C.Derick Varn: While there has been some infiltration of Indian American literature in to the US market–one thinks of Jhumpa Lahiri–and also the popularity of Arundhati Roy, but in general sub-continent literature in English is under-explored. What do you see as some promising and lesser known writers that are doing innovative work in India at the moment?
Dinesh Raghavendra: A lot of Indian writers are doing pretty good work: Vilas Sarang, Jerry Pinto, Cyrus Mistry ,Vivek Narayanan, although I wouldn’t consider him as working in India at the moment. There is also Kalpana Swaminathan, Kuzhali Manickavel, Meena Kandaswamy, and Namdeo Dhasal
What are the traits you see these writers as sharing?
Well, Kalpana Swaminathan writes mysteries and literary novels, and Kuzhali Manickavel writes quirky minifictions.
Meena Kandasamy is an activist/protest poet, and Namdeo Dhasal is also an activist/protest poet. Jerry Pinto is literary fiction and poetry. Cyrus Mistry is the brother of the famous writer Rohinton Mistry. Although Cyrus is not so well known in Indian literary circles
What do you see as India relationship to modern literature?
I feel India is emerging as one of the third world’s gritty mega structures replete with bad roads, glitzy malls, plagued by power shortages and corrupt politics. We are stuck at the crossroads of history where Coco Chanel exists with the caste system. India’s relationship to modern literature would definitely be unique. I expect a bolder imagination to emerge from the subcontinent, one that tries to reconcile all the contradictions and paradoxes inherent in this post-colonial monolith.
Why do you think so many writers in India have chosen to continue to write in English? Is it purely practical or are their aesthetic reasons for the choice?
The answer is a bit of both. Some writers are well-versed in both English and their regional language but prefer to compose in English because of practical reasons, be it reaching a wider audience or under pressure from the publishers. Then there are those who prefer to compose in their native tongue purely for aesthetic reasons and if they are fortunate these get translated into English. Some of the writers who fall into the second category are Kiran Nagarkar and UR Ananthamurthy.
Do translations from regional languages into English do justice to the originals?
Most of the translations are good. I am multilingual and speak two regional languages (Kannada and Hindi) along with English. I have written and read fiction, non-fiction, poetry and essays in all three languages with varying degrees of success. I am very comfortable reading translations and Muhammad Umar Memon (who translates the works of the Urdu writer Naiyer Masud) in particular, is one of the best translators working anywhere in the world today. He captures all the ambiguities and nuances of Masud’s native Urdu (which has a notoriously idiosyncratic and complex script) with a deft touch and I rank him alongside my other favorite translator Margaret Jull Costa (who translates the works of Javier Marias).
This maybe beyond your expertise, but do you think that because Indian languages are a very distant relative to English? I say this because of knowing the difficulties of translating things like Chinese or Korean in English meaning that a lot of literature just does not read right at all in the other language.
It could be. The translations definitely get distorted and several linguists I spoke to indicated that this could be because the roots of Indo-Dravidian languages which lie in the Devanagari script are a distant relative of the Anglo-Saxon. I have translated a few poems from Kannada to English and it is a very difficult thing to do!
Anything you would like to say in closing?
Thank you for providing the opportunity for this interview. I enjoyed it a lot! I hope we get to interact more in the future.