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The tragic story of Urdu

By Raza Rumi

What makes translating Urdu literature a rare indulgence has also kept it closeted from global appreciation.

Ralph Russell, the legendary British scholar of Urdu literature, whose tireless efforts to explore the Byzantine layers of Urdu will always serve as a reference point for global Urdu-walas, once summed up the eternal dilemma of achieving a perfect translation of Urdu literature into English. He pointed out that the work of Indian and Pakistani translators suffered from a lack of command in either language. “The English-knowing products of what in India and Pakistan are generally called ‘convent schools’ have acquired their nearly (but not quite) perfect English at the cost of losing full command of their mother tongue,” he wrote in 1996.

This is not to say that translations of Urdu literature have not been accomplished. In fact, there are many 20th century writers whose works have been translated by competent men and women. Key examples are the translations of the short stories of Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chughtai. Their poignant and non-conformist writings have found a wide readership in predominantly English-reading Indian middle classes and western readers attempting to understand the nuances of South Asia’s literary output. The contribution of The Annual of Urdu Studies – edited by Muhammad Umar Memon and published every year from the US – has been immense in this regard. Some writers and poets whose works have been translated include Abdullah Hussein, Patras Bukhari, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Ghulam Abbas, Hajra Masroor, Premchand, Qudratullah Shahab, Intizar whose contribution and devotion to the translation of Urdu literature remains unparalleled and who has provided fine examples of literary translations, leaving out no major contemporary Urdu writer. His academic journal, The Annual of Urdu Studies, continues to publish translated works from Urdu every year.

Literary magazines are a great introduction to young and fresh voices in Urdu. One can observe a constant process of experimentation in language and expression. Short story writer Ali Akbar Natiq, one of Urdu’s most important new voices, and Mohammad Khalid Toor, who is critical newly- rediscovered voice, have been introduced to readers by Urdu literary magazines. […]

My session with Intizar Husain: Karachi Literature Festival 2011

Huma Imitiaz has summed up the session I moderated at the KLF. Huma has been kind to me but I am just a humble student of literature and facing Intizar Saheb in this session would remain a milestone in my imagined literary journeys, yet to start…

“There are two forces that have risen in Pakistan: women and mullahs,” said writer and journalist extraordinaire Intizar Husain, at the Karachi Literature Festival. The crowd roared in approval, and Husain smiled. At his session, held on the second day, the room was nowhere near full capacity, but those in attendance were hanging on to his every word. In a one on one discussion with writer Raza Rumi, Husain talked about a variety of subjects, from writing techniques to the Lahore that once was.

February 19th, 2011|Pakistan, Pakistani Literature, Personal, published in DAWN|7 Comments