India is this year’s Guest of Honour country at the 2019 Guadalajara International Book Fair (November 30th to December 8th ). To help you brush up on this exciting and growing market before packing your bags for the fair, we will be sharing excerpts all month of our 2018 market guide on India, written by expert consultant Jaya Bhattacharji Rose. In today’s post, we share some of her insights on the importance of translations in the Indian market.
The Indian subcontinent is a vast network with many languages hence different cultural identities. Many Indians are comfortable speaking not one but two and sometimes even three languages. Indians read not only the literature of the language they are most comfortable in, but also access literature from other languages via translation into their mother tongue, sometimes even accessing the same book in more than one language (if available). Languages such as Malayalam, Bengali, and Marathi have been accessing international literature for decades via translation. For many years, translations from one Indian regional language to another were such a large business that local publishers did not explore other languages. Only recently have translations begun to appear in greater numbers in English as well and many English-language publishing houses have begun to introduce dedicated translation lists. Inevitably these consist of established literature from different languages and genres being made available in English. Unfortunately, it is not always possible, even with the best of translators, to translate the dialect and nuances from the language of origin; specifically, it is impossible for English to accommodate all the possible meanings and references of the translated literature. For instance, the award-winning Tamil writer Perumal Murugan, whose characters speak the dialect of the region from which they hail, is not easily translated. A reader in Tamil will immediately deduce the social context, thereby giving the story a rich texture, whereas the English translation, though award-winning and competently done, smooths out these nuances. This is not a comment on the translator’s talent, but rather on the limitations of English to capture Tamil culture.
Nevertheless, this is a thriving area of publishing in India where literature in Indian languages is being translated into other Indian languages, international literature is being translated into Indian languages, and literature from Indian languages is being translated into English and other international languages such as French, Nordic, Turkish, etc. Until a few decades ago, few local publishers were interested in publishing translations from Indian languages. The few examples were by prominent authors and usually done by independent presses like KATHA, Zubaan, Women Unlimited, Stree Samya, Permanent Black, and Seagull Books.
Two firms were already doing translations in India in the 1980s and 1990s. These two firms were OUP and Macmillan. The Macmillan list of 37 full length works appeared between 1996- 1999. Now translated literature is being produced by Penguin Random House India, HarperCollins India, Hachette India, Orient Blackswan, and Westland (an Amazon company). In fact, Oxford University Press India has just announced a thrilling new Indian languages program with a desire to expand its product offerings to an audience whose primary language is not English. Seagull Books has an India list where they make available titles in translation from Indian languages, which immediately have a global release thanks to their arrangement with the University of Chicago Press. Now publishers even have imprints in separate Indian languages. Many begin with Hindi to make original literature in Hindi available to a larger audience and to translate their frontlist titles, as is the case with Harper Hindi. Even the Indian firm Westland (recently acquired by Amazon) launched a Hindi list in 2016. Robust translation programs also exist in south India: Dravidian University hosts a Telugu–English list; Manipal University Press does translations; and Kannada University in Hampi has its Classical Kannada translation list.
One of the most brilliant plans conceived is the Thunchan Ezhuthachan Malayalam University project. The university identifies and commissions translations into English of various writers and works, then locates collaborating (private) publishers and con- tracts with them to co-publish the translations. The university supports these translations by buying 300 copies; the publishers reciprocate by printing the logo of the university and carrying their mission statement in the prelims. Orient Blackswan, Navayana, Women Unlimited, Yoda Press, Oxford University Press, Juggernaut Books, and Niyogi have all collaborated.
Most Indian publishing firms make translations available from international literature, either in the local Indian language in which they publish or in an Indian edition of the English translation. For instance, DC Books (Malayalam) has a unique model where they not only make translated literature available but also run successful pre-order sales campaigns, ensuring that their costs are recovered. In the state of Kerala—where Malayalam is spoken—they have for decades had a thriving translation network, where local translators are trained regularly through workshops and ongoing projects, but this model is not replicated anywhere else in the country. The publishing firm Kalachuvadu has translated many international titles into Tamil. Full Circle, and their children’s imprint Tota Books, have translated French literature into English and made the books available in India at an affordable price point. Speaking Tiger Books has a well-curated list of international fiction consisting of some fine titles and many award-winning authors. Seagull Books, founded by legendary publisher Naveen Kishore, also has a fine list of international literature—French, German, African, Italian, Swiss, and Arab to name a few.
Most of the international literature made available through translation in the Indian book market is supported by funding from different countries. For instance, the French embassy in India has a very active translation program called the Tagore Publication Assistance Program. Three times a year they send out requests to publishers seeking interest in French titles and then financial support is offered. Similarly, there are programs for Norwegian, Turkish, and German literature.
Want to learn more about this exciting market? Download the full version of our guide on Selling Canadian Books in India.