The Zubaan-Prabha Khaitan Foundation Translation Series update

Speaking for unrepresented states, and for smaller languages

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(L-R) Saraswati D, Kannada translator and activist from Bengaluru, Urvashi Butalia, co-founder and director of Zubaan Books, and Manisha Chaudhry, publishing professional, translator and project head of the Zubaan-Prabha Khaitan Foundation Translation Series at the Delhi launch of the translation initiative in May 2022. Photo IPP

The Zubaan-Prabha Khaitan Foundation Translation Series project is going strong and how. A collaboration between Zubaan, the Delhi-headquartered feminist publishing house that is completing 20 years in the next year, and the Kolkata-based Prabha Khaitan Foundation – the translation project aims to unlock rich content into several Indian languages simultaneously. As part of the project, financial support is given to the publishers of Indian language books for translating Zubaan’s feminist titles.

In its first round, 18 translations are being published in seven Indian languages – Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Bangla, Malayalam, and Marathi. Eight titles have been released in the current while the other ten are in process in the coming months.

Manisha Chaudhry, a publishing professional, feminist translator, and project head, says, “The program is working well for many reasons – we have committed publishers who want to do these books. We are fortunate to have some of our writers available for consultations. The translators are working hard to give their best and willing to do more than one draft. We are acting as a facilitator. It is a matter of satisfaction that the physical copies of around eight books are ready.”

“The program is working well broadly. What is very encouraging for us is the interest of small and large publishers, especially the dedication of some of the smaller publishers to get this kind of content out,” says Urvashi Butalia, co-founder and director of Zubaan Books.

Success stories from the first ZPKF translation series 

Chaudhry shares a few success stories from the first year of the translation project, “The Zubaan Translation Series continues to generate interest. People from Karnataka are particularly happy because we have many small Kannada publishers approaching us. One of the books done in the first series  – We Also Made History – Women in the Ambedkarite Movement, that was taken up by Kavi Prakashana – is doing extremely well.”

Chaudhry has praise for publisher H S Anupama and the translator D Saraswathi, the two women who worked on the book. “They made a spectacular effort. They had an offbeat launch at Bengaluru where Ramabai Ambedkar Teltumbde, one of Ambedkar’s relatives, released the Kannada version translated by Saraswathi. The event was attended by 350 people including students and young activists, an unusually large number for a Sunday morning.”

Six youngsters read the book and reflected on the content on the stage. Three hundred copies have been sold till now – a very respectable number for a deeply reflective book of this nature. The local language newspapers such as Prajavani gave a fair amount of coverage to the book and the event, she says.

“It’s quite commendable how committed Dalit feminists and others are taking these interesting books to such a wide range of readers, who are ready for it. It almost seems like a market waiting to be tapped – it has given us reason to cheer and to hope,” Chaudhry says.

Butalia expects the same kind of passionate commitment and energy from other equally dedicated publishers such as the Hyderabad Book Trust, and smaller publishers in Kerala doing children’s books.

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Devyani Bhardwaj with the Hindi translation of Zubaan’s Dear Mrs Naidu published by Unbound Script. Photo IPP

The Hindi translation of Zubaan’s young adult book Dear Mrs Naidu, translated by Devyani Bhardwaj and published by Alind Maheshwari’s publishing house Unbound Script, is also doing well. “It is nice to see that across the entire spectrum of books, the translations are finding traction,” feels Chaudhry.

The Marathi translation of The Sharp Knife of Memory, a Telugu work, is out while work is in progress on the Malayalam version. “The family is pleased that it’s being translated into different languages,” Chaudhry adds.

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The Marathi translation of The Sharp Knife of Memory. Photo Zubaan Books

Butalia explains, “It’s an autobiography of a woman called Koteswaramma, one of the key women in an important people’s movement in the Telangana region in the early 1940s…She was quite open about the patriarchal mindset within this revolutionary struggle and the kind of treatment she received from her husband, who is like a hero in that place.”

The second series of translations is already underway

As the first series of translated titles are released the second round of the project is already under way in parallel. Thus far, eleven titles have been lined up for the second round of the translation series in seven languages – Bangla, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Gujarati, Konkani, and Malayalam.

Unclaimed Harvest: Women in the Tebhaga Movement by Kavita Panjabi, is being translated into Bangla and published by Eklavya Prakashan. Three books from the NorthEast – The Many that I Am edited by Anungla Zoe Longkumer, Crafting the Word edited by Thingnam Anjulika Samom, and The Inheritance of Words edited by Mamang Dai – are all being translated into Tamil by the publisher Panmuga Medai. Another book from the seven Northeast sister states, The Power to Forgive and Other Stories by Avinuo Kire, is being translated and published in Konkani by Under the Peepal Tree, an imprint of Publishing Next.

Also in the second series of translation, Rewriting History: The Life and Times of Pandita Ramabai by Uma Chakravarti is going into Hindi with Navarun Publications; Picture This by Radhaben Garwa is being done in Gujarati by Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan; Speaking Peace: Women’s Voices From Kashmir, edited by Urvashi Butalia, is being translated into Malayalam and published by Mythri Books.

Three books will be translated into Kannada including Memories of a Rolling Stone by Vina Mazumdar taken up by publisher Kriya Madhyama; Do You Remember Kunan Poshpora? by Essar, Natasha, Ifrah, Munaza, and Samreena will be published by Ruthumana; and When the River Sleeps by Easterine Kire has been taken up for publication by Vaishnavi Prakashana.

“The Kannada, Bengali, and Hindi publishers have chosen some big books. The Hindi publisher Navarun has chosen Rewriting History: The Life and Times of Pandita Ramabai by Uma Chakravarti – a big, important book that will take a while to translate. It’s a small publisher but one that is very committed to doing a good job,” says Chaudhry.

Reaching out to smaller languages

The translation project has evinced interest from a Konkani publisher – Leonard Fernandes of Publishing Next. “On a relative scale, Konkani is a ‘smaller’ language, but at the same time, it is hard work. Konkani in the written form uses very pure language. Many readers don’t read Konkani books simply because spoken and written Konkani are very different. They find it difficult to read long books in Konkani. The publisher spoke to the translator who agreed to a translation in much simpler Konkani, closer to the spoken word. Fernandes has persuaded the translator and for a book from the Northeast (The Power to Forgive and other stories by Avinuo Kire),” explains Chaudhry.

“I am happy because to have somebody venture into new areas and languages. You’re going into uncharted territory, you don’t know if it will sell well. It’s a kind of experiment both for the publisher and the translator. I am glad that Konkani is also benefiting from the translation program, this was a part of our mandate,” she adds.

The Northeast is of special interest

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Three books from the NorthEast – The Many that I Am edited by Anungla Zoe Longkumer, Crafting the Word edited by Thingnam Anjulika Samom, and The Inheritance of Words edited by Mamang Dai – are all being translated into Tamil by the publisher Panmuga Medai. Photo Zubaan Books

Zubaan does a collection of writings by women from each state – they have published titles from Nagaland, Manipur, and Arunachal, and others are in the offing. Chaudhry says, “The Tamil publisher Panmuga Medai is really on a roll – he wants to do an entire series on the Northeast. He started with Bitter Wormwood by Easterine Kire and now he’s doing three more titles –  The Inheritance of Words: Writings from Arunachal Pradesh edited by Mamang Dai and The Many that I Am: Writings from Nagaland edited by Anungla Zoe Longkumer, and Crafting the Word: Writings from Manipur edited by Thingnam Anjulika Samom.”

Zubaan was initially a bit wary of giving several titles to a single publisher, who is relying on a single translator. “Then he totally convinced us, saying how often do you get a publisher from Tamil Nadu who would want to do an entire series on the Northeast? There was definitely some merit in what he was saying. He is working hard on it – two books are in the final stages, and only one remains. The speed with which he’s operating is quite spectacular.”

Speaking along similar lines, Butalia says, “Initially, we were curious because these books are not huge sellers. They are literary books for curious, dedicated, and interested readers. This publisher said he was interested in building up a list that actually talks about or tries to encompass the diversity of India. He was interested in starting from a region that is often not really noticed in the mainstream.”

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The Tamil translation of The Many that I Am: Writings from Nagaland edited by Anungla Zoe Longkumer. Photo Zubaan Books

Talking about the interest in writing from the Northeast, Butalia says, “Single authors such as Easterine Kire, Temsüla Ao are well-known names and are prescribed at different universities. If you have them in the local languages, that helps people who can’t access English to read their work.”

“There is an interest among publishers in finding writing from the Northeast but it’s not always easy. Zubaan has put together these collections from various states – a sort of introduction to writings from the Northeast, especially women’s writing, which gives it a certain flavor. The Northeast has been such an important focus for Zubaan. These collections give publishers a great entry point into writing from the Northeast,” Chaudhry says.

Sparking interest in children’s publishing

Multilingual publishing for children and young adults is an unexplored space in the Indian publishing industry. With Chaudhry’s expertise in multilingual children’s books, it is a space that is ready for more content that may come through a variety of means.

Butalia shares, “So far, only two young adults’ books have been picked up. But we might try to take this further with the entire list for children and young adults, which is a whole different ball game altogether in terms of translation. Some kids’ books don’t really need a big translation grant but they need a publication subsidy to translate and publish. We might come up with an adjunct to this plan which allows us to do a bit of that.”

Catalyzing new conversations

Butalia and Chaudhry are working on expanding the translation series. “We want to include more books. We want to try to reach the languages we have not managed to reach so far – Oriya, Assamese, Urdu, and some others. We wanted to do workshops with translators and on translation. We don’t know if we will be able to do that with the kind of funds we have, but we would like to give it a go. We’ll be discussing this with our partners.”

A number of other translation initiatives have recently come up in India, such as the ones by The Tamil Nadu Textbook and Educational Services Corporation and Ashoka University. The Tamil Nadu Textbook and Educational Services Corporation, a Tamil Nadu government body, has put in place a translation program for Tamil books into three South Indian languages and English. It buys the translated books from publishers to subsidize publication. However, there’s no translation grant, the publisher pays the translator, with an assured buyback of a certain number of books which helps to defray the costs. The corporation assists with promotion while honoring the translators by inviting them to book events and book fairs.

The Ashoka Centre for Translation has been set up at Ashoka University. “We need to catalyze other such initiatives, which could be more regional across the country. We were the early movers in this space – it is good on Urvashi’s and the Prabha Khaitan Foundation’s part to have seen the logic behind the initiative,” pitches in Chaudhry.

“We are already connected with them, but we would like to see if we can join forces and work together on some things, maybe even the workshops. One aspect is to expand this particular project and the other is to spread out to make connections with other projects. We continue to be excited and hope the translation series will grow in many directions. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and see if that happens,” concludes Butalia.

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