August, or what many readers call Women in Translation Month, is upon us. According to Women in Translation, only 36 per cent of the books translated into English are from non-European countries, and less than 31 per cent of translations into English are written by women. The aim of WIT month is simple – to bring the writings of women, transgender, and nonbinary writers from all countries, languages, faiths, and classes to a wider readership, as well as to encourage publishers to be more open to works of women authors and translators.
We’re starting WIT Month with works by ten Indian women authors to read in translation.
Selected Stories of Amrita Pritam, translated from the Punjabi by Amritbir Kaur
Women are the central characters in all of Pritam’s stories. Independent and dedicated to their families, these women are often forced to bow down to societal pressure. They fend for themselves but resign to their fates when society closes in on them. Pritam’s short stories are a mirror of women’s ongoing struggle for complete autonomy in their lives.
The Roof Beneath Their Feet, Geetanjali Shree, translated from the Hindi by Rahul Soni
Roofs are a special place; they are meant for wild things, romance and for play, they are places to dry pickles and grains while exchanging gossip about quiet caresses. But above all, they are realms of freedom. In The Roof Beneath Their Feet, Chachcho and Lalna use their roofs to build a friendship that transcends time and memory. Suddenly one day, Lalna has to leave, to return only after Chachcho’s passing. Amidst rumours and gossip in the neighbourhood, Chachcho’s nephew tries to piece together his memories of the two women, one of whom is his mother. The truth he is searching for could destroy him forever, but staying away from it is not an option either.
Budhini, Sarah Jospeh, translated from the Malayalam by Sangeetha Sreenivasan
On December 6, 1959, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru went to Dhanbad district in Jharkhand to inaugurate the Panchet Dam across the Damodar River. A 15-year-old girl, Budhini, chosen by the Damodar Valley Corporation welcomed him with a garland and placed a tikka on his forehead. When these ceremonial gestures were interpreted as an act of matrimony, the 15-year-old was ostracised by her village and let go from her job as a construction worker, citing a violation of Santal traditions. Budhini was outlawed for “marrying outside her community”.
Budhini Mejhan’s is the tale of an uprooted life, told here through the contemporary lens of Rupi Murmu, a young journalist distantly related to her and determined to excavate her story.
Let the Rumours be True, Pradnya Daya Pawar, translated from the Marathi by Maya Pandit
In these 14 stories readers will have the pleasure of meeting very regular, urban people – artists, actors, activists, housewives, and employees in multinational corporations and banks. And while at one level it is their everyday story, it is also an impassioned voice of the third-generation Ambedkarites of Maharashtra – men and women who are vocal, who have had their struggle, and who have established a space for themselves in society.
Matchbox, Ashapurna Debi, translated from the Bengali by Prasenjit Gupta
In “Poddolota’s Dream”, a young girl returns to the scene of a harrowing childhood, magnanimous and victorious for reasons quite her own; in “Grieving for Oneself”, a midnight scare shows an ailing man precisely how he fits into the world he has worked his life to build; in “Glass Beads Diamonds”, a woman attends a wedding reception at her estranged in-laws’, bearing a gift that has cost her far too much. In other stories, a family rues an unexpected disappearance of one of their own, two friends come to terms with a lost friendship, and a couple’s relationship is interrupted by the sudden appearance of an old flame.
Citadel of Love, Pratibha Ray, translated from the Odia by Monalisa Jena
Based on folklore, legends and myths, Citadel of Love is set in Odisha of the 13th-century – considered the state’s golden age, when the Konark temple. A modern-day foreigner, Charles, arrives with his fiancée to study the Konark region. As he discovers palm leaf manuscripts and records tales that were handed down generations, he begins to have strange experiences. A woman’s statue, in particular, haunts him till he is transported to a time when she was alive and the Konark complex was under construction. Two mystical love stories of the past unfold, even as new romance blooms in Charles’ life.
How Are You Veg?, Joopaka Subhadra, translated from the Telugu by Alladi Uma and M Sridhar
Translated for the first time into English, Subhadra’s stories expose the lives of Madiga women, the most oppressed among the Dalits in Telangana. The stories are drawn from the author’s lived experiences.
Monsoon, Vimala Devi, translated from the Portuguese by Paul Melo e Castro
A man returns to Goa from Mozambique to father a child for a family whose unmarried daughters have produced no heirs. Another man feels out of place in his family home after returning from Portugal to get a university education, as a woman waits faithfully for him to return. A forbidden romance blooms between a Christian girl and a Hindu boy.
Through these stories, written with a mix of poignant nostalgia and sharp criticism, Vimala Devi recreates the colonial Goa of her childhood. First published in 1963, two years after the Portuguese colony became part of India, Monsoon is a cycle of 12 stories that delve into divisions of caste, religion, language and material privilege, setting them off against a common historical experience and deeply felt attachment to the land.
The Bronze Sword of Thengphakhri Tehsildar, Indira Goswami, translated from the Assamese by Aruni Kashyap
The Bronze Sword of Thengphakhri Tehsildar is the heroic tale of a Bodo freedom fighter who was, arguably, the first woman revenue collector, a tehsildar, in British India. Set in late 19th-century Assam, the novel generated a great deal of interest when it was published. Thengphakhri is a fascinating character that the author recreated from folklore and songs and stories that she’d heard in her childhood. The image of the protagonist, galloping across the plains of Bijni kingdom in lower Assam to collect taxes for the British, is a compelling one and one that inspires awe and admiration. At a time when educated Indians, social reformers and the British government were trying to fight misogynist practices such as sati, child marriage and the purdah system, here was a woman working with the British officers, shoulder to shoulder, as a tax collector who rode a horse, wore a hat, and lived her life as she pleased.
The Taming of Women, P Sivakami, translated from the Tamil by Pritham K Chakravarthy
As Anandhayi gives birth to her fifth child downstairs, with only her ancient mother-in-law for help, upstairs her husband Periyannan sleeps with a woman he has summoned to spend the night with him. Women of many generations live in that house at the end of the road, with the tyrannical and charismatic Periyannan always trying to bring them under his control. Voracious in his appetites, for both power and sex, Periyannan is a domineering antagonist to the tender but tenacious Anandhayi. In comical vignettes of exquisite detail, Sivakami captures the life of women in a village transforming into a small town.