Interview with Pratilipi

In June I was alerted to the existence of a new journal of literature in translation, Pratilipi. It only took me three months to write some interview questions, which the editors graciously answered. It's thrilling to learn that others are attempting a venture in the same spirit. We wish them good luck.

CALQUE: Let’s begin with the name of the magazine. What is its significance?

PRATILIPI: Pratilipi, in common usage, means a duplicate or a copy. But, if we break the word into the prefix ‘prati’ and ‘lipi’ (both derived from Sanskrit), it can be understood as ‘Counter-Script’ which, perhaps, explains the intended meaning.

CALQUE: What are the origins of Pratilipi?

PRATILIPI: See [here].

CALQUE: Elaborate on your editorial goals beyond what is written in the About section of the website?

PRATILIPI:
• To help create an online, translative space across Indian languages.
• To publish more and more diverse kinds of texts – writing and other media.
• To improve upon the quality of translations.

CALQUE: Tell us about your goals as publishers. What would you like Pratilipi to look like in 5 years? Do you have a model?

PRATILIPI: In 5 years we hope to have a regular print edition with a circulation of 5000, and editors from other languages, Indian and non-Indian.

CALQUE: Can you describe the literary landscape in India? Where does Pratilipi fit in? Is the climate receptive to a project like yours?

PRATILIPI: India is a multilingual, multi-script culture. The Indian constitution recognizes 22 languages, excluding English. The Sahitya Akademi (the National Academy of Letters) recognizes 24 – including English. They publish two periodicals, one in Hindi and one in English, with work from all Indian languages – translated into Hindi or English. Similarly, there are magazines published by the State Academies, in the language of the region. Sometimes they too carry translations from other Indian languages. Still, there are no magazines/platforms that have the scope and flexibility to bring all these literatures together.

Besides, one of the persisting legacies of colonialism is that English is the dominant language when it comes to translations. Most translations from Indian languages are into English. Translations across Indian languages are rare (except by the Sahitya Akademi) and, ironically, this is something not many people, including writers, are very worried about. Translation into English gets you some money, recognition, near-canonization and a pan-Indian/global presence – something that translation into another Indian language cannot offer.

In such a scenario, we wish we could be a magazine where interaction across Indian languages and also between the Hindi and English worlds of national literary life could take place. Most good authors in Indian languages get translated into English, but the two worlds have remained, basically, very different worlds.

Hindi and Indian languages have maintained the Nehruvian welfare model in a dangerous way. Nothing can happen there without government involvement in the form of institutions or funds. And there are the publishers’ canards about readership in Indian languages. Even when satellite-TV giants and publishers like Penguin and Harper Collins have entered the Hindi/Bhasha market, everybody keeps repeating that Hindi/Indian language literature does not sell. In Hindi and other languages, the average print run for a book is 1000, with most of the copies going to public-sector libraries at a profit margin that has kept some publishers in business for more than sixty years. On the other hand, the English scene has always been market-driven.

We, the editors, as north Indians from Rajasthan, have access to Hindi, English and Rajasthani (recognized by the constitution only as a regional dialect, but by the Sahitya Akademi as a language). That’s why, so far, we have been able to focus mainly on Hindi and English. To be frank, we need to become an agency that pays its authors and translators and proposed language editors if we wish to do more than that. We have been lucky to get 60-odd good, serious and seriously-taken writers from Hindi, English, Kannada, Urdu, Assamese, Rajasthani, Spanish, Catalan, Swedish, Japanese and Norwegian to contribute for the magazine in its first three issues and we’d like to make a public expression of our gratitude to all of them.

So far, we have had a ‘dream run’ and we come across exciting possibilities almost every week.

CALQUE: What are some of the difficulties and advantages of working with a bilingual format on the website?

PRATILIPI: The biggest difficulty/problem is making sure that the Hindi sections are visible properly across various operating systems and web browsers. The situation is improving, though, with the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Firefox supporting Unicode display and native support for it on the latest version of Apple’s OS-X and the new Linux distributions. Wordpress (the CMS on which we’ve built our magazine) also handles the Hindi text fairly well, though BlogSpot is better in that regard – which, by the way, has led to an explosion of sorts in Hindi blogging. To be sure, Unicode is what has made the site, as we conceived it, possible.

The other problem is the lack of an intuitive, offline transliteration tool (it’s always easier to type in roman script, what with the keyboards all being English…) and the lack of proofing tools for Hindi.

The last major problem is aesthetic – there are no good-looking, readable fonts in Hindi which are also complete, in terms of the glyphs they can handle. On-screen readability, especially, is a major issue. A standard set of complete fonts – for screen and for print – is desperately needed.

The advantages are self-evident: the ability to read originals and translations side-by-side; publishing in two languages increases the range of pieces we can offer our readers; the bilingual format also puts us in a rather unique position – we are the first online, Hindi/English, literary journal.

CALQUE: Tell us about the Hindi language and the challenges it presents to the translator into English.

PRATILIPI: Hindi has a problematic history – especially Khari Boli, i.e. the modern Hindi (Khari Boli Hindi is one language that was born ‘modern’). It has a more problematic past as a language that was promoted to be the Rashtrabhasha (National Language) and the Rajbhasha (Official Language), as a language that was instrumental in creating a nation(ality).

Hindi (literary Hindi) is, broadly, of two kinds: one with a tatsama (originary/Sanskritic) inclination, the other with a tadbhava (derivative/folk/Urdu-Persian) inclination (also known as Hindustani). For translations into English, both pose specific problems. A novelist like Hazari Prasad Dwivedi is generally considered untranslatable for his dominantly tatsama language and a writer like Phanishwar Nath Renu is generally considered untranslatable for his dominantly dialectical/regional tadbhava Hindi.

It has also has some connection to a writer’s relationship with western modernism and his level of comfort with English. Someone like Nirmal Verma, one of the most widely translated Hindi writers, is perhaps also the most (easily) translatable. His Hindi is syntactically very different – it reflects the modernistic influences that formed it.

CALQUE: A terse reader commented that the translation of ‘1857: Search for Material,’ a section from the lead article in the August issue was "terrible," but was not generous enough to elaborate beyond these three syllables. Can you describe this poem and the translation for us?

PRATILIPI: Asad Zaidi’s poem was first published in his collection ‘Saamaan kee Talaash’ (Search for Material, 2008). Then, it was reproduced in a Hindi print magazine ‘Pahal’, this time with a note by the poet Mangalesh Dabral.

A review in a Hindi daily, ‘Jansatta’, sparked off culturalist responses which were brought online by a Hindi blog. For what the poem is, at a textual level, please read Rajesh Kumar Sharma’s piece [here].

The poem says that the battle of the working-class and the common people against imperialism is not over. In its contemporary version we have farmers committing suicide in the wake of globalization and the free-market economy. It also registers a strong disapproval of the way 1857 has allegedly been ignored by the ‘elitist’ canon of Hindi language and literature and lists some of the masters and makers of Hindi literature who did so.

Giriraj, who translated the poem, found it to be, relatively, easily translatable. There is another English translation of the poem available online [here].

CALQUE: Your August issue addresses the connections between history and literature, but there is almost no discussion on how the colonial history in India complicates the practice of translations into English. Is this a deliberate editorial choice?

PRATILIPI: Yes. We wanted to address it separately and you’ll only have to till the 4th issue is out (October).

CALQUE: Pratilipi is available for on-demand printing through CinammonTeal. Tell us about the choice to offer the magazine as print matter in this way. What does it look like in print?

PRATILIPI: We decided to make it available in print because (a) there are many writers, especially in Hindi and other Indian languages, who do not read online and (b) the online format was never our first choice.

We have uploaded the print-edition covers [here].

CALQUE: What should readers look forward to in the next issue? Can you show us a preview?

PRATILIPI: The lead story is the text we are most excited about. It is a very significant research paper on Ramanand, whom tradition(s) have referred to as the guru of the great medieval saint-poet Kabir. Modern scholarship holds that Ramanand and Kabir were not contemporaries and that the Brahman Ramanand could not have been the guru of the low-caste Kabir. It is a brilliant piece of academic research on one hand and a powerful critique of contemporary identity discourses on the other. Noted Kabir scholar, Purushottam Agrawal’s, work is not only likely to generate some serious academic responses but may also direct the course of identity debates for some time.

Besides this, we have: six major poets – Dhoomil, Shreekant Verma, Soumitra Mohan, Kunwar Narain, Kedarnath Singh, from Hindi (in English translation) and Keki Daruwalla; excerpts from Marguerite Duras’ novel The Malady of Death in Hindi translation; poems by and an interview of Kasi Anandan, a Tamil elam poet; a follow-up article to the third issue’s theme of ‘History and Literature’; a feature on an Indian music band and an editorial on the problematic of translation into English.

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