Kashmiri: The Greatest Kashmiri Stories Ever Told, selected and translated by Neerja Mattoo

This collection of short stories, curated with a sense of the history of the short story in Kashmir, is a testament to the ability of Kashmiris to tell their own stories in their own language even when they had to adopt a new literary form and set up a standardised script under the purview of the Scripts Committee of the J&K Academy for Art, Culture and Languages in 1972. Through the ever-turbulent years, Kashmiris have always managed to tell their stories in subtle, nuanced, haunting prose. This book is an excellent introductory read, translated over the years and carefully put together for anyone who wants to know about Kashmir from Kashmiris themselves.

Assamese: Jangam – A Forgotten Exodus In Which Thousands Died, Debendranath Acharya, translated by Amit R Baishya

Baishya’s translation is subtle and precise. He remains attentive and objective throughout, and not once does Acharya’s seminal text lose its gravitas as one travels into the blank albeit volatile spots of history. In his novel of an epic scale, Acharya creates a smorgasbord of the living and the non-living to almost cinematic effect: stray dogs feeding on dead canines, countless dead and charred human bodies, stunning hill ranges and fierce rivers, the near angelic-cum-erotic appearance of the young Ma-Pu amid signs of destruction and disaster, the manic outbursts of some characters, as well as their rejoice at finding dear ones. Ultimately, it is humanism that is at the crossroads, for the story is not just of a journey that physical bodies undertake, but also their sensibilities.

Nepali: Song of the Soil, Chuden Kabimo, translated by Ajit Baral

By tapping into the untold history of the many young men and women who believed in revolution and blindly followed a leadership that was fractured over selfish political gains, the novel brings alive the Gorkhaland movement, the ferment of revolution, and what it does to passionate young people who dive headlong into its abyss as foot soldiers, discovering fear when it is too late. Told through flashbacks, Song of the Soil explores what it means to be deeply in love with one’s homeland. It chronicles friendships that are sealed through shared experiences of deprivation in terms of education or healthcare, but are filled with the gay abandon of kinship and youthful adventures. It looks at the very nature of man as a political being who is pulled by forces that do not care about him.

Bengali: Hawa Hawa and Other Stories, Nabarun Bhattacharya, translated by Subha Prasad Sanyal

Bhattacharya is not interested in the elites of Calcutta. In his version of Calcutta, bhadraloks are nothing more than remnants of a time long gone by. The city is crawling with pimps and whores, cutthroats and corrupt policemen, drunks and lepers – it is their time now, Calcutta belongs to them. And what do their stories reveal? A rotting, smelly wound hidden in the folds of the city’s skin that has been ignored and allowed to fester for far too long. It’s time to poke the wound with a flaming pin and let free its evil juices. This Calcutta exists far away from the broad avenues and addas of coffee houses. His Calcutta lives in poorly lit, narrow alleyways, watering holes, and brothels. Hawa Hawa and Other Stories is a blistering and unforgiving portrait of the stenches, sounds, and sights of Calcutta. It reminds readers to peer beneath the surface, even if for a moment.

Odia: Battles of Our Own, Jagadish Mohanty, translated by Himansu S Mohapatra and Paul St-Pierre

Battles of Our Own intertwines several different kinds of politics and power imbalances: Identity politics (endlessly rehashed by the long-suffering Pradyumna), party politics (tirelessly stoked and navigated by Harishankar and Co, all of whom seem to be trying to use each other to their own ends with varying degrees of success), and family politics (Pradyumna borrows money from his uncle; his uncle is generous but with the expectation that Pradyumna will be obligated to marry his daughter, Runu). This is a novel is a novel about the politics of unionising (and the ways they get complicated by people re-unionising). But the bird’s eye view becomes apparent only after a few chapters, since the story itself is told at a much intimate scale.

Telugu: Here I Am and Other Stories, P Satyavathi, translated by various translators

Sathyavathi’s stories deal less with direct violence and more with occasions that can entertain or afford some subtlety. But the area of reflection is still very much the same: violence against women. In one story, the children of a mother who deserted them in favour of a new life wonder about the force and cruelty of their mother’s decision; in another, a simple, unlearned homemaker fearfully confronts her daughter’s alienation, which is growing with the rest of her teenage body; in a third, an apathetic woman and an equally apathetic man confront their respective problematic roles when thrown together as a couple living in America, complaining petulantly across phone lines to India; in a fourth, women are likened to anxious cows rushing home to feed their calves, with the subsequent implication being, of course, that oxen don’t need to follow suit. The subject matter, the themes, they stay with you long after you’ve put the book away. And this expertly creates – or reaffirms – the need to acquaint oneself with violence on such an intimate and unbearable level. But that is because these are very much issues that nobody should be allowed to forget or ignore.

Tamil: A Red-necked Green Bird, Ambai, translated by GJV Prasad

Spanning a wide range of geographies and traversing a multitude of languages, Ambai’s prose does something that is reflective of its contents: it sings. Perhaps there is a question to be posed here about the relationship between song and death. Ambai is certainly able to allude to it through her fiction. Music, she writes, opens paths; it offers one the resolve and determination to take on anything. It seems to me that despite death, or rather in spite of it, there is a wild, unbounded energy to her writing that holds these narratives together. What initially appears to be disjointed is, in fact, a series of protracted events with no distinctive beginning or end. Does it help us, then, to think of ourselves as raagams – each with our own sound, played upon indefinitely and open to improvisation? Who can actually calculate the length of your life, Kamala muses in the short story “Falling.” Song and death move in tandem here, creating a lynchpin for life itself.

Malayalam: Alpha, TD Ramakrishnan, translated by Priya K Nair

Alpha raises many questions about the nature and purpose of language. The men and women on Alpha give up language. They communicate through gestures, and in a somewhat unbelievable hypothesis, by “glances”. How the complexity of human behaviour and needs can be communicated through glances is anyone’s guess. When they turn their backs on language, they also seem to turn their backs on empathy and the possibility of making connections, of forging a community that works together, towards defined goals, particularly when that goal is the reification of civilisation. To anyone invested in patterns of communication, this regression to a world minus dialogue, poetry and storytelling, is already a dystopia, a violation of the human need to connect. What starts with idealism turns into a grotesque image of failure and desperation when the world outside makes its connect with Alpha 25 years later. The narrativisation of the intervening years is what makes up most of the novel.

Kannada: Tejo Tungabhadra – Tributaries of Time, Vasudhendra, translated by Maitreyi Karnoor

History is a desert made up of grains of sand big and small: people, inventions, events, dynasties. Most of them are too miniscule to count for much on their own, but held in the hand, each has a texture of its own. Tejo Tungabhadra, a work of historical fiction that attempts this tactile examination through stories of trade and duels, oceans and journeys. In the narrative universe of Tejo Tungabhadra, times tests, punishes, soothes, but it moves. The voyage is long and onerous, and any idea of what lies on the other side might well turn out to just be a phantom. It is in the descriptions of these trying conditions that the author’s careful attention to detail in research shows. Tejo-Tungabhadra’s is a society rife with injustices, and Vasudhendra does not let the reader look away from their cruel everyday manifestations. His portraits of the naked violence that makes and unmakes this world are slowly etched with small details intact, and evoke an almost visceral reaction upon reading.

Konkani: The Wait And Other Stories, Damodar Mauzo, translated by Xavier Cota

Mauzo has no interest in the imposing seas or the glitzy bars of Goa – he knows the real stories lie in the corners and crevices that no one bothers to reach, least of all a tourist. In that sense his stories are unrestrained by location – they could be set practically anywhere in the country and not be a misfit. So if you are looking for stories that bring you the “true” feel of Goa, then you will be disappointed. Through these stories Mauzo says that Goa is as much a part of India as any other state – here too people lie, cheat, and go about life despite joys and sorrows. Mauzo’s stories have a cinematic quality to them, in the sense that the characters are fully realised and you can visualise them participating in the settings they have been placed in. Every story in the collection is testament to Mauzo’s wit and astute understanding of human nature – they leave you craving for more; you want to find out what happens next.

Marathi: Battlefield, Vishram Bedekar, translated by Jerry Pinto

Laying bare the story of a world caught in a war frenzy, where racism is rampant and jingoism is at an all-time high, Battlefield primarily follows a sea voyage in which the principal character Chakradhar Vidhwans, after having his heart broken by the love of his life Uma, and intrigued by the German Jew Herta, not only realises his own inability to love but also learns to adequately respond to personal losses. In Pinto’s sensitive translation, the book progresses as if it’s a conversation with the reader, ebbing and flowing alongside the journeys that the ship takes from Genoa to Port Said, halting briefly at Bombay port before reaching its destination, Shanghai, where German Jews are trying to flee from the Nazi dispensation. In more ways than one, the characters in this novel occupy tormented bodies scarred by experiences and spaces as dismal as the sea. This setting is akin to that of a Hollywood classic. But in the event of impending war, the novel seems to be asking the question facing artists today: Will writing about this help in any way?

Gujarati: The Greatest Gujarati Stories Ever Told, selected and edited by Rita Kothari

Rita Kothari, who curated the collection and also translated a majority of the stories to English, openly acknowledges the subjective standards that surround the term “greatest” which illuminates the book’s title. She is transparent about her approach to curation, writing in the foreword, “the stories in this volume are not a product of a pre-conceived framework to include the most known or the lesser known. It is their relationship with each other, despite their differences, that may perhaps be an explanation of what was essentially an intuitive choice.” The book performs a delicate balancing act – for each perspective afforded exists another one to contrast it. If you think you know Gujarat, it promises to expand and confuse your understanding. And if, like me, you only know the surface – it will provide a jigsaw puzzle answer with a constantly shifting picture on the box.

Hindi: Witnesses of Remembrance: Selected Newer Poems, Kunwar Narain, translated by Apurva Narain

A remarkable number of poems in Witnesses of Remembrance speak from an earth-centred perspective, illuminating the eco-spiritual strain that runs strongly in the poetry of Kunwar Narain. One marvels at the committed task of translation that has brought these precious poems into being. Translation can be an arduous project, given the quiet elegance of Narain’s verse and the absence of precedence of such commonplace yet profound and dignified simplicity in the English language. The endeavour can be further challenging when the relationship between the poet and the translator is as intimate as the father-son bond is. While proximity does have its advantages, intimacy often leads to an erosion of objectivity – a vital consideration for a translator, however subjective the act of translation may be. It goes to Apurva Narain’s immense credit as a translator to not have lost the requisite critical distance in bringing to birth his father’s poems in English. Further, he uses his intimate knowledge of his father’s mind and life to considerable advantage in resolving the ambiguities of translating between languages, his subjective choices in translation speaking for the original poems with felicity and substantial poetic authority.

Urdu: Rohzin, Rahman Abbas, translated by Sabika Abbas Naqvi

The novel is rich in atmospherics, serving up a regular fare of portents, dreams, and nightmares. In addition to djinns and goddesses, human behaviour and all its foibles are under the observation of animals, demons, even statues, essentially, the world outside the anthropocentric. It is the sort of surreal world in which a python licks the picture of a politician on a hoarding and the man subsequently dies. In one of many interesting asides, Abbas constructs a brilliant history of an ancient manuscript titled “The Book of Knowledge of All Worlds”, a volume that its keepers insist must never fall into the hands of religious men, lest they destroy the world with its truths. In the landscape of the novel, the real collides with the imagined repeatedly, and history joins hands with folklore. Abbas’s scaffolding is irreverent, his structure taut, and his narrative as unpredictable as the rains that lash Mumbai, bearing both, the promise of romance and the threat of annihilation.

The languages of Bihar: The Book of Bihari Literature, edited by Abhay K

The Book of Bihari Literature encapsulates the vast social and linguistic diversity of the region with a rich selection of writing that opens new portals into the literary traditions of Bihar, providing a new lens to view the state and its people. Vibrant and phenomenal, Abhay K’s anthology is inclusive in nature. It explores the depths of the Bihari identity with all its socio-cultural contradictions. It also establishes that the people of Bihar coexist with their varied religious, regional, linguistic, and caste identities. The book attempts to build a pathway through which the English reader can explore the pluralistic cultures and histories of Bihar. The anthology consists of short stories, poetry, and non-fiction pieces translated from Magahi, Pali, Maithili, Bhojpuri, Hindi, Urdu, Persian, Sanskrit, and Bajjika, as well as pieces written in English.