In 2014, Meytal Radzinski, an American book blogger and Alison Anderson, a translator, launched a significant endeavor aimed at commemorating literature created and translated by women authors. From that point onwards, the movement designated the month of August as a period to pay tribute to women writers all around the world.
The Women In Translation initiative strives to correct the disparity within global literature by advocating for female authors from diverse backgrounds, languages, and life journeys. Whether their works are translated into English, across various non-English languages, or still await translation, women worldwide are entitled to equitable prospects in terms of literary acknowledgment. As readers, we should be able to overcome the barrier of language and be granted access to narratives by women that authentically mirror the immense expanse of our world. These narratives are portrayed through various prisms shaped by diverse languages, cultures, and lived encounters. Today, we explore a few homegrown women writers, whose brilliant works have come to light thanks to the immense power of translation.
The Quilt (Lihaaf), Ismat Chugtai translated from Urdu by Syeda Hameed and Tahira Naqvir
Without a shadow of a doubt, Ismat Chugtai is one of the most brilliant Urdu writers ever. In 1942, this revolutionary short story was published in an Urdu journal, sparking considerable controversy and upheaval, leading to an obscenity trial where Chughtai had to defend herself in the Lahore Court. Chughtai, unyielding in her defense, prevailed as her lawyer argued the story's suggestive rather than explicit nature. The narrative unfolds through the eyes of a young girl, who sheds light on her aunt, Begum Jan, a neglected wife in a feudal society, and her intimate connection with Rabbo, a skillful but unattractive servant girl. Jan's quilt becomes a poignant symbol as it casts shadows on their concealed relationship, forever impacting the narrator. In the years to come, the tale gained widespread recognition through anthologies, becoming one of Chughtai's most renowned pieces alongside "Angarey," which faced a lengthy ban. Chughtai later chronicled the court trial in detail within her memoir, "Kaghazi Hai Pairahan" (A Life in Words: Memoir). Beyond its exploration of lesbianism, The Quilt delves into the confined existence of a neglected wife within a feudal society, touching on themes of suffocation and isolation. The story marked an early portrayal of sexuality, a subject still considered taboo in the realm of Urdu literature.
Tomb of Sand (Samadhi), Geetanjali Shree translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell
In 2022, this novel became the first ever translated work from an Indian language to win the International Booker Prize. The novel follows the poignant odyssey of an 80-year-old woman, Ma, whose life is profoundly altered by the passing of her spouse. Overwhelmed by grief, she embarks on a remarkable voyage to Pakistan, confronting the enduring traumas etched into her soul since her youth during the tumultuous Partition riots. Amidst the backdrop of northern India, Ma's journey unravels a tale of resurgence and newfound purpose. Her unconventional choices, such as forming a friendship with a transgender individual, bewilder her modern-minded daughter, accustomed to seeing herself as the embodiment of progressiveness. Defying societal norms, Ma's determination leads her to cross borders, unearthing not only the buried scars of her past but also reshaping her roles as a mother, daughter, and feminist, redefining the essence of each. Geetanjanjali Shree has penned some remarkable novels over the years, ever since her debut into the literary world with her groundbreaking work, Mai, published in 2004.
Let the Rumours be True (Afava Khari Tharavi Mhanun), Pradnya Daya Pawar, translated from the Marathi by Maya Pandit
Within these 14 short Dalit feminist stories, readers will encounter a diverse cast of ordinary urban individuals - artists, actors, activists, homemakers, and professionals working in global corporations and financial institutions. While these stories delve into their daily lives, they also resonate with the fervent voices of Maharashtra's third-generation Ambedkarites. These men and women, marked by their vocal advocacy and hard-fought battles, have carved out a distinct place in society, providing an intimate glimpse into both the commonplace and the passionate dimensions of their experiences.
Citadel of Love (Silapadma), Pratibha Ray, translated from the Odia by Monalisa Jena
Citadel of Love is immersed in the rich tapestry of Odisha's 13th-century history, a period often hailed as the state's golden era coinciding with the splendor of the Konark temple. The novel weaves folklore, legends, and myths into its fabric, immersing readers in a world where modernity intersects with the past. Charles, a contemporary foreigner, embarks on a journey with his fiancée to explore the Konark region. As he unearths palm-leaf manuscripts and resurrects ancestral narratives, he finds himself drawn into a surreal realm. Enigmatic occurrences entangle him, particularly the haunting presence of a woman's statue. Suddenly, he's transported back to a time when she was alive, and the grandeur of the Konark complex was still unfolding. Amidst this temporal shift, two mystical love stories from the past unfurl, their echoes reverberating across time, while a new romance blossoms in Charles' present-day life. This intricate tale captures the essence of Odisha's history and love's enduring power, fusing the past and present in an enchanting narrative.
The First Promise (Prothom Protishruti), Ashapurna Devi, translated from Bengali by Indira Chowdhury
This brilliant 1964 Bengali novel transports readers to a remote village in undivided Bengal. This work, revered as Devi's magnum opus, unfolds the life of Satyabati, a woman married off at the age of eight to uphold societal norms, ensnared by strict Brahmanical regulations. Her tale portrays a relentless struggle against familial constraints, the mental anguish bred by a polygamous system, and the gender biases embedded within a patriarchal society. The work is a triumph, having captured the Rabindra Puraskar in 1965 and the prestigious Jnanpith Award in 1976. Through the lens of Satyabati's story, Devi eloquently expresses her poignant protest against the helplessness she witnessed in women of Indian society, crafting a compelling narrative that encapsulates societal dynamics, promises unkept, and the indomitable spirit of change.
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