Sunday Reading for Translators

Abroo H. Khan. “An Interview with Dr. Muhammad Umar Memon“. Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies Vol. 1, No. 2 (2009): 180-199 [pdf link]

What prompted me to translate? I used to translate even back in Pakistan. But then, in the same way as my creative writing, my translation work was not a matter of conscious choice. I can’t give you any reason for it. Much of this activity moved to a conscious level when I came to the U.S. in 1964, but even then not really until 1970 when I started teaching at the University of Wisconsin. Between that time and now, I can see basically three reasons: practical, necessary, and emo­tional. While teaching Urdu fiction in translation at the UW, I had problems finding enough quality translations done with some thought to the chronological develop­ ment of the short story form in Urdu. The existing material was in most cases unrliable and poorly done so I decided to translate. I later collected the resulting stories into my several anthologies (The Tale of the Old Fisherman, Domains of Fear and Desire, The Colour of Nothingness, An Epic Unwritten, and most recently Do You Suppose It’s the East Wind?). So this was the practical reason.

The necessary reason—and I mean “necessary” in an existential sense— was my desire to let the West know that regardless of our deplorable performance in contemporary times, we have still jealously preserved a stout spirit of liberalism in the finer works of our imagination. Eventually what must define us is this liberalism. It will remain and withstand the test of time.

The purely emotional aspect is that I love Urdu—even though we are Memons whose language is Gujarati/Memoni and my mother, to her dying day, couldn’t speak Urdu flawlessly. And though emotional, my love is not uninformed. I have a fairly good grasp of modern Arabic and Persian literature. Nothing like what our prose writers and poets had already achieved by the 1940s exists in early­ modern Arabic and Persian, although we started to fall behind after the 1950s. It should come as no surprise that the first collection of modern Persian poetry was made by an Indian at Aligarh when modern poetry was still struggling for accep­ tance and recognition as a valid and viable form in Iran.

One Reply to “Sunday Reading for Translators”

  1. Doubts of an outsider who does not know either Urdu or Hindi. It seems to be wonderful stuff. Why are there no comments so far?

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