Success stories from Indian translations

The Zubaan-Prabha Khaitan Foundation Translation Series update

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(L-R) Anindita Chatterjee executive trustee of the Prabha Khaitan Foundation; Arshia Sattar, writer, translator, founder and co-director, Sangam House; Manisha Chaudhry, publishing professional, translator, and project head of the Zubaan-Prabha Khaitan Foundation Translation Series; Urvashi Butalia, founder and director, Zubaan; and Rita Kothari, writer, translator, and co-director, Ashoka Centre for Translation with published translations from the Zubaan-Prabha Khaitan Foundation Translation Series. Photo IPP

One interesting part of the Zubaan and Prabha Khaitan Foundation panel discussion on translation at Delhi’s India International Centre on 15 July was the success stories facilitated by the foundation’s Translation Series.

Manisha Chaudhry, publishing professional, translator and project head of the Zubaan-Prabha Khaitan Foundation Translation Series, said the response to the initiative till now has been gratifying as she shared several success stories that made a positive impact on the translation ecosystem.

For example, Tamil publisher Panmuga Medai translated the entire Northeast list of Zubaan into Tamil and published 500 copies of each of the books. The translations are selling well and generated buzz among scholars in Tamil Nadu, she said.

Insight Publica chose one of Zubaan’s young adult titles, Younguncle Comes to Town, a children’s storybook by Vandana Singh, and translated it into Malayalam. 80% of the first print run has already been sold.

Kavi Prakashana, a small independent Kannada publisher, has taken We Also Made History – Women in the Ambedkarite Movement by Urmila Pawar and Meenakshi Moon for translation. More than 300 copies were sold after the book release event, which was widely covered in the Kannada press.

The Zubaan Translation series

The Zubaan-Prabha Khaitan Foundation Translation Series is a collaboration between Zubaan, the Delhi-headquartered feminist publishing house, and the Kolkata-based Prabha Khaitan Foundation. As Indian Printer & Publisher has previously reported, 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.

The joint collaboration is focused on empowering the lives of women and bolstering the growth of several small publishing houses across the country,” said Anindita Chatterjee executive trustee of the Prabha Khaitan Foundation at the panel discussion.

The initiative was launched in 2021 and has seen the publication of 35 books in 10 Indian languages. In the first round, Zubaan’s feminist writings were translated into eight Indian languages – Marathi, Malayalam, Telugu, Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Bangla, and Punjabi while in the second round, Oriya and Konkani languages were added to the list.

The Translation Series rests on twin pillars. First, it hopes to positively impact the ecosystem of translations and second, the women authors and feminist writings from Zubaan go into different Indian languages and find new readers, said Manisha Chaudhry, publishing professional, translator, and project head of the Zubaan-Prabha Khaitan Foundation Translation Series.

The collaboration has worked with several small independent publishers such as Rethink Foundation (Punjabi), Kavi Prakashana (Kannada) as well as large publishers such as Pune-based Mehta Publishing House (Marathi), DC Books (Malayalam).

Robust translation market

Urvashi Butalia, founder and director of Zubaan Books, said, “English publishing and English writing so dominate the market that it came as a surprise to us to see the amazing, vibrant ecosystem of language publishing all around the country. Not just big publishers such as Mehta Publishing House, DC Books, Rajkamal Prakashan, Vani Prakashan, and others, but even small independent publishers because they passionately believe in the subject, dedicating their lives to publishing while doing a job on the side to support themselves.

The Zubaan-Prabha Khaitan Foundation Translation Series showed us how when you have a book in a different language, the kind of journeys it makes can be very different. We Also Made History – Women in the Ambedkarite Movement was originally in Marathi, and Zubaan published it in English. We received interest in this book from Kannada, Telugu, and Tamil. We had questions like ‘should you be translating from a translation?’ But then we thought if people are interested in the book, this is one way to get it.

And this book took off. The Telugu publisher who had done 500 copies of the book said her edition was doing quite well. She had been approached by an Ambedkarite group who wanted the book for their members – some 3,000 copies.”

It would have never happened had the book not been published in Telugu and had we agreed to the argument that a book should be translated only from the source language, Butalia said.

Stories like these give us an impetus to keep engaging with different languages and different publishing houses,” concluded Chaudhry.

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