This August, the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, brings together writers, translators and publishers from Modern Indian Languages to initiate a dialogue on how to develop a global readership

“That India is multi-lingual is both a boon and a bane to the literature produced in our different languages,” states Rajvinder Singh, National Fellow at the prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla. Our multi-cultural and multi-lingual contexts allow interesting shades of literature to dawn and thrive but the same multiplicity has proved to be limiting simply because they are unable to transcend the inherent linguistic barriers to reach a wider audience. And today, with a global reach of Indian writing in English largely because it employs a more universal language, this barrier can be frustratingly restrictive to writers in Modern Indian Languages (MIL).

Singh, also a well-known poet and writer in German, is all set to hoist the issue with its accompanying dynamics this August at a national seminar organised by the IIAS. Titled “Waves in the Silent Pool: National Seminar on Contemporary Modern Indian Languages (MILs’) Literature”, the three-day event is likely to see literary luminaries, young writers, publishers, translators and other stakeholders from regional languages engaging with the issue and related challenges. Singh, the convenor of the seminar to be held between 12 and 14 August, says, “The idea behind it is to initiate a composite dialogue among the stakeholders, including media and literature festival organisers, to understand the dynamics of the range of problems encountered and how best to work towards developing not just a nationwide readership but a global one which writers of many European languages have managed to do.”

Here, he states the charter of International PEN, the largest global body of writers, which considers literature of the world as one though it is being written in many languages. “In the context of India, however, this avowal has its obvious limitations. Firstly, because the literature being written in India essentially follows two parallel independent modes of being: one, of Indian English literature, having long achieved a worldwide currency; and the other, of Modern Indian Languages’ literature, with hardly any global readership. Secondly, the rich MILs’ literature being written in 23 languages, though constrained by similar factors impeding its wider appreciation, conceding a very few instances, hardly undertakes a sustained, cross-cultural dialogue across languages.”

He says a kind of “literary inertia” appears to hamper the MILs literature’s much needed onward momentum. It is time to ponder, “Why is it so and what are its ground realities?”

“In order to understand it, it is imperative to look at MIL’s literatures not only from the point of view of its creation, but also from that of its reception, translation, its production as well as the dissemination. Visualising a composite dialogue, the IIAS is therefore organising the seminar to help literary partners see how to work towards creating a literary milieu in which global critical reception and readership gets access to MIL literature too.”

Singh points out that it is also important to see the role of the institutes like the National Book Trust, Sahitya Akademi and National Translation Mission in popularising regional literature globally. He suggests, “It is time we create a group of good translators, may be give scholarships to foreign students to train in our regional languages with the aim of translating their literature to world languages. Many times, a book gets translated in different languages but loses its beauty in the process. That is why, training translators on details like how to translate metaphors, etc. is important.”

It is time India projects to the world that we are a nation of knowledge, he underlines. “Projecting ourselves as an IT giant is fine but we should also look at showcasing to the world the age-old reputation of India as a knowledge hub.” Having lived most of his life in Germany, he says, “I can give you an example. There is an old building owned by India Government in the heart of Berlin. It has been lying vacant for years after the consulate moved to another building. I wonder why such spaces can’t be used to showcase India as a knowledge hub, why can’t our Government turn it into a house of Indian book culture? India today has money, only thing lacking is the will.”

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