Monday, March 07, 2016

Review: New Urdu Writings : From India & Pakistan

New Urdu Writings : From India & Pakistan New Urdu Writings : From India & Pakistan 
by Rakhshanda Jalil

What is Urdu?
“Centuries ago, Urdu was born in the streets and markets of Delhi and became a language of middle-class North Indians. But, in the post-Partition India, it was replaced by Hindi and English. Ironically, it was adopted by Pakistan where the majority of people don’t speak Urdu. In India, though, it survived in Hindi film songs and in poetry symposia.”
Abdullah Khan has put it quite charmingly and, indeed, a core quality of Urdu seems to be an exquisite politeness, a poetic quality and, until fairly recently, the lyricism of Bollywood songs. It was the language of the Muslims, an exotic and frilly tongue that one rarely heard spoken in real time, for the Muslims of India were mostly confined to their own areas.

Various explanations are given for this, mostly to the tune of “they have their own ways”. However, the bitter truth is that most Hindu landlords won’t rent out to them. And what’s so odd about that? We humans seem to do stuff like this to each other all over the world.

When I returned from a five year stay in Malaysia, the Bollywood music scene had undergone a sea change. Songs were now in many of the local dialects of Hindi. On the streets, your query in English got replied to in Hindi. When you dial customer care, you hear a chaste new form of Hindi, crisp and businesslike, suitable for global use, neatly replicating commonly used politeness formulae of worldwide call centre English.

On the other hand, Muslims were now more visible, which is really heart warming.

So I hungrily grabbed the book, looking forwards to a new outlook on life, love and other things in this set of Urdu stories.

Another reason why I chose to pick it up is that it’s published by the Tranquebar Press which, along with Blaft, brings out translations of many regional writings from India and the neighbourhood. These publishers are doing a splendid job of undoing the alienation which had set in amongst us others, the peoples whose birthright of co-mingling had been brutally stolen away by colonialism.

Well, here’s my take, for what it’s worth. 

It’s a morose medley - but then most regional language short story collections tend to be a tad gloomy.

The translation is faithful in the sense that it’s not snob-perfect. But then the “good” translation into English often kills seamlessness.

These fifteen stories (from India and Pakistan) is 
an eclectic mix of veteran writers and young voices” 
says Abdullah Khan. I’ll leave you to find out more about the stories from his review, the link to which is above.

Tragedy laden content aside, I’d recommend the book for its insight into the camaraderie that exists in real time between peoples projected, by global media, as hostile to each other. A common angst at the terrible destruction the White world, especially, in the present, the US, is disbursing, unbridled, around the world, is expressed by both Indian and Pakistani voices.

Perhaps it is this which makes it less apt to be published by one of the big “global” publishers. And the time for that to be a cause of mourning is past - we are a nation of nearly 1.3 billion and can provide more than enough readers to make up for the loss of not making a mark in the White world.

The Indian voice, with its own colour, is, not surprisingly, palatable as far away as China. Witness the popularity of our Chetan Bhagat, whose book is, it is said, being made into a film in China!

And, now, to elaborate about my two opinions. I have no idea what short story collections were like before the European brigands plundered our peoples of all sense of self worth. Yet our heroic myths are never weepy! There is love and death, lust and betrayal, guile and guilelessness but never the bleak notes which harp on the nerves in most regional short stories. I’m pretty sure this dank despair crept into our writings as a result of the dastardly deeds of the White petty traders who steered their ships away from their plague ridden shores to line their dismal cities.

As for the translations, I shall not nitpick as, to me, they spoke with a more authentic voice than would have been the case had the job been handed over to a person trained in “perfect” English.

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