Ethnography can be defined as the systematic study of people and cultures—an exploration of cultural phenomena from the point of view of the subject of the study. By this definition, a large amount of literature that we read is indeed ethnographic and diverse, even though it may only be a documentation instead of a faithful and authentic representation.
The book appears at first glance to be undecided about its genre or raison d’être: is it a novel or an essay? Does it wish to tell a story or discuss/debate women’s issues? Being an award-winning book notwithstanding, this disconnect stays with the reader throughout the book.
Galpaguchha means a ‘Bunch of Stories’. And that’s the offering we have in hand here—a varied bouquet of short stories selected from Rabindranath Tagore’s distinguished collection, translated by Dipavali. Some of the flowers of this bunch are fragrant with an all-pervasive sweetness, while others border on the wild and even macabre. But all are thought-provoking portraits of life, tinged with the wisdom of human observation.
If Bhai (as Damodar Mauzo the Konkani writer and Sahitya Akademi award winner is fondly known in Goa) isn’t already in the canon of the great contemporary Indian short story writers, his nomination to the long list of the 25,000 Frank O’Connor Short Story Prize, one of the richest Short Story Collection prizes in the world, for Teresa’s Man and Other Stories from Goa, 2014 issued by Rupa, indicates that he’ll be arriving there quite soon.
Joothan: A Dalit’s Life has been reprinted in 2014 with an addition, ‘Remember ing Omprakash Valmiki’. This is the third reprint. The English translation of this originally Hindi book was first published by Columbia University Press at New York, as also by Samya at Kolkata in 2003. Omprakash Valmiki passed away in 2013, after fighting a two year battle with cancer.
Literature popularly defined as a mirror of society gets a radically different meaning in the novella, Pethavan by Imayam, published recently in English translation. The myriad functions of caste in Indian society got unveiled through this brilliant literary piece by a master story-teller. It invites us to read ourselves and our society vis-à-vis caste.
My first thoughts on reading Apeetha in English is to wonder how a text considered difficult in terms of language in the original Tamil, reads with such an easy flow in English! The reverse is also usually true. Bharathiyar, who sounds poetically rich in Tamil becomes bland in English, most often. Padma Narayanan, who had already translated two stories of La. Sa. Raa (1916–2007) earlier, even while he was still alive, has translated this novella.