The word "other" in Other Books covers persecuted people the world over. In a fastly unipolarised world bearing the banner of statist, mainstream ideology trumpeted by corporate media, categories of these people are too many to easily fix. So we were supposed to prioritise. Hence, we have Dalits, women, and other economically and socially oppressed groups of people. In the larger geo-political scenario, Palestinians, who have kept loosing national boundaries and belongingness after the Zionist machinations for the formation of the state of Israel had born fruit on 14th May, 1948, became part of our political engagement. The first ever book on Palestine by Other Books was From Beirut to Jerusalem. The English edition of Ang Swee Chai's book was published in association with IBT. We thought the book needed a good Malayalam translation and met Ravi Deecee with a suggestion. He wanted to see the book and when we gave one to him, he wanted to propose a translator as well. Abdulla Manima translated the book into Malayalam for Deecee and the edition was well-received. The book subsequently went into Kannada and Tamil translations. The Kannada translation was launched at Bangalore in the presence of Ang by renowned litterateur and writer UR Ananthamurthy.Then came Susan Nathan's Other Side of Israel. We brought out the translation of Ralph Sheomann's Zionism: An Untold Story which unveils the backstage drama behind the visible atrocities of Israel. Last year, we had the translation of Miko Peled's General's Son. The book, an unapologetic critique of the Zionist state by the son of former Israeli military general, was recommended to us by Other Books associate Vinod Ahmed.
A short while before the translation of General's Son was taken up, Auswaf Ahsan, who is a daily follower of events in the West Asia, stumbled upon Ramzy Baroud, a young, industrious Palestinian journalist. Having been the deputy managing editor of Al Jazeera and the managing editor of London-based Middle East Eye, Ramzy is now the editor of Palestine Chronicle and is based in the US. His standpoint on the issue was marked out by candour, emotional intensity and political discretion. His articles, often appearing in The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, Arab News, The Miami Herald, The Japan Times, Al-Ahram Weekly, Asia Times, Al Jazeera, Gulf News, prod us to read at the very moment, their aesthetics not being clouded by the legal and political entanglements with which they deal with. Auswaf instantly purchased a copy of his "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter", started reading it, and, a few pages later, earmarked the book for a Malayalam translation.
The first attempt was to fetch the translation right from Pluto Press. As usual, we hollered out a cry to the publisher (that is how the first email for rights looks like) to give us the right at a minimum price possible (as we don't make profit out of translations, we always want to girdle our marketing team against loss). Pluto was so generous to offer the right at a price of XXXXX/gratis. Pluto, which was started in London by Richard Kuper in 1969 with the aim of promoting political debate and activism might have found in us their real alter ego. Sure, the translation must be the alter ego of the original. So must the translator be. Our next attempt was to approach the panel of West Asian translators with us, who could render this work retaining its aesthetics and candour. Someone not hot-headed over the issue. But not someone who, despite linguistic fluency, is not emotionally involved with the issue either. The year in which the project started was 2012.
Abdulla Manima topped the list of translators who met the conditions. He rendered Susan's Other Side of Israel and wrote many articles in Malayalam on the issue. We dialled him and was surprised by a categorical "no." He said that he wrote so much on the issue that he felt like living in Palestine and being a Palestinian. He did not have any problem with that feeling. But like every Palestinian he wants to once come out of the traumatic embroilment of the issue. He took up the translation of Alija Izetbegovic's Notes from Prison as a compensation. Once Manima's wicket fell (a coded expression in Other Books, signifying failed attempt), we approached Dr Jafar with the request. He, too, wanted to translate Notes from Prison; not this book. Meanwhile, Dr Auswaf noted the name of PK Niyas, whose byline on West Asian politics appeared in Madhyamam at times. Niyas agreed to do it but wanted an extended deadline. We wanted him to render it as soon as possible and talked him into doing it. Being a senior journalist at Peninsular at Doha, Qatar, he submitted the work in a year's time.
Then came half a decade's breather. The project started when Sreelekha, our early editorial assistant was playing the anchor at the editorial office. Sidheeq C Zainuddin got the submission of the whole chapters and meticulously edited it. When Muhammad Afsal, translator of General's Son, was at the helm, the book was still in the press. Afsal became a journalist with Peninsular at Doha and became Niyas' colleague. When Joseph Varghese became the assistant editor, he again subjected the manuscript to close reading and prepared its prelims. Then the curiosity of the entire Other Books team was piqued by the visit of Miko Peled, author of General's Son, to Kerala. We brought General's Son to public on the occasion of greeting Miko. Miko then got entangled in Visa procedures and cancelled the visit.
These events in quick succession were enough to discomfit P K Niyas. To put ourselves in his shoes, his anger was as justifiable as the anger of embittered Palestinians. Other Books rejected his request for extended deadline; rushed for early submission; published the translation of his colleague, which we took up much later; had to see that colleague during tea breaks waxing eloquent about his translation. But our apology, explanation and token of love, we believe, helped him keep his sang-froid. But to be late is, in some cases, a backhanded fortune. The book was one of the most elegantly produced titles by us. The cover designed by Arun Gokul deserves a lot of compliment for the same as much as Niyas' almost immaculate translation. When we had a rejection spree at Other Books as we became chronically unsatisfied with the covers, Auswaf suggested the name of Handala. From approximately 1975 through 1987 cartoonist Naji Al-Ali created illustrations that depict the plight of Palestinian refugees. Handala, the refugee child who is present in every cartoon, remains a potent symbol of the struggle of the Palestinian people for justice and self-determination. In the cover, cultural artefacts symbolizing Gaza to which Handala is a witness reflect the harrowing tales of the redoubtable Gazza city whose identity, cultural signature and very existence are all fast eroding under occupation.