Over the last decade, translations from Indian languages have become the mainstay of English-language fiction publishing in the country, making their presence felt among major literary prizes and travelling to other parts of the world through foreign publishers. But the self-effacing task of translation still doesn’t bring in rich dividends for those who do the heavy lifting.
Bengaluru-based cultural organization New India Foundation (NIF) is aiming to redress the situation with a brand-new translations fellowship, to be awarded to three translators in 2022 after a rigorous selection process.
NIF will begin inviting applications for the first round of the NIF Translation Fellowships from 11 August, with the final deadline set for 31 December. The idea behind this project is to foster a publishing culture in which key non-fiction works in Indian languages can find a new life in English and reach a far wider audience.
NIF already funds fellowships for original research projects, also leading to books, based on topics that are of relevance to post-Independence India. So far 22 books, including Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India by Akshaya Mukul and Ahmedabad: A City in the World by Amrita Shah among others, have been published after 10 fellowship rounds. Several other works are ready for to hit the press. NIF also awards the Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay-New India Foundation book prize to an outstanding non-fiction writer annually and organizes a yearly lecture.
For the first round of the translations fellowship, proposals are invited from translators for ten languages: Assamese, Bangla, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Malayalam, Odia, Tamil and Urdu, which will be evaluated by a Language Expert Committee. “The non-fiction source text from any of the 10 languages can be ecumenical, with no constraints on genre as long as it elucidates upon any socio-economic/cultural aspect of Indian history from the year 1850 onwards,” states the mandate, broadening the scope of the works to well beyond post-1947.
“We have chosen ten languages in which we could identify experts who can help the jury with the selection process and also mentor the selected fellows, helping them to shape and structure their translations all the way to publication,” says political scientist Niraja Gopal Jayal, an NIF trustee. “We aim to make this list more representative of the incredibly rich diversity of Indian languages by expanding it in the second round to include, for instance, Punjabi, Manipuri, Bhojpuri, and so on.”
The fellowship will be awarded for a period of six months with a stipend of ₹6 lakhs to each recipient. Other juries will include historian Srinath Raghavan, entrepreneur Manish Sabharwal, alongside the Language Expert Committee in all 10 languages, comprising bilingual scholars, professors, academics and literary translators such as Kuladhar Saikia (Axomiya), Ipshita Chanda (Bangla), Tridip Suhrud (Gujarati), Harish Trivedi (Hindi), Vivek Shanbhag (Kannada), Rajan Gurukkal (Malayalam), Suhas Palshikar (Marathi), Jatin Nayak (Odia), AR Venkatachalapathy (Tamil) Ayesha Kidwai and Rana Safvi (Urdu).