“Translations unite us, preserve ancient literature and are a part of our life”

Dr K Sreenivasarao, Secretary, Sahitya Akademi

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Sahitya Akademi, India’s National Academy of Letters, is the central institution for literary dialogue, publication and promotion in the country and the only institution that undertakes literary activities in 24 Indian languages, including English.

AABP: What is the current scenario in the Indian-language publishing market and what are the prevailing trends?

KS: If we talk about Indian literature in general, it is again on a rising curve. We are regaining in the last four to five years and also getting good exposure. Indian literature is flourishing. Of all the genres, fiction is always a hit and key players are always English publishers. But when we talk about Indian literature, we have great works in local languages and very fine writers, who are nowhere less than any bestselling authors on the national or international front.

However, regional writers are not getting exposure because of lack of good translations and translators. India is very vast country; so private players should also come forward for translations. Mostly, regional literature is available in Hindi and English; it should also be translated into foreign languages, so that it can reach international platforms. Dalit writing and women’s writing are getting very focused now and are the latest movement in Indian literature.

AABP: How is Sahitya Akademi promoting Indian languages?

KS: Sahitya Akademi promotes Indian writings in all the 24 Indian languages recognized by it. It: Confers awards in 5 different categories and Fellowships, which is the Akademi’s highest honour; Annually organizes more than 600 literary programmes in all the languages and regions of the country including translation workshops; Issues travel grants to young writers; Publishes more than 500 titles in all the languages every year; and Promotes Indian literature in the country and abroad through its several projects and schemes.

AABP: What are the challenges in translations?

KS: As we have a scarcity of translators, good translations are not coming. For example, there is not a single translator from Marathi to Manipuri or from Manipuri to Malayalam. Within India we are facing this. Forget about international languages, even our own languages are not getting exposure. And the sad thing is that because of this great works of literature are getting lost. We have only one translator in India from Malayalam to Nepali. In such a situation, how much work can we do? Besides, sometimes in English translations, we lose the Indian essence. So scarcity of good translators is the main problem.

AABP: Is it a profitable venture?

KS: Marketing literature is not easy. We are not getting any kind of encouragement. English and Hindi are two languages which are selling really well. Other popular languages are Tamil, Malayalam and Bengali. But at the same time in other languages like Dogri, Kashmiri, Punjabi and Konkani we have very low sales, even though good literature is being published in these languages. Maybe readership is not there in these languages. At Sahitya Akademi, we cannot restrict ourselves to the popular languages; we are giving same treatment to all the 24 languages.

AABP: Tell us about the journey of Sahitya Akademi’s journal Indian Literature: its evolution, readership and content.

KS: Indian Literature, Sahitya Akademi’s bimonthly journal, is India’s oldest and the only journal of its kind featuring translations of poetry, fiction, drama and criticism from twenty-three Indian languages to English, besides original writing in English. It has been coming out for 60 years now and it has gained immense readership. It has been going to all major universities and even individual readership is there. We have given lot of focus on young writings; we have brought out special issues in Bengali and Assamese, besides Telugu and Marathi. In addition, we are giving importance to tribal and oral literature. So such special issues will also come.
We are getting material from all over, and recently I got to know that we have almost two to three years’ publishing material with us. That itself is a kind of testimony to how it has gained popularity amongst litterateurs.
We strive to feature some of the best literature and writers in our journal, old as well as new. There is hardly any significant Indian author who has not been featured in the pages of this journal that has completed 60 years of service to the cause of Indian literature.

Our journal offers a feast of literature with unique sections, such as ‘Heritage’ and ‘Classics’. Our other special features include novel excerpts, travelogues, autobiographical writings, book reviews, author interviews and tributes to writers. Indian Literature is also highly valued as a source of reference in India and abroad and is an essential for libraries and for discriminating readers, researchers, and students of creative and critical literature.

AABP: What are the future projects and schemes Sahitya Akademi is focusing on?

KS: We need to encourage youth because they are the future. We have some new kinds of schemes for youth, under which if any young first-time writer is unable to print his or her book, Sahitya Akademi will do it for them. Poetry, short stories, fiction, we will publish their work and also take care of marketing. We also give travel grants of Rs 15,000 each to five writers in each language, which means more than 100 writers can avail this. A Marathi writer can go to some other place like Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh or Assam to acquaint himself/herself with what kind of writing is happening in other parts of India. It also makes them aware of other cultures. In addition to that, we have different platforms for them like Mulakat and Yuva Sahiti.
We also confer Yuva Puraskar on young writers. It’s very interesting to know that the young awardees are very mature writers. Recently, in Santhali (a very new tribal language), an awardee saw his own poetry in the Class 12 syllabus, which means his writing is of that calibre. They are not compromising on quality, that is one positive signal.

We never sell our rights, but we are trying to get Indian literature translated into foreign languages and the project is lying with Government of India. Once it is approved, Indian literature will get acclaim on the international platform. We are looking at translations, particularly in six UNESCO-recognized languages—Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

AABP: How can we promote reading habit in children?

KS: It’s strange but true that youth is the biggest boon as well as bane of Indian literature. So we have to encourage children from school level to read books and appreciate Indian literature. Schools only have library period, which is not enough. Unless we start reading good literature from childhood, we cannot appreciate words in future also.

Besides, we started a programme series called GRAMALOK on October 2, 2017, in which we have started holding reading sessions in villages and as per the interest level and requirement, we provide them literature. We have around 6 lakh villages in India and we want to reach to each and every village, as they are important to mainstream literature.

We have to target youth and bring them back to reading. We participate in almost all major book fairs organized in India. Last year, we participated in 180 book fairs and 200 programmes related to book fair. Now we are trying to organize our book fairs at village and taluka levels. We are also planning to increase our number of shops and open public reading rooms and small libraries in transit metro stations in Delhi.

Extract from Publishers On Publishing Inside India’s Book Business, Edited by Nitasha Devasar by All About Book Publishing

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