By Zubeida Mustafa
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.