The euphoria over Geetanjali Shree’s International Booker Prize win has largely to do with the fact that a work in translation, especially from a language like Hindi, has received £50,000 as reward—an astronomical sum. It’s a great moment for Hindi literature, but it will do precious little for literary translations in India, which grapple with woeful lack of funding, say publishers and translators.
The government established Sahitya Akademi in 1954 because it was difficult for independent, unfunded and unfinanced publishers to undertake translations in a multilingual country with 22 Scheduled languages, 122 regional languages and 1,726 mother tongues (at the last count). “It was understood that no private player could support such a labour-intensive endeavour for long,” says Ritu Menon, author and publisher/founder of Women Unlimited. For a majority of publishing houses, both indie and big, translation work has to be subsidised. “No one can sustain a translation-only programme; it’s just not possible. With long gestations and slow returns, it can only be a labour of love,” says Menon.