“Translation is now a cultural intervention”

says Trisha De Niyogi, COO & Director, Niyogi Books, who feels that we need to collaborate and commemorate the diversity of knowledge and wisdom, even when a language is unknown.


Many a time, I have been asked whether it would be easier to have only one language in the country. But, I get very impatient with such doctrines of uniformity and hence I have spent days thinking for a compelling argument to the hypothesis. India is a unique country with its myriad landscapes, cultures, languages, religions and more. It is called the epitome of the world for a reason. Imagine, if we replace the freezing cold snow-capped Himalayas, the incredibly dry Thar desert, and the salty breeze from the backwaters of Kerala to a centrally-airconditioned India, how would that feel like? Similarly, if we had a uniform language, a uniform temperature, or a uniform culture, wouldn’t our life feel like an utterly boring air conditioned room, with no scope to experience any of the four seasons?

Celebrating multilingualism…

As a publisher, with two imprints dedicated to translations – Thornbird and Bahuvachan, we intend to celebrate India’s multilingualism rather than aspiring for any homogeneity of language. In our desire to achieve this, we have even gone beyond the recognized languages under the Eighth Schedule of the constitution and published books from languages like Bishnupriya Manipuri, Rajasthani and others. We believe that translations help us realise not just linguistic and cultural pluralism but also linguistic identities, within our country. Professor Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharya had once said, “Gone are those days when translation was regarded just as a linguistic activity. Now translation is considered a cultural intervention involving history, anthropology, philosophy, geo-spatiality and what not.”

We take these words seriously. As a result, on one hand, while we published Bridge Across the River: Partition Memories from the Two Punjabs, we also published the translation of Khandita by Samaresh Basu as Dissevered, which talks about the Bengal partition. Through our attempts, a picture emerged of how partition was creatively grappled by writers from different parts of India, differently. We are well aware that enough has been written on the partition of Punjab but not enough on the partition in the east. But, we try to balance our list by bringing in narratives from as many sides as people. Further to my claim on the balancing the act, we have also published Qazi Abdul Ghaffar’s Laila ke Khatoot which is hailed to be the first specimen of a truly psychoanalytical fiction in Urdu. Set in the early twentieth century, the Letters of Laila are not only a courtesan’s search for identity but also an exposition of the exploitation of women by a complacent and hypocritical society. But, this book has a second part, titled as Majnun Ki Diary, which presents the other side of the story. It portrays the cynicism and confusion of the young men of the time who scorned established values and drifted into hedonistic sensuality as an answer to their problems.

Translating into English…

Having said that, when we launched our imprint for English translations in 2018, it was our endeavor to carry forward the legacy of the pioneers in this field like Professor Nirmal Kanti Bhattacharjee, Mini Krishnan and Geeta Dharmarajan. Thornbird was born out of our desire to further their work and bring into the limelight this incredible plethora of literature in the other Indian as well as foreign languages in English, which can bewitch every reader and cast a magic spell. So far we have published around fifty translations, with many more in the pipeline. With all our limitations as a young independent publishing house, we try and provide equitable attention to all possible languages. We are constantly on the lookout for outstanding literature from al the Indian languages. One of our well received translations from Assamese, Ballad of Kaziranga, written by Dileep Chandan and translated by Parbina Rashid, highlights the concern of poaching in Kaziranga, while in a forthcoming title of ours, Mahanadi, first written in Bangla by the Crossword award winning author Anita Agnihotri, chooses as her subject the people and the culture of the regions on the riverbanks of the river in Chhattisgarh and Odisha, in the novel. Our English translation of Mahanadi by Nivedita Sen will ensure that people across India as well as around the world can now read this monumental work that was previously restricted to a Bengali readership. Similarly, The Saga of Muziris, originally written in Malayalam by Sethu and translated by Prema Jayakumar is a fascinating tale of the glory and decline of a major port, a hub of maritime trade in Kerala which had mysteriously disappeared from the face of earth during the fourteenth century. It is also fascinating to read, Joginder Paul’s stories in Land Lust (originally written in Urdu) which offers poignant glimpses of the unequal multiracial relations in colonial Kenya.

Inclusivity and diversity…

In this day and age, the society, at large, is fuelled by a sincere desire to see a society which doesn’t discriminate on the basis of caste, creed, race, gender, language or religion. Hence, in our pursuits to amplify the suppressed voices, we found out that it is hard to ignore the strong women’s voice in our bhasha literature. Dalit literature as well as queer literature is something we take into serious consideration. Our titles like A plate of White Marble by Bani Basu, which stresses on the plight of widows in India as well as Beasts of Burden by Imayam, which falls under the gamut of Dalit literature are not only appreciated but also desired by many a young readers.

Translating into Indian languages…

In fact, in the last couple of months, our emphasis on social media has helped us understand the interest in these titles with hard data. The second wave of COVID seems grave indeed and the current lockdown is seeing enough to cause anxiety in everyone. We thought we could do our small part by sharing some books with the reader community. We curated a special list to pick from a compelling mélange of Indian language literature in translation. The overwhelming response has made us realise, we are in a much better position than when we had just started. In fact, our newly launched imprint for Hindi translations of our illustrated books, Bahuvachan, is gaining currency with increase in visibility.

To conclude, I would like to quote Dr Rakshanda Jalil, “The world would be a poorer place if there were no translations and we sat on our little islands of literary greatness with no communication between the islanders who all spoke a Babel of tongues.” Let us collaborate and commemorate the diversity of knowledge and wisdom, even when a language is unknown.

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