• the-south-asian.com                                               APRIL  2002




APRIL 2002 Contents



 A Journey through Bhutan

 'Baikunth' - the mountain
 resort overlooking Kasauli in 
 Himachal Pradesh


 At Home in the world

 Visual Arts

 Jatin Das - 4 decades of 

 Studio Potters


 Zakir Hussain - Compelling


 Hakim Ajmal Khan's ancestral
 Sharif Manzil & Hindustani


 Eco-friendly Tyre furniture 

 Business & Economy

 Textiles of Pakistan

  Performing Arts

 'Fakir of Benares' -1922 French
 Opera revived in Delhi


 Revathy Menon's 'Mitr - my


 The Power of Vastu Living

 'Knock at Every Alien Door'
- Serialization of an
 unpublished novel by
 Joseph Harris - Chapter 4


 Naveen Jindal


the craft shop

 the print gallery


 Silk Road on Wheels

The Road to Freedom

Enduring Spirit

Parsis-Zoroastrians of

The Moonlight Garden

Contemporary Art in Bangladesh



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'At Home in the World'

- A Homecoming for Language Writers


Sanjeeb Mukherjee

An innovative new book - 'At Home in the World' juxtaposes vernacular Indian literary works with their translations. A collection of highly acclaimed works, it attempts to remedy the growing divergence between English and vernacular writing. 


 book-1.jpg (83040 bytes) Books.jpg (62646 bytes)


Over the past few years there has been a growing schism between vernacular writers and contemporary Indian authors who write in in English. The differences came to a head at the recent literary festival hosted by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations (ICCR) where Nobel laureate Sir V.S.Naipaul derided bhasha writers by telling them that if they could not get readers in their local language, then nobody could help them.

Naipaul squarely placed the blame for the inadequate market for vernacular books on the writers themselves, absolving English writers of all responsibility of eating into the popularity of language writers. Thus no one was surprised that the elitist English authors and their ‘country cousins’ battled it out with words at Neemrana, the venue of the meeting.

The split between the two has become even more stark in the face of the big money and accolades that the English writers have received in comparison to the near invisibility of regional writers, giving rise to the big question mark over the utility, role and future of language writing in the country.

But despite charges and countercharges, regional writing is alive and kicking in India. Vernacular writers may not enjoy the big money cheques and celebrity status of Indian authors in English but bhasha writers have maintained an identity of their own.

To close the gulf, the ICCR in association with publishing house, Full Circle have brought out a book At Home In The World, which incidentally was also the title of the literary festival. This is a collection of short stories, poems and extracts from famous works of both language and English writers. A multi-lingual text, it resonates India’s multiple voices and the spirit of pluralism and diversity that exists in the Indian culture.

Juxtaposing, original writings with their translations on the facing page the book is designed to expose the reader to the some of the best vernacular writings through their translations.

A collection of highly acclaimed works by eminent contemporary writers like Krishna Sobti, Paul Zacharia, Ramakanth Rath, Mahasweta Devi, Sunil Gangopadhya, Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Vijay Tendulkar, U.R. Ananthamurty, M.T. Vasudevan Nair, Gurdial Singh and Nirmal Verma, the book showcases a virtual who’s-who of the present vernacular literature.

Balancing Act

Space has also been created for eminent English writers like Vikram Seth, Arundhati Roy and Keki.N. Daruwalla and translation of their works from English into Hindi, doing the balancing act between language and English writers.

Among the classics included in the book is U.R. Ananthamurthy’s Samskara, the furtive spiritual journey of a flawed priest. Mahasweta Devi, who ironically was not even invited to the six-day literary festival, has a prominent position in the book with her most well-known and acclaimed work, Body, the story of a poor, illiterate tribal girl and her exploitation by the State. When it was first published the story elevated Mahasweta Devi to the status of one of the best and most admired among contemporary vernacular Indian writers.

The other extracts include, Vijay Tendulkar’s controversial, albeit extensively staged play Ghansiram Kotwal showcasing the oppression and cruelty of rulers in pre-independence era. Staged both in its original and translated versions Ghasiram Kotwal till date is deemed as one of the most successful plays of all-times.

Kiran Nagarkar’s Cuckold turns over Mira’s legend and examines history from the viewpoint of the neglected husband. Such playful irreverence for tradition is continued in the contemporary Bengali writer Sunil Gangopadhya’s juicy gossip about Rabindranath Tagore’s infatuation for his sister-in-law Kadambari Devi and Bhalchandra Nemade’s comparison of Purusha and Prakriti to a huge generator.

Impact of the variable images evoked by poets, K. Satchidanandan, Keki Daruwala, Dilip Chitre, Nirmalprabha Bordoloi and Nabaneeta Dev Sen, Malashri Lal, Namita Gokhale, Wera Hildebrand and Neeta Gupta, too have been captured in the book. Though translations of these great works may not be able to recreate the essence of the writing in its original lingua franca, it does open up the vistas of eminent language writing.

By blending the two class of writers and their writings, the book is an attempt to remedy this growing divergence by bringing about greater equity through this unique unification in presentation. Unlocking this window to modern Indian literature, the book prides itself in its compositive-ness and the variety of languages and thoughts that are included in it.

Multilingualism also brings current works like Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize winning The God Of Small Things, and Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy---though as small extracts---to the door step of vernacular readers in their Hindi avatar.

Readership Share

Though some like Roy’s Paradise Pickles & Preserves are verbatim, by and large translators have done a decent job and manage to convey the essence of the original piece. Most significantly, with these translations, a door has been opened into the hitherto risky territory of vernacular works in English to increase the readership share of language writers.

But then, translations are translations and can never bring out the true spirit of the writing, be it poem, prose or a short story. The deep sensibility of the word ‘Ammi’ in Urdu can never be felt when translated into English as ‘Mother’. This is particularly true in poetry, where translations don’t often match the deep inner meaning that the poet wishes to convey.

Language writers in India have found it difficult to accept the lack of sentiment in the translated works of the pain and poverty that characterised their writing.

Another glass ceiling that stays shattered with this book is the changing representation of the subjects. Writers like Nabaneeta Dev Sen are falsifying the myths of yore. Her poem Winter-1971 is a satirical contrast between Oxfam blankets for the poor and the obsessive display of food, clothes and jewellery of the wealthy society.

Even contemporary women writers have moved away from eulogizing womanhood and glorifying the pains and trauma of their gender. They now articulate the challenges that modern women face, unafraid of raising issues, hitherto considered taboo in small towns from where language writers originate. These are definitely positive signs of this coming of age of language writing in the country.

The joy and poignancy of a dialect and the grammar of a region are generally missed in the translated medium. But happily that is not the case in At Home in the World. This book is an effort in the right direction. A proof that if language can divide it can also unify the plurality and diversity of society. Efforts like these are essential for the very survival of the language writing in this country.





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