Convergences: Languages, Markets and Readers
Jayant Kaikini, Manasi Subramaniam, Ravi Singh and Udayan Mitra in conversation with Aditi Maheshwari Goyal
Juhi Matta, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger
If there’s one word that sums up life and times in the 21st century, it’s ‘convergence’. The coming together of people, ideas and markets has shaped our present, and is constantly revolutionising our future. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find spheres of life that have remained untouched by this convergence.
The literary world is no exception to this phenomenon, as the lines between languages, markets and readers continue to blur. Industry veterans discussed and deliberated upon this change and its implications on the opening day of Jaipur BookMark, where they took on the art and business of translation.
One of the first questions that comes up when literary translation is talked about is that of deciding whether a book warrants translation. Literary Publisher at Harper Collins India, Udayan Mitra cited some of the questions he asks himself in such situations: “How will the work travel when you translate it into English? Will it have readership in English? Will it have significant readership?”
That doesn’t just refer to publishing translations of bestsellers, though. Ravi Singh, who co-founded Speaking Tiger Books, pointed out that numbers aren’t the only deciding factor. He emphasised the importance of keeping diversity in mind while curating a publishing roster, highlighting his personal mantra: “Not only a profitable list… can we build a respectable list?”
The panel unanimously agreed on two other factors that go into determining whether a book calls for a translation: the quality of the original work, and that of the translation. Deliberating upon what makes a good translation, Kannada writer, poet, playwright and lyricist Jayant Kaikini said, “Translation is always safe in the hands of a poet, because a poet is always connected with the unsaid.” Publishing industry heavyweight Manasi Subramaniam offered a different take: “A translation can either be faithful or beautiful, never both,” she said, eliciting a chuckle from the audience.
From the art of translation to the business side, the panelists talked about what it would take to boost sales of translated works. Subramaniam credited the recent upsurge in the number of authors that are turning into translators as a key factor in legitimising translated works as books in their own right. This sentiment was echoed by Kaikini, who brought the writer’s perspective to the discussion. Looking beyond just fiction and poetry, boosting public-private partnerships and translating between Indian languages were among the potential solutions put forth by the industry veterans. As for how profitable is profitable enough when it comes to translations, Singh said, “I think a little profitable is enough.”