from the partition
For a Pakistani who knows Urdu it is very difficult to really assess the worth of a translation because to him, well, it may all seem second hand. Actually it should be the other way round
By Sarwat Ali
'The Colour of Nothingness', a selection of modern Urdu Short Stories, edited and translated by Umar Memon -- reprinted in 2006 -- is quite simply the stories he personally enjoyed reading. "I can offer no better criteria for their inclusion than my own passion and prejudice", he wrote in the introduction. But of course he had a larger purpose in mind as well, manifestly, to present the texture and flavour of the modern Urdu Short story, both as daring experiment and a more refined heir to traditional fiction.
For a Pakistani who knows Urdu it is very difficult to really assess the worth of a translation because to him, well, it may all seem second hand. Actually it should be the other way round because the knowledge of Urdu should lead a reader to correctly assess whether the text has been properly translated or not. All the worlds' literature is known to us through the English translation. Though Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky appear very great in translation it is impossible to assess the worth and veracity of the translation without knowing the Russian language.
But in Urdu a good knowledge of the language does help in assessing the veracity of the translation but it also works the other way as all translations appear to be insipid compared to the strength and power of the local idiom which lurks imminently in the background. This is not to say that the translation is not good but to emphasise that certain aspects of the language, particularly literature, are impossible to translate.
But translation into English is important because this is the only highway that we can hitch a ride that runs through the major capitals of the world. One criticism that a sizeable and significant body of Urdu literature has not been translated for the readers of non Urdu speaking world is quite legitimate. The bigger wider world should get acquainted with the literature written in Urdu, and to this end of late some attempts have been made, in rare cases by the authors themselves, and the result has been not that bad, if one can set aside the overwhelming presence of the local idiom.
In the eleven years from the founding of the Progressive Writers Association to the creation of Pakistan/partition of India, the short story considerably developed and strengthened by Premchand grew to maturity in thematic range and technical skill. The bulk of the writings of that period made up of utilitarian fiction of the Progressives were quite traditional in their main technical attributes. It was marked by pronounced emphasis on linear development and sequential plot. The narrative mode was naturalistic, inclined to turn inward, unaware or perhaps uncertain of the potential of the devices such as the deliberate scrambling of temporality, interior monologue, the subtle interplay of consciousness and free association exploited with such surety of touch by Joyce and introduced by French Symbolist Edouard Dujardin.
Major strides were made by writers who were outside the Progressive Writers' fold or belonged to it nominally or in some cases had broken away from it. In their patriotic and humanitarian zeal the Progressives took a minimalist view of contemporary man (a victim of socio-economic forces) that man could be a psychological being with memory, desire and history, be part of a cultural continuum, have an inner life, a distinct personality were deemed irrelevant and ignored by them.
The best writings came from the independents. In Lajvanti, for example, Bedi explored the devastating effects of partition on the life of an individual. Sustained and masterly treatment of partition came from Manto who dominated the literary scene till his death in the mid nineteen fifties and continued to inspire young writers like Balraj Manra.
Causality, seriality, the tripartite formula of beginning , middle and an end as popularised by E.M. Foster and an almost fanatical insistence on unity of expression and effect, the surprise ending as in Maupassant and O Henry were the artistic signposts of this fiction. Social reality nor the characters' psychology provided the inspiration for the writer and defined his callings.
Modern fiction means post realism -- an internal structure to reality beyond what meets the eye, the human nature is definitely mystery that one wants to fathom. With Enver Sajjad, Balraj Manra, Surendar Prakash and Ahmed Hamesh the fictional narrative turned further inwards. The traditional notion of causality gave way to an abstract principle of causality; narrative foreground was deliberately muted or flattened and the form was taxed with the burden of creating meaning.
The writers whose stories have been translated include Zamiruddin Ahmed, Hasan Manzar, Intezar Husain, and Naiyar Masood. Khalida Husain, Muhammed Umar Memon, Abdullah Hussain, Ali Imam Naqvi, Qurratulain Hyder, Surendar Prakash, Balraj Komal, Enver Sajjad, Anwar Khan, Salim ur Rehman, Iqbal Majeed and Sharwan Kumar Verma.
The book covers a fair distance especially the ground that Urdu short story has covered since the weakening of the Progressive Writers Movement and the greater variations that it entailed. This collection was also meant to counter the judgment about literature's alleged social relevance, and to be useful to those who may wish to compare the nature of the Urdu short story against its counterpart in other major subcontinental languages, specifically Hindi. It is quite a representative collection and the preference of the editor/translator for the post progressive writers was more than obvious.
Narrative rather than analytical, Wolpert's latest work is of more value to the tolerant history student than academics or the general public
By Ammar Mir
There is hardly a dearth of literature relating to the Partition of United India and the ensuing birth of two independent nations. So much so that a new book dealing with the subject hardly excites much attention. But when the author is the respected historian Stanley Wolpert, one is forced to take notice. 'Shameful Flight', the author's latest contribution to Partition literature, is an attempt to deal with the issue from a different viewpoint. "The tragedy of Partition might well have been avoided or at least mitigated, but for the arrogance and ignorance of a handful of British and Indian leaders." Most of all Wolpert will attribute the blame to the 'impatience' of India's last Viceroy, Rear Admiral Viscount Lord Louis Francis Albert Victor Mountbatten, if only to "counter the many laudatory, fawning accounts" of the Viceroy's most important service to the Raj.
Wolpert has a reputation for objectivity and his latest effort reinforces that. Every incident is accompanied by enough documental evidence to ensure a balanced presentation of facts. Written in an easy to read style, which few history books are capable of, 'Shameful Flight' will greatly interest those who wish a comprehensive view of the events and decisions that led United India to a bloody Partition. One reason the book succeeds in doing so is the limited period the author has chosen to deal with.
In view of the book's premise, it is perhaps wise of Wolpert that he starts a mere five years prior to the partition of United India. His selected time-frame allows the book to deal extensively with the prevalent world situation at that time and its effects on the British Empire's attitude towards its crown jewel. Not many authors have explored the importance of World War II for India. Fewer still have discussed how Britain's actions in the early 1940s were part of a larger strategy for the war and to mollify US concerns over India. For example, Wolpert provides erudite commentary on how Churchill and Viceroy Linlithgow used the 1942 Cripps mission to garner support in the US for the British government's attitude towards India; while at the same time, hoping and expecting that Cripps would be unsuccessful. Churchill's ambivalence regarding efforts to reach a political solution for United India, which the author describes again and again, may well force readers to re-evaluate their impressions of a man who for most is a legendary Prime Minister. Witness this statement of Viceroy Wavell regarding Churchill, after sitting in one cabinet meeting: "He hates India and everything to do with it. Winston knows as much of the Indian problem as George III did of the American colonies!"
'Shameful Flight', a phrase borrowed from Churchill interestingly enough, exposes the final years of the British Raj as a tale of incompetence and insensitivity. Despite attempts by the Indian government to facilitate some degree of reconciliation between Muslim and Hindu leaders, especially Jinnah and Gandhi, London it seems, was always ready to intervene and impede progress. In 1943, riding the wave of recent Allied victories Churchill told his cabinet this was "not the time to cringe before a miserable little old man." Later Churchill was to telegraph his Viceroy, asking "why Gandhi has not died yet?" after releasing the Indian leader from prison because of medical concerns. United India's leaders don't escape blame either; Jinnah and Gandhi for their intransigence and Nehru for his arrogance and ultimate infidelity to his Mahatma's teachings.
But Wolpert reserves his singular contempt for the last Viceroy of India, Lord Louis 'Dickie' Mountbatten. Wolpert paints Mountbatten as conceited and vain, who viewed India as an unnecessary burden on the British Empire. This latter view is reinforced by evidence of successive blunders Mountbatten committed. Given a duty he was ill-equipped to handle, a subcontinent he had little or no understanding of, the Viceroy allowed his desire for personal glory to replace his common sense. Cutting the allotted time for Partition in half, Mountbatten stuck to his mantra that "speed is of the essence". Bengal's Secretary J.D. Tyson is quoted as saying "ever since he came out he has pursued shock tactics...The India of 'after August 15th' will not be the kind of country I should want to live in." One wonders why what was so evident to so many, was blatantly ignored by the man in charge. Wolpert is of course, more than willing to explain.
Ultimately, 'Shameful Flight', is a worthy addition to Partition literature. History books here in the subcontinent are either over simplified or seek to glorify the founding fathers of India and Pakistan respectively. It succeeds in doing what it claims to attempt; providing a comprehensive compendium of events and decisions that made a bloody Partition inevitable. At the same time, despite its easy to read approach, it's more a collection of facts rather than of personalised stories. Narrative rather than analytical, which perhaps is not a bad thing, Wolpert's latest is of more value to the tolerant history student than academics or the general public.
Qurratulain Hyder's death has closed the chapter of great Urdu fiction writers who appeared on our literary scene around the 1940s. The list included Rajinder Singh Bedi, Saadat Hasan Manto, Ghulam Abbas, Krishan Chander, Ismat Chughtai and Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi. Though none of them is among us now, they are still remembered for the short stories they had written. Many of them also wrote novels that seem to have been buried into oblivion, and are now seldom read and talked about.
Qurratulain Hyder's case, however, was different. She too entered the world of literature in the 1940s and published short stories as well as novels during her literary career spanning more than half a century. Both her short stories and novels were well-received, but she is better known for the latter.
However, I personally admire her as a translator. Years ago, I read her impressive Urdu translation of TS Eliot's play 'Murder in the Cathedral' believing that a better translation of the play was impossible. Likewise, her translation of Henry James' 'Portrait of a Lady' is a masterpiece. Her travelogues and reportages, too, are a specimen of literary excellence.
'Aag Ka Darya' is Qurratulain Hyder's most famous novel. If not the most widely read Urdu novel, it has certainly been talked about in our literary and cultural circles more than any other literary piece. Qurratulain Hyder wrote and got it published during her stay in Pakistan in the 1950s.
Many a finger was pointed at the contents of the novel rendering the opinion that the novelist had belittled the significance of the separate identity of the South Asian Muslims.
Her later works, especially those published during the 1980s, indicate the changes that came about in her concepts of history, human destiny and civilization since the publication of 'Aag ka Darya'. These changes brought her closer to those who believed in the popular orthodox interpretation of the two-nation theory. The decade of 1980s was her most productive period during which she published 'Roshni ki Raftaar' (1982), 'Gardish-e-Rang-e-Chaman' (1988) 'Chandni Begum' (1989) and 'Kar-e-Jahan Daraz hai' (1990). She also rendered her magnum opus, 'Aag ka Darya' into English. Perhaps she anticipated international recognition with the appearance of the English version of the novel but it did not come her way. However, she won a number of Indian literary and cultural awards including Jnanpith Award, her country's highest literary award, in 1989. Earlier, she also received Padma Bhushan, Ghalib Award, Soviet Land Nehru Award as well as some other honours.
Two events were held in Lahore past week to commemorate and pay tribute to Qurratulain Hyder. The first was a public lecture arranged by the Lahore chapter of the Pakistan Academy of Letters in association with the Human Development Forum at the Model Town Park. The lecture on the life and literary achievements of Qurratulain Hyder was delivered by Amjad Tufail. He is also the author of the first book published on her in Pakistan. He gave a detailed account of her psychological and literary development.
The other meeting was jointly organised by the Pakistan Academy of Letters and Quaid-e-Azam Library. It was presided over by Dr. Anwar Sadid and speakers included Professor Razi Abdi, Afzal Tauseef, Dr. Younas Javed, Saeed Sheikh and Amjad Tufail. They paid rich tributes to Qurratulain Hyder terming her the best-known Urdu novelist of our times.
The meeting was attended by a number of writers including Nisar Aziz Butt, Hamid Akhtar, Javed Qureshi, Asghar Butt and Siddiqa Begum.
Our writers have succeeded in establishing relations with men and women of letters residing in foreign countries. So whenever they get an opportunity to visit these countries, some social and literary events are held for them participated by poets and writers. But all these guests and hosts are usually Pakistani immigrants. It is very rare that a Pakistani writer is received and celebrated by foreign literati or is invited by foreign universities. Anyway, one should hope that things will change sooner or later and our writers will be able to get some recognition abroad.
Anwar Zahidi's recently published travelogue encourages one to nourish this hope. It has been published by Dost Publications of Islamabad under the title 'Duniya Kahain Jisey.'
Zahidi is a noted poet, fiction writer and translator. His literary existence was first felt in 1985 when he came up with his collection of poems titled 'Sunehray Dinon ki Shairy'. It was followed by the publication of his first collection of short stories under the title 'Azab-e-Shehr Panah' in 1991. The book that introduced him to a wider circle of readers is his Urdu translation of Pablo Neruda's Memoirs. Entitled 'Yadain', published by Ufra Publications, Lahore.
'Duniya Kahain Jisey' is Zahidi's first travelogue and gives an interesting account of his visit to the United States, Canada, London and Dubai. However, one wonders why he chose to write a travelogue ten years after he visited these places.
He was accompanied by his wife, Roohi, during his travels with the result that no worth-mentioning incidents came his way unlike Mustansar Hussain Tarar and some other travel writers providing them with the stuff that made their books sell like hot cakes.