Translation, as Salman Rushdie has noted, has its roots in the Latin for “bearing across.” Rushdie – born in Mumbai, or Bombay as it was known then – acknowledges the common fear that something always gets lost in translation, yet he hopes, too, that something can be gained.
In Rushdie’s native India, where there are 22 official languages and easily 100 more also spoken in dozens of communities from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, publishers have a bounty of languages to get lost in and to gain from. The emergence of smartphones and tablets – enabling so-called “mobile reading” – promises to make India a nation of translations. The Indian reader may now enjoy the same book as someone at the other end of the train or on the other side of the country.
“Lately in India, there’s a huge concentration in publishing on Indian languages. Technology is deep-seated in the market, and we’ve seen the rise of reading apps which cater to Indian languages,” notes Prashasti Rastogi, director, German Book Office in New Delhi.
“Books and news both are disseminated to readers in their (native) languages,” she tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “The challenges of Indic fonts are being discussed, and publishers are committed to publishing translations.”
“Languages (other than English) are really thriving, and in fact, there is an increased readership that we see in a lot of local languages,” says Meera Johri, who heads the prestigious Rajpal & Sons, publishers of Hindi classics, dictionaries and textbooks as well as contemporary works including books by Prof. Amartya Sen, a Nobel laureate in economics.
In such a dynamic literary environment, an editor must develop a reliable network of sources for dozens more if she is to remain current.
“Every person in India would tell you that he or she speaks or knows at least three languages, including English,” says Minakshi Thakur, who counts among her responsibilities the translations imprint Harper Perennial, covering the best regional Indian writers, and the imprint for quality Hindi books, Harper Hindi.
“By sources, I mean writers in those languages, regional publishers, journalists writing in those languages, and various people – readers, passionate readers. We’re constantly going back to them to check who is doing well, whose book is a huge hit, which senior writer we should publish, which are the classics in those languages. So we really depend on these sources in the languages apart from the ones that we speak.”