Hindi as a language has given us literature that speaks of the times, and holds a mirror to Indian society at large. Among the many brilliant stories that have been told in Hindi, we bring to you five extraordinary books that have pushed the limits of the language beyond imagination – and must be translated to take their stories to a larger audience beyond just the Hindi reader. This is not to say there aren’t other books that deserve to be translated, but we are, quite simply, saying these five must make the first cut for translations:
Considered to be the most significant Hindi novel after Premchand’s Godan, Renu was first published in 1954. The story of a village becomes the story of a generation – and of a new, emerging nation. Keeping intact the locale and flavour of a village to represent its aspirations, and failures, Renu’s first novel has remained a challenge for translators because of its unique word play and feel for the local idiom, but it remains high on any wishlist of Hindi-to-English translations.
Ever since its publication, Agyeya’s two-volume novel has pushed the boundaries of Hindi literature. The story of a non-conformist rebel from the Hindi heartland, it questions and challenges every known norm of Indian society, from marriage and family to religion and politics. Asking what it takes to make a modern Indian, this is a book that straddles both hope and tragedy.
If India, the nation, would write a novel about itself and its people, it would be Sobti’s magnificent Zindaginama. Set in the fields of Punjab during the Second World War, this is a tale of farmers and villagers, and their sufferings. Despite being set in a different age than ours, this is a novel that remains magnificently contemporary, and is a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the India of the villages.
Ranendra’s book, set in Jharkhand, begins on a simple note: a murder has been committed, but there is no trace of the murderer. But the murder is just the starting point for Ranendra to ask the question: what makes a nation? Capturing contemporary worries about displacement of indigenous people from their own land and thus the loss of their cultures and identities, this is a book that attempts to solve the everyday questions that haunt us even today.
The only nonfiction on our list, Anil Yadav’s cracker-of-a-narrative-reportage takes the reader on a visual journey across India’s north-east to reveal the disconnect the region feels from the mainland. Yadav writes about the various people he meets, and through their lives, he tells the story of the places – but above all, this is a book that demands attention simply because it talks of a land long ignored by the centre.
Any other Hindi books that you’d love to see a translation of? Let us know!