Translating Bharat For Readers

Posted: September 1, 2010

Mita Kapur, Founder of literary consultancy ‘Siyahi’ discusses the Indian book market and the task of translating Bharat for more readers. 

By Aparna V. Singh

Mita Kapur is a freelance journalist regularly featured in many newspapers and magazines. She covers social and developmental issues along with travel, food and lifestyle humor stories. In 2007, she founded Siyahi, a literary consultancy where she doubles up as a literary agent along with conceptualising and directing literary events.

Aparna V. Singh (AVS): A literary agency that also organizes literary events and performances in theatre, storytelling; Siyahi is certainly something unusual. How do you define your mission?  

Mita Kapur (MK): Siyahi has committed itself to promoting literature and its related fields. We want to make people turn back to the simple joys of reading a book, watching a well scripted performance – knowing what our reservoir of literary heritage has in its store as oral traditions in all its diversity. Frankly, I don’t think we are doing anything unusual; we are just doing what we love doing and believe in.

AVS: One of the things that really interested me is the Translating Bharat conference you organized in 2008, to bring together publishers, writers and translators and encourage high quality translations from Indian languages into each other and into English. What has been Siyahi’s experience in this area? 

MK: We have been working steadily towards encouraging cross translations but the market is still finding its feet. It’s a challenge to get translations going but there is always hope…things will get better and very soon! The main pressure points are the price points and small print runs.

At this stage it’s only satisfying that we’ve got some of our authors being translated into other languages in order to increase their readership levels. A lot also depends on how many people are reading in their mother tongues today. What’s required is a gigantic marketing and promotion plan which will inspire readers – but then again, it all boils down to figures and that is where the crunch comes in.

AVS: You’ve also begun Mountain Echoes, a literary festival in Bhutan. Why Bhutan? 

MK: The India Bhutan Foundation led by Mr. Pavan Varma (who is himself such a prolific and well known writer) spearheaded this festival along with director Namita Gokhale and Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, who was fully supportive as our Royal Patron; so Mountain Echoes happened and will continue to do so.

It’s time that the literary and cultural wealth of countries like Bhutan came to the forefront – we share a common mountain belt but we have so many different and varied stories to tell.

AVS: One of the exciting things happening in Indian literature in English is the many launches happening in different genres – mystery books, fantasy, graphic novels, chic-lit; what trends do you see as ‘hot’ for the next few years? 

MK: I’d prefer not to speak in terms of “what is a hot trend” – I’d rather concentrate on whether it’s a good book or not. All the genres mentioned by you are selling well in their own market segments but a lot of work needs to be done in terms of quality writing. There seems to be a lot of mediocre writing being published and that makes me question whether or not the publishing world as a whole is actually taking stock of where we are heading.

AVS: Given the number of people in India writing now, Siyahi must be deluged with manuscripts and enquiries? What do you look for when choosing to represent an author? 

MK: Yes, we are deluged with manuscripts. I refuse to have a rule for why we do take on a book – each book has its own pulse, its own life and we work with each book as a special case. We work with all genres except for the very technical ones.

AVS: Finally, you’ve worn many hats – journalist, editor, literary agent, entrepreneur; is the novelist hat going to go on too sometime?

MK: Yes, my book releases in October but it’s not fiction. The book is experiential writing on food, The F Word, being published by HarperCollins India.

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