The world would be reading works of Kambar, Tulsidas, Surdas, Bullhe Shah, Abul Fazl and many other Indian literary gems, in English in over a year's time, thanks to the Murty Classical Library of India.

Some 30 ancient Indian literary classics are currently being translated into English by carefully picked scholars, according to Ms Sharmila Sen, Executive Editor-at-Large, Harvard University Press.

The Murty classical library, the $5.2-million family fetish of the Narayana Murthys, has tasked HUP to bring out a series of pre-1800 works in Indian languages. The first ones, initially soft versions, are due to be launched in 2013.

HUP said it has just rolled out a $10,000-prize (around Rs 4.8 lakh) design contest to create the logo, logotype and jacket — basically the look and identity — for the books. Entries will be received till December 1 from individuals and design firms based in India, the US and the UK. The winner gets a credit on all the books in the series.

“We have a little over 30 new books under contract so far,” Ms Sen said in a mailed response. “All the translations are already under progress and the translators are working hard on them.”

Among the first lot to be translated are Kamba Ramanayam from Tamil and written by the 12th Century poet Kambar; Bharatchandra's 18th Century Bengali work Annadamangal; Abul Fazl's Persian work Akbarnama; Hir by Waris Shah; the poems of Bullhe Shah, both from Punjabi; two Hindi works Ramcharitmanas by Tulsidas and Surdas's Sursagar; besides the Pali classic, Therigatha.

The Murty library was set up in early 2010 with an endowment (of around Rs 23 crore) from Mr Rohan Murty and the NRN family to Harvard University and HUP. The books will carry the original language version on one side and the translation on the facing page.

Ms Sen said HUP would disclose the translators' names about six to nine months before releasing each title. “At this stage, we are not revealing the names of our translators who are under contract. I can say that every translator is a world-class academic and noted authority on the texts they are translating. They have been vetted by our editorial board and especially invited to translate for MCLI.”

She was quoted in a release as saying, “Because the Murty family founded the MCLI in order to bring the rich literary heritage of India to the entire world, it is especially fitting that we issue an open invitation to generate a design for this landmark series.”

Mr Tim Jones, HUP's Director of Design and Production, was quoted as saying, “India's classical literature is uniquely diverse — geographically, linguistically, and thematically - making it a special challenge to visually convey the scope and richness of the MCLI. We're holding this contest so that designers of all backgrounds and experience can help us find an iconic way to represent the writings' diversity.”

The classics are being picked from Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu, Marathi, Urdu and other languages. Many of them would be available for the first time to the global reader.

“Much of the great literature of India remains locked in its original language. Many texts have never reached a global audience, while others are becoming increasingly inaccessible even to Indian readers,” HUP said.

(This article was published on September 29, 2011)
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