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Tales In Another Tongue: 5 Exceptional Indian Authors In Translation

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Delhi North chapter.

Picture this: a cozy evening, the aroma of spices wafting through the air, a hot cup of masala chai to sip slowly, a stormy chilly breeze, and a great book in hand- a tale that inspires travel. The story begins in some far-away village, some by-forgotten land in the nooks and crannies of our vast Indian subcontinent, a subcontinent that has suffered through so much, remains a witness to horrors of violence, and carries blood in its pages.

In this land where battles have been fought and won, a land that has been partitioned again and again, a land that has seen so much revolution and resistance, begins a timeless tale of great wisdom- a tale narrated in many tongues. This great tale translates from languages as diverse as the land itself. Amidst the pages of a meticulously crafted story, penned down by authors and curated to our affectations by translators, you find a belongingness that is sacredly yours, perhaps even a nostalgic visitation to ‘home’. It’s like discovering a treasure trove of wonder and I have quite a few to list.

1. Pages Stained In Blood by Indira Goswami (translated from Assamese by Pradip Acharya)

Originally written in Assamese as ‘Datal Hatir Unye Khuwa Phool‘ and later translated into English, Pages Stained in Blood is set against the backdrop of the Assam insurgency. The narrative revolves around the character of Torun, a journalist who returns to his hometown in Assam to investigate the disappearance of his childhood friend, Hironmoyee. As Torun delves deeper into the mystery surrounding Hironmoyee’s disappearance, he uncovers a web of political intrigue, corruption, and violence that threatens to engulf the entire region.

Goswami captures with ease the complexities of experience in the daily lives of the people of Assam during a period of intense social and political upheaval. She explores the dynamics of power and resistance in a society, how a society is shaped by them, and how they create a history of meaning within the individual, and the community as a whole. Violence leaves a legacy, trauma is imprinted into memory and it can go on for generations and generations. Once a soul is caught in the crossfires of conflict, it remembers. The soul, then carries conflict within it, forever tainted and lost.

Pages Stained in Blood delves into how identities are formed in a socio-political region that is so intrinsically brutal. She talks of what is endured, what is sacrificed, and what is snatched living in a society upturned by violence and unrest. It is a tale of love and pain, of justice and reconciliation. It is a tale of resilience, of the unwavering determination to stand true to one’s ideals, in the face of all that is cruel in this world- which is probably what makes it endearing to readers across the nation even to this day.

2. Tamas by Bhisham Sahni (translated from Hindi INto English by Daisy Rockwell)

Set against the backdrop of the communal riots during the partition of India in 1947, Sahni’s novel opens with a harrowing scene that perhaps has no parallel in Indian fiction: a lengthy chapter depicting a man’s attempts to kill a pig to desecrate the local mosque with its corpse, inciting a riot—setting off a chain reaction of violence and reprisals. The story unfolds in a small town on the border of India and Pakistan and quite intricately weaves around the lives of various characters from different religious communities—Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs—as they navigate the escalating tensions and violence leading up to Partition. As the situation spirals out of control, the characters find themselves caught in a web of fear, suspicion, and hatred, with tragic consequences for individuals and communities alike.

Sahni depicts the horrors of Partition with brutal honesty, quite unflinching in his portrayal of what communal violence costs us. The lives that are taken in the name of religion, in the name of the nation, the dreams that are sacrificed at the cost of the innocent. There is a sense of unhinged chaos, a palpable disgust, a sense of doom that wrenches at your soul and revives anew the guilt felt by everybody in those dark days. Sahni shows us just how fragile human relationships can become and how easily we can give up on the humanity of others, the ones we consider our own when disillusioned with our reality. We are left to sit in the uncomfortable truths, the ones we do not want to confront, the tales of how easily power can corrupt an individual and how quickly one can give in to prejudice and intolerance.

To this day, Tamas remains a powerful indictment of communalism and sectarian violence. It is an incessant critique of the socio-political system and is revered as a classic that holds the legacy of the Partition in its pages.

3. Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag (translated from Kannada INto English by Srinath Perur)

At its core, Ghachar Ghochar is a story about the tangled relationships within a middle-class Indian family. The title itself is an untranslatable phrase in Kannada that loosely translates to “entangled” or “muddled up beyond repair,” hinting at the dysfunctional dynamics of the household. The novella is narrated by an unnamed protagonist who reflects on his family’s transformation from a struggling, tightly-knit unit to one defined by wealth and its attendant complications. The protagonist’s uncle, known as Chikkappa, plays a pivotal role in this transformation, as he rises from humble beginnings to become the family’s breadwinner through his successful spice business.

As the family’s financial situation improves, tensions simmer beneath the surface, revealing the true nature of relationships and the compromises individuals are willing to make in pursuit of material success. Shanbhag masterfully depicts the moral dilemmas faced as one navigates the shifting dynamics of power and privilege. What makes ‘Ghachar Ghochar‘ particularly intriguing is its insight into the human condition, how individuals react to external forces that dictate their identities and ambitions, how morals are regarded in changing times, and how humans perceive themselves as bodies that carry history, thus being subjected to crises with contemporary concerns. Shanbhag takes into account the average person and invites readers to interpret how they would be affected by changing times and how it would impact the relationships they cherish in their lives.

4. Chemmeen by Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai (translated from Malayalam by Anita Nair)

Translated into English as The Saga of Chemmeen, and set against the backdrop of a picturesque fishing village in Kerala, this novel tells the story of Karuthamma, a young woman from a fishing community, and her forbidden love affair with Pareekutty, a Muslim fisherman. Their love defies the rigid caste and religious boundaries that govern their society, setting off a chain of events that reverberates throughout the village.

At the heart of the novel is the conflict between tradition and individual desires, as Karuthamma and Pareekutty grapple with the expectations of their families and the conservative mores of their community. Thakazi manages to build a vivid visual community with his portrayal of the coastal region with its rich intricate landscape and the lives of those who are born of and live on the sea. His prose brings to life the sights, sounds, and smells of the seaside, the rhythms of the shore, and the daily rituals of a household that wakes at the crack of dawn to go earn their livelihoods.

Thakazhi quite cleverly manages to introduce the intricacies of caste, class, and gender dynamics that pervade this small little village in Kannada. The concerns he introduces, and the questions he subtly raises about the working dynamics of the community shed light on inequality and discrimination we are subjected to even today. More so than anything, Karuthamma’s story is a timeless tale of love and sacrifice, knit together with subjects of identity and belongingness in changing times.

5. Ghore Baire by Rabindranath Tagore (translated into English by his nephew, Surendranath Tagore)

Ghore Baire also known as The Home and the World, first published in 1916, remains one of Tagore’s most significant pieces of work in Indian literature. Set in early 20th-century Bengal during the Swadeshi movement, Ghore Baire explores the interplay of personal relationships against the backdrop of political upheaval and social change. The narrative revolves around three central characters: Nikhil, Bimala, and Sandip.

Nikhil, the protagonist, is a liberal zamindar (landlord) who espouses progressive ideals and believes in the principles of rationality, tolerance, and harmony. His wife, Bimala, initially embodies traditional values and domesticity but is drawn to the charismatic and fiery nationalist leader, Sandip, who visits their home. Sandip represents the fervent nationalism and revolutionary spirit of the Swadeshi movement, advocating for boycotts of British goods and rejection of all colonial thoughts.

As Bimala becomes increasingly enamored with Sandip’s rhetoric and charisma, she finds herself torn between her loyalty to her husband and her newfound sense of identity and agency. As Bimala grapples with her developing desires and ideals, things she was not taught to want or need, she is forced to look at her relationships with both Nikhil and Sandip in light of this evolving change in her. As Bimala goes against the grain in her path of self-discovery, Tagore offers a nuanced critique of extremism and blind nationalism, of modernism and tradition, and just how radically transformative the pursuit of love and freedom can be. Each character of Tagore’s embodies some facet of ‘the human experience,’ how we navigate or place our relationships within a frame of broader tensions, how fickle relationships become when they no longer align with the person we have become, or how complicated it can be to remain in the nostalgia of ‘old love’.

Manisha Kalita

Delhi North '24

Manisha Kalita is a writer at Her Campus, Delhi North and is responsible for ideating and writing articles for HCDN website and the social media page. She is currently a third year student at Indraprastha College for Women, majoring in English. She has been a postholder for the English Editorial Society of Indraprastha College for Women, helping curate the College Magazine 'Aaroh' and publishing in Society Annual Newsletter, Epiphany. She has also been a content writer for Outis, the English Literary Society. As an Individual, she is passionate about literature, art and film, and every now and then, they take the form of her creative expression.