Mini Krishnan consults for Oxford University Press where she sources and edits both fiction and non-fiction from 15 Indian languages. She is also the Consulting Editor of the translation programme of the Thunchath Ezhuthachan Malayalam University
In a conversation with Kabuliwala Kamal Pruthi, Mini Krishnan shares the path she travelled to get into publishing, gives account of her latest translation projects and the biggest challenges translators face in India and the possible ways to reward them.
Share your own untold story and journey into the world of writing and publishing
I wanted to be a teacher of English but couldn’t because in the 1970s when I settled in Madras, you needed to pass an examination in Tamil to be employed in a private college. So I wrote some book reviews for newspapers like The Hindu and the Deccan Herald till my friend Ritu Menon told me to look for free-lance editing assignments in either Orient Longman or Macmillan India which were the only two publishing houses in Madras at that time. Usha Aroor of OL trained me and when there was a vacuum in Macmillans (for whom I had done some freelance work) I filled it. School texts for the Indian market, reference works and anthologies for English Literature courses and finally the Modern Indian Novels in Translation (eleven languages) between 1992-2000. I was doing two jobs: the textbook programme for the Southern Branch and the translation project.
What is your role with Oxford University Press?
As a consultant I function at multiple levels. I source works from Indian languages for the Press and identify writers who need to be connected with the English-language market or whose causes express values of freedom and diversity; I find the appropriate translators for these translocations working closely with them to polish and develop the final drafts for publication. For the Education Division I develop and revise the Peace Education/Value Education programme of OUP for Indian schools. Though that isn’t relevant for the purposes of our discussion that programme also falls under the broad goal of integration, social change and mutual understanding.
What writing and translation projects you currently working on?
I’m working on a fresh translation of Joe D’Cruz’s novel Aazhi Soozh Ulagu an earlier translation of which was set aside by Navayana two years ago; a Dalit autobiography from Kannada by Lakshman titled Samboli; then the first Dalit novel in Malayalam (1963) Pulayathara by Paul Chirakarode; a travelogue by Nabaneeta Dev Sen translated by Arunava Sinha and a collection of autobiographical excerpts by Oriya women.
What are the two biggest challenges for the translators in India today?
One–they don’t know whom to approach and how to convince a publisher unless they have connections with publishing or are located in a big city where they might be able to meet a representative of a publishing house. The nerve-centre of Indian publishing in English is Delhi and it isn’t easy to drill a passage into the offices of commissioning heads. There is also a great deal of ignorance in publishing houses about the regional language publishing scene. Very few of them reach out and for the most part I include myself in that tribe. Two—the lack rewards for translation. The long hours of work, the solitary nature of the mission, the lack of reliable dictionaries, and the general lack of support and sympathy for the arduous undertaking. It isn’t recognized as an academic achievement whereas if you assemble 15 articles published by peers that is counted. Which do you think is easier? I would like to add a third challenge—that there isn’t sufficient interest from our wonderfully diverse language community in academia. A lot of lip-service and many seminars and conferences are run in universities and colleges and a great deal of money is spent in organizing them but how much translation is any university offering in their UG and PG courses? The gaze is still firmly tilted away from India. In any other country the size of India its own literature would be given far more importance than it is in ours.
What two steps would really improve the translation scene in India in terms of quality as well as number of books getting translated every year?
Support from government for those departments that teach translation. Chairs in translation, libraries funded possibly by CSR. Recognition of language as heritage Support from universities in the form of identifying texts they would like to teach in translation, co coordinating with publishers who will take the trouble to edit and prepare the academic paraphernalia needed for a classroom text, training programmes for teachers of translation. And there must be some system of rewarding translators other than what publishers can afford to pay. A translator should be rewarded like a faculty member because she or he is making available a text for study course. After all most faculty members of language departments cannot and do not translate. They provide the academic back-up so when are you going to recognize the contribution of translators as producers of knowledge texts? Currently there is a complete disconnect between writers in the regional languages and the academic community functioning in English.
The German Book Office is coming up with a forum, a website called Translating Germany to connect the literary German translators with the Indian publishers intending to get the German books translated. Do you think, such endeavours will add value?
If it inspires Indians to look back to the years of work we put into the Indian Literature Abroad project (2010—2013) I would be happy.
Do we need such forums/websites to connect the Indian translators translating in different Indian languages?
Not all Indian translators are net-happy. We need different kinds of strategies to get Indians to network and make them confident. The National Translation Mission set up under the National Knowledge Commission was strangled by red-tape.
What two key messages would you like to convey to the Publishing Industry through your talks at Publishing Next 2016?
Please support your writers by reading translations, reviewing them, recommending them for study and discussion. Form small clubs or reading groups to share and exchange the work of Indian writers in translation.
What is your opinion about annual events like Publishing Next? What role are they playing in taking the Indian publishing Scene one step ahead?
Any gathering that brings together readers writers literary critics and publishers is doing a great service to the industry. Translation conveys much more than the page says. In our memoirs poetry and fiction lie our past and present continuous. We have studied the heavens, we have dared to disturb Saturn and Mars and technology has brought the world into a box but we have so little regard for what might hold us together emotionally!
Publishing Next is an annual gathering of publishers, authors, editors, translators, librarians, book retailers, printers, technologists, service providers and policymakers from all over India and abroad. The event is organized by Goa-based CinnamonTeal Publishing, since 2011.
Dates: 15th 16th 17th September 2016
Venue: Kochi, Kerala