Words Without Borders: Gujarati Literature in Translation (guest-edited)

WWB Guj Lit Jenny Bhatt

I’m honored to guest-edit the first-ever Gujarati literature in translation feature at Words Without Borders. Prior to this, they had featured one other South Asian language in a similar manner: Tamil (guest-edited by the late, great Lakshmi Holmström.) My huge gratitude to all the authors and translators who contributed to this first-ever collection in the US. And my thanks, also, to the WWB team: Eric Becker, Susan Harris, and Isabella Corletto, for all their editorial help and guidance.

We featured fiction, nonfiction, poetry, literary criticism, and translator interviews over five months. Please see the links below and click to read on the Words Without Borders website.

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Translating Gujarat: A Literary Intervention

Crossroad (novel excerpt) by Varsha Adalja (tr. Jenny Bhatt)

WWB GujLit Crossroad

Varsha Adalja is one of the foremost contemporary Gujarati writers in India. A novelist and a playwright, she has published forty books, including twenty novels and seven story collections. Some of her works have been adapted for television and stage. She has also written several essay collections and travelogues. Her works have won many literary awards. Crossroad, her most recent novel, was published in 2016 and is being translated into English by Jenny Bhatt. It is a magnum opus historical novel spanning three generations and five decades.

Translator: Jenny Bhatt (details here.)

To Loved Ones (poetry) by Jayesh Jeevibahen Solanki (tr. Gopika Jadeja)

WWB Solanki Poems

Jayesh Jeevibahen Solanki was a poet, theater artist, and Dalit rights activist. He was one of the prominent faces associated with the Una Dalit Movement in Gujarat, India. Coming from very modest means, he had tried to make a living by teaching theater workshops and doing factory work. The pandemic worsened his financial struggles and, given his ongoing depression, he committed suicide in October 2020. Several of his poems have been translated by both professional translators and friends. A collection, titled વળાંક (A Bend in the Road), was published posthumously in December 2020.

Translator: Gopika Jadeja is a bilingual poet and translator writing in English and Gujarati. She is the Editor-at-Large (Singapore) for Wasafiri, an editor at PR&TA, and an editor for the performance-publishing project “Five Issues.” A recipient of the Charles Wallace Scholarship for Creative Writing, Gopika’s poetry and translations have been published in many international venues.

The Garage and Rahemat Khan (memoir excerpt) by Hasmukh Shah (tr. Mira Desai)

WWB Mira Desai

Hasmukh Shah had an extraordinary life and career in government, the public sector, and as a private citizen. He was joint secretary for three consecutive prime minister’s offices, was involved with multiple conservation and higher learning institutions and organizations, and personally witnessed several historical events—from being in the Prime Minister’s plane that crashed in Jorhat in 1978 to the Tiananmen Square protests and more—which he captured in his Gujarati memoir, Dithu Mai…. The English edition of From the Margins of History is forthcoming.

Translator: Mira Desai is a translator from Gujarati, currently working on her eighth book. Her translations have been published in Indian LiteratureWords without Borders91st MeridianThe Massachusetts Review, etc. She previously spent a lifetime in pharmaceuticals. She now volunteers with underprivileged children, paints, and travels.

Ahmedabad (poetry) by Bharat Trivedi (tr. Mira Desai)

WWB Ahmedabad B Trivedi

Bharat Trivedi is an Indian-born poet, author, essayist, and lecturer. He has poetry, prose, and essays published in numerous literary magazines and journals in India and on creative poetry boards in the US. He has published five novels and ten collections of poems; including Love Poems to the Tigress, his first collection of poems written for an English-reading audience. He was raised and educated in India and migrated to the United States in 1977. Bharat lives in Tavares, Florida, with his wife Medha.

Translator: Mira Desai is a translator from Gujarati, currently working on her eighth book. Her translations have been published in Indian LiteratureWords without Borders91st MeridianThe Massachusetts Review, etc. She previously spent a lifetime in pharmaceuticals. She now volunteers with underprivileged children, paints, and travels.

Writing in Mother Tongue and an Other Tongue (essay) by Pratishtha Pandya

WWB Pratishtha Pandya

Dr. Pratishtha Pandya is a bilingual poet and translator working across Gujarati and English. The first collection of her Gujarati poems ળળળ… has been published by Navjeevan Samprat. She currently works as an editor and writer with People’s Archive of Rural India.

On the Evolution and Craft of Gujarati Literature in Translation: An Interview with Dr. Rita Kothari by Jenny Bhatt

WWB Rita Kothari

Dr. Rita Kothari is a professor of English and the director of the master’s program in English at Ashoka University in India. A multilingual scholar and translator, her work spans the disciplines of literature, anthropology, history, sociology, linguistics, and more. While her focus is on the western Indian subcontinent, specifically the Gujarat, Kutch, and Sindh regions, she is also looked upon as a thought leader in the discipline of linguistic and cultural translation and language politics, especially with respect to marginalized communities, across the country. Translation is the prism through which she sees the Indian context, whether it is with respect to the Partition, Bollywood, or the various intersecting hierarchies of religion, caste, class, gender, and sexuality.

Gujarati Books in Translation: An Omnibus Review by Shalvi Jaxay Shah

WWB Shalvi Shah Omnibus Review

Shalvi Jaxay Shah is a writer, aspiring translator, and critic living between Ahmedabad and New York City. She has been a recipient of the Teaching Fellowship at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, where she got her MFA in fiction and translation. Her fiction, nonfiction, and criticism can be found in or is forthcoming from EpiphanyWasafiriColumbia Journal, the Desi Books platform, the New York Times, and elsewhere. 

On Gandhi, Translation, and the Gujarati Intellectual Tradition: An Interview with Dr. Tridip Suhrud by Jenny Bhatt

WWB Tridip Suhrud

It would be no exaggeration to call Dr. Tridip Suhrud one of our greatest living Gujarati scholars and translators. Based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, he has dedicated a good part of his career to interpreting and translating works by or related to Mahatma Gandhi during tenures at various educational and heritage institutions. It is largely due to his scholarship and leadership that we have a vast digitized archive of these works and a more nuanced understanding of Gandhi, who remains a complex, often polarizing, international figure. Suhrud has also translated the longest and most influential canonical work of Gujarati literature: the nineteenth-century classic, Sarasvatichandra, by Govardhanram Madhavaram Tripathi (G. M. T.).

All It Seems (ghazal excerpt) by ‘Befaam’ (tr. Meena Desai)

WWB Befaam Meena Desai

Barkat Ali Ghulam Husain Virani, known by his pen name Befaam, was born on November 25, 1923 in Ghanghali village in the Bhavnagar district. He was interested in literature from the age of fourteen, when he wrote his first ghazal. He was taught poetry by Qismat Qureshi and left his studies to participate in the 1942 Quit India Movement. In 1945, he moved to Mumbai upon the suggestion of Shayda, who has been called “Ghazal Samrat” for his dedication to the genre in Gujarati, and married his oldest daughter Ruqaiyya in 1952. He died in Mumbai in 1994. His ghazal books include Mansar (1960), Ghata (1970), Pyas (1980), and Parab (1997). He also wrote short stories, scripts, and a novel, and was associated with Gujarati cinema. He appeared in the Gujarati film Mangalfera (1949) and wrote lyrics for several songs that appeared in films.

Translator: Meena Desai has translated Gujarati poetry since the 1980s. Her doctoral research examined communication in British drama, she worked in the telecommunications industry, and she still pursues communication across cultures. She has translated over seventy Gujarati ghazals to highlight little-known but excellent contributions to the genre. She also focuses on translating the multifaceted lyrics of Narasinh Mehta, a fifteenth-century Bhakti poet, celebrating joy in the eternal human-divine intercourse by blending the spiritual and the physical into a higher realm. Her work is featured in Two Lines: Counterfeits and Eating God: A Book of Bhakti Poetry.

Into English: Sachin Ketkar on Bilingual Translation: An Interview with Dr. Sachin C. Ketkar by Jenny Bhatt

words without borders sachin ketkar interview by jenny bhatt

Within the Gujarati literary translation ecosystem, we have a handful of multilingual writers and translators who have worked for decades to bring marginalized literature into the mainstream. Sachin C. Ketkar is an English professor at the Faculty of Arts of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda in Vadodara, Gujarat. He is also a scholar of Gujarati and Marathi literature, particularly poetry. In addition to having multiple poetry collections published in both Marathi and English, he has published many critical works on literature from both of those languages. He also translates from Gujarati into English and from Marathi into English.

In this wide-ranging conversation, Dr. Ketkar discusses his literary journeys across languages and cultures while dealing with the challenges of subtractive bilingualism. We also dive deep into the current state of Gujarati literature, particularly in translation. And we explore how industry gatekeeping further marginalizes the already-marginalized Gujarati authors and their translators. Along the way, Dr. Ketkar generously references many contemporary and classic Gujarati and Marathi writers, who deserve to be way more well-known and well-read.

I particularly appreciated Dr. Ketkar’s point about how multilingual creative writers in India who take on literary translation work are working to overcome the predicament of subtractive bilingualism. In the process, they are expanding the archive of Indian writing in English in radical ways. As this insightful conversation shows, Dr. Ketkar has also been doing exactly that with his many contributions across genres, languages, and cultures. Listen/read here.

Translating Gujarat: On Raising Visibility and Sharing Literary Wealth: Closing Essay by Jenny Bhatt

WWB Jenny Bhatt closing essay

This is my closing essay for the Gujarati literature in translation collection that I’ve had the honor of guest-editing at Words Without Borders. I share the journey of Gujarati literature from its renaissance period, as I see it, just before India’s independence to now. Along the way, I thread the individual translations and translator interviews we have featured in this diverse collection. And I close with some personal thoughts:

“For any literary culture to thrive, its readership must grow within its own societies and beyond with more translations into and from the language. This first-ever collection at Words Without Borders is a cultural intervention to bring these works to a wider readership, and to also help raise visibility within Gujarati society, especially the global diaspora. For translators from under-represented languages like ours, the act of translation can also be a mode of recovery and reclamation. Together, this small sample reveals rich glimpses of the diverse, complex, and ever-evolving literary traditions of Gujarat. It is an effort to share some of our literary wealth and celebrate our Gujarati ways of being.”

Read here.

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Jenny Bhatt is an author, a literary translator, and a book critic. Currently, she is a Ph.D. student of literature at the University of Texas at Dallas. She has taught creative writing at Writing Workshops Dallas and the PEN America Emerging Voices Fellowship Program. Sign up for her free newsletters, We Are All Translators and/or Historical Fiction Craft Notes. Jenny lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Texas.

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