In 2021, the New India Foundation expanded its portfolio of grants for writing books relating to India’s history with the announcement of the inaugural NIF Translation Fellowships. Now, the winners of the fellowships have been announced, chosen from 10 Indian languages for the research and translation of three historically significant non-fiction texts, originally published in Bangla, Kannada and Marathi. The winners are:

  • Bangla: Venkateswar Ramaswamy (literary translator) and Amlan Biswas (statistician), to translate Nirmal Bose’s Diaries 1946-47.
  • Kannada: NS Gundur (academician and literary historian), to translate DR Nagaraj’s Allamaprabhu Mattu Shaiva Pratibhe.
  • Marathi: Rahul Sarwate (academician and historian) to translate Sharad Patil’s Marxvad: Phule-Ambedkarvaad.

Amounting to a stipend of Rs 6 lakh for each project, and awarded for a six-month period, the fellowship also offers an opportunity for direct mentorship under the Language Expert Committee and the NIF Trustees, apart from providing financial, editorial, legal, and publishing support.

Here’s what the three winners had to tell about their projects:

Bangla: Diaries of Nirmal Bose 1946-47, translated by Venkateswar Ramaswamy and Amlan Biswas

The outbreak of communal violence in Bangladesh during Durga Puja last October led to my selection of this text to apply for the New India Foundation’s first Translation Fellowship. My friend Shafiqul Alam, a senior journalist in Bangladesh, alerted me to the fact that some of the places that witnessed violent incidents were the very same places that had been visited by violence in 1946.

He knew this from Nirmal Kumar Bose’s Chhechollisher Diary, edited by Avik Kumar Dey. And then I learnt that Avik Kumar Dey had also edited Shatchollisher Diary earlier, so it seemed appropriate to club the two books together. I contacted Mr Dey and got his consent, and he informed me that Amlan Biswas had started translating the 1947 diary with his consent. And thus was the proposal and the translation team born. An endeavour in public translation.

Nirmal Kumar Bose (1901-72) was a respected scholar, thinker, teacher and man of practical affairs. He was invited to be Mahatma Gandhi’s interpreter and personal secretary during his tour of Noakhali in 1946-47 and wrote about that period in My Days With Gandhi. a book that even Pandit Nehru did not want to see in print. Bose had written: “In many respects, this period (1946-47) stands out as the most critical, and certainly the most dramatic, phase of Gandhi’s great and eventful life.”

I would also like to quote Satinder Dhiman, who in a 2015 essay wrote: “Perhaps no life in human history is so abundantly well documented as Gandhi’s: indeed, apart from personal testimonies, his is probably ‘the most minutely documented life that has ever been lived’... And still, as one of his recent biographers avers, ‘no one so well-known is so little known.’ Perhaps Gandhi’s greatest achievements are still waiting to be fully discovered.” Thus, translating Bose’s Diaries of 1946-47 seemed to us to be a worthwhile project, and we were very happy to be selected.

Avik Kumar Dey undertook a labour of love, and provided yeoman service to the world of letters and scholarship, by retrieving the original diaries, painstakingly facsimiling the pages, and also gathering other relevant documents to append to the diaries. Amlan Biswas, his former colleague, was inspired by his efforts to begin translating the 1947 diary into English, so as to carry forward, through translation, Mr Dey’s endeavour towards making the diaries accessible.

The diaries provide us a ringside view of the final days of pre-independence India, and of the Mahatma. We are observing the 75th anniversary of India’s independence this year. But we are living in difficult times, and it looks like things will only get a lot worse. Communalism, which tore apart a people in 1947, is spreading its tentacles again.

But there is also hope; Bangladesh also celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence last year, with a renewed commitment to the founding values of their nation, which include secularism. At such a juncture, a study of the Bose diaries may be a crucial means towards seeing the light of a path ahead.

Kannada: Allamaprabhu Mattu Shaiva Pratibhe, DR Nagaraj, translated by NS Gundur

As an academic, my training and scholarly interests had been primarily in English literature. Like others, I followed the classical trajectories of English Studies in India and read European, Commonwealth and Postcolonial literature. However, in the past decade, I moved towards a closer engagement with the intellectual traditions of Kannada, which also happens to be my mother tongue.

This shift in my intellectual interests occurred partly due to the questions raised by postcolonial theory since the 1990s. Perhaps an even more significant influence emerged out of the works of Kannada writers and thinkers. These works compelled me to think about my own existential reality and reconcile the broader global intellectual trends with the local Kannada discourses. More than the creative works in Kannada, which constitute one of the richest literary archives among Indian bhashas, I was attracted towards works of literary scholarship and social commentaries in Kannada.

Given this engagement with Kannada’s intellectual traditions, it was quite natural to apply for The New India Foundation’s fellowship programme of translating scholarly works from the bhashas to English. I hoped to be part of a group of like-minded scholars who would be pursuing similar projects. NIF’s call for proposals highlighted another important aspect which appealed to me: that these aren’t simply translation projects but in reality constitute research.

This latter aspect was central in helping me choose my text. I spent a month discussing possible texts with colleagues in Karnataka and then prepared a shortlist. It was important for me to choose a text which was a substantial piece of scholarship and also of considerable relevance to a non-Kannada audience. In this regard, the late DR Nagaraj’s last monograph, Allama Prabhu Mattu Shaiva Pratibhe (Allama Prabhu and Shaiva Imagination), which was published posthumously in 1999, was an obvious choice.

His other essays and writings had been presented in two volumes, The Flaming Feet and Other Essays: Dalit Movement in India (2010) and Listening to the Loom: Essays on Literature, Politics and Violence (2012). I strongly felt that this final work had to be presented in English. In fact, Nagaraj himself had wanted to write it in English, or he himself could have translated it, but this remained undone. It seems to have been my fortune to work on this.

In this book, Nagaraj undertook several intellectual ambitions, including decolonizing his own modes of inquiry and critiquing the historiography of Indian philosophy. While drawing our attention to the intellectual dimensions of the Veerashaiva movement, Nagaraj’s close reading of Allama’s vachanas reconstructs the intellectual portrait of Allama as an argumentative Indian. Perhaps Amartya Sen would have devoted a chapter to this theme in his The Argumentative Indian (2005) if Nagaraj’s book had been available to him in English.

The translation of this book, I am sure, will fulfil the NIF’s vision of “fostering comparative literature about different states and streams of progresses”, besides creating “an expansive cultural reach for works which have thus far been confined to those who understand the original language of their composition”. As UR Ananthamurthy puts it, “the classic work of DR has got the capacity to transform us, and DR tries to understand Allama not only in the context of medieval India but also from the viewpoint of our times; it addresses our cultural crisis.”

Those interested in the intellectual history of medieval India and understanding our dialogic traditions would benefit from Nagaraj’s deep reflections and scholarship. If it is useful to sustain a conversation between the modern and the pre-modern, across languages and cultures, we need to engage with this kind of work. And this is how we can achieve the idea of India, by translating our thoughts for fellow Indians.

Marathi: Marxvad: Phule-Ambedkarvad, Sharad Patil, translated by Rahul Sarwate

I first came across Sharad Patil’s Marxvad: Phule-Ambedkarvad as an undergraduate in the early 2000s, doing a BA in Economics and Mathematics in Mumbai. Earlier, I had been pushed into science with the hope that I would become an engineer and fulfil the quintessential middle-class dream. It was of course not my cup of tea. And thus, although I was interested in Literature and History, I assumed the mantle of studying Mathematics and Economics as a compromise, in the hope that it would fetch me a job in the banking sector.

While I kept failing my maths exams, I became an avid reader during this time. It was at this juncture that I discovered Sharad Patil. Patil’s text opened up a world for me. Through his writing, I discovered Marx and Marxism, Phule and Ambedkar, Romila Thapar and DD Kosambi, and the histories of Indian philosophy and aesthetics. I started following Patil’s bibliography and looked for texts that he referred to, which led to my discovery of the humanities and social sciences.

Reading Sharad Patil – even without fully comprehending him at that time – was in a sense the beginning of my serious engagement with questions of philosophy and politics. Patil’s heterogeneously constituted text enabled me to think about translation not simply as rendering the contents of a text from one language into another but as a hermeneutic exercise.

A few years later, when I was doing an MPhil in Sociology at Delhi University, a small workshop was organised around Marxist intellectuals who sought to expand the horizons of Marxism. While people discussed Alexandra Kollontai and Ritwik Ghatak in the workshop, no one had even heard of Sharad Patil. I began to think about this translation at about this time. Thus, the idea of this project has been with me for a while now.

To illustrate the relevance of this translation, I would like to highlight two points. One is the sheer richness of Patil’s scholarship. He draws upon a range of sources including the Sanskrit Dharmashastra texts, Panini’s treatise on grammar, Kautilya’s Artha Shastra, Buddhist texts including the Pitakas and the Nikayas, writings on Indian history by Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Rahul Sankrityayan and DD Kosambi, and various texts of fiction and non-fiction.

Also, while Patil is rooted in the long history of the Marathi analytical tradition, he also experiments with the conventional Marathi philosophical vocabulary. For example, he uses Anityata (transience) for dialectics instead of the more conventional Dwandwatmakata, to elucidate the deeper semantic relationship between Marxism and Buddhism.

Thus, Patil’s Marxism: Phule-Ambedkarism is not merely ideological arithmetic but a profoundly creative project. The second point is that Sharad Patil seeks to build a Shudra philosophical worldview that borrows from multiple indigenous intellectual traditions, from Buddha to Phule. Patil presents an intellectual history of India that has largely been ignored by modern academic writings. I dearly hope that this translation will open up fresh ways of recovering and engaging with India’s variety of intellectual and political pasts.