New horizons

NEARLY 60 years ago, an epic Partition novel was published in India. It became an instant hit. Jhutha Sach narrated poignantly the epochal events of the time. Its author, Yashpal, a communist revolutionary who had spent many years in British jails, also captured the disappointment of the masses at their failed expectations. They had been promised much more than what they received.

This powerful book, written in Hindi, received a second lease of life after 50 years. The author’s son Anand translated the book into English. This is not that Dawn, the English title, has certainly introduced Yashpal to a new generation of international readership. In this journey, involving the crossing of borders that Jhutha Sach has undertaken, lies the importance of translation of literature. It is increasing as the book trade goes global. Though in the world market only 4.5 per cent of the books sold are translated works, in different non-English speaking countries the ratio is significantly higher. Thus a third of the books published in France are translations from other languages. In the Netherlands, this ratio is 45pc.

Though translations have helped popularise authors, this genre is one of the most challenging but least appreciated. I spoke to Anand, who is a literary translator and is fluent in English and Hindi, about how he feels about his work. He shot to fame after the publication of his elegant translation of his father’s book in 2010. He lives in Montreal and has just finished translating Alice Munro’s Runaway into Hindi which is in the press now.

Anand says that his ultimate goal is “the comprehensibility of the final text”. In other words, a translation should be so natural that the reader should not feel that what he is reading is a product of the process of transmission from one language to another. “I try to get into the author’s mind,” he remarks.

Why do we not have more translations in Pakistan?

That can be tricky, he admits, because every language has its own syntax and rhythm, and to impose those of the source language on to the target language seldom works. Many translators may not agree with that. But no one would question Anand’s assertion that the translator must have equal mastery over the two languages involved. It also means that the translator must be familiar with the culture, geography and history of the place where the story is set. Anand has an advantage in this respect as he lives in Canada and visits India every winter.

Personally I feel that the translation is best when the translator identifies himself with the author. In the case of Jhutha Sach, Anand had a ringside view of the writing process. He was a teenager in the late 1950s when the book was being written. He says, “I saw it being written. I knew some of the people who shared their experiences of Partition with my father.”

The book was first serialised in a magazine and hundreds of letters poured in. Anand helped his father by responding to them. He felt close to the book and it became a part of his being.

But most important is Anand’s statement, “I agree with what my father writes about post-independence India failing to deliver the expected sort of egalitarian society that was promised during the freedom struggle. The promises made about social and economic freedom, women’s rights and empowerment, were either sabotaged or inexcusably delayed by hidebound reactionaries.”

This is precisely what Yashpal captures in his book. When two minds think alike the result will inevitably be powerful.

This has left me wondering why we do not have more translations in Pakistan. We have a number of good translators, no doubt. Yet Ameena Saiyid, the MD of OUP, once told me that the translations they published do not sell. Is there such a chasm between the English-speaking elite classes and the non-English speaking masses? Conversely, are the Urdu readers rejecting English so conclusively that they do not want to read even the translated work of English writers? Or is it simply that the mindset and literary tastes of our society have diverged so sharply that there is no meeting of minds between them?

I have noticed this in the media of the two languages. Their worldviews are poles apart. Their social, cultural values do not meet at any point, nor do their literary tastes.

This alienation is a product of our social inequity. Language barriers have been erected to keep the poor beyond the pale. Or is it simply a case of our education system failing to inculcate the book-reading habit? If people don’t like to read books, translations will not sell either. Take Iran as an example. Iranians are avid readers and translations are also popular. Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner has 16 different versions of Farsi translations available in Iran. They must be selling.

Source: Dawn

Time to heal

Voices of Partition, Mumbai 6 Aug 2017

By Zubeida Mustafa

THIS year an alternative discourse dominated the weeks leading up to the middle of August, when, 70 years ago, Pakistan and India became independent. Marking a shift in focus, the public narratives moved away from the traditional recounting of the politics of the leaders in the 1940s to the experiences of the common man whose fate was decided.

This, to me, is a significant development. This people-to-people interaction at the grass roots can eventually pave the way for peace in the region. It may also change the public perception of the events of 1947. Until now, the people of the two countries have been exposed to one-sided accounts of their leaders’ political ‘achievements’ and the ‘deceit’ of the ‘other side’. The new narrative can be termed the ‘people’s history’. It is oral so that more people can be accessed in South Asia. And these are untold stories. Continue reading “Time to heal”

Women are at the heart of development in Pakistan

The Garage School founder Shabina Mustafa at her desk in the educational center in Karachi, Pakistan. (The Garage School)

By Zubeida Mustafa

Three years ago, when Truthdig invited me to write an article on “How the women of Pakistan cope” for its newly launched Global Voices Project, it was a challenge for me. I wished to show the readers a face of Pakistani women that does not generally figure in the global media. They are the women who do not in the normal course create a sensation. But in their quiet way they are the change-makers.

The relaunch of Truthdig offers me the opportunity to take another look at the situation of women in Pakistan. Has it changed?

First, let us redefine the dichotomy in the women’s situation in Pakistan in terms of their achievements. The two classes I spoke about in my earlier article still exist: We still have a small, privileged class of the haves, and there is also the huge, underprivileged class of the have-nots. The world fails to recognise Pakistani women through this perspective. Read on

Source:Truthdig

What ASER says

By Zubeida Mustafa

ANY country which values education provides for an independent mechanism to test the learning levels of its students. That is the only way a state can assess objectively the strength and weaknesses of the system that it has in place to educate its children.

In Pakistan, the Annual State of Education Report (Aser) has been doing precisely that since 2008 when its first annual survey was held. It is like an audit and should be valued for the database it collects — mainly in the relatively inaccessible rural areas. Policies made on the basis of this wealth of information should make learning tools more effective. Continue reading “What ASER says”

No child’s play

By Zubeida Mustafa

FOUZIA is 13 and is employed by a working mother of two children. Fouzia is the victim of oppression on three counts. She performs the duties of an adult woman, which would be classified as child labour. She is not attending school as is compulsory for children from five to 16 years of age under Article 25-A of the Constitution.

Above all, she will soon be another example of early marriage as she is said to be engaged. The wedding will take place as soon as she has earned enough for her dowry. In the process, Fouzia has been robbed of her childhood and an education.

These deprivations do not bother this young girl’s family. Their sociocultural norms and, according to many, poverty have landed her in this ugly situation. According to Unesco, from 1987 to 2005, early marriage was the fate of nearly 32 per cent of all children in Pakistan. Continue reading “No child’s play”

Creeping changes

By Zubeida Mustafa

A SILENT language revolution is changing the face of Pakistan in the public discourse. There was a time when proceedings in most dialogues were conducted in English. As could be expected, the message conveyed by the speakers would not get across to the entire audience.

Mercifully, things have begun to change. Bilingualism is the order of the day with greater weightage being given to indigenous languages. Those who really want to communicate with the audience — politicians and the electronic media — are aware that they would have few takers if they were to speak in English as not many understand the nuances of this foreign language and even fewer can speak it. This acknowledgment of the reality is a positive development, especially when we claim to be a democracy. Continue reading “Creeping changes”

Short-cuts to writing?

 

 

By Zubeida Mustafa

We Pakistanis are very ingenious and resourceful when it comes to solving seemingly intractable issues. We manage to “invent” solutions for every problem we face – and there is no shortage of those.

Power shortage? Generators and UPS’ flood the market and, presto, you have your own power supply. What’s more, you have a choice to meet the size of your pocket.

Security concerns with crime on the rise? Private security companies can provide guards on demand and, depending on your budget, you can have as many as you want. They are also armed to give you an extra sense of safety.

A child doing badly in her studies because the school is failing to meet the standards set for it? No problem. Get private tutors and, with the mushrooming of tuition centres, you have a wide choice.

Need to publish research papers to be promoted as professor? And those no-good editors don’t find your research sound enough to publish? Don’t worry. There are numerous, if somewhat dubious, online journals who will publish your paper for a fee and you get a title of a publication to add to your CV and get a promotion.

The latest to join this privileged club is an institution called The Writing Centre. Not that such centres didn’t exist before. They catered primarily to the needs of aspiring creative writers, providing one-on-one training to those who could write but needed guidance in fiction writing.

But now such centres have a new dimension. They have ‘consultants,’ not teachers, to perform their functions. In April, the impressive sounding ‘First National Dialogue on Writing Centres’ brought together a number of people from various universities and institutions, where writing is being taught as an organised discipline. Hosted by the Institute of Business Administration’s (IBA) Ardeshir Cowasjee Centre for Writing (ACCW), the idea of the dialogue was to promote this new entrant into our academia. An array of high-profile speakers were present to praise, not the art of writing, (which I would do any day), but the centres that teach writing.

And, of course, writing needs a language. From what I could gather from the two sessions I attended, the language being promoted is, as expected, English. Dr Ishrat Hussain, former Director of the IBA and now Professor Emeritus, rightly pointed out that, “In the current phase of globalisation, English is the principal language of technology, science, research and international relations. Pakistani students seeking to acquire new levels of professional qualification in Pakistan or in overseas countries direly need to enhance their proficiency in English to be able to benefit from new knowledge and obtain progressive employment.”

The disturbing question one is confronted with is: Aren’t our schools and colleges teaching the students how to write? English has been promoted aggressively in our school system at the expense of our indigenous languages, especially in the elite private schools, so it comes as a surprise that their students need writing centres to learn how to write. And mind you, these schools constitute the catchment area of enrolment in most business universities.

I had visited the ACCW soon after it was founded in 2014 at the invitation of Dr Ishrat Hussain. I was impressed, though a bit uneasy with the implications of such an institution. I was told then that some students coming from high-fee schools – I won’t name them – were not sufficiently proficient in English. Hence the need to teach them how to write and bring them at par with their classmates. Now I am told that the ACCW has so far “helped over 1035 students to improve their writing skills, critical, analytical thinking and self-confidence in articulation. Providing a one-on-one consultancy facility in sessions of about 40-45 minutes’ duration, students and consultants (senior students, lecturers etc.) review idea generation, structure of texts, grammar and syntax and complex stylistic concerns.”

That means our teaching and language standards have gone down further. In this context, the Writing Centre would appear to be an innovative idea. It would have been so much better had the students been taught all this when they were in school. But obviously they are not being taught well enough. Hence the demand for often exorbitantly costing tuitions and for writing centres.

The writing schools are shortcuts to make amends for the flaws in our education system. Instead of addressing the basic weaknesses in our collapsing system of education, we are trying to provide for a small class that is privileged.

As happens when such an approach is adopted, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots widens. It is the moral responsibility of the elite to extend a helping hand to the disadvantaged ones. Can we afford to leave 25 million children out of school while a small crust of the more fortunate ones get the best education for which they can pay?

Another cause of concern is that we tend to explore solutions at the higher education level, when a preponderant majority of the children who enter the education stream have dropped out. Crying over spilt milk after a child’s formative years are over, does not help much. It is time we stopped slicing education into different sectors. It should be treated as a composite whole. If schools fail to teach language properly, the universities will naturally get students who cannot write. To say academic writing has to be taught, as one speaker said, is a myth. Anyone who knows how to write in a language and has knowledge of his subject, can be given guidelines in an hour on how to write a business letter, make a project proposal or write a research paper. There is no shortcut to writing.

Zubeida Mustafa is a senior journalist. She writes on a variety of subjects but her interest has mainly been in the social sector which she has covered extensively. She has investigated in-depth issues such as education, health care, women’s empowerment, children’s rights and the lives of ordinary people.

Source: Newsline May 2017

Where the ill lies

By Zubeida Mustafa

“THERE has been an enormous overproduction of uneducated and ill-trained medical practitioners … due to the existence of a very large number of commercial (medical) schools … which are profitable business.”

Does the above refer to Pakistan? It doesn’t but it could as it is an apt description of the conditions prevailing in the country. The words above are from Abraham Flexner’s 1910 report on the state of medical education in North America. It led to the closing down of 124 of the 155 medical schools operating in the US and Canada at the time. Continue reading “Where the ill lies”

Right vs wrong

IN a society as morally perverse and corrupt as ours, does a centre of ethics have any relevance? A cynic’s answer would be a resounding ‘none whatsoever’. The idealist/reformer would say, ‘all the more’. That is a dilemma that faces all activists in this country seeking to light the spark of change.

In this context, the SIUT’s Centre for Biomedical Ethics and Culture (CBEC) faces a daunting challenge. It has been struggling for the last 13 years to introduce an ethical perspective not just in healthcare but also in the non-medical sector. Its endeavours became meaningful and received international recognition when last week WHO declared the CBEC a Collaborating Centre for Bioethics — one of the eight to receive that prestigious status worldwide. Continue reading “Right vs wrong”

Inspiring change

By Zubeida Mustafa

EDUCATION in Pakistan has not proved to be the catalyst for change that a dynamic and enlightened knowledge sector has been in many societies. The socio-cultural stagnation has been made worse by the lack of motivation in the teachers.

They can be the change-makers — many are playing that role at an individual level — that we so badly need today. But collectively, they are not. Continue reading “Inspiring change”