Books in translation overcome language barriers to open windows into other worlds and cultures. On World Translation Day, we bring you a very short (and by no means definitive) list of recent books by Indian authors in translation that are brilliant and deserve to be read.
One Part Woman ( Maadhorubaagan , 2010) by Perumal Murugan (translated from Tamil by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, Penguin 2013)
One Part Woman, the subject of much needless controversy, is based around an actual ancient custom that once existed in Tiruchengode, Tamil Nadu.
Kali and Ponna have been happily married for over a decade. Their only source of woe is their childlessness. Giving in to family and societal pressure, they opt for a rather unconventional though socially accepted solution. On the night of a chariot festival held in the temple of the deity Ardhanareeshwara, sexual intercourse between any consenting man and woman is permissible and the child born of the union considered a gift from the god. While their respective families are desperate enough to send Ponna to the festival, the decision could destroy their marriage.
The narrative, set in the 1940s, is marvellous in its exploration of human relations and in the recreation of the ethos of that period.
Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goa by Damodar Mauzo (translated from Konkani by Xavier Cota, Rupa Books, 2014)
In these 14 short stories, written over four decades, Sahitya Akademi award-winning writer Damodar Mauzo depicts the everyday life in Goan towns and villages. A farmer couple must decide whether to sell their beloved animals or die of hunger, a wife wishes her uptight husband would display physical affection more openly, the titular Teresa’s unemployed husband turns wife-beater, and so on. Mauzo depicts the trials and tribulations of his characters with remarkable empathy. The stories explore universal anxieties and emotions while offering a distinct flavour of life in the state.
Hangwoman ( Aarachar , 2012) by K R Meera (translated from Malayalam by J Devika, Penguin Books, 2014)
The last surviving hangman in Kolkata is 88 with no sons willing to take up the near-extinct family profession. When a rapist gets a death sentence, the task of execution falls to his 22-year-old daughter Chetna Grddha Mullick who suddenly finds herself to be centre of all media attention. KR Meera’s Sahitya Akademi award-winning novel is as much a reflection on and critique of capital punishment as it is the story of Chetna’s coming-of-age as she grows out of the shadows of an overbearing father and manipulative boyfriend.
A Life Misspent (published as Kulli Bhaat in 1939) by Suryakant Tripathi Nirala (translated from Hindi by Satti Khanna, HarperPerennial, 2016)
Hindi poet Suryakant Tripathi Nirala’s slim memoir is about his friendship with Kulli Bhaat, a Rae Bareli Brahmin ostracised for his ambivalent sexuality and efforts at social reform. The narrative focuses on the years that their paths cross in life as they go about their journeys. In just 104 pages, Nirala takes you back to India of the 1900s, where casteism was rampant and child marriage the norm. As he watches his friend struggle to bring about social change (Bhaat runs a school for untouchable children) and die in the endeavour, Nirala is scathingly critical of the political leaders of the era. “Our heroes compensate for their weaknesses with grand statements,” he says. Nirala’s conversational tone makes it an easy, one-sitting read.
Ghachar Ghochar (2013) by Vivek Shanbhag (translated from Kannada by Srinath Perur, HarperPerennial, 2016)
Vivek Shanbhag’s novella looks at the change in power dynamics that sudden acquisition of wealth leads to in a middle-class family. The nameless narrator of the story spends most of his time in a coffee shop to stay out of domestic squabbles yet he cannot stop obsessing about his family. He is jobless like his father, though he does hold a position in the family’s thriving spice business managed by his uncle, a somewhat dubious character. Things get difficult when his new bride does not get along with the rest of the clan.
The ruminating narrative gives the reader a sense of being trapped in the narrator’s unhappy life. The ending hints at several possibilities and ensures the story stays with you long after you’ve finished the book.