The Sahitya Akademi is in the news these days, with one writer after the other returning their awards to protest against intolerance in the country, while other writers are against this form of protest. I don’t belong to that elite category of writers whose opinions matter, but it got me thinking about why I appreciate the Akademi so much. It is nothing to do with its awards but about the unsung people who form its staff, about the editors and translators, and the wonderful books they produce.
It is only through the publications of the Akademi that I have been able to read and know about Indian literature, past and present. I can read English, Hindi, and minimal Sanskrit and Gujarati [not enough to understand a book], have tried to learn Bengali and Telugu without much success, but what about the other languages, Tamil, Malayalam, Manipuri etc etc?
On my shelves is the wonderful Encyclopaedia of Indian Literature in six volumes, that I went through page by page, a wonderful resource that I used to identify writers on religion for my book on Hinduism. Once I had chosen a few out of the hundreds, I used the Akademi translations to read their work. It is because of these my Hinduism book is so different from others on the same topic, as I have been able to include the best of regional literature.
And I hope the Akademi continues to produce these books, which I feel are its most important work.
[spell-check is trying to correct the spelling, but this is how the Akademi spells its name]