Memoirs from the Oriya

Much of the original writing in India remains invisible to the reader who can only approach this rich literature through English. Of the 80 000 or so books that are published each year, less than a fourth are in English (most of them of questionable quality, but still). The vast majority of books remain inaccessible- and of unknown quality.

Rupantar a not for profit organization based in Bhubaneswar that has a simple philospohy: they are committed to preserving and promoting cultural diversity through translation. In the decade or so that they have been in operation, they have published a small number of books, mainly translations from memoirs originally written in Oriya: Prayers and Reflections, Sketches of Orissa, Stories, Meeting the Mahatma, A Leaf in the Stream, From Bondage to Freedom, Satakada Sahe Gandhi, From Kharasuan to Kulabiri.

Jatin Nayak, the man behind Rupantar teaches English at Utkal University. With Arun Mohanty, a member of the Orissa Education Service, one of the books that Rupantar have brought out is From Bondage to Freedom, based on autobiographies in Oriya relating to the freedom struggle in Orissa. "The experiences recorded in these personal narratives relating to the freedom struggle take readers beyond the conventional sources of history. Recounted from the shifting, subjective perspectives of individuals, they tell us the fascinating story of great events unfolding and transforming the social and political landscape during the freedom movement in India. They celebrate the quiet heroism of ordinary men and women and offer us a glimpse of a world animated by millennial hopes. They reconstruct the past through a process of recollecting it in the present and help us arrive at a fuller understanding of history."

Another title that would be of interest in the context of caste studies is a translation, by A J Khan and Zehara Jabeen (who teach English at Utkal University and Cuttack respectively) is From Kharasuan to Kulabiri, the autobiography of Nishakara Das. Like Karukku or Viramma, From Kharasuan to Kulabiri "tells the remarkable story of a life lived in the midst of caste discriminations and economic deprivation." However, the writer is a Gandhian, a social worker who "belongs to a community, which was subjected to social oppression for ages. The narrative records experiences of humiliation and atrocities; but is remarkably free from feelings of rancour and self-pity. It is animated by hope, compassion and faith in humanity" while depicting different facets of his struggle for survival.

All Rupantar titles can be ordered from Scholars.