The Doomsdayers would do well to put away their trumpets. The obituarists too should stay their pens. Those who have been predicting the end of Urdu would do well to pay heed to the great burst of literary translations into Urdu presently happening in India. Surely, a language cannot die till books are being read and published in that particular language. And, if publishing is any indicator of the health and robustness of a language, then evidently things are not as bad as they appear on the Urdu front in India today. Thanks to a clutch of government-funded bodies such as the Sahitya Akademi and the National Council for the Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL) we are witnessing a healthy trend in Urdu publishing with good quality, reasonably priced and widely distributed Urdu books. One aspect of this recent trend is in the field of translation – both into and from Urdu. While the books per se draw attention and garner healthy sales, the same cannot be said for the translators. That many of these translators remain unsung and unnoticed is, to my mind, a great tragedy.
One such unsung translator is Masoodul Haq who is a former teacher at the Department of Education at Jamia Millia Islamia. Since his retirement, he has done a yeoman service to the cause of Urdu by undertaking a series of translations; taken together they show the eclectic range of his interests from the fields of education, literature, social sciences, religion and politics. Some of his translated volumes include: History of Indian Education During the British Period by Noorullah and J. P. Naik; Foundation of Muslim Rule in India by A B M Habibullah; John Company to the Republic: A History of Modern India, Pluralism to Separatism: Qasbahs in Colonial Oudh, A moral Reckoning: Muslim Intellectuals in 19th-century India – all three by Mushirul Hasan; Lucknow and the World of Sarshar by Firoz Mukherji; Bachpan ki Dost aur Doosri Kahaniyan by Vaikom Mohammad Basheer; Inside India by Halide Edib, among others. It is the last two that I wish to single out for attention in this review.
Vaikom Mohammad Basheer (1908-1994) is regarded as one of the finest writers in Malayalam. Bewitched by Gandhi ji, he came under the spell of the Satyagraha movement and joined the national freedom movement. Something of a maverick, Basheer set off from his home in Travancore in northern Kerala and travelled the length and breadth of the country, taking up different jobs: as loom fitter, fortune teller, cook, newspaper seller, fruit seller, sports goods agent, accountant, watchman, shepherd, hotel manager, occasionally even living as an ascetic. His first story, Balyakalasakhi (Bachpan ki Dost), created a stir in literary circles when it was published in 1944 for its unusual depiction of a tragic love story between childhood sweethearts, Majeed and Zehra. And from then onwards, Basheer embarked on a literary journey that would take him onwards and onwards on the path of success and popularity despite two bouts of mental illness. Masoodul Haq’s translation (from English since like many translators in India he accesses the bhasha literatures through English which serves as an effective ‘link’ language) is luminous despite being ‘twice removed’ from the original. He carries into Urdu, seamlessly and almost effortlessly, the serene and sylvan landscape of Kerala and the unhurried pace of life of its inhabitants. Some of the poverty and want of Basheer’s own life seeps into these stories of human frailty and strength, love and compassion,
The other book under review, a translation of Turkish writer Khalida Edib’s Inside India is Dauran-e-Hind. Here, we see ample evidence of the magic that can be wrought by intelligent, insightful translations. In simple but felicitous Urdu, Masoodul Haq re-creates the warmth and beauty of Edib’s sophisticated English prose. He limns it with his own erudition without in any way distracting or diluting the solemn cadences of the original. For example, in the scholarly Introduction provided by historian Prof Mushirul Hasan to the new edition of Inside India(published by Oxford University Press, 2002), Masoodul Haq provides an added dimension; he demarcated each section of the incisely written Introduction into chapters, and provides a fragment of Urdu verse for each. Sample these: ‘Yahan aane se pehle bhi issi mehfil main thi’, Zehr-e-Hallahal ko kabhi keh na saki qand’, ‘Chale chalo ke who manzil abhi nahi aai’, and ‘Faqat zau-e-parwaz hai zindagi’.
Edib (1884-1964), one of the most acclaimed modern Turkish writers, was a woman of many parts: writer, activist, nationalist and feminist. She travelled to India and packed a hectic schedule: she met Gandhi ji and attended a mass prayer meeting;, interacted with some of the most luminous minds of the times during her stay with the family of Dr Ansari in his home ‘Dar-us-Salam’ in Delhi; travelled to cities as distant as Lahore, Peshawar, Lucknow, Banaras, Calcutta, Hyderabad and Bombay; visited the Aligarh Muslim University where the Urdu poet Majaz, then a post-graduate student, wrote a tribute to her called Nazr-e Khalida Adib Khanum; and visited the Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi during January and February 1935 where she delivered a series of lectures entitled ‘Conflict of East and west in Turkey’. This account of her travels and her interactions with the crème de la crème if Indian intelligentsia called appropriately enough Inside India, had been out of print for decades. It has been retrieved by Hasan and placed squarely within the framework of colonial and nationalist narratives. Masoodul Haq’s translation presents both – Hasan’s scholarly Introduction and copious notes and reference material as well Khalida Edib’s own deeply insightful observations – before the modern Urdu readers. The book is especially useful for the Urdu readers because it shows Edib’s concerns with nationalism, pluralism, and secularism – concerns that are as relevant today as they were 80 years ago.
Bachpan ki Dost aur Doosri Kahaniyan, Vaikom Mohammad Basheer, translated by Masoodul Haq, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2010, Rs 300
Dauran-e Hind, Khalida Edib, translated by Masoodul Haq, Maktaba Jamia, New Delhi, 2009, Rs 300.