South Asian Literature in Translation

Feb/21/2022 / by Pratika Yashaswi
Image credits: Shutterstock

In honor of International Mother Language Day, here are five works that best exemplify the power of translation, from their native South Asian languages to a more accessible medium.

Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu by Dhumketu; translated from Gujarati into English by Jenny Bhatt

By a prolific author and translator of Rabindranath Tagore and Kahlil Gibran, “Ratno Dholi” is a timeless collection of short stories that heretofore lay buried in the dwindling population of readers who read in Gujarati language and appreciate the form. Dhumketu, whose birth name is Gaurishankar Govardhanram Joshi, is often referred to as a Chekhov or Tagore of Gujarat for his “…fine sensitivity, deep humanism, perceptive observation and an intimate knowledge of both rural and urban life.”

His translator, author Jenny Bhatt was previously featured on SEEMA.

The Autobiography of a Goddess by Andal; translated from Tamil into English by Priya Sarukkai Chabria and Ravi Shankar

Andal, also known as Kothai, Nachiyar and Godadevi, is the only female Alvar among the 12 Alvar saints of South India, who practice the Srivaishnava tradition of Hinduism. She is believed to be the human incarnation of Goddess Bhudevi. A poet and saint who is believed to have lived in the eighth century, whose works are beloved by generations of Tamil readers and further, who is venerated and worshiped as the consort of Vishnu! The Autobiography of a Goddess  contains all her work, composed before she, as a young teenager, according to legend, merged with the idol of her chosen god. This collection won its translators the Muse India Translation Prize (2018).

River of Fire by Qurratulain Hyder, self-translated from Urdu into English

Though originally published in 1959 and translated into English in 1998, the book’s enduring popularity in the subcontinent led its English translation to receive a new lease of life in 2019 with its reprint. Set across four epochs in Indian history from the kingdom of Chandragupta Maurya to the country’s split into two nations, Hyder traces the fates of four souls through time: Gautam, Champa, Kamal, and Cyril. A breathtaking piece of work, of which Pakistani critic and short story writer Aamer Hussain said: “…Eliot and Virginia Woolf meet Faiz Ahmed Faiz.” One can’t help but admire the writer.

River of my Blood by Selina Hossain, translated from Bengali into English by Jackie Kabir

The main character of “River of my Blood” is a tragic heroine if there ever was one. Through the novel, she is married to an older relative, bears the stigma of being infertile and then gives birth to a deaf and dumb boy. Later, she is widowed and faces the brutality of the Pakistan army as her East Pakistan village of Haldi is torn up by Muktijuddho, the nine month blood-drenched war of independence from which Bangladesh emerged as a sovereign state in 1971. Writer Selina Hossain is a national-award winning Bangladeshi novelist, born just months before the subcontinent’s hard-won freedom from the British in 1947. She is now the president of the Bangla Academy.

Night by Sulochana Manandar, translated from Nepali into English by Muna Gurung

Knowledge was born from night’s womb,

And from the same womb was light born

Sulochana Manandar’s poems in Night is a book you are eager to meet when the day has ended. Her words illuminate with the intimacy of a scented candle, evoking night as an allegorical device with which she defines the experience of women and their womanhood.

Muna Gurung has translated many beloved Nepali children’s books into English. If you would like to learn more about Nepali literature, read her column in the Nepali times where she interviews women and queer writers in the Nepali literary scene.


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