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The time of translations

By December 4, 2017No Comments

Source : The Tribune


In a world where brands sell and even authors and writers work tirelessly to establish their own brand of writing, Rakhshanda Jalil gets uncomfortable with labels of any sort, be it of gender or religion. However, with almost 80 per cent of her literary work constituting translations, the tag of being one of the most prolific writers in this domain is the one that she is happy to be associated with.

Eight of her already published works involve translations of Urdu and Hindi writers right from Prem Chand to Asghar Wajahat, Saadat Hasan Manto to Intizar Husain and Shahryar to Phanishwarnath Renu. Traversing the colourful landscape of Urdu and Hindi literature — be it short stories, poetry, satirical writings, novels, Rakhshanda has effectively bridged the gap and made the best of regional language literature accessible to an English-speaking audience. On the sidelines of Chandigarh Lit Fest Literati, she talks about her journey as a writer and the growing influence of translated works among a younger audience. Some excerpts:

You have  translated the works of several stalwarts of the Progressive Writers Movement. Has this impacted your evolution as a writer? 

Translations feed the work that I do.  But over the years my journey in this field has moved from text to context as now when I translate I am interested in giving a long introduction rather than the three or four page intros that my initial works had. The text alone is not sufficient for me and by giving a long introduction I try to add value to the original and make the contemporary reader at home with the original in a wholistic manner.  A long introduction adds an extra layer where the writer’s intent fuses with a more contemporary perception. I am interested in how the original was written, why it was written and what else was being written at that time by other writers.

Do you feel you are connecting with a younger and diverse audience through your work?

Absolutely. Translations serve as a bridge to connect with diverse audience. For example, there are talks and sessions on Urdu poetry and writers  in places like Bengaluru and Mumbai. This would not have been possible if these non-Urdu speakers did not have access to translations in English. University curricula are also changing and here, too, translations have led to this change to a large extent. Students are reading translations as well as critical writings. Critical writings of Urdu writers in English are being published by mainstream English publishers and these are selling.

You have written about bold writers like Rashid Jahan and Ismat Chughtai. Your thoughts on feminism as a writer.

I am attracted to independent female role models and am drawn towards writers who point out the unevenness of male-female relationships. I consider Rashid Jahan to be a path breaking writer, but for me feminism is not the domain of women only, even men can take up this cause as effectively. Several progressives whom I admire were sensitive to gender justice. Manto has done it, and so have Krishan Chander and  Rajinder Singh Bedi. It is very healthy for literature to have men writing about women characters and not in a  phony female voice. They are not pretending to say that they are writing from a woman’s heart, they are projecting unevenness, abuse, inequality and exploitation. That is feminism too.

Delhi has emerged as an important character in your books. What is it about the city that fascinates you?

I feel a deep connection with the city. I have seen the demographics of the city, its urban landscape and the character change in the past four decades as I have witnessed the birth and evolution of this mega polis first hand. Its landmarks, images, monuments … all fascinate me. Currently, I am working on an interesting collection of short stories and memoirs in which images of Delhi play an important role. The collection will feature works from four languages that are spoken in Delhi.

The social narrative is getting a communal tinge. What is your take on it as most of your work deals with Urdu and writers in that language?

As a person sensitive to the bitter realities of a fractured world and of a world where binaries between “us” and “them” are getting sharp, I feel it is important to go beyond just drawing attention to these. That something more involves highlighting a world where these binaries are continuously being broken.  I have written a series of articles on writings in Urdu on Krishna, Rama, Guru Nanak and on festivals like Diwali and Janamashtami.  These have pointed out how Muslim writers like Iqbal have written on Hindu deities, Guru Nanak and others. Iqbal not only wrote about Rama but also called him Imam-e-Hind.

As it is I don’t see Urdu as the language of a particular religion. There is no established theological link between Islam and Urdu. In fact, Urdu has had a strong link with Punjab and it is sad to see that it is no longer owned by Punjab in a way it should have been. Writers should not fall in this trap of radicalisation of a language.

What changes as well as similarities do you see in Urdu literature before the Partition, after it and in the 21st century?

The concern over communal violence has been a constant factor for writers down the ages as communal violence has not gone out of our lives even now. An overwhelming concern with violence before the Partition reflected in the writings of Manto. It continues to haunt Urdu writers even today as reflected in the collection of short stories called Pigeons of the Dome: Stories on Communalism However, nationalism, a major concern before Independence, is not that visible now. The modernist writers have also veered the narratives from a social concern of the Progressives to a more individualistic and personal  images.

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