A real translation is transparent; it does not cover the original, does not block its light, but allows the pure language, as though reinforced by its own medium, to shine upon the original all the more fully. (Benjamin, The Task of The Translator 162)
Distinguished writer, editor, memoirist, and translator, Poonam Saxena, wears many hats with élan. Besides launching Hindustan Times’s Sunday magazine, Brunch, her distinguished writing career includes: translations of Hindi novels such as Dharamvir Bharati’s Gunahon Ka Devta and Rahi Masoom Raza’s Scene 75 into English; a memoir of the filmmaker Karan Johar titled An Unsuitable Boy, which she has co-authored with him. In her latest book, The Greatest Hindi Stories Ever Told (2020), she has curated and translated twenty-five stories, representing a line-up of very formidable and well-known names across different time epochs in the Hindi fiction writing ranging from the early literary masters of the form such as Premchand, Chandradhar Sharma Guleri, Bhisham Sahni, Harishankar Parsai, Mannu Bhandari, and Shivani to the contemporary greats such as Asghar Wajahat, Uday Prakash, Sara Rai, among many others. In that sense, it is both a rather standard anthology, sampling a broad tradition for ‘representative’ texts, and an ambitious project that, as Poonam Saxena describes, demanded first locating and then reading hundreds of stories that have been written and published in Hindi journals (Saraswati, Madhuri and Hans) or books by many Indian writers across many decades.
The Greatest Stories Ever Told lends support to the Hindi short story’s singular and prominent topoi as well as its development into different twentieth-century literary movements and schools (Dwivedi Yug and Chayavad in the 1920s and 1930s; Pragativad that gained institutional recognition with the formation of the Progressive Writers’ Association in 1936; Akahani in the 1960s; Sachetan Kahani and the Samaantar Kahani, the principal movements of the 1960s and the 1970s respectively) that offer numerous entry points to approach the genre. In the introduction of her book, Poonam Saxena addresses non-Hindi readers by gesturing towards not only rich references regarding the history of Hindi, its literary origins and traditions that provoke new genealogies of affect, but also invaluable insights into the theme, context, style and structure that the Hindi short story enfolds within. This collection has complex configurations of both representation and affect underscored by stories which portray emotions ranging from shame, terrible violence, trauma, death, hatred, darkness, and personal tales of loss to love, desire, hope, triumph and empathy, as psychological and embodied states and cultural constructs with ideological implication. While explaining her rationale for organizing the stories as she does in this collection, Saxena says: