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August is Women In Translation month. We have here an extensive list of books by Indian women authors, translated, that you shouldn’t miss!
Translated works are generally looked down upon, as compared to the original, but due to factors like not knowing multiple languages, these remain unknown gems, unless they are available to us as translations.
Women in translation, therefore, is obviously a very big deal. In today’s time when translations have become wider as a genre (even having an award for the best translated fiction) it is imperative that we give credit to all those women writers who have been earning laurels for their work and their contribution to the literature of their domain language.
India has a long list of official languages. Here’s a look at some of the women in translation among these.
Yuganta by Irawati Karve (originally Yuganta): In this book, we see the familiar Mahabharata characters in a new light, as presented by Irawati Karve, emphasising and appreciating them in the form of a collection of essays. Buy it here.
Deliverance by Gauri Deshpande (originally Nirgathi): Said to be a semi-biographical account of the author’s life, Deliverance is a novel which takes one on an exciting ride while talking about her close familial relationships and women power. Buy it here.
I Want to Destroy Myself by Mallika Amar Sheikh (originally Mala Udhwasta Vhyachay): The unvarnished story of a marriage and of a woman and a writer seeking her space in a man’s world, Malika Amar Shaikh’s autobiography is also a portrait of the Bombay of poets, activists, prostitutes and fighters. Buy it here.
The Weave of My Life by Urmila Pawar (originally Aaydaan): In this frank and intimate memoir, Pawar not only shares her tireless effort to surmount hideous personal tragedy but also conveys the excitement of an awakening consciousness during a time of profound political and social change. Buy it here.
Karukku by Bama Faustina Soosairaj: Revolving around the main theme of caste oppression within the Catholic Church, it portrays the tension between the self and the community, and presents Bama’s life as a process of self-reflection and recovery from social and institutional betrayal. Buy it here.
In a Forest, a Deer by CS Lakshmi or Ambai (originally Kaatril oru maan): In a Forest, a Deer recounts the saga of Tangam Athai, whose husband remarried because she could not bear him a child and Chinthiru’s journey to the forest alongside the mythological tale of Sita’s exile to underscore Chinthiru’s unique search for self-identity. Buy it here.
Andal: The Autobiography of a Goddess: Translations and collection of the works of the saint and poet Andal by Priya Sarukkai Chabria and Ravi Shankar are a must read to become aware of the works of this great poet. Buy it here.
The Queen of Jhansi by Mahasweta Devi: The recollection of the legend of the most historic figure of woman power, Jhansi ki Rani, this book is a tribute to her and her tale. Buy it here.
Defying Winter by Nabaneeta Dev Sen (originally Sheet Sahasik Hemantolok): The novella examines the closed world of the relationships of women within their homes with all its bitterness, anger, intolerance and marvellously brings out its inevitable unfolding of power at different stages of a woman’s lifespan. Here we see the tension between different generations of women as a clash of their dependence, both economic and emotional, on men. Buy it here.
Seventeen by Anita Agnihotri: Seventeen brings together the best of more than one hundred pieces of her published short fiction. By turns intense, brittle, angry, sad, and torn apart in conflict, the stories here bring out the different faces of human hardship and explore an India that is still largely unknown. Buy it here.
(Read more about the women writers in Bengali whose work you should know about).
Hangwoman by KR Meera (originally Aarachaar): When twenty-two-year-old Chetna Grddha Mullick is appointed the first woman executioner in India, assistant and successor to her father, her life explodes under the harsh lights of television cameras. When the day of the execution arrives, will she bring herself to take a life? Buy it here.
My Story by Kamala Das (originally Ente Katha): The autobiographical narration of the famous author and poet Kamala Das, which talks about her life as probably the most controversial woman of her time. Buy it here.
Othappu: The Scent of the Other Side by Sarah Joseph (originally Othappu): Othappu is about a woman’s yearning for a true understanding of spirituality and her own sexuality. The novel is a powerful indictment of the hypocrisy that plagues Christianity in many parts of the Subcontinent. Othappu unfolds at many levels to critique notions of class, caste, antiquity, and prestige that have, over time, eroded the power of the first church. Buy it here.
Pinjar by Amrita Pritam: The most critically acclaimed book in the genre of partition literature, revolving around the life of Puro who is kidnapped by a muslin man during the partition, Pinjar is a must read for anyone who wants to look at the event with a different lens. Buy it here.
The Other Woman by Ajeet Cour: A collection of short stories by Ajeet Cour, translated by Khushwant Singh and others into English is an eclectic compilation of excellent short stories which captivate the reader. Buy it here.
Felanee by Arupa Patangia Kalita: Felanee is the story of a woman who lives her life surrounded and affected by violent ethnic conflict. (Read a review here ) Buy it here.
Pages Stained with Blood by Indira Goswami (originally Tej Aru Dhulire Dhushorito Prishtha): A personalized history of the 1984 riots in Delhi and the events preceding it, this book is an account of the riot-torn, savage days following the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Buy it here.
Lifting the Veil by Ismat Chughtai: One of the most famous women Urdu writer, Chughtai’s Lifting the Veil is a collection of her short stories which flout the norms. She is easily the champion of feminism in Urdu literature. Buy it here.
River of Fire by Qurratulain Hyder (originally Aag ka dariya): Never before available in English, River of Fire, originally published as Aag ka Darya in 1959, is without question the most important novel of 20th-century Urdu literature. Buy it here.
A Life in Words: Memoirs by Ismat Chughtai (originally Kaghazi hai Pairahan): A Life in Words, the first complete translation of Ismat Chughtai’s celebrated memoir, provides a delightful account of several crucial years of her life. Chughtai is searingly honest about her fight to get an education and the struggle to find her own voice as a writer. The result is a compellingly readable memoir by one of the most significant Urdu writers of all time. Buy it here.
Zindaginama by Krishna Sobti: One of the most controversial novels of the last century, Zindaginama is a magnificent portrait of India on the brink of its cataclysmic division. Buy it here.
A Pilgrimage to the Himalayas by Mahadevi Varma (originally Smriti ki rekhyan): A Pilgrimage to the Himalayas is a curious mix of memoirs, sketches and essays. Ably translated, it describes India as it was before independence through a series of encounters. As fluid and absorbing as stories, the portraits are marked by a deep sense of authorial empathy. Buy it here.
The Heart Has Its Reasons by Krishna Sobti (originally Dilo-Danish): Mehak and Kripanarayan’s love story set in 20th century Delhi that stirs up tempestuous passions beneath the simmering calm of family and marriage. Writer par excellence and recipient of the Katha Chudamani and Sahitya Akademi Awards, Sobti’s powerful narratives defy territorial specifics. Buy it here.
(Read more about the women writers in Hindi who have made significant contributions to the world of Hindi literature.)
Gulabi Talkies and Other Stories by Janaki “Vaidehi” Srinivasa Murthy: Gulabi Talkies is a compilation of 20 of her short stories written through the 80s and 90s, with pastoral South India as a backdrop. Most of the stories convey, through Vaidehi’s celebrated naturalness and wry humour, the female experience that manifests itself in the daily lives of these women in a distinctive fashion. Buy it here.
Breaking Ties by Sara Abubacker (originally Chandragiriya Theeradalli): Revolving around the protagonist Nadira, Breaking Ties talks about her trials and tribulations with her father and the patriarchal society while struggling with the stereotype of being a Muslim. Buy it here.
Rainbow At Noon by Dhiruben Patel (originally Agantuk): Rainbow at Noon describes the life of Shan, who is able to navigate his soul out of the world and back into it, only to realize the place for the self is in the self. Here is the story of a sanyasi who returns to his home in Mumbai and how he is treated by the world. It is a brilliant account of the inner turmoil of every man who wishes to rise above himself. Buy it here.
Yajnaseni: The Story of Draupadi by Pratibha Ray: In this historical novel, Pratibha Ray makes an admirable attempt to present a balanced portrait of Draupadi and in doing so, skillfully brings to the forefront the deeper aspects of the character and mind of the remarkable Pandava Queen. Buy it here.
The Dark Abode by Sarojini Sahoo (originally Gambhiri Ghara): The Dark Abode is a collage presentation of South Asian feminist novelist Sarojini Sahoo’s novel and American poet and painter Ed Baker’s 23 sketches, which deal with terrorism that people often face from micro to macro sphere. Buy it here.
From Purdah to the People: Memoirs of Padma Shri Rani Laxmi Kumari Chundawat: Edited and translated by Frances Taft, this book is an autobiographical account of politician and writer, Shri Laksmi Kumari Chundawat who received the Padma Shri Award for her work and contribution to Rajasthani Literature. Buy it here.
The Liberation of Sita by P Lalitha “Volga” Kumari (originally Vimukta): In Volga’s retelling, it is Sita who, after being abandoned by Purushottam Rama, embarks on an arduous journey to self-realization. Along the way, she meets extraordinary women who have broken free from all that held them back: husbands, sons, and their notions of desire, beauty and chastity. The minor women characters of the epic as we know it – Surpanakha, Renuka, Urmila and Ahalya – steer Sita towards an unexpected resolution. The Liberation of Sita opens up new spaces within the old discourse, enabling women to review their lives and experiences afresh. Buy it here.
The Pages of My Life: The Autobiography of Popati Hiranandani (translated by Jyoti Panjwani): The Pages of My Life maps Popati Hiranandani’s journey as a homeless, community-less, displaced woman. Caught in the web of nostalgia, agony, and the pain of separation, the memoir traces the life of a Sindhi woman poised between two vastly different worlds: from childhood losses and joys to triumphs of early youth in Hyderabad, Sindh to profound realizations of adulthood. Buy it here.
The Final Victory by Jayanti Naik (originally Jait)
The Empty Nest by Jyoti Kunkolienkar (originally Kalzacho Ghonter)
(No book links could be found for these.)
Many languages like Nepali, Kashmiri, Sanskrit, Maithili, Mizo, Bhojpuri, Manipuri, and Kokborok did not seem to have any famous women writers whose work has been widely translated. But all the other languages that we saw above have some excellent titles by women in translation which should be in your next reading list if you’re a bibliophile and just cannot resist any curiosity! Even I have added some of these while researching and am looking forward to getting my hands on the copies winks
We have tried to pick up all the official languages of the country and maintain accuracy. If you have any other suggestions then do comment below and let us know!
Header image credit to Flickr and Amazon India
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18// New Delhi, India
A literature student on the path of her identity. I like
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