Rakhshanda Jalil – Panchlight and other stories
Bihar in translation
One of my lasting regrets is that when I migrated from Pakistan to India in August 1947, I did not learn to read and write Hindi. It was not entirely my fault as I got postings abroad and even lost much of the Urdu I knew. I was about to pick it up again in my years in Bombay. I envy those who are equally at ease with Hindi, Urdu and English.
One of them is Rakshanda Jalil of Jamia Millia University. She has written extensively about Delhi in English and translated Hindi novels. Though she is equally adept in Urdu, she does not write it, but uses it as her source material.
Rakshanda Jalil’s latest offering is translations of 10 short stories by Phaneshwar Nath Renu — Panchlight and other stories (Orient Black Swan). I had heard a great deal about Renu but was never able to lay my hands on any of his writing in English translation. I was aware that Renu (1921-77) was a Bihari from a tiny hamlet in Purnea district. He was deeply involved in the freedom movement and was jailed many times. His story Maraa Gayaa Gulfam was made into a highly popular feature film. Renu’s stories have the earthy fragrance of the soil of Bihar.
His characters use English words as they pronounce them: daghdar for doctor, delaiver for driver, laisance for licence. And so on. He reproduces sounds of drums —dhak, dhak, the tinkling of different kinds of bells from those round necks of goats and those round necks of oxen.
The reader is transported to Bihar’s villages with their cowherds and caste panchayats and their outdated ways of thinking and living. You get a taste of all this in the first story, The Wrestler’s Drum, along with Renu’s pride of Bihar. It is about a cowherd who drinks buffalo milk, takes a lot of exercise and becomes a powerful wrestler. At different dangals (wrestling matches) he keeps Bihar’s flag flying. All the other stories selected by Rakshanda Jalil read as well as The Wrestler’s Drum.