When was the last time you read a book—a poem, a play, or a story—in your mother tongue? The last book I read in Hindi was maybe eight months ago. It was a collection of Pakistani short stories translated from Urdu to Hindi and published by the Sahitya Academy, and I didn’t complete the book. I hope you did better than me, because if you didn’t, the loss is yours. Some of our finest short stories, poetry and plays are being written in Indian languages, unknown, perhaps, to most English-speaking citizens.
Literature festivals that celebrate Indian writing in English, and indeed writing in English, are happening across the country. The festivals have a standard format: writers discuss their work, panels debate themes of the featured books, and you can queue up and get a copy signed by the author. You’ve to buy it first, of course. The Jaipur Literature Festival, which takes place later this month, does have its “Bhasha” sessions, but then the real draw are the marquee names from English and world literature.
This issue is a special one on writing in Indian languages. We tell what it takes to be a writer in Tamil, how difficult it is to survive, how vulnerable can works be to theft from the film industry and—how even the best case scenarios are barely better than the worst case ones. S Ramakrishnan, an acclaimed Tamil author, says that after two-and-a-half decades of writing, after awards and fame, he still doesn’t earn enough to live by his words. Contrast this with banker Sarita Mandanna’s Tiger Hills—a book of dubious originality which got kind reviews in the Western press—for which the first-time author got an advance of more than Rs 30 lakh two years ago.
Our search for everyday poets takes us to Sainthal in Uttar Pradesh, a small town where everyone is a poet or a listener. In Kerala, we examine the genre of “life writing”, where the stories of people who have led an interesting life—a thief, a sex worker, a body double in a porn movie—have been the biggest sellers.
Essays include those on the oral literature of the Santhals, and Dalit writing in Punjab. We pay tribute to Mario Miranda through some of his finest sketches.
Don’t miss our special report from Egypt by Musab Iqbal, who over two weeks in Cairo and Alexandria found that the “Spirit of Tahrir” is alive and the people will not rest till they have rebuilt their country.
Saurav Kumar, Editor