By India blog team

23 November 2022 - 10:34pm

This blog follows from the recent ‘Meet the author’ event held in Kolkata on Friday 17 September 2022. Through this blog, we will summarise main points discussed during the event and explore practical activities for teachers to use in the classroom by identifying ways in which a more holistic approach can be adopted for teaching literature.

Authors: Anupama Raju, Geetanjali Shree, Lady Kishwar Desai

Moderator: Dr Debanjan Chakrabarti, Director, East and Northeast, British Council India

The purpose of the event was, through referencing the authors’ work, to: 

  • establish how Indian literature presents itself on the world stage 
  • explore how these ways become important to bring Indian literature to teaching and learning of English
  • discuss the tension and/or opportunities between Indian literature written in English and literature that is translated into English touching upon issues relevant to teaching English.

Highlights of the discussion:

In addition to translation into English, there are multiple ways to bring Indian literature to the world stage. Speaking from their experiences of translating and having their works translated into multiple languages, the authors noted that while English holds an important position in the world today being link language for multiple transactions and situations such as business, literature should be translated into multiple languages. In doing so, we ensure that we are fostering pluralism and diversity. Further, by translating literature into different languages, ‘we are able to build bridges between Indian languages and make that available to an audience outside India who don't speak English.’ It was also acknowledged that translation enables an author to get wider recognition with a diverse audience.

Exploring how Indian reality can be best represented when writing in English, Anupama noted that it’s about human reality and, ‘any literature is about the human reality and it crosses languages, it crosses, borders and cultures.’   

When considering writing for different genres such as print journalism, non-fiction and television reporting, the authors discussed the similarities and differences across the formats. For example, as Lady Kishwar Desai shared her own experience of the writing for a newspaper where the aim is for people to sit up and take notice of an issue. She used the same approach when writing her first novel which dealt with the difficult subject of female feticide. When captured as a story, the issue was able to gain traction around the world. This is similar to writing, for example, for theatrical productions. Geetanjali Shree pointed out that theatre ‘was the collaboration of so many forms.’ She noted that in theatre, unlike in literature for prose writing, there is a redundancy of words. ‘I learned pauses,’ she recalls.

Regarding recognition and celebration of different genres like the ‘povel’ which combines poetry and a novel, Anupama said, ‘We need more awards that recognise experiments and that enrich, at the end of the day, language and translations.’ Furthering this point, the authors examined the role of curriculum and the importance of including a wide range of literature in reading lists in formal education. For example, schools could celebrate a ‘festival of translated literature’ or extend learning to aspects that go beyond in the curriculum. In addition, learners should be encouraged to mix genres (like the ‘povel’) and ‘play’ with combining work across generations, such as Shakespeare with Star Wars.       

When discussing the relationship between the author and translator, Anupama noted that ‘writing is a solitary act, but translation is not’. Authors highlighted the importance of trust, collaboration and striking the balance between either being too possessive or not involved at all. Translators can see themselves as mediums to convey a message. For authors, it is a journey from being sensitive to knowing that there will be multiple interpretations of your writing, especially when it comes to adaptations the work for media such as screenplays.

Application in teaching and learning

If you teach English, here are a few practical ideas and activities for your English classroom. These are based on suggestions made by the authors:

  1. Explore a mixed-genre approach: generally speaking, teaching of writing follows an approach where specific formats are taught independent of each other. Consider mixing genres and eras, such as Shakespeare with Star Wars.
  2. Contextualise and make language accessible: take a phrase like Too many cooks spoil the broth and ask learners to replace ‘broth’ with an appropriate dish from their culture such as ‘payasam’.
  3. Raise awareness about translated literature: by organising events like your own literary festival. Learners can bring a translated book or one in a different language which perhaps could be the favourite book of one of their family members. This can be set up as a ‘show and tell’ where they talk about the book and describe why it is significant to the particular family member. If possible, they can be invited to the festival.

If you would like to know more about this topic and the authors, in December 2022, we will be launching a free open access course, Teaching English through literature. Registration and details will be available here: Training | TeachingEnglish | British Council | BBC

Watch the recording of the event: Indian literature on the world stage - YouTube

Learn more about the authors:

Lady Kishwar Desai: Introducing Our Ambassador- Lady Kishwar Desai - She Inspires Awards 2022

Anupama Raju: anupama raju

Geetanjali Shree: Geetanjali Shree is first Indian winner of International Booker Prize - BBC News