Widening the horizons of publishing!

The Zubaan – Prabha Khaitan Foundation Translation Programme supports publishers/translators wishing to translate and publish, in Indian languages, feminist/women’s works that have been published by Zubaan Publishers. Varsha Verma of AABP recently had a conversation with Urvashi Butalia, Publisher, Zubaan Publishers and Manisha Chaudhry, Coordinator of the Zubaan – Prabha Khaitan Translation Programme to know more about the same. Excerpts.


Zubaan Publishers and Zubaan Trust have launched a unique translation programme with support from the Prabha Khaitan Foundation. The Zubaan – Prabha Khaitan Foundation Translation Programme supports Indian language translations of Zubaan’s books and takes the shared commitments of both organizations to a much wider audience. Under this programme, the Indian language publishers and translators can apply for a translation grant for any of Zubaan’s titles for which the rights are available.

The programme…

“The grant ensures decent remuneration for the translators who have usually been underpaid and given scant credit in the publishing ecosystem in the country. It also enables Indian language publishers to publish the best of feminist writing and expand the scope of their list,” says Urvashi Butalia, Publisher, Zubaan Publishers. “Over time, we hope that this initiative will nurture ideas and newer vocabularies and also bring more creative writers into the world of translation. India’s multilingual landscape requires serious investment in translations and this programme rests on the twin pillars of spreading feminist thought as far as possible in a myriad registers and supporting translators and Indian language publishers,” adds Manisha Chaudhry, Coordinator of the Zubaan – Prabha Khaitan Translation Programme.

The motive…

“We strongly believed that translations are really important. It is the right time, because it seemed to us that there was an interest in translations. But what stops translations is the low payment and the reluctance of publishers to spend even that little bit of money because the costings don’t allow it. Also, lack of knowledge about what is available, was a concern. There has been very little feminist literature in Indian languages that we know about,” says Urvashi. “Though we have published many books in English from other Indian languages, but we don’t know if translations into other Indian languages are happening.”

“When a publisher receives some grant support, then the likelihood of them being able to publish that book in translation goes up, because otherwise very often, the economics of it is difficult for the publisher. On the other hand, we also want to establish that it is important for translators to get paid properly,” says Manisha.

“This has opened up a whole lot of little-known literature from other parts of the country. For example, a Tamil publisher published the Tamil version of Bitter Wormwood, which is a novel from the North-East. He got an excellent response and he wishes to publish many more titles from the North-East because he thinks that it’s a good idea to do a series from the North-East in Tamil because nobody else is really looking at it,” she adds. “It is also very heartening to see that there are a number of passionately committed, small independent publishers in Indian languages who have a clear vision of the kind of books they want to put out in their languages. They believe that their readers should have access to ideas that are being discussed in the wider world and being able to support them through this kind of grant programme is rewarding. We are, of course, keeping a balance between the bigger Indian language publishers and the independent ones, but we are aware of how the smaller publishers can be thought leaders.”

The early birds…

“In the first year itself, translations of 18 titles have been published in various languages like Punjabi, Hindi, Tamil, Bangla, Marathi, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada,” shares Manisha.“And these grants went to the publishers and the translators. We have stipulated that the publisher can keep up to 15 to 20 per cent of the total amount, but the rest of the grant goes to the translator,” she adds.

Response from publishers/translators…

“Infact,we were pleasantly surprised by the level of interest and the kinds of books that people were taking, because they are interested in both non-fiction as well as fiction. One publisher has even asked for children’s books. It’s also interesting to see this kind of thing, because there’s no way of knowing what is going to work in other languages,” said Urvashi. Adding to this, Manisha opines, “This kind of seeding of new ideas through publishing of translations brings in the much needed diversity that we need in a country such as ours.”

“Besides, we are also surprised to see the ways in which the news about this program is traveling. We are getting in touch with publishers and translators, by putting it out as widely as possible. But, it is so heartwarming to see people whom we have not reached out to have also found out about it and they’re writing into us. So, in a sense, it also shows how much interest and potential there is once you open up the possibility of translations within Indian languages,” adds Urvashi.

The list…

Zubaan Publishers is one of India’s finest feminist publishers with a highly regarded list featuring academic, fiction, non-fiction, young adult books and a whole host of material that both feeds into and draws from the feminist movement in the country. “Oral histories and testimonies, feminist theory, translations, graphic novels as well as simple primers on a deeper understanding of feminism have come together to build a formidable and inclusive list,” shares Urvashi.

“If we really want knowledge and ideas to travel across our country, and see books as a vehicle of social change, or also to give voice to the marginalized people in our country, which is the vast majority, this is the time where translations are really going to help,” she adds.

As a message to publishers…

“We would like to work with publishers who are genuinely involved and interested in the subjects we’re doing. The Zubaan-Prabha Khaitan Foundation translation grant is putting out a very interesting selection of books out in Indian languages, and we are amazed to see how committed the publishers are to the books they wish to translate,” concludes Urvashi.

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