms part of the larger epic poem known as the Mahābhārata. Their conversation touches on the specific difficulties of translating complex philosophical and theological terms from Sanskrit into English, the questions around authorship that make interpreting classical Sanskrit texts particularly challenging, and the reasons that the Bhagavad Gītā has been such an influential text, both within India and around the world, for millennia.

Nina Perrotta (NP): I want to start off by asking you, in a general way, about some of the biggest challenges of translating Sanskrit into English.

David Buchta (DB): Sure. In some ways, it’s a hard question to answer in a general way, just because you’re talking about this language that has such an enormously long history, such a huge library of literature, and such a wide range. This would be the same for Latin or Greek—the kinds of challenges you face in one genre versus another are going to be radically different.

On the one hand, you’ve got these poems that have two meanings simultaneously, and that obviously is going to introduce one whole set of translation challenges. I often say this about Sanskrit: it’s such a highly cultivated language. In other words, the people who used the language cared about it, thought about it, put their time and energy into developing its toolbox. As a result, if you’re a skilled writer, you can, if you want to, be extremely precise and unambiguous, or you can be extremely ambiguous. There are these poems where you can tell seven stories all at once. It just depends on how the words are interpreted, whether the same sequence of syllables is broken into two words or three words, for example. You have these different ways that you can go if you’re skilled enough at using the language.

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Translation Tuesday: Subimal Misra’s Anti-Fiction

It’s because of the trustworthiness of the writer’s effort that a piece of text is simultaneously story, history, proclamation, and personal diary.

Subimal Misra began writing exclusively for little magazines in the late sixties. His stories soon came to be known as ‘anti-stories,’ although he calls them ‘films.’ Misra credits Jean-Luc Godard with teaching him language, i.e., cinematic language, where the film is like an argument. By the end of the seventies, Misra was the uncrowned prince of Bengali parallel literature. But he had not written a novel because it would have been too long to get published. However, he had already started thinking of a longer format and the anti-novel, Actually This Could Have Become Ramayan Chamar’s Tale, a meta-fiction, appeared in 1982. This was followed by When Colour is a Warning Sign (1984), in which Misra carried the form he adopted in Ramayan Chamareven further—a kind of kaleidoscopic look at the society, world and times around him, focussing pointed beams of light on slivers of lived reality. With The Feathered Neck (1990), Misra completed his anti-novel trilogy. In 1988, Misra also wrote an essay explaining his ‘anti-novel.’

In this excerpt from When Colour is a Warning Sign, Misra shares an account of giving his manuscript to an editor to read, becoming dejected after the latter’s comment, and finally emerging with greater clarity and vision.

—Translator V. Ramaswamy

 

In the course of writing, I gave the manuscript to Nirmal-da of College Street to read and he later sent me his valuable opinion by letter. Nirmal Gupta was in his fifties, his sideburns were entirely grey, he ran a serious little magazine called Eikhon, it sold about a thousand copies. After reading his letter, as I was wondering whether I could write afresh, in a simpler way—as I was grappling with the subject—I saw to my surprise that Nirmal-da too was becoming entangled in the text, he was becoming another incident and clearly the complexity was continuously growing, multifarious, and more, what I have never thought also emerges clearly, page after page.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Find out the latest in world literary news here!

In this edition of weekly dispatches, we remember Argentine author Hebe Uhart, celebrate the continuation of Guatemala’s national book fair, and look to China for news of cultural exchange and literary prizes. 

Sarah Moses, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Argentina:

Argentine author Hebe Uhart passed away on October 11 at the age of eighty-one. Uhart was the author of numerous collections of travel essays, stories, and novellas, and in recent years dedicated herself exclusively to the former, visiting towns in Argentina as well as countries in Latin America and further abroad to document what she saw. Her most recent work was a collection of non-fiction pieces about animals, which included her own sketches.

Uhart was born in the town of Moreno and moved to the capital to study philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires, where she later taught. For many years, she also led writing workshops out of her home. She was recognized as one of the greats among both readers and colleagues, and authors such as Mariana Enríquez and Inés Acevedo have written about her work. In 2017, she was awarded the prestigious Premio Iberoamericano de Narrativa Manuel Rojas.

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Winter 2017: Intimate Strangers

Who better to bare our intimate, struggling self with than several thousand of our closest friends?

January 2017: I have turned 40. Though I no longer remember when exactly I set down the rule for team members to refrain from sending me email over weekends, it is likely the embargo originated from this time. Entering a new decade is an occasion to take stock, to insist on a proper work-life balance. But 40 has always felt like an especially significant milestone, possibly because, as a teenager, I’d read an essay in which the narrator wonders obsessively if he’d land on the “right side of forty,” the obsession guiding his every life decision. Then his fortieth birthday comes, and with it the realization, like thunder, that he has lived life wrong. I’ve not lived life wrong, but I have certainly lived against the grain. Around this time I notice, for example, that I am spacing out more and more in gatherings with former classmates when talk turns to acquiring a second property. I stumble upon David Williams’s devastating essay in World Literature Today and can’t tear my eyes away from the line: “I couldn’t see it at the time, and I certainly refused to acknowledge it, but when my parents’ overeducated, thirty-something child chooses to sell his labor well below a living wage, they can be forgiven for thinking that their blue-eyed son is engaged in a sophisticated form of self-sabotage.”  Perhaps, this is why our sixth anniversary issue comes with what Australia editor-at-large Tiffany Tsao calls below a “frankly [desperate]” editor’s note; still, as she says, “who better to bare our intimate, struggling self with than several thousand of our closest friends?”

. . . you have spent vast amounts of your life as someone else . . . This phrase hails from Amanda DeMarco’s brilliant rumination on life as a translator, Foreign to Oneself. Published in our Winter 2017 issue, the essay is composed entirely of excerpts from other texts (this particular quote is taken from Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby). As I reread these words while writing this essay, my vision began to get a little blurry. I’m being maudlin, I know. But where else is one entitled to get weepy if not in a retrospective that invites writers to indulge in nostalgia? And the truth of this observation about being a translator sang out all the more because this was also the issue in which my translations of Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s poetry made their debut.

At that point, I was Asymptote’s Indonesia Editor-at-Large (my country of focus is now Australia, where I reside), and a few months earlier, I’d come across some of Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s poetry. Having heard that he’d recently won the Jakarta Arts Council Poetry Manuscript Competition, I reached out to him via Twitter to ask if I could work with him to translate his poems for our poetry editor’s consideration. This issue marked the start of an ongoing and very fruitful translator-writer partnership with Norman, who later came on staff and is our current Indonesia Editor-at-Large. English-language versions of Norman’s other poems were subsequently published in various magazines, and awarded both a prize and a grant from English PEN. The collection from which these poems are excerpted will be published by Tilted Axis Press in March 2019. If it weren’t for Asymptote, I’m not sure if Norman and I would have ever started working together. READ MORE…

In Conversation: Kalyan Raman

I have always been troubled by the hegemonic position of English.

N Kalyan Raman, a bilingual translator, is best known for his English translations of the works of eminent Tamil modernist writer Ashokamitran. Suchitra Ramachandran, a young translator who won the Asymptote Close Approximations translation fiction prize in 2017 for her translation of the Tamil short story “Periyamma’s Words” by B. Jeyamohan, works in the same languages. 

The two translators met in Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu and home of the Tamil language, to discuss the practice and politics of translation, posing questions as wide ranging as: What is the role of translation in an astoundingly multi-lingual country? Does English as a language, a post-colonial residue, oppress or enable? What is the literary legacy of translation and how can it shape the understanding of a diverse society? What follows is an edited excerpt of their conversation.

For other emerging translators, enter the fourth edition of our translation contest and stand to win up to $3,000 in prizes. This year’s competition is judged by Edward Gauvin and Eugene Ostashevsky. Details here.

Suchitra Ramachandran (SR): Translation—a weighty literary activity, a difficult craft—seems to have no prestige associated with it in India. And that’s a reason, I think, why a lot of people don’t pursue it seriously.

N Kalyan Raman (KN): The translator is marginalized as a matter of course and for no good reason. A senior editor in Delhi told me that there is simply no space available in the media to talk about translators. What we must do first is accept the translator as part of the literary community, as producers of literary texts. Editors and other institutional intermediaries are given far more space in the translation discourse than translators themselves.

Also, I don’t think of translation as one separate trick. It’s as much a part of the literary culture as anything else. And translators do other things (in the literary ecosystem) as well, which hardly receive any notice—reflecting, engaging, reviewing, it is all a part of the culture. And understanding it, developing a reflective awareness of the trajectory of the literary culture of your community. Languages imply community above all else. What good is language if there is no community around it? In India, the English language seems to facilitate, in any field, only interest groups. It’s not amenable to a truly open space.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup lands us in Romania, Moldova, India and Egypt.

Prizes, events, book publications, festivals—whatever you can think of, our Weekly Dispatches have you covered from one end of the world to the other. This week our editors are focusing on the most exciting news from India, Romania and Moldova, and Egypt. 

Janani Ganesan, Assistant Managing Editor, reporting from India: 

When everything is sponsored by a multinational company, from football to governments, literature is no different. India’s richest literary award was announced this March by JCB group. An annual prize money of INR twenty-five lakhs (USD 38,400) for a fiction book could have only come from a company manufacturing construction equipment.

(The DSC Prize, which was the most generous literary award in the country till its prize money was reduced from USD 50,000 to USD 25,000 in 2017, is also funded by a company specializing in infrastructure.)

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Asymptote Book Club: In Conversation with Rimli Bhattacharya

Doesn’t the strength of a work of fiction lie in its lack of closure?

Our second Asymptote Book Club interview is an in-depth discussion of Aranyak, a seminal work of Bengali literature translated into English by Rimli Bhattacharya.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Asymptote Assistant Editor Chris Power, Rimli Bhattacharya reflects on Aranyak’s enduring importance, how a bout of “language sickness” led to its translation into English, and why author Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s “extraordinarily sensitive” portrayal of women was ahead of its time.

Chris Power’s review of the novel is available to read here.

Chris Power (CP): I’d first like to ask about the history of Aranyak’s reception. Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay wrote this classic Bengali novel, based on his years spent in northern Bihar, between 1937 and 1939. What new significance does it take on in the twenty-first century? What inspired you to translate it? When did you first read it, and how has your reading of it evolved?

Rimli Bhattacharya (RB): Aranyak was serialized in the late 1930s—the same decade in which a clutch of other remarkable novels, such as Aparajito and Drihstipradip, were published. Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay was already celebrated as the writer of Pather Panchali. The interesting thing about Aranyak is that many forests meld in the novel, not only Bibhutibhushan’s years in Bhagalpur in the 1920s, but also his travels in Singbhum and Mayurbhanj in Orissa in the mid-1930s, as his biographer Rusati Sen points out.

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Announcing Our January Book Club Selection

A classic of Bengali literature, available for the first time in English translation.

Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay’s Aranyak will be our second Asymptote Book Club title. We’re delighted to be sharing one of the gems of Bengali literature with our subscribers: the novel’s English translator, Rimli Bhattacharya, describes it as “a chronicle of the dispossessed in visionary prose.”

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your news from the literary world, all in one place.

This week, our Editors-at-Large bring us up to speed on literary happenings in South Africa, Central America, and Brazil.

Alice Inggs, Editor-at-Large, South Africa: 

South Africa has eleven official languages, a fact not often evident in local literary awards and publications, which generally skew towards English and Afrikaans as mediums. However, the announcement of the 2017 South African Literary Awards (SALA) has done much to change this perception.

In addition to including five contributors to narratives in the extinct !Xam and !Kun languages (drawn from the Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd archives), a biography in Sepedi (Tšhutšhumakgala by Moses Shimo Seletisha) and poetry collections in isiXhosa (Iingcango Zentliziyo by Simphiwe Ali Nolutshungu) and the Kaaps dialect (Hammie by Ronelda S. Kamfer) have been shortlisted.

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