English translations of popular classics in Indian languages are showing up on the bookshelves of many youngsters

When 45-year-old Shantanu Mitra came across Chowringhee an old, popular Bengali classic written by Sankar available in English, he immediately bought it for his daughter. “My daughter belongs to a generation where she is familiar with Bengali literature through movies like Devdas and Parineeta. So when I came across Chowringhee which is one of my favourite books I wanted to share it with my daughter to familiarise her with the literature that I grew up reading,” he says.

Moving away from fantasy fiction and self help books, it is the books translated from Indian languages to English that are gaining popularity among youngsters. They are showing interest in books not only in their mother tongues but translated from other regional languages as well. “My interest in mythology was accentuated after reading Pratibha Ray's Yajnaseni which was originally written in Oriya and it helped me understand Mahabharata a lot better than the B.R Chopra's created image that I had. Now I am reading the translation of Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki Krishnamurthy which gives an insight into Chola dynasty on recommendation from a friend,” says Aishwarya K., a student.

Author and blogger Arnab Ray explains the trend and says, “Our generation spends a lot of time on the Net reading almost exclusively English. This has made many of us increasingly more confident and comfortable reading in English as opposed to in our mother tongues. I think it is more a matter of familiarity with the English script that pushes us to translations of works written in Indian languages. Because of the number of Indian languages we have, the regional market is fragmented and translation to English consolidates that.” He adds that popularity and acceptance of the Indian English in books establishes the fact that there is a demand for Indian stories in English.

Widespread displacement and an attempt to reconnect with ones native roots is also one of the reasons why these translated literature is gaining popularity. “I sent my cousin who is in the U.S the complete works of Satyajit Ray as a birthday gift. Now they have asked for Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chughtai's books,” says Payal Roy who is pursuing her PhD.

Author Amish Tripathi dismisses the argument that sometimes the essence of the story is lost in translation. “Many people are not even aware of Munshi Premchand stories or Mirza Ghalib's poetry and reading their translated works will bring us closer to our culture and literature,” he says. He argues that though the language purists might quibble with the grammar and nuances of the language, there is no denying the fact they also help in promoting literature. “Literature should not pay the price of our ability or inability to protect the Indian languages. Yuganta -The end of an Epoch, a Marathi classic by Irawati Karwe is extremely popular in English,” he points out.

Rahul Balusu, Assistant Professor at the Linguistic Department of English and Foreign Language University (EFLU) says that in most cases Indian English manages to capture the flavour of the regional languages in terms of context and culture. “A good translation can capture the essence without affecting the grammar of the language,” he says.

Amidst contemporary fiction, these classics are also finding a place, as youngsters get curious about the real Devdas not just the ones portrayed by the screen heroes.