Category Archives: Indian Translations

Read 10 of 2022. Adam by S. Hareesh. Translated from the Malayalam by Jayasree Kalathil

Adam by S. Hareesh

Title: Adam
Author: S. Hareesh
Translated from the Malayalam by Jayasree Kalathil
Publisher: Penguin Vintage
ISBN: 978-0670094608
Genre: Short Stories, Translation,
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

You just cannot predict what’s going to happen next in any of these stories, written by the very talented and imaginative S. Hareesh. Each story makes you question the world around you, sometimes quite minutely, and sometimes on a larger scale.

This was the first collection of short stories read this year, and I am so happy it started with this. S. Hareesh writes with abandon that is very hard to spot. His sentences are sparse but sometimes they extend to many, more so if there is a scene to be described. For instance in the title story, S. Hareesh takes liberty with the form by shifting narratives as he takes turn to describe the four children born of the same parent, and their eventual fate. The emotion in all of these stories is that of rawness, of masculinity that appears so strong on the surface, only to be eventually shattered.

S. Hareesh’s characters might come across as simple but they are constantly fighting with themselves or against the system. There is an internal war that rages, which is reflective in day-to-day living. Take for example, the story “Maoist” (on which the movie Jallikattu is based) – it is essentially about two bulls creating havoc in a small village but there is so much more to it. The class and caste politics play themselves out unknowingly, and is a constant pressure point till all hell breaks loose. The story then doesn’t just remain about the two animals but is so much more, given the metaphors and layers.

S. Hareesh builds his own worlds through his stories. We think we know the terrain, but he is constantly pushing the boundaries. Alone in that sense transforms itself to being a semi-supernatural story, where there are so many elements of fear and horror, that it could be set anywhere in the world. The appeal of universality is strong, and yet S. Hareesh reins himself in to talk of these stories in the milieu he knows best.

One cannot bracket S.Hareesh’s writing in one single genre. He constantly tries to offer more and more to readers with each story in this nine-story collection. The writing is simple, and so effective that you will not stop thinking about at least some stories when you are done with the collection. Jayasree’s translation is on point as it was in Moustache. You can hear the lilt of the source language (Malayalam) even though you are reading the text in English. Each and every word is needed and in place. There is nothing that seems wasted. Adam is a collection of short stories that is diverse, relatable to some extent, and very accessible to readers.

Read 5 of 2022. Legal Fiction by Chandan Pandey. Translated from the Hindi by Bharatbhooshan Tiwari.

Legal Fiction by Chandan Pandey

Title: Legal Fiction
Author: Chandan Pandey
Translated from the Hindi by Bharatbhooshan Tiwari
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9354227509
Genre: Translated Fiction, Literary Fiction Pages: 168
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Legal Fiction was one of the best reads for me last year. I reread it again this month because I was in conversation with Chandan and Bharatbhooshan and enjoyed every minute of it.

Legal Fiction is unlike anything I read and kept thinking about it a lot. The themes of disappearance of a Muslim man, love jihad – a term coined by the right wing of the country to bring to task Muslim men who love Hindu women, the struggle of people in a small town who are constantly under surveillance whether they like it or not (in one way or the other), the idea of democracy just being on paper, and ultimately that of rule of land being followed over rule of law.

Silences play a major role. Silences that force people to look within, to understand their spaces, look at the role of caste and religion that draw invisible boundaries, silences that reflect lack of agency of women, and how vocabulary defeats what we feel most of the time.

Legal Fiction put simply is about the disappearance of a man – a man who lives in a small town with his wife and is from a minority religion in Modi’s India. It is about the agency of an urban middle-class man, Arjun, who travels to Noma – the fictional village – to locate the man, Rafique. It is about what Arjun unearths in Noma, and what goes on behind closed doors, and sometimes right in the open, only because it can.

Chandan Pandey makes no bones about what he has to say. The writing is sparse, calls out the hypocrisy of the system, where things have gone wrong and continue to do so, and above all packs in a punch and more on almost every single page.

Bharatbhooshan’s translation reads like the original (I also read the book in Hindi). It is fast-paced, reads like a thriller but is so much more, mesmerizing, like a sort of fever dream, and above anything else a mirror for us to see ourselves in and understand what we have become vis-à-vis what we were.

Read 237 of 2021. The Women I Could Be by Sangita Jogi. English Text by Gita Wolf.

The Women I Could Be by Sangita Jogi

Title: The Women I Could Be
Author: Sangita Jogi
English Text by Gita Wolf
Publisher: Tara Books
ISBN: 9788193448533
Genre: Feminism
Pages: 68
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is hands down one of the best books I have read this year. It is intricate, empathetic, gives a world view in its own manner, feisty, feminist, and above all makes you check your privilege, and look at the world differently.

Sangita Jogi’s mother Tejubehan is an artist herself and has been working with Tara books since a while now. Sangita Jogi brings her own style to the fore. “My women are modern” she says, which is seen beautifully in this book.

The book is divided into sections – modern women, women I could be, roaming the world, appearing in public, good times, and the world has progressed.

Through each section, Sangita Jogi most uniquely tells us about her life, her dreams, her aspirations, how she had to get married early – tradition being what it is, and how she manages to still draw and paint and be her own person.

I love the part when she speaks of her daughter and how she will not be who her mother is. She wants better for her daughter, which she intends to give.

“The Women I Could Be” shows you a different India – of women who have the same dreams and ambitions – yet give in to circumstances and even then, dare to be who they want to. Jogi’s art is stunning, liberating, and makes you want to have it all. I was stumped looking at it and kept coming back to it again and again.

The text is sparse, honest, and hard-hitting. She admits to only wanting to draw modern women – they make her dream big and think even bigger. I guess that’s the power of imagination. Jogi’s women are feisty and fantabulous. Through her art we see how they only want to have fun and be themselves. Through her art, we get a glimpse of the person she is and one can do nothing but applaud her talent and what she stands for.

The Runaway Boy (Chandal Jibon Trilogy) by Manoranjan Byapari. Translated from the Bengali by V. Ramaswamy

The Runaway Boy by Manoranjan Byapari

Title: The Runaway Boy
Author: Manoranjan Byapari
Translated from the Bengali by V. Ramaswamy
Publisher: Eka
ISBN: 978-9389648850
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations Pages: 370
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

The Runaway Boy by Manoranjan Byapari is the first volume of a trilogy, titled, Chandal Jibon. A story of a boy told in three volumes as he makes his way through life.

Little Jibon’s story begins in a refugee camp in West Bengal, as his Dalit parents flee East Pakistan in search of a better life (during the partition of India and East Pakistan), and well because circumstances make them. They do not get treated well in the camp. The harsh reality of it all hits them hard.

In all of this as Jibon grows, he only has one dream: To flee this life of misery and strife. The idea that Byapari’s character’s name when translated is life says a lot which doesn’t need to be elucidated on. So, once he turns thirteen, Jibon runs away to Calcutta in search of a better tomorrow. The elusive better tomorrow that most people who aren’t born with a silver spoon in their mouth are constantly aspiring for. All he wants is to work hard and bring back food for his siblings and his mother.

And then there is caste that plays such a big role in the book – the only one I guess when everything is determined by the caste of Jibon – the political that mingles with the personal, the inequalities that exist, the distribution of wealth and property that is absolutely unfair, and more than anything, the book holds a mirror to our society and the world we live in through Byapari’s unapologetic and razor-sharp writing.

The Runaway Boy is a semi-autobiographical book but somehow it doesn’t read like that, or maybe I didn’t bring that to fore while reading it. There is so much the book has to offer – a coming of age story, historical fiction, and in all of this, a story of a person’s life. It is extremely introspective, and yet provides such a holistic view of the world we inhabit. A must-read!

The Windows in our House are Little Doors by Vinod Kumar Shukla. Translated from the Hindi by Satti Khanna.

The Windows in our House are Little Doors by Vinod Kumar Shukla

Title: The Windows in our House are Little Doors
Author: Vinod Kumar Shukla
Translated from the Hindi by Satti Khanna
Publisher: Harper Perennial India 
ISBN: 978-9353574819
Genre: Literary Fiction, Translations 
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

It isn’t just magic realism that makes this book what it is. There is magic, yes. There is a lot of it, some which is mostly unseen or even unread on the pages. There is adventure, and a sense of listlessness as well. Vinod Kumar Shukla captures it all on the page. It seems as though his childhood years are encompassed in this book.

“The Windows in our House are Little Doors” is an English translation of Yasi, Rasa, and Ta from the Hindi by Satti Khanna. Vinod Kumar Shukla’s story takes place in an unnamed city, could even be an unnamed small town, a village even, or just somewhere in your vicinity. The time isn’t mentioned either. There is fluidity to it all. Yasi and Rasa are siblings. Their parents are Niya and Vendra. Ta is their cousin. Their uncle Bhoona loves to sleep and doesn’t want to do anything else. Ta is Bhoona’s daughter. But all of this doesn’t matter. Nothing matters since there is no plot as such to the book, but you continue reading it. The writing pulls you in. it intrigues and teases and doesn’t let go.

Vinod Kumar Shukla’s world is unique in that sense. Bicycles understand that they have been stolen and return to their owner. A single melon starts growing on its own, and adds to the weight of the cart, till slices are cut and sold. Houses make way for people. There is no concept of home, and yet there is. Home is at the heart of this book, told through twenty-six storeys (as it is said). Everything makes sense, and nothing does.

“Time bakes the present into the past. Sometimes, much later, shards show up in digs, buried under mounds of dirt. The shards are fragments of time. The ambulant present moves on; history keeps hiding behind it.”

See what he’s done here? I mean the writing is about time and yet he separates all of it – the past, the present, and the future, and again somehow gathers them together. The writing then isn’t just metaphorical. It takes on the shape of something else.

Shukla’s writing makes you believe like you are in a dream. Anything and everything are made possible. Sandals have a mind of their own and get lost. People get lost and are found in an instant. Bicycles smile and remind people to buy towels. Yes, anything happens. There is a jalebi store that is never shut, and the fire is always burning under the jalebi pan. I mean, I just gave in to what Vinod Kumar Shukla had to offer. I entered the world created by him and was happy being there.

The translation by Satti Khanna is magnificent. I say this with confidence, since at some points, I had the Hindi edition also in front of me and read from it a little to contrast and compare. Every sentence has been dealt with kindness and care, and perhaps that’s why the essence remains.

Worlds collide in Shukla’s writing. Day and night cannot be differentiated from. He writes, “A person wishes to become a tourist in the place he has lived for decades” and you relate hard and strong because you also have looked at your city that way. When he says, “We make our homes into prisons. Let us live in a house as if we could pack up and leave for another habitation any time” you nod your head with great affirmation because you have thought about it as well.

“The Windows in our House are Little Doors” has to be experienced and felt. It cannot just be read. But read it going blindfold. Do not read the synopsis. It is nothing after all. You won’t know till you read it.