Bhashas Under Critical Gaze
September 2023, volume 47, No 9

The Book Review Literary Trust brings to the readers of The Book Review yet another issue focusing on the Indian Languages. Right from its inception in 1976, we have provided a platform to highlight the works of writers in the Indian languages in the original and in translation. Over the years, special issues devoted to one language, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi, Malayalam, Bengali and Urdu among others have been published, and they are now available in the Archives:

The current issue has thrown up some amazing insights into the pulsating creativity in the Indian languages. Among the books reviewed, the works of some of the greats in Indian literature like UR Ananthamurthy, Imayam and CN Annadurai are interspersed with debut novelists, short story writers and poets. Volumes of short stories, poems, novels and plays are reviewed in these pages, and the canvas is truly a wide one. Themes of alienation and marginalization, casteist and patriarchal oppression, the trauma of leaving home in search of livelihoods, with instances of systematic violence and brutality as political agenda pervade the works under review. However, the writers today, while painting grim pictures of social and political realities, also sound a note of hope and positivity, whether it is women’s solidarity or workers uniting to stand up and be counted in the face of adversity and oppression, to mention just a few instances.

All this and more in the original works also find their way to a wider readership through translations. And here the translators earn well deserved kudos in the reviews. It is also clear that the translational challenges are very real, especially since writers today use languages and dialects in all their variations. Contributors to this special issue are to be congratulated for bringing to the fore the splendid use of language of Indian writers today succinctly and in vibrant prose.

Gems glitter throughout the issue: UR Ananthamurthy is quoted to declare, ‘Indian literatures in the bhashas have a front yard and a backyard…The front yard interfaces with other languages, mainly lingua francas, that work as windows and conduits to the larger world and engage with power and authority. The backyard is the space where the dialects, and the local marginalized tongues flourish, opening up channels to intermingle with the local environment and the realm of the affects.’ Or again, on another theme, ‘The people of this country are no better than a herd of sheep who take slogans for ideals and wait for a golden future that will never be…So dismayed is Dara with people’s gullibility that he declares that Aurangzebs are the only future of Hindustan.’  And again, ‘… Mallick’s colloquial, jovial and idiosyncratic tone of voice… [with] the complete absence of guilt, shame or trauma that we usually expect to find in all queer writing’.

We bring to our readers reviews of as many books that could be accommodated in one issue and would like to assure publishers and reviewers that bringing the bhashas in focus will be an ongoing process, as in the years past. The December issue will bring another large section of reviews on Indian languages works, in the original and in translation.