#FiveDesiFaves Roundup: Literary Translations

Today’s #FiveDesiFaves segment is a special roundup of five+one recently-featured, exceptional literary translations from South Asian languages into English.

  1. Moustache by S. Hareesh, translated by Jayasree Kalathil from Malayalam
  2. Shameless by Taslima Nasreen, translated by Arunava Sinha from Bangla
  3. Timeless Tales from Marwar by Vijaydan Detha, translated by Vishes Kothari from Rajasthani
  4. Hijab by Guruprasad Kaginele, translated by Pavan N Rao from Kannada
  5. The Thinnai by Ari Gautier, translated by Blake Smith from French
  6. Hassan’s State of Affairs by Mirza Athar Baig, translated by Haider Shahbaz from Urdu

From Kerala to Kolkata, Rajasthan to the American Midwest, and Pondicherry to Pakistan, these fictional works take us on an amazing, magical, enriching ride through the endless treasures of South Asian literature. Enjoy.

#FiveDesiFaves: a roundup of recently-featured, exceptional, literary translations from South Asian languages into English. Moustache; Shameless; Timeless Tales from Marwar; Hijab; The Thinnai; Hassan’s State of Affairs. .@desibooks


Set in Kuttanad, a below-sea-level farming region on the south-west coast of Kerala, Moustache (written by S Hareesh and translated from Malayalam into English by Jayasree Kalathil) is as much a story of this land as it is of Vavachan and its other inhabitants. As they navigate the intricate waterscape, stories unfold in which ecology, power dynamics and politics become key themes. Originally published in Malayalam as Meesha, S. Hareesh s Moustache is a contemporary classic mixing magic, myth and metaphor into a tale of far-reaching resonance. The translation won the JCB Prize for Literature in 2020.

Jayasree Kalathil’s translation of N Prabhakaran’s novellas Diary of a Malayali Madman won the Crossword Books Jury Award for Indian Language Translation in 2019. The book was also longlisted for the Mathrubhumi Book Award 2020. Her translation of S Hareesh’s Moustache was published in 2020. Kalathil is the author of The Sackclothman, a children’s book that has been translated into Malayalam, Telugu, and Hindi. Outside literary pursuits, she is a researcher and activist working in mental health and human rights and has published widely in this area.

In #DesiBooksCollabs, Kalathil chatted with Arunava Sinha (see below) and Jenny Bhatt about if and how literary translation can help bridge cultural gaps. Watch that entire panel recording here.

Jayasree Kalathil’s translation of S Hareesh’s Moustache from Malayalam to English won the JCB Prize for Literature in 2020. #FiveDesiFaves .@DesiBooks


Shameless, Taslima Nasreen’s explosive sequel to Lajja, has been translated from Bengali into English by Arunava Sinha. One day in Calcutta, Taslima suddenly finds herself face to face with Suranjan, the principal character from her controversial novel Lajja. Persecuted in their native Bangladesh, Suranjan and his family have, like Taslima, moved to the city across the border. But is life for a Hindu family from an Islamic nation any better in a country where a majority of the population happens to be Hindu? Leading poor, unmoored lives, exploited and frustrated at every step of the way, and always carrying with them the memories of a scarred communal history, Suranjan and so many others like him seem to lead incomplete lives in their so-called safe haven. This translation has just been shortlisted for the 2021 ALTA Translation Awards. Read a brief Q&A about the translation with Arunava Sinha here.

Arunava Sinha is the translator of Panty, Abandon, and The Yogini. He has translated over fifty books from Bengali. Winner of the Crossword translation award, for both Sankar’s Chowringhee and Anita Agnihotri’s Seventeen, and of the Muse India translation award for Buddhadeva Bose’s When The Time Is Right, his translation of Chowringhee was also shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

In #DesiBooksCollabs, Sinha chatted with Jayasree Kalathil (see above) and Jenny Bhatt about if and how literary translation can help bridge cultural gaps. Watch that entire panel recording here.

Arunava Sinha’s translation of Taslima Nasreen’s Shameless from Bengali to English has been shortlisted for the 2021 ALTA Translation Awards. #FiveDesiFaves .@desibooks


Giving a new lease of life to his writings, Timeless Tales from Marwar is translation by Vishes Kothari from Rajasthani into English. It is a handpicked collection of folktales from the everlasting works of Vijaydan Detha’s celebrated Batan ri Phulwari meaning ‘Garden of Tales’. Collected and written over the span of nearly fifty years, this fourteen-volume assortment of Rajasthani folk stories earned Detha the moniker-the Shakespeare of Rajasthan. Read a brief Q&A about the translation with Vishes Kothari here.

A financial consultant by profession, Vishes Kothari has a keen interest in the oral and musical traditions of Rajasthan. He completed his masters in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, prior to which he studied at St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and King’s College, London. He has been associated with UNESCO-Sahapedia on projects focused on the musical traditions of women in Rajasthan, and as a language expert with the Jaipur Virasat Foundation.

In #DesiLitBiz, Kothari discussed how he came up with the idea of the Rajasthani Bhasha Academy after observing, during his book promotion events, the sense of loss and regret many readers had about the Rajasthani language. Read the interview here.

Vishes Kothari’s translation of Vijaydan Detha’s folktales, Timeless Tales from Marwar, from Rajasthani to English is a gold mine of oral storytelling traditions and histories. #FiveDesiFaves .@DesiBooks


A story about the dystopias that migration induces, Hijab, written by Guruprasad Kaginele and translated by Pavan N Rao from Kannada into English, is a powerful fable about one of the most burning issues of our times. How does one conform in a culture that is itself made of remnants from other cultures? Is identity skin-deep, or does it go beyond one’s color? And, finally, what does being a migrant truly mean Three Indian doctors find themselves practicing at a hospital in Amoka, a nondescript town in Minnesota, while waiting for their green cards. What is expected to be an easy practice in a backwater town soon turns into a difficult question about identity, immigration, and belonging in this award-winning novel first published in Kannada. The translation has been shortlisted for the 2021 PFC Valley of Words Translation Award. Read a brief Q&A with the translator, Pavan N Rao, here.

A medical doctor by profession, Guruprasad Kaginele has been a prominent voice in contemporary Kannada literature. He has published three short story collections, three novels, and two essay collections. His works have received several awards. Many of his short stories have appeared in anthologies published by the Karnataka Saahithya Academy. He has also been the primary editor for two books published by the US-based, ‘Kannada Saahithya Ranga’. Some of his short stories have been translated into Telugu, Konkani, Malayalam, and English. His recent novel Hijab (2017) garnered both popular and critical acclaim. Kaginele lives in Rochester, Minnesota with his family. He works as an Emergency Physician at Olmsted Medical Center in St. Charles, Minnesota.

In #FiveDesiFaves, Kaginele shared his own five favorite works in translation. Listen and read here.

Pavan N Rao’s translation of Guruprasad Kaginele’s Hijab from Kannada into English has been shortlisted for the 2021 PFC Valley of Words Translation Award. #FiveDesiFaves .@DesiBooks


The Thinnai, written by Ari Gautier and translated by Blake Smith from French into English, is about the working-class district of Kurusukuppam. This is not the Pondicherry of tourist brochures. Here, residents are a bewildering mix of Creoles, colonial war veterans, proud communists, and French citizens who have never left India’s shores. It is a place of everyday tragedies, melodramatic occurrences and stubborn, absurd hope. But life in Kurusukuppam is upturned by the arrival of a curious tramp, Gilbert Thaata—a wizened Frenchman who has clearly seen hard times. Settling down on the narrator’s verandah, his thinnai, Gilbert Thaata begins to earn his keep by recounting the tale of the rise and fall of his family’s fortunes as the custodians of a mysterious diamond, the Stone of Sita. The fanciful story that unfolds is one that stretches across centuries and encompasses the history of France’s colonial legacy in India.

Born in Antananarivo, Madagascar, Ari Gautier is a French writer and poet of Indo-Malagasy origin. Dedicated to giving Pondicherry its rightful place on the French literary map, he’s committed to increasing Indian-francophone literature’s visibility in the world. Carnet Secret de Lakshmi and The Thinnai are his first two works on the history of the city where he spent his childhood. His most recent book is Nocturne Pondichéry, a collection of short stories on postcolonial Pondicherry. In May 2020, Gautier co-founded, with Ananya Jahanara Kabir, the cultural platform Le Thinnai Kreyol (more about this platform here.) He currently lives in Oslo, Norway.

In the #DesiBooks10QA series, Gautier discussed this book and his own favorite desi books. Read that discussion here.

The Thinnai, written by Ari Gautier and translated by Blake Smith from French to English, spotlights the working-class district of Kurusukuppam and is not the Pondicherry of tourist brochures. #FiveDesiFaves .@DesiBooks


Mirza Athar Baig is an important contemporary Urdu writer, who is known for his avant-garde writing on postcolonial themes. Hassan’s State of Affairs—his first book to be translated from Urdu into English by Haider Shahbaz—is a surreal ride through Pakistan. It follows an accountant, Hassan, and a group of filmmakers, Masquerade Productions, who are working on Pakistan’s first surrealist film, titled “This Film Cannot Be Made”. As the film’s production runs into hurdles, escalating from the comic to the horrific, the text itself explodes into multiple storylines, genres, and characters, and bends language and form. And the result is an entirely new kind of novel. Read a brief Q&A with Haider Shahbaz here.

Haider Shahbaz studied History at Yale University and Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is currently doing a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature at UCLA. He was awarded a Charles Pick Fellowship in 2016. He is the translator of Mirza Athar Baig’s Hassan’s State of Affairs (HarperCollins India, 2019). His work has appeared in Asymptote, Words Without Borders, Brooklyn Rail, The Caravan, and Los Angeles Review of Books. He lives in Lahore, Pakistan. Recently, he won the 2020 Jawad Memorial Prize for Urdu-English Translation for his translation of ‘The Sea’, a short story by Khalida Hussain.

In #DesiBoost, Shahbaz shared three interesting works by other writers. Listen and read here.

Mirza Athar Baig’s Hassan’s State of Affairs, translated from Urdu to English by Haider Shahbaz, is a surreal ride through Pakistan and bends language and form. #FiveDesiFaves .@DesiBooks


Today’s #FiveDesiFaves segment was a special roundup of six recently-featured, exceptional literary translations from South Asian languages into English.

  1. Moustache by S. Hareesh, translated by Jayasree Kalathil from Malayalam
  2. Shameless by Taslima Nasreen, translated by Arunava Sinha from Bangla
  3. Timeless Tales from Marwar by Vijaydan Detha, translated by Vishes Kothari from Rajasthani
  4. Hijab by Guruprasad Kaginele, translated by Pavan N Rao from Kannada
  5. The Thinnai by Ari Gautier, translated by Blake Smith from French
  6. Hassan’s State of Affairs by Mirza Athar Baig, translated by Haider Shahbaz from Urdu

Stay healthy, keep reading, and write well.

#FiveDesiFaves: a roundup of recently-featured, exceptional, literary translations from South Asian languages into English. Moustache; Shameless; Timeless Tales from Marwar; Hijab; The Thinnai; Hassan’s State of Affairs. .@desibooks

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