Monday, November 2, 2009

Super Duper Blockbuster Thriller

"Super Duper Blockbuster Crime Thriller" -- these screaming superlatives usually advertise Tamil crime fiction stacked in tea stalls in Chennai. They may have well led to the formation of Blaft - an independent publishing firm in Chennai, started up by a mathematician and a fashion designer who thought it would be good to translate the books and find out what the hell they were about.

I met them both at ScRipt, a mini-feature of the Singapore Writers Festival -- providing a platform where emerging writers from South Asia could promote their work in Singapore.

I went for a few sessions and they were great but the Blaft session stood out with its bizarre posters and tales straight out of some Coen Brothers' film.

The Blafties translate pulp fiction in Indian languages to English as well as publish original fiction in English. They veer towards experimental fiction and what Rakesh Khanna (one of Blaft's founders) calls 'Irrealism.'

"Maybe its like surrealism, I don't know," he said. Kaveri Lalchand, who also makes clothes and acts in theatre and does all sorts of other things, talked about convincing Surender Mohan Pathak, a prolific Hindi crime fiction author, to let Blaft translate his work into English.

Rakesh and Kaveri tracked Pathak down to his house in Old Delhi and the man whose books have sold over 150,000 copies (each-see comment below!) in Hindi was understandably amused by their proposed print run of 5,000 copies. Still, they persisted and so their catalogue of books and translations keeps growing in direct proportion to their tenacity.

It's wonderful to see current, surreal or irreal work out of India exploiting the immense diversity of Indian languages. It was also just fun to hang out with people who are so passionate about what they do and do it alongside other full-time jobs.