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The Politics of Translation: Voices from South and Southeast Asia

Posted on 14/02/2019
By Commonwealth Foundation


In March 2019, Commonwealth Writers is convening a Translation Symposium in Penang, Malaysia, exploring literary translation in South and Southeast Asia. On Thursday 7 March, there will be a Commonwealth Writers Conversation on the themes discussed in the Symposium.

Penang-based writers, translators and others interested in translation and the literatures from South and Southeast Asia are invited to join this Conversation.

The speakers will discuss the barriers to literary translation in the region and the imbalances arising from the relative lack of such translation; the global dominance of English and its implications; and the moral and ethical responsibilities of translators.

The evening will also feature poetry readings in various languages from

Muhammad Haji Salleh (Malay)
Mamta Sagar (Kannada)
Tan Dan Feng (Chinese)
Bilal Tanweer (Urdu)
Anushiya Ramaswamy (Tamil)
Shabnam Nadiya (Bangla).

If you wish to attend, please contact writers@commonwealth.int for a ticket.

Learn more about the Symposium


Mamta Sagar has translated poetry, prose and critical writings from Kannada language into English and from English and other Indian languages into Kannada. She is a recipient of the Charles Wallace translation fellowship 2015 UK. She has been part of International Poetry Translation Workshops such as – Poets Translating Poets (Germany), Small and Big Languages (Slovenian), Literature Across Frontiers (Wales), Melding Voices (UK) and has translated contemporary poets from all over the world. Mamta has translated Poems by Dylan Thomas into Kannada; collaborated with Nicola Verderame in translating her poems from Kannada into Italian (2016); and translated and edited Beyond Barriers: Slovenian-Kannada Literature Interactions a trilingual compilation of poems and short stories (2011). Preetiya Nalavattu NiyamagaLu, her translation of the novel ‘The Forty Rules of Love’ into Kannada, received the Kuvempu Bhashabharathi Translation Award 2019.


Muhammad Haji Salleh is one of Malaysia’s leading poets. He has had a long involvement with translation. Beginning with poetry he has crossed over to classical hikayats, novels and literary theory. Muhammad translates from and into Malay and English. He tackles big important narratives like the Hikayat Hang Tuah, Mishima’ s Spring Snow, Fauconnier’s Malaisie. He has also rendered into Malay Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory; An Introduction; and into English a book of Malay poverbs: Jendela Bijaksana/Window into Wisdom. At present he is editing his new version of Sulalat al-Salatin/Malay Annals.

Bilal Tanweer is a novelist and translator. His novel The Scatter Here Is Too Great (Jonathan Cape) won the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize and was shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and the Chautauqua Prize (US). The novel was also translated into French (Editions Stock) and German (Carl Hanser Verlag). Tanweer’s first work of translation was a classic of Urdu pulp fiction The House of Fear by Ibn-e Safi (Random House India). His recent translation of a novel and stories Love in Chakiwara and Other Misadventures by Muhammad Khalid Akhtar (PanMacmillan India) received the PEN Translation Fund Grant. His writings have appeared in local and international magazines including Words Without BordersGranta, The New York Times, Dawn, and The Caravan. He lives and teaches in Lahore.

Jayapriya Vasudevan, from India, has more than twenty years’ experience of working in publishing, during which time she has worked in virtually every area of the business. Bookseller magazine hailed her as “one of India’s most dynamic booksellers.” In 1997, she decided to use her years of experience in publishing to set up Jacaranda, India’s first ever literary agency.  She went on build up an impressive list, working with distinguished authors such as Krishna Udayasankar, Tiffany Tsao, Suchen Christine Lim and Lisa Ray. Following a stint living in Beijing, where she continued to develop her list, Jayapriya moved to Singapore in 2006.  Here she set up Books@Jacaranda Literary Agency.  She moved on to live in Nairobi and has recently moved back to India. Jayapriya was the Festival Director for 2017 and 2018 Times Lit Fest in Bangalore.