22 September 08 | Chad W. Post

The always interesting CALQUE blog posted an interview over the weekend with the editors of Pratilipi, a relatively new bimonthly web magazine dedicated to publishing and promoting Indian writers from a number of regions and languages. Their goals are really quite ambitious and include a future print edition with a subscription base of 5,000 . . .

What’s really interesting about this is the description of the Indian literary scene:

PRATILIPI: India is a multilingual, multi-script culture. The Indian constitution recognizes 22 languages, excluding English. The Sahitya Akademi (the National Academy of Letters) recognizes 24 – including English. They publish two periodicals, one in Hindi and one in English, with work from all Indian languages – translated into Hindi or English. Similarly, there are magazines published by the State Academies, in the language of the region. Sometimes they too carry translations from other Indian languages. Still, there are no magazines/platforms that have the scope and flexibility to bring all these literatures together.

Besides, one of the persisting legacies of colonialism is that English is the dominant language when it comes to translations. Most translations from Indian languages are into English. Translations across Indian languages are rare (except by the Sahitya Akademi) and, ironically, this is something not many people, including writers, are very worried about. Translation into English gets you some money, recognition, near-canonization and a pan-Indian/global presence – something that translation into another Indian language cannot offer.

In such a scenario, we wish we could be a magazine where interaction across Indian languages and also between the Hindi and English worlds of national literary life could take place. Most good authors in Indian languages get translated into English, but the two worlds have remained, basically, very different worlds.

Hindi and Indian languages have maintained the Nehruvian welfare model in a dangerous way. Nothing can happen there without government involvement in the form of institutions or funds. And there are the publishers’ canards about readership in Indian languages. Even when satellite-TV giants and publishers like Penguin and Harper Collins have entered the Hindi/Bhasha market, everybody keeps repeating that Hindi/Indian language literature does not sell. In Hindi and other languages, the average print run for a book is 1000, with most of the copies going to public-sector libraries at a profit margin that has kept some publishers in business for more than sixty years. On the other hand, the English scene has always been market-driven.

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