Sahitya Akademi commissions US poet to polish up Indian translations

May 21st, 2009 - 11:34 am ICT by IANS  

By Sirshendu Panth
Kolkata, May 21 (IANS) In an initiative to popularise Indian literature across the world, the Sahitya Akademi has roped in young US poet Catherine Jones to polish up English translations of major literary works from the large oeuvre of Indian languages. Under the project, selected works in all 24 indigenous languages recognised by the Akademi would be translated and printed.

The Akademi - the body that promotes Indian literature - commissioned Jones after finding that translations by Indian writers did not have much of a market in Britain or the US, its president Sunil Gangopadhyay said here.

“Jones, who came to India last year, is a young and popular American writer. We have drawn up a plan and we will link up with her,” Gangopadhyay told IANS in an interview here.

The project will be carried out in phases. The initial translation will be done by an Indian writer proficient in that particular regional language. “Then Jones comes into the picture. She will go through the work and commission an American writer for the polishing work,” he said.

The Akademi has earmarked $200,000 for the project.

It is also laying stress on translating works from one Indian language to another.

“We read western literature a lot. But Bengalis don’t read Marathi literature, or Gujaratis don’t read Tamil Literature,” said the 75-year-old celebrated Bengali writer, who took over as Sahitya Akademi head in February last year.

With a budget of Rs.1 billion, the prestigious Akademi was also devising plans to increase the interaction between writers in various Indian languages.

“Indian literature is one, written in many languages. Writers in the Naga and Manipuri languages should not feel isolated because of their location. We are thinking of ways to remove their sense of isolation,” Gangopadhyay said.

Towards that end, the Akademi has taken a few writers from the northeast to Pune. “Similarly we want to take writers in say, Malayalam, to Gujarat, so that they can interact with one another for some days. It’s a continuous process,” said the versatile litterateur, who has excelled in various genres but declares poetry is his first love.

Gangopadhyay, known for his unique style of poetry and prose, has authored over 200 books including novels, travelogues, children’s fiction, short stories, features and essays.

Apart from the 22 languages in the eighth schedule of the constitution, the Akademi has instituted awards in the tribal languages Bodo and Santhali. “In various regions there are tribal languages which don’t have scripts. These have a lot of value. We have taken up an oral language project to ensure they do not disappear,” Gangopadhyay said.

According to the Akademi’s estimates, there are more than 80 such languages, each of which has over 10,000 speakers.

Another novel project undertaken by the Akademi involves picking up select authors from various languages, and putting them in residence at a university. “They will stay there for, say, six months. They will interact among themselves. If they feel like they can write something,” said Gangopadhyay, winner of the Sahitya Akademi award for his novel “Sei Samay” (Those Days) in 1984.

The Sahitya Akademi brings out 430 books - both classics and award-winning writings - in an average year. “In other words, we publish a book every 20 hours,” Gangopadhyay said.

With profit not being the motive, the prices of the books are low. “But this leads to a fresh problem. The booksellers don’t want to take the books as they are not satisfied with the commission.”

(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at

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