posted by Karen Burnham at Wednesday 25 July 2012 @ 12:05 am BST
Vandana Singh is an author (Distances) and also a PhD Physicist.
I would like to see an English translation of a story that is among the first science fiction stories from India. It is called Niruddesher Kahini and it was published in Bengali in 1896 by the scientist and polymath Jagadish Chandra Bose. I can only read in Hindi and English, and discovered Bengali science fiction’s rich history through translation (Premendra Mitra’s brilliant Mosquito and Other Stories from Penguin India) some years ago. I’ve been hearing about J. C. Bose’s science fiction story about a cyclone for the longest time, but have been unable to find a translation. It would be significant not only historically, as one of the early SF works from India, but also because J. C. Bose was a truly remarkable man. His contributions to the science of radio waves predate Marconi, and he also pioneered research in biophysics through his study of electrical impulses in plants. He invented the most beautiful, precise and delicate instruments, such as the almost fantastical crescograph. All his work was done under a fair amount of hardship, thanks to the racist policies of the British rulers, and it is only recently that he has been given credit for his ideas and discoveries. Reading his words (in translation) I am struck by his sensitivity, strong ethical sense, and a certain quality of mind — a synthesis mind — that could ignore artificial boundaries such as those between disciplines. He had reverence for what he was studying. To read a science fiction story by a person like him would be, I imagine, quite an experience. Perhaps a translation exists but I have not been able to find it.
There is a lot of early science fiction in various Indian languages that I would like to see in translation. According to the website of Dr. Arvind Mishra Hindi science fiction has quite a history, starting with writers from the late 1800s like Ambika Dutt Vyas and Keshav Prasad Singh and continuing on today. What I’d like to see is an entire tome of historical Indian Science Fiction translated from various languages into English. Because of the power of English in the world today, a side-effect of a long global colonial history, writers in English from any culture are given precedence over writers in other languages. I owe part of my interest in science fiction to the fantastical stories published by Hind Pocket Books that I read as a kid, but I wish I had read more historical Indian SF. I didn’t even know it existed. When I discovered Premendra Mitra it was mind-blowing — among other things it allowed me to converse, through my writing, with my own literary history. If we want to avoid a narrow tunnel vision, a monoculture of the mind, this cross-pollination between SF in different languages is absolutely vital.