Litro’s newest collection of original writing launches at the Jaipur festival this Friday. Litro World Series: Translating India , which Litro is currently crowdfunding to support, draws from a pot of languages, stirred in with English. Translating India is Litro’s newest body of captivating stories from the subcontinent, shrugging off Salman Rushdie’s assertion that Indian writers in English are proving more interesting.* And sidestepping Amit Chaudhuri’s riposte as to whether this could possibly be true.**
Translating India is so language neutral as to include a photo story. LA-based celebrity photographer Dani Brubaker briefly turns her back on Leonardo Di Caprio, Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo and Ciara. Travelling to Jodhpur, India, she draws us intimately into lives there, for a shoot exclusive to Litro. Author and politician Shashi Tharoor introduces the issue, and will be bringing the work to the world’s largest literary festival in Jaipur this Friday 25 January, which also attracts the likes of Tom Stoppard and Bridget Jones author Helen Fielding. The issue’s tour then continues on to Kerala’s first Festival of Letters on 2, 3 and 4 February.
It’s a heady, welcome counterpoint to London’s frigid winter
Litro’s editor and publisher Eric Akoto says, “Translating India offers writing that began in English or was translated from Kannada, Malayalam, Bengali, Tamil or Hindi.
“Litro’s insouciant approach to language, in search of work that is simply great, is reflected in our publication of early Irvine Welsh, Benjamin Zephaniah and Kate Tempest, among many others including joint Man Booker international prize-winners Hang Kang and Deborah Smith.
“Translating India is drawn from a pot of languages unintelligible to one another, mixed in with the unifying second language of former colonialists, the influence of which seems unworthy, given it was a minority’s native language, who came and went in a few hundred years. That’s the blink of an eye in a literary history over 2,000 years old, whose Panchatantra fables, for example, inspired Aesop.
“Here, English has been appropriated in fresh new Indian ways, along with acting as the simple workaday instrument of translation, all of which presents a heady, welcome counterpoint to London’s frigid winter.”
In this issue, the mangoes, banyans, jasmine, heat and jostling envelop us, in a world far removed from northern detachment. Private anxieties and cruel exploitations are exposed in a country undergoing rapid change, where privacy is as coveted as it is challenged.
“Mangoes, banyans, jasmine, heat and jostling envelop us”
Anita Goveas presents us with language and cultural dilemmas in Fragments as a drunk Bollywood co-star confuses his English with, “Make sure that lipstick is kissproof.”
A cloying PR asks, “Oh, is that Hindi? It’s one of my languages but you speak so fast here. My Tamil is better.” “It’s Marathi. I said, I think you’ve got lipstick on your teeth.”
Where the starlet, “sees her chance and squeezes between a sunshine-yellow rickshaw and a man waving at his cow that’s decided to sit in the middle of the road… the traffic patiently waiting for the cow to make up its mind.”
And where, at the beach in Mumbai, she contemplates a crowd gathering around a dancing monkey, “It moves slowly and deliberately, in contrast to its bright red fez, gold waistcoat and the bangra music coming from a radio held by a tall, scrawny man.”
In Sabotage, Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay considers the impact of mafia-killings over valuable land, equally regretting the intrusion on domestic culture of her apartment complex’s modernity, “Even the smoke from an incense stick sets off the fire alarm in the lobby…”
She speaks to her temporary neighbor, from another part of India, in broken English, ruing also the intrusion of cameras watching her always in her own apartment, installed by her husband.
In Solapur, by Benyamin, a protagonist, lower caste couple, “had to wait for the bus under the tree on which bats were practising sleeping yoga.”
They have been told, “When I see the common people like you stepping into the new age, the dream of digital India seems not too far.” But the mobile phone proves to be a new sickening instrument of abuse by upper castes.
Ominously, KR Meera writes, in The Moles of the Angel, “Outside, the desolate day wrapped the transparent wedding gown of the rain – stained with Angela’s blood – around itself.”
Susmita Bhattacharya’s widow in The Taste of Onion on his Tongue has “nowhere to go…”
“…I wait by the window, and watch other people. Especially him. His window is opposite mine. Just a sliver of street separates both our worlds.”
Farzana in Manisha Kulshreshtha’s story, The Abode of Seasons Remain Vacant, is contemplating suicide… “The earlier distraught sky was calm and poised after the heavy downpour.
“Hi, Farzana!” Rita called out from the neighbouring balcony. “You are glowing today in this pink kurta. Any plans?”
Vivek Shanbhag’s Nirvana explores the problem of identity in a population of one billion, as two businessmen spend the evening together, believing wrongly that each is someone they know.
Paul Zacharia’s memoire Sinning in Mysore explains, “We understood no word of the Hindi lyrics but we needed to know nothing. We only needed to hear.”
And further on the subject of language, “I was just learning to speak English, though on the writing of it I had some claims. I slowly realised that literature was not only about reading yourself into an ecstasy, that it had a premeditated form, purpose and plan, that it was possible to create literature if you tried.”
With Litro, the word, originating in whatever language, might be expected to win out, as Perumal Murugan’s Byepass Road sends his character Kumaresan into a quandary about the morality of his earnings: “Should he drop it in a beggar’s bowl?… Should he send it to an orphanage?… It was best that he dropped it off in a temple hundi. But he did not quite believe in God. At least not that much. After thinking about it for a long time, he decided at last to use the money to buy a book that he had long wanted.”
There is of course no simple summary for the complex beauty of Indian stories, possibly best presented here in the final words of Manasi’s The Rite of Passage, “It’s humanly impossible to tie up all the loose ends, I told myself, and took unflappable comfort in the irrefutable justification of that argument. After all, we are only human!”
Translating India tour dates 2018
25th – 29th January, Jaipur Literature Festival
Independent Magazine Roundtable Friday 26 January, 11:15am – 12:15pm, Jaipur Book Mark
Independent magazines are pioneering enterprises founded on conviction. They reach out and venture where more established publishers do not and form a valuable component in promoting avant garde or marginalised writings. A session devoted to the value of these important ‘independent’ publications and the diversity of approaches they nurture, with Sam Cooney, Vivek Shanbhag, Sunandan Roy Chowdhury, Shireen Quadri, Eric Akoto, D P Agrawal, in conversation with Subhro Bandopadhyay
Litro World Series: India: The Power of Fiction Across Borders and of Translation Saturday 27 January, 1:40pm – 2:20pm, at Char Bagh
Tishani Doshi, Vivek Shanbagh, Shashi Tharoor and Suki Kim in conversation with Litro’s editor Eric Akoto
Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters 2nd – 4th February In Kerala, which brings together over 100 international and Indian writers, speakers and performers at the Kanakakkunnu Palace.
Thursday 22 to Sunday 25 March, London – The Litro Live! World Series: Translating India Festival
*In The Vintage Book of Indian Writing 1947- 1997, which Salman Rushdie edited with Elizabeth West in 1997, Rushdie made the now-notorious comment that “prose writing—both fiction and non-fiction—created in this period by Indian writers working in English is proving to be a more interesting body of work than most of what has been produced in the sixteen ‘official languages’ of India, and the so-called ‘vernacular’ languages, during the same time: and indeed, this new, and still burgeoning, ‘Indo-Anglian’ literature represents the most valuable contribution India has yet made to the world of books”.
**Rushdie’s comment raised a great many hackles at the time, and the controversy has not entirely abated two decades later. In a sharp riposte, Amit Chaudhuri, editing The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature (2001), asked a blunt question: “Can it be true that Indian writing, that endlessly rich, complex and problematic entity, is to be represented by a handful of writers who write in English, who live in England or America and whom one might have met at a party?”