May 21, 2019

Indian Novels Collective

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  • BOOK EXCERPT

    Seeing but not SEEN


    Known as one of the greatest storytellers of the Partition, Joginder Paul has been the recipient of important literary awards, such as the International Award for Urdu Writing from Qatar, SAARC Life Achievement Award, Iqbal Samman, Ghalib Award, Bahadur Shah Zafar Award and many others. His fiction has been translated into several languages. With his unique writing style and choice of themes, he is known as one of the most innovative writers in Urdu.

    Joginder Paul migrated from Sialkot (now in Pakistan) to Ambala (India) in 1947, at the time of Partition, after which he married and left for Kenya where he lived for nearly 15 years. The experience of being a refugee and that of ‘exile’ reflected in a lot of his short and long fiction writings. He was familiar with multiple languages, with Punjabi as his mother tongue and school education in Urdu. Post this he pursued a Masters degree in English and taught literature until he retired as the principal of a college in Aurangabad. Joginder Paul chose to write in Urdu, with a conviction that Urdu is ‘not a language but a culture’.

    Grounded in human suffering and exposed to continental fiction, he found his own distinctive style of writing. While Joginder Paul’s first collection of short stories, Dharti ka Kaal, carried stories of Africa, the subsequent collections of his short stories project a deep concern for social issues, poverty and hunger, mostly in the Indian context. His novel Khwabro has been widely discussed as a poignant Partition novel with a television film made on it. The four volumes of flash fiction by him established him as a pioneer in the oeuvre. Each of his stories came to him with its own specific language and style, shape and size, as dictated by its own experience and content. Joginder Paul added new dimensions to Urdu fiction, both in content as well as form.

    It was the lasting experience of visiting a blind home in Kenya which several decades later compelled him to write his novel Nadeed, translated to English, as Blind by his daughter Sukrita Paul Kumar and co-translated by Hina Nandrajog. The English translation works towards maintaining the metaphorical significance of the word ‘Blind’ and the inter-relation of the allegorical and physical blindness in the narrative projected in Nadeed. Sukrita Paul Kumar and Hina Nandrajog, attempt to transpose the metaphysical dimensions of blindness, present in Joginder Paul’s work.

    Here is an excerpt from the translation:

    Sharfu

    Each of us has his own way of seeing. Who can tell how the other sees? As for me, I see the whole world within myself – lofty mountain peaks that pierce my insides, wide rivers in whose eddies I sometimes get trapped; dashing against the rocks, I smash into pieces, but my banks gather all the pieces from the flowing waters, put them together and carry me to a safe and secluded maidan.

    Within me lies the world-of-worlds. Many places in this world have been torn and worn by cruel seasons, but somehow I manage to patiently build kutcha-pukka bridges so that no part of me remains isolated. I arrive wherever I wish to reach the very moment the thought of getting there comes to me. I live in every speck and atom of this universe of mine.

    No, I am not making any claim to godhood! The truth is that I was born blind and I lie inside myself quietly. Quietly? No, that’s a lie! And … and it is also a lie that all of my fragments lie scattered. The truth is that all my bridges are broken. I comfort myself in vain. In fact, blind as I am, I’m unable to reach anywhere; even if I have to reach my mouth from my ears, I fall with a thud on the way.

    The mention of mouth, ears and all reminds me of a curious incident that took place a few days ago.

    The three of us from our Home for the Blind were sitting together after lunch when Bhola said, Yaaro, life stinks but if we spend it together it won’t be so bad.

    Bhola always comes out with meaningful observations, so both of us listen to him very attentively.

    The distance from inside to outside stretches across in an awfully tangled length, yaaro! I keep falling on my face even if I have to travel from my head to my belly.

    Yes, Bhola, precisely! This is the problem when it is one’s fate to fill the belly with just thoughts. And then with a full belly, who can remember the way back to the head?

    Shall I ask you something, Bhola? Why return to the head anyway? As for me, once my stomach is full I lie crouched in the middle with my legs under my belly.

    That’s it, Bhola. A full belly makes one feel one is on a swing.

    But for how long does a full belly remain full, yaaro?

    When the belly gets empty, the swing snaps, the bones crack, and the person feels them stabbing his feet.

    Yes, we should get back to the head as soon as the belly is full. sss

    But that is the dilemma! Once the belly is full, one can’t figure out the way back home.

    Right, Bhola! A man’s head is his home … but how to fill our bellies if we don’t step out of the house?

    And how to go back when the belly is full?

     

    Excerpt published with the permission of Sukrita Paul Kumar. The book is available in paperback and e-book format and is published by Harper Perennial.

    For reading the original in Urdu, please visit http://bit.ly/2WMAznS

    Book List

    Six must-read translations of Urdu novels

    With over 50 million native speakers, Urdu is the seventh most spoken language in India. The Urdu language has a rich literary tradition in the Indian subcontinent, ranging from Mirza Ghalib’s poetry to Saadat Hasan Manto’s social realist short stories about partition.

    The Urdu novel and short story was preceded by dastangoi or the oral storytelling tradition. The early Urdu novels that emerged in the nineteenth century were initially centered around urban social life and later expanded to include rural social narratives. In the twentieth century, under the influence of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, Urdu fiction, in particular, the short story form flourished and was concerned with social inequality and injustice. During the partition period, Urdu fiction primarily dealt with themes of migration, identity, and decolonization.

    Here is a list of Urdu novels that are easily accessible in English translation. 

    Mirat-al-Urus by Nazir Ahmad
    Translated as The Bride’s Mirror by G.E. Ward

    Published in 1869, The Bride’s Mirror deals with the themes of female education in Muslim society and social and educational reforms in the second half of the nineteenth century in India. The plot revolves around the contrasting life paths of two sisters from Delhi who are married to two brothers. Akbari, the spoilt and poorly educated sister lives a troubled life after her marriage while Asghari who is hardworking and well educated is able to deal with the difficulties she faces and forms a good relationship with her husband’s family and the local community. Through the story of the two sisters, Ahmad creates a compelling portrait of a rapidly changing society in Delhi in the nineteenth century.

    Aag Ka Darya by Qurratulain Hyder
    Translated as River of Fire by the author

    The novel unfolds over two and a half millennia of Indian history, covering the classical, medieval, colonial, and postcolonial periods. The narrative moves seamlessly from one epoch to another, interlinked by four characters: Gautam, Champa, Kamaal, and Cyril who represent the various ethnic and religious groups that have populated the region. In the final post-partition period, historical continuity is disrupted with the division of people and creation of nation states. With its magical elements interlaced with parables, legends, and personal notes, Hyder’s masterpiece provides a sweeping overview of the history of the Indian subcontinent and sends out a clear message of inclusivity.

    Ek Chadar Maili Si by Rajinder Singh Bedi
    Translated as I Take This Woman by Kushwant Singh

    Set in a village in undivided Punjab, the novel revolves around the lives of Rano and her young brother-in-law Mangal, who are forced to marry each other after the death of Rano’s husband, even though Rano has raised Mangal like her own son. Eventually, both Rano and Mangal reach a level of understanding and are able to form a conjugal bond. Tackling themes of sexuality, society, patriarchy across religions, this novel remains a classic in the Urdu literary canon.

    Bazaar-e-Husn by Premchand
    Translated as Sevasadan by Snehal Shingavi

    Originally written in Urdu, the novel was first published in Hindi in 1919 and in Urdu in 1924. Set at the turn of the twentieth century in the city of Benares, the novel tells the story of Suman, an unhappy housewife, who forced out of her home by her husband, ends up becoming a courtesan. During this period, as a result of social reforms, the local municipal corporation orders the relocation of kothas or brothels to the periphery of the city. Suman faces social ostracism as a courtesan and eventually discovers an existence that restores her agency. Through Bazaar-e-Husn, Premchand exposes the hypocrisy of society and presents a critique of the demand for women to be the standard bearers of morality in colonial India.

    Umrao Jan Ada by Mirza Hadi Ruswa
    Translated by Kushwant Singh and M. A. Husaini

    Published in 1899, Umrao Jan Ada is a fictional first-person account of an eponymous Lucknawi courtesan and poet, as narrated to the author. Set in the mid-nineteenth century, the novel recreates the decadence of Awadhi aristocracy and provides an insight into the social impact of the Revolt of 1857 in Lucknow. As a young girl, Umrao is kidnapped and sold to a tawaif or a high-class courtesan and trained in classical music and dance and literature. Through the use of psychological realism, Ruswa creates one of the most complex and memorable characters in Urdu literature.

    Ajeeb Aadmi by Ismat Chughtai
    Translated as A Very Strange Man by Tahira Naqvi

    Situated in the Bombay film industry of the 1940s and 50s, the novel tells the story of Dharam Dev, a popular married actor and director and his infatuation with Zarina, a young dancer from Madras. With his help, Zarina becomes a famous actress and subsequently abandons him. The narrative follows the descent of Dharam Dev and his wife into depression and alcoholism. Chughtai, who was herself part of the film industry as a screenwriter and producer, explores the dark side of ambition, glamour, and infatuation in her characteristic irreverent prose.

    About the blogger
    Priyanka Lindgren has a background in linguistics and refugee studies. She is passionate about world literature, in particular, 20th-century South Asian literature in translation. She is the Culture Editor at The Lead, part of the International Women’s Initiative. She blogs about books and South Asian identity at thesouthasianreader.wordpress.com.