In a conversation about a younger generation of Anglophone writers in India, Annie Zaidi’s name is bound to come up. From poetry to non-fiction to drama to a novella that is both ghost story and romance, her writing continually shifts forms, landscapes, and languages. Zaidi is the editor of Unbound: 2,000 years of Indian Women’s Writing and the author of Gulab, Love Stories # 1 to 14, and Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales. She is also the co-author of The Good Indian Girl. Her work has appeared in several anthologies including Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean, Mumbai Noir, Women Changing India, and Griffith Review 49: New Asia Now. Zaidi spoke with me about her influences, process, and literary interests in an email interview.
Poorna Swami: Your grandfather was a well-known Urdu writer, and you have said in the past that literature was a big part of your childhood. How has that culture of language and literature influenced your career as a writer? Although you write primarily in English, does Urdu shape your work in any way?
Annie Zaidi: Literature was a big part of my childhood, but not in the sense of literature with a capital L. My family had some literary background, and there were a lot of books around but there were no literary discussions and for many years, I did not have access to a good library. But books were seen as a good thing and we were bought books and comics from an early age. Books were my main source of entertainment and, later, my main solace. I read almost all the time and that turned me into somebody who didn’t know much except the world of words and stories. Turning to literature as a vocation was a very short step from there. READ MORE…
Read all posts in Mahmud Rahman’s investigation here.
In the early 20th century and into the first decades of independent India, there were a small number of translations into English. Across language boundaries, Indians read writers like Tagore, Sarat Chandra, and Premchand. Though the translations were often clunky, these books played a role in building a sense of India as a nation.
Initially there were a handful of publishers who published translations from a few Indian languages into English. Quality translations came from one or two individuals, such as the writer A.K. Ramanujan. Rita Kothari in her book Translating India includes this telling quote: “Prabhakar Machwe, secretary of the Sahitya Akademi in the seventies complained that, ‘even after 25 years, we have not been able to develop a team of ten good, competent translators of Indian languages into English.’”
Things began to turn by the late 1980s.
Read all posts in Mahmud Rahman’s investigation here.
An unfortunate reality is that there are not enough good translators working in South Asian languages. There are some in the subcontinent and elsewhere; but in the U.S.—presumably where it is most likely that translators might approach U.S.-based publishers—there are only a handful. If you look at the directories at ALTA, PEN, or Words Without Borders, these languages barely register. You will find a few working in Hindi, Urdu, and Bengali, but hardly any in Tamil, Malayalam, Punjabi, Telegu, Nepali, Sinhala, or other languages.
The emergence of translators here is also largely a matter of chance.
Interview with Radhika Menon, founder & managing editor of Tulika Books, India.
Sohini Basak: How did Tulika start out?
Radhika Menon: When we set up Tulika Publishers in 1996, we wanted to create Indian books that were as good as the best books anywhere. No, not “just as good as.” We want to give the children supremely good books and we wanted these books to be right in the Indian context. Our own generation had been fed books from the West, and had been taught to keep away from the more didactic, mass-produced Indian books. Good books, we assumed, came from elsewhere, usually from England!
We needed to reflect a contemporary Indian sensibility. But the contemporary Indian reality was vast, varied, and multilingual. It was clear to us that we would have to publish in as many of the Indian languages as possible.
Today we publish picture books in nine languages simultaneously—English, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali. We also do bilingual books—English paired with each of the other eight languages. Some of the books for older children are in English alone and they too reflect a contemporary “Indianness” in their perspective, and in their very feel and look. READ MORE…
“Umm. I’ve studied in English… but my mother tongue is Hindi, of course,” I said confidently to my Nigerian housemate, who had asked about my “first language” while I was struggling with my newly acquired culinary skills during breakfast.
In a heterogeneous environment, students collect crumbs of the languages around them, believing they are true connoisseurs of culture. I should have anticipated her next question: “So how do you say ‘Good Morning’ in your language?”
Shubh Prabhat. I had stored it somewhere in my preconscious memory. It’s one of those things that you know you know, but you can’t remember at the urgent moment. That’s forgivable when it’s an uncommon word. But this was “good morning”—probably one of the first phrases one learns while learning a new language. And this wasn’t a new language: it was supposed to be my “mother tongue.” READ MORE…