Hope our translation programmes produce more Geetanjali Shrees: British Council India head

The British Council launched 'Write Assamese', a partnership between BEE Books, India, and Untold Narratives, UK, to support translated works of Indian literature.
'Tomb of Sand' writer Geetanjali Shree (right) with the Booker-winning book's English translator Daisy Rockwell (Photo | The Booker Prizes Twitter)
'Tomb of Sand' writer Geetanjali Shree (right) with the Booker-winning book's English translator Daisy Rockwell (Photo | The Booker Prizes Twitter)

NEW DELHI: The Booker Prize winning feat of Geetanjali Shree and Daisy Rockwell is quite an inspiration for British Council's translation programmes in India and these schemes aim at bringing more Geetanjali Shrees to the world, says the UK organisation's new India head Alison Barrett.

Talking at length about various literary and cultural initiatives as part of the India-UK Together, Season of Culture (June 2022 - March 2023), Barrett said these look forward to strengthening artistic collaboration, skills and networks for the creative economies of both the countries.

"We are quite inspired by the work of Geetanjali Shree and Daisy Rockwell and the success they have had. It is a brilliant moment for India as well as the UK. We are hoping that we can try and bring out more Geetanjali Shrees to the world," Barrett told PTI in an interview.

The British Council is supporting PEN Translates, a project by English PEN to encourage the translation of Indian literature and build a foundation for translators working with UK publishers.

In addition to showcasing writers from all over India, including Dalit writers, at a number of festivals in India and the UK, the project enables Indian and UK publishers to acquire more work in translation to English from various Indian languages.

Six translators were chosen from a group of 12 who were given grants to create samples of their proposed works.

English PEN provided editorial support for the samples, which will be developed as an online catalogue of the most outstanding, original, and bibliodiverse literature not yet published in English translation, said Barrett.

She said the British Council's aim is to build trust and understanding among people of various countries and there is no better way than through literature and language.

"That's the way we understand each other and understand the world around us and we really want to bring out the voices that were unheard," she added.

In this regard, the British Council launched 'Write Assamese', a partnership between BEE Books, India, and Untold Narratives, UK, to support translated works of Indian literature.

The project concentrated on fresh, unpublished Assamese authors as well as Assamese writers in Northeast India.

The result of this project is an anthology "A Fistful of Moonlight: Stories from Assam", which was released at the recently-concluded Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF).

This innovative project created a space for consistent, high-quality translations from Assam in order to generate new fiction for international audiences, said Barrett.

According to her, the Season of Culture programme is designed to connect young people of India and the UK.

"So emerging artists, writers and translators with strong cultural traditions have a chance to be together. It's about creating platforms and opportunities for young emerging artists, writers and translators to build their skills, knowledge and opportunities to create new networks and pathways," she added.

The Season of Culture and the literature projects were showcased at the JLF.

Barrett also mentioned the India Literature and Publishing Sector Study 2022 commissioned by the British Council to understand issues faced in taking literature in Indian languages to global audiences.

The study closely examined the role of literary festivals and events, trends in digitisation, perceptions of Indian literature in English translation abroad and the sector's skilling needs and gaps.

The research covered 10 target cities/states - Delhi, Rajasthan, Kolkata, Odisha, Guwahati, Maharashtra, Kochi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad and eight focus languages - Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Punjabi, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada - identified on the basis of the smaller number of translated literatures from these languages being available in English.

The findings of the study also served as the foundation for the 2022 International Publishing Fellowship, a peer-to-peer mentoring and professional development programme where publishers from the UK are matched with publishers of similar career stage and publishing interests from India.

This year-long programme consists of reciprocal study trips, featured masterclasses, networking opportunities and professional skill building.

The fellows, who were chosen based on an open-call application process, work in editorial, translation, design, and production roles for large conglomerate publishers as well as boutique independent presses and bookstores.

Talking about another initiative 'Language is a Queer Thing', Barrett went on to describe how through poetry exchange, the project explores the connection between language and queerness.

Six queer and multicultural poets - Amani Saeed (UK) and Megha Harish (India), If Grillo (UK) and Anil Pradhan (India), and Sanah Ahsan (UK) and Garfield Dsouza (India) - explore their disparate experiences and asked how language can be "queered" to better reflect them.

The initiative is a collaboration among The Queer Muslim Project, India, Verve Poetry Festival, UK, and BBC's Contains Strong Language in Birmingham.

At the JLF, the British Council also hosted two sessions focused on the global opportunity of India's multilingual literature - "Developing a Market for Translations' Roundtable" and "Translating Words, Translating Worlds".

"In whatever we do, we try to highlight the multi-lingual expertise and knowledge nature of India and connect with the multi-lingual aspects of the UK," said Barrett.

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