Throwback to a waning era, and story-telling style
BY SHAHAB JAFRY
Love, hate, romance, feuds and gossip from Punjab of once-upon-a-time
What Will You Give For This Beauty? makes for a rare book review. It’s not every day, after all, that a thirty-something mason – specialising in domes and minarets, actually – with a passion for Urdu pens down a few short stories that a psychiatrist translator turns into English and which, subsequently, trigger interest in New Delhi, leading to calls for more. Ali Akbar Natiq is our Urdu short story writer, who brings alive interior Pakistani Punjab of the post-partition days. His writing is deeply grounded in the rural countryside, complete with the Mooday, Jeeras, and Ghafooras, not to mention cults, feuds, gossip and love that are part and parcel of Punjabi folklore.
Ali Madeeh Hashmi is a Lahore-based psychiatrist, translator and writer. Among other works he has written about the lives of Ghalib, Iqbal, Faiz and Manto. Natiq was an old friend, whose writing tickled his fancy enough to try his hand at translating. Another good friend, Indian writer and literary historian Rakhshanda Jalil, liked the one or two pieces he translated enough to ask for more. That, some months later, led to What Will You Give For This Beauty?
These are simple yet deeply provoking stories; seemingly everyday themes that carry societal undertones and reflect prejudices that people, as society, choose not to attach with the popular historical narrative
These are simple yet deeply provoking stories; seemingly everyday themes that carry societal undertones and reflect prejudices that people, as society, choose not to attach with the popular historical narrative. Yet they present themselves as soon as you scratch the surface, and Natiq and Hashmi do a compelling joint-exercise of bringing them to the fore. So when Sher Singh does not leave with his family to Ludhiana at partition, instead stays back and converts so he can marry his neighbour Sheedan, the following story dissects societal prejudices that were once rampant in this land of the pure. Similar connotations surround Qaim Deen Qumma’s adventures across the border; romanticising the goings on of an era far disappearing from Punjab’s collective memory.
Invariably, though, Natiq’s gripping stories end in tragedy. The flood overtakes the protagonist, the false pir gets the upstart killed, beautiful Kareeman sees her killers killed by the husband she despised, etc. “Tragedy? Really?” snapped Hashmi, the translator, when questioned. “Isn’t life itself a tragedy?”
He is obviously careful about not overplaying his role. ‘A legitimate caution one must observe while translating the written word is to curtail the tendency to enhance the translation into a ‘transcreation’, to embellish and exaggerate the translation in order to ‘improve’ the original’, he wrote in the translator’s note. The substance, he seems to believe, must come from the original content for the translation to be able to play it up.
The work, which has apparently been around for two years but took time in coming to its present shape, also makes for an interesting amalgamation of typical Punjabi story-telling with English form of expression
The work, which has apparently been around for two years but took time in coming to its present shape, also makes for an interesting amalgamation of typical Punjabi story-telling with English form of expression. After setting the stage for the story, the background is often explained in a style associated characteristically with Punjabi. An excerpt shows how:
When Ghafoor’s mother got divorced he was three years old, so she came back to Jodhpur village she brought him with her. Here, his maternal grandfather pampered him. Whenever he went to the mosque to prey, he would always bring fruit or candy on his way back. There were piles of clothes and toys. His mother adored him as well. Thus Ghafoor’s childhood was spent in the lap of luxury.
On the whole, the book is an interesting throwback to an almost bygone era, presented in a style that has not been beaten to death yet, and the translation makes it possible to introduce such themes to a non-traditional audience.
Curtsye:Pakistan Today: FEBRUARY 14, 2015