Indian Women In Translation

August is celebrated as Women in Translation Month and the literary world comes together to read more books by women who write in languages that are not English. WITMonth is necessary because less than one-third of translated books are written by women. In India, the situation is no different and it is imperative that we read translated versions of the works of some of India’s foremost Indian language women authors. This list will help you get started. 


Fireflies In The Mist

Qurratulain Hyder (Author & Translator)

Originally written in Urdu, Qurratulain Hyder’s Fireflies In The Mist spans almost four decades- from the 1930s to the aftermath of Bangaldesh’s struggle for independence. The novel focusses on Deepali Sarkar, a young Hindu flirting with Marxism, and her doomed romance with Rehan, a Muslim radical. It is through their relationship that Hyder highlights the increasing tension between the Hindus and Muslims of Bengal. Fireflies In The Mist is as much a socio-political commentary as it is an homage to Bengal.

Buy it here.


Written In Tears

Arupa Patangia Kalita, Ranjita Biswas (Tr.)

Written In Tears is a collection of eight short stories that give us a glimpse into the violence that has plagued Assam for decades. In one story, a woman looks on as her husband’s family deal with the aftermath of her insurgent brother-in-law’s absence. In another, a girl’s life is changed forever after she is brutally raped. Each of the stories in this collection features strong women who have been through a lot but have managed to rise above their suffering. Originally written in Assamese, this poignant book will show you just what women go through when they are stuck in the middle of conflict.

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A Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There

Krishna Sobti, Daisy Rockwell (Tr.)

Winner of the 2017 Jnanpith Award for her contribution to Indian literature, Krishna Sobti was a Hindi fiction writer and essayist best known for her book ZindaginamaA Gujarat Here, A Gujarat There opens in 1947 Delhi- a city overflowing with Partition refugees. Young Krishna applies to a position at a preschool in the erstwhile princely state of Sirohi in a bid to escape the pain and confusion that surrounds her. However, when she is given the opportunity to become governess to the child maharaja, Tej Singh Bahadur, she can’t help but wonder how long this idyll will last. Part memoir, part feminist anthem, this book is not only a tale of Partition but also that of a young woman determined to create a new identity for herself, all on her own terms.

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K.R. Meera, J. Devika (Tr.)

Originally published in Malayalam, Hangwoman is the story of 22-year old Chetna who comes from a long line of executioners and is forced to take on the role of ‘hangwoman’ to continue the legacy of the male members of her family. She is already nervous at the thought of taking a life, and when the media starts circling her, the pressure only increases. As she struggles with coming to a decision on whether or not she can carry out her first execution, her family is rocked by several tragedies and Chetna must now take charge of her own life. In Hangwoman, K.R.Meera’s protagonist takes on the herculean task of trying to be her own person in a male-dominated society.

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Urmila Pawar, Veena Deo (Tr.)

Written by one of the most prominent Dalit authors, Motherwit is a collection of 14 stories featuring strong women from all classes of society. In Odd One, Nalini, a government worker faces off against her in-laws as she seeks to make a better life for herself. In Kavach, Indira’s son is elated when he sees his mother stand up to her customers when they insult her, and it changes the way he looks at her. In Anger, we see how the marriage of one friend changes the relationship between two female friends, and in The Cycle Of Dhamma, an illiterate Dalit grandmother fights to bury her husband in accordance with the traditions she followed before she converted. Originally written in Marathi, Motherwit is a hard-hitting book that juxtaposes caste with gender to show us what Dalit women go through.

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Breast Stories 

Mahasweta Devi, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Tr.)

Breast Stories is a collection of three short stories that highlight that a woman’s breast is more than just “a symbol of beauty, eroticism, or motherhood”. Draupadi is the story of a tribal woman who is brutally raped and how she stands up to her rapists. In Behind The Bodice, a man’s obsession with a woman’s breasts leads to a series of events that destroy both of them. And Jashoda is the tale of a wet-nurse and what happens after she becomes middle-aged and her breasts are no longer ‘useful’. Spivak’s translation from the original Bengali shines and each story comes with detailed introductions that contextualise it.

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The Skeleton

Amrita Pritam, Khushwant Singh (Tr.)

Originally published in Punjabi as Pinjar, The Skeleton is set against the backdrop of Partition. The story follows Puro, a Hindu girl, who is abducted by Rashid, a Muslim man, in order to take revenge against her family. When she eventually manages to escape, she is rejected by her family and forced to return to Rashid and marry him. As she tries to settle into her new life, her world is thrown into chaos once India becomes independent and Hindu-Muslim riots break out all over. An important work of Partition literature, The Skeleton highlights what happens when the honour of a family rests in the body of a woman.

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The Liberation Of Sita

Volga, C. Vijayasree & T. Vijay Kumar (Tr.)

Volga’s Vimukhta (in Telugu) or The Liberation Of Sita is a re-telling of Sita’s story after she is abandoned by Rama. As Sita embarks on a journey of healing and self-realisation, she meets four minor characters from The Ramayana– Surpanakha, Renuka, Urmila and Ahalya. These extraordinary women help Sita learn what it means to be an independent woman who is not defined by her husband. Volga has not forgotten Ram; in The Shackled, a story in The Liberation Of Sita, Rama deals with his own demons as he weighs his role as the king of Ayodhya against his love for his wife, and realises that he is chained to his throne. Volga’s Sahitya Akademi Award-winning novel is a true marvel of feminist literature.

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Spark Of Light: Short Stories By Women Writers Of Odisha

Valerie Henitiuk & Supriya Kar (eds.), Various (Tr.)

Spark Of Light is an anthology of short stories originally written in Odia by women writers from Odisha. These tales date from the late 19th century to the present and showcase the diversity of Odia literature. They deal with themes which are an important part of women’s lives, such as the desire for independence and fulfilment and the conflict they often face in their roles as mother, daughter, sister, and wife. The stories also highlight themes of class, poverty, violence, religious intolerance and injustice. Featuring stories like Sanyasi, the first Odia short story written by a woman to be published, and In Bondage which describes the treatment of an unmarried woman, Spark Of Light makes for a wonderful and eye-opening read.

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Ila Arab Mehta, Rita Kothari (Tr.)

Ila Arab Mehta is one of Gujarat’s most prominent authors and has received several awards. In Fence, she tells the tale of Fateema, a young Muslim woman growing up in rural Gujarat. Even though Fateema lives in abject poverty, she dreams of a better life- having a career, her own home, and economic independence- and is hopeful that education will help her achieve her goals. Fence is the story of one woman’s struggle to find a home for herself in a world torn apart by communal violence and identity politics. Mehta’s book shines a light on the relationship between Muslims and Hindus in the state of Gujarat.

Buy it here.

Devanshi has been reading ever since she can remember. What started off as an obsession with Enid Blyton, slowly morphed into a love for mystery and fantasy. Even her choice of career as a lawyer was heavily influenced by the works of Erle Stanley Gardner and John Grisham. After quitting law, and while backpacking around India, she read books on entrepreneurship, taught herself web design and delved into social media marketing. She doesn’t go anywhere without a book.

She is the founding editor of The Curious Reader. Read her articles here.