Two translations caught my eye in January, largely because I met the authors at the Great Jaipur Literature Carnival. One of them from Hindi, which I know and read, and the other from French, which I do not. Ailan Gali, named for a fishy declaration (“ailan") of bribed protection from thieves, is a narrow lane in Srinagar, Kashmir, in the days before insurgency and terrorism. The people who live there—Anwar Miyaan, the “raja of repartee", the “amazonian" Arundhati, who once frightened a thief to death, and other such well-etched characters—have gotten used to the perennial “darkness" of this narrow lane where everyone knows everyone else, and has an opinion to match. But the times are changing, the young grow up and are forced to leave the valley, and a greater darkness is about to invade Ailan Gali.

Classic: Ailan Gali in English.

The French novel is by a Francophone writer of Indian origin from Mauritius, but now settled in France: Nathacha Appanah. A smoother translation, Appanah’s The Last Brother has been published internationally, including in monolingual England, where Boyd Tonkin has aptly described it as “a lushly beautiful child’s-eye tale". Set in the years of World War II, it depicts the meeting—fraught with history—of two boys from very different backgrounds and their flight together through subtropical forests and devastating storms. The novel builds up slowly but keeps you interested throughout: a promising work by a young author who will be around.

Indian readings

I have often complained about the fact that Indian English criticism seems to be lagging behind Indian English writing at times. This is only partially true, as there have been excellent studies by the late Meenakshi Mukherjee, Harish Trivedi and others. G.J.V. Prasad’s latest study, Writing India, Writing English: Literature, Language, Location, can be added to that list. As the subtitle indicates, this is a volume that reads Indian writing in English in context, locating it within the matrix of languages in a constantly “negotiated" Indian nation, and examining the role of English translation in particular.

The final mark of the “arrival" of a literature in any post-colonial language, such as English in India, is not the global visibility of its primary texts but the ability of its secondary texts, from within the nation, to articulate nuanced readings which are not necessarily the same as those espoused by international critics, whether commercial or “post-colonial". It is in this sense that Prasad’s study is a welcome addition.

Michael Krüger

The best thing about literary festivals is that they, sometimes, introduce you to excellent writers you had not read before. For me, one such writer at Jaipur was the German poet Michael Krüger and what better way to introduce him to readers than to quote from the title poem (the shortest in the volume) of his trilingual collection, The Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt/not die,/please."

Tabish Khair is the author of the poetry collection Man of Glass and the novel The Thing about Thugs.

Write to Tabish at readingroom@livemint.com

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