Why is a Literary Collective Translating 100 Classic Indian Novels?

The Indian Novels Collective (INC) has set itself an ambitious goal. The collective, founded by four book lovers in 2017, intends to translate 100 novels from 13 Indian languages into English.

The INC began, according to organizers, with a chat among friends. Founders Amrita Somaiya, Anuradha Parikh, Sangita Jindal, and Ashwani Kumar discovered their children were reading in English. Thus, they were missing out on many Indian-language classics. “A series of conversations around reading, books and the curious case of the missing Indian translations soon led to the formation of Indian Novels Collective.”

The INC’s first job was to identify these 100 “classic” novels. How to decide what is—and isn’t—a classic? The founders discussed this process at a panel discussion in Mumbai earlier this month. At the panel, organizers also spoke about their plan not just to commission fresh translations, but also to hold literary events. The events should help “bring these old novels to new audiences.”

INC organizers have already started releasing their lists of chosen novels. Chosen works are those with strong literary qualities that were published between the early 1900s and 1990s.

Reaching Young Readers

One of the main goals is reaching out to the young.

“We need to reach out to young readers today,” Amrita Somaiya said at the event. Somaiya is one of the INC co-founders and also owns the Kitab Khana bookshop in Mumbai. “Young people aren’t reading regional literature from their own languages,” she said, according to Scroll.in. “This will help bring those points of view and perspectives closer to them.”

Another founding member, Ashwani Kumar, underlined the importance of translators. According to a report in The Hindu, Kumar said: “We want translators to be recognised as co-producers and co-writers.”

The author Damodar Mauzo, whose book Karmelin has been chosen for translation, also spoke at the event. “Indian English writing is dominant so other languages are pushed back.”

With INC, organizers are attempting to push—a little—in the other direction.

Although the initiative is geared at Indian readers, it could also benefit English-language readers elsewhere. Indeed, it has already sparked U.S. publishers’ interest in Indian-language novels:

The INC hopes to start publishing their list of 100 works, perhaps with the Speaking Tiger imprint, in 2020.

An Active Blog

The INC also has an active blog. There, writers have already been suggesting Indian-language translations. Some of the blog highlights include Priyanka Lindgren’s list of “Six must-read translations of Bengali novels” and “10 Indian language women writers who should feature on your reading list.”

Indian-language literatures have a vibrant tradition and are little-translated into English. If you’re looking to expand your reading landscape, the INC site is a must-visit.