See More on Facebook

Culture and society

Bringing South Asians together, through translations

The DSC Prize longlist reflects the coming-of-age of South Asian literature.

Written by

Updated: October 1, 2019

Late last week, at a cocktail event following the longlist announcement of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature-2019 in New Delhi, HS Narula, chairman of the infrastructure giant DSC Limited that funds the prize, came up to Niraj Bhari, publisher of FinePrint Books, and asked why Nepali publishers had repeatedly failed to submit their books for the award.In the eight-year history of the DSC Prize, which was established to celebrate the written word from and around South Asia, only one book—Samrat Upadhyay’s Buddha’s Orphans (2012)—has been longlisted.

Bhari seemed flabbergasted by the question. That evening, Bhari said something to the effect that some good translations were coming up this year, and that there would definitely be an entry for the next year’s prize. But, conversely, the question could have been asked of the prizegivers as to why they have failed to traverse the boundaries created by established literary canons of Indian, Pakistani or Sri Lankan English writings and reach the margins of the region as far as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal.

A straightforward answer to these questions is that there aren’t enough English writings or translations coming out of these countries. Those that have indeed come out may not have been submitted by their publishers, or those that were submitted and were really good may not have caught the fancy of the jury members.

Eight years is quite a short period to gauge the impact of a prize or any such endeavour on an entity as vast as South Asian literature. However rigorous its benchmarks, it may not be able to choose the best of South Asian fiction published in a particular year—because, indeed, there can’t be a single best book out of the total entries submitted. But even in its short history, the DSC prize has established itself as a major literary landmark in the region, not only for being the most significant regional literary prize—it comes with a cash prize of $25,000—but also, arguably, the only regional award South Asian writers and translators could aspire to.

Even a quick glance at the books longlisted for this year evinces the length and breadth of lives in the region and outside—a filmmaker’s quest to avenge the death of his lover in post-war Sri Lanka; a celebrated Hindi novelist’s confrontation of personal tragedies even as he tries to make sense of post-Independent India; a Bengali immigrant’s search for home in America; a Karachi slum-dweller’s attempts to escape poverty; an Afghani-American’s confrontation with American soldiers in war-torn Afghanistan; young Naxal recruits’ efforts to make sense of the insurgency; Bengali freedom fighters’ struggle for an independent nation; a young woman’s travails in Kashmir trying to find the reasons of her mother’s death; and much more.

Despite the obvious lack of representation of the diverse works of literature of the region, the numbers are already quite impressive. Of the 90 eligible entries submitted for the 2019 prize, 42 are written by women. Of the 15 titles longlisted, seven are written by women and seven by debutants. The list also includes three translations—one each from Bengali, Tamil and Malayalam. Of the 88 eligible entries submitted for the 2018 prize, 48 were written by women and two by debutants. The 2018 longlist included four translations—each from Assamese, Kannada, Tamil and Hindi.

The 2018 longlist included South Asian literary heavyweights such as Kamila Shamsie, Mohsin Hamid, Arundhati Roy, Anuradha Roy and Jeet Thayil. But the prize finally went to a relatively lesser-known Kannada writer, Jayant Kaikini, and his translator, Tejaswini Niranjana. The 2019 longlist may not be as power-packed as the previous one, but it has a fair share of excellent established and new writers alike, including Fatima Bhutto, Akil Kumaraswami, Amitabha Bagchi, Perumal Murugan, Manoranjan Byapari, and Shubhangi Swarup.

The list reflects the growing prowess of South Asian literary fiction and has brought global recognition to South Asian writers. It has been won by four Indian authors—Jeet Thayil (Narcopolis, 2013); Cyrus Mistry (Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, 2014); Anuradha Roy (Sleeping on Jupiter, 2016); and Jayant Kaikini (No Presents Please, 2018). Two Sri Lankan authors—Shehan Karunatilaka (Chinaman, 2012) and Anuk Arudpragasam (Story of a Brief Marriage, 2017). An American writer of Indian origin, Jhumpa Lahiri (The Lowland, 2015), and an American author of Pakistani origin, HM Naqvi (Home Boy, 2011).

It is not only the authors contesting the prize that has a South Asian character. In line with the South Asian ethos, it is a travelling prize—as it is announced from different locations in South Asia. It will still be a little known prize when it comes to Nepal this December, but it might encourage more Nepalis to write or translate in English and submit their work for the upcoming editions.

And as an aspirational prize of the region, it has shown how literary texts can transcend national boundaries and help people come together to think of a ‘South Asian’ experience. At a time when the drumbeats of nationalism have turned neighbours into enemies, literature provides a necessary window to understand the ‘other’ from across the border. The question is, are we reading enough about our neighbours to know more about them? The answer may not be very positive, but endeavours such as the DSC prize have certainly helped a section of readers, however small, understand the complexity of the enigma that is South Asia, and assisted them in understanding each other better.

However, one prize or one festival is just not enough. There is a dire need of literary awards and grants that would cater to the growing demands of, among other things, translating from one regional literature to another—with or without English as the link language. There is hardly any institutional support for translations, which leaves the excellent works in many languages untranslated. Also, there is a severe lack of good translators between various South Asian languages. If we are to understand our neighbours well, we’d better brush up our skills at ‘other’ languages to read, and if possible, translate. This is also a commitment we need to make to ourselves especially today, September 30, which is celebrated as international translation day.

Enjoyed this story? Share it.

The Kathmandu Post
About the Author: The Kathmandu Post was Nepal’s first privately owned English broadsheet daily and is currently the country's leading English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia

Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.

By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Culture and society

Modi defends citizenship decision

PM Modi says it has nothing to do with Indian Muslims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, that unity in diversity is integral to India while addressing ‘Aabhar Rally’ at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan today to kick start Bharatiya Janata Party’s Delhi Assembly Elections campaign slated for early next year, amid protests in Delhi and all over the country against the contentious Citizenship Act and the National Register of Citizenship(NRC). Modi raised slogan of ‘vividhta me ekta, Bharat ki visheshta’ (Unity in diversity is India’s speciality). PM Modi while giving his party and government’s view on CAA and NRC said, “Muslims being misled, I have always ensured that documents will never come in way of development schemes and their beneficiaries.” Citizenship law and NRC have nothing to do with Indian Muslims or with Indian citizens, he clarified. “We have never asked

By The Statesman
December 23, 2019

Culture and society

The Chinese version

Muhammad Amir Rana asks what is the Chinese version of Islam.  TENSIONS between China and the US have escalated after the House of Representative’s Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, 2019. The move is of a piece with the allegations of many international media and human rights organisations that China is persecuting the Uighur community and violating their rights — allegations that Beijing has denied. Calling the US action a political move aimed at damaging its international image, China says it is running a deradicalisation programme to mainstream its communities. Read: Amid global outcry, China defends internment camps of minorities in Xinjiang The Chinese claim has not been verified by independent sources and mystery shrouds its deradicalisation or re-education programme. China needs to demonstra

By Asia News Network
December 16, 2019

Culture and society

India under Modi is moving systematically with a supremacist agenda, says PM Imran

Imran Khan made the comments after India passed a controversial citizenship requirement. Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Thursday that India, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has been moving systematically with a Hindu supremacist agenda. The prime minister was referencing the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill passed by India’s upper house amid protests on Wednesday. The bill will let the Indian government grant citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants who entered India from three neighbouring countries before 2015 — but not if they are Muslim. Modi’s government — re-elected in May and under pressure over a slowing economy — says Muslims from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan are excluded from the legislation because they do not face discrimination in those countries. Taking to Twitter, Prime Minister I

By Asia News Network
December 13, 2019

Culture and society

Nepal moves up in Human Development Index but still lags behind in South Asia

Nepal’s human development index of 0,579 indicates that people are living longer, are more educated and have greater incomes, according to the Human Development Report. Despite global progress in tackling poverty, hunger and disease, a ‘new generation of inequalities’ indicates that many societies are not working as they should and Nepal is not an exception, according to a new human development report released on Tuesday. The old inequalities were based on access to health services and education whereas the new generation of inequalities is based on technology, education and the climate, according to the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report. “Previously, we talked about wealth as a major driver for inequality. Now, countries like Nepal are in another inequality trap and that concerns

By The Kathmandu Post
December 12, 2019

Culture and society

Taiwan among top 10 study destinations for U.S. students

Thailand and Singapore among other Asian destinations. China welcomed the highest number of U.S. students last year, followed by Japan and India in second and third places, respectively, according to a recent survey about exchange students in Asia. South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan, and Indonesia rounded up the top 10 list of the most popular Asian countries among U.S. students. According to AsiaExchange, “The high level of education, low exposure to crime, economic freedom and good healthcare system are a few examples of why Taiwan is ranked 2nd on the annual Global Peace Index.” It’s also very safe to live in Taiwan, as crime rates are low, the Website stressed, noting that Taiwan’s focus on human rights, gender equality and freedom of speech has made it a top destination for education. Taiwan, whose institutions are strong and reliable, has remained la

By Warren Fernandez
December 12, 2019

Culture and society

Relentless against child marriage

Farida Yesmin wins an award for her work to prevent child marriage. It was a rainy day in July 2018. As the evening fell, someone called Farida Yesmin, upazila nirbahi officer of Netrakona’s Barhatta, over her phone and informed her that a child marriage was about to take place in Kawrashi, a remote village in the upazila near the Bangladesh-India border. Farida immediately called the police and left for the village in the dark of the night amid rain and thunderstorms. The road was so bad that at one point, the UNO and her team had to leave their vehicles. They walked about two kilometres to find the girl’s home. “As we reached the spot, a local leader tried to stop us. But despite all these hurdles, we were able to prevent the marriage,” Farida said while recalling how she and her team stopped a staggering 59 child marriages after she joined as the Barhatta UNO on May 9, 2017. She

By Daily Star
December 2, 2019