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Vernacular culture comes into the spotlight with an English voice

If we do not take translations seriously, we are headed for a cultural amnesia,” begins Mini Krishnan, editor of the recently launched Oxford novellas series, which she describes as “an orchestra of Indic voices”. The modest set of six books, backed by Oxford University Press, translated from Bengali, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Marathi and Malayalam are a compelling narrative on our country, culture, places and things we may overlook.

CultureLead13Ethnic vibes
The series features CS Chellappa’s Vaadivaasal (Arena, Tamil), Na D’Souza’s Dweepa (Island, Kannada), Kesava Reddy’s Moogavani Pillanagrovi (Ballad of Ontillu, Telugu) and Johny Miranda’s Jeevichirik kunnavarkku Vendiyulla Oppees (Requiem for the Living, Malayalam). Nabaneeta Dev Sen’s Sheet Sahasik Hemantolok (Defying Winter) and Saniya’s Tyanantar (Thereafter) give you some Bengali and Marathi flavour.

On her choice of genre, Krishnan explains, “I found that the novel and the short story were well served but the novella was neglected. Secondly, any opening is good enough to shoe-horn works that would otherwise lie unpublished.” Krishnan says that though slightly superficial, English is the most sought after language while Indian languages are neglected. “The first thing was the choice of languages. Then balancing the time when each of these works was published. It was Chellappa’s centenary in 2013, so when the translator, Kalyan Raman, suggested it to me in early 2012 I was enthusiastic,” she tells us, adding that representing a range of subjects and locales was also a determining factor. “I also have an interest in foregrounding non-rural contexts in translation lists,” Krishnan elaborates.

Finding tradition
Defying Winter talks about coping with old age, aggression and memories while Thereafter is about loneliness and loss. Ballad of Ontillu takes you into rural Andhra Pradesh to explore myths and Arena explores the origin of bull-taming in Tamil Nadu. And as Krishnan puts it, the “first ‘submersion novel’ of Karnataka is seen in Dweepa and most exotically, the life of the Paranki community in Kerala” comes through in Requiem for the Living. She admits that expressing the thoughts of one culture in the words of another, ‘is like translocating one world into another’. “An encyclopedia of experience has to be forklifted without any apparent strain. The reader’s mind needs to be prepared to enter a space that isn’t an English-language playing field,” she reveals. But part of that problem is solved with the opening pages of the novellas helpfully listing “kinship terms”. So you won’t need to keep colloquial dictionaries handy when you come across words like chhordi, ammayi or pattaiya!

Rs 175 upwards per novella. Details: oup.co.in

Aakanksha Devi

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