Caged birds of Pakistan

Updated on Feb 08, 2008 09:16 PM IST
Khushwant Singh recounts some stories written by some Pakistani authors where most of the themes are on the lot of Muslim women in a Mullah-minded male chauvinist society of Pakistan.
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None | ByKhushwant Singh

When we parted company with Pakistan in 1947, we not only divided our sub-continent and its individuals into three, we also divided languages we spoke. India declared Hindi as its national language. Pakistan declared Urdu its national language. We failed to make Hindi acceptable to all Indians and regional languages—Oriya, Bengali, Assamese, Gujarati, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kashmiri and Punjabi more than held their own and Hindi was confined to Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chandigarh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal and Bihar. Pakistan on the other hand, reduced its regional languages: Punjabi, Pushto, Baluchi, Sindhi to secondary positions and Urdu became the sovereign language.

It is a strange phenomenon that while Pakistanis speak their regional languages, put a microphone in front of them and they will promptly switch to Urdu. Or put a writing pad in their hands and they will write in Urdu. It was after Bangladesh became independent, that it rejected Urdu and made Bengali its lingua franca.

Another important development was the status of English. In India it retained its position as the link language; English journals and publishing Houses flourished. In Pakistan English yielded to Urdu. It has only a couple of English dailies with modest circulations; most people read Urdu papers.

It also has one English publishing house of repute, the Oxford University Press at Karachi; others are mushroom growth of little consequence. As a result Pakistani poets and novelists who write in English first look for American or English publishers, their third choice is India. They also get many more readers in India than they get in their own country. Recent examples are Bapsi Sidhwa, Tehmina Durrani and Mohsin Hamid.

My conjecture is borne out by a new publication Neither Night Nor Day: 13 Short stories by Women writers from Pakistan, compiled by Rakhshanda Jalil (Harper Collins). Most of these stories are translated from Urdu, some written in English. Some tell of the unfortunate lot of Muslim women in a Mullah-minded male chauvinist society of Pakistan.

They are stark and frightening: one of a woman being led to the gallows to be hanged, another of woman both of whose breasts are to be cut off as punishment; a 12-year-old bride being murdered because she had played with boys. Perhaps the most telling one is of a young woman who wants to get away from strangle-hold of tradition-ridden Pakistan by escaping to London, becoming a British citizen and yet frequenting Pakistani-dominated locality tooting to get biryani and Mangoes to her home to share with her English boy friend.

Rakhshanda Jalil who is the Media and cultural coordinator at the Jamia Millia Islamia University has several books of translation from Urdu to her credit and one on little known historical places of Delhi due for publication soon. She has done a good job of selection. The only flaw I could detect was placing stories selected in an alphabetical order of names of authors. The first story should be the best of the lot because it is read first.

Art of Translation

There are few simple facts about the art of translating prose and poetry from one language to another. Translating prose is comparatively easier; so we have fiction, essays and articles, which read as well in translation as in the originals. Poetry is much more complicated. It must be translated into poetry and not fobbed off in prose—it loses the music of meter and rhyme.

Equally important is that it must only be taken in hand if the translator is confident of doing a better job than has been done before without taking too many liberties with the original. Keeping these points in mind I dipped into Kuldip Salil’s Diwan-e-Ghalib (A Selection) Ghazals with original text and their English Translation (Rajpal).

He has reproduced the original in Devnagri and Roman English on one side of the page, his translation in English on the page facing it. I can say without hesitation, his renderings read better than any I have read by scholars of Urdu, be they Indian, Pakistani or Firangi. Salil, born in Sialkot in 1938, was teaching English at Hans Raj College, Delhi till he retired a few years ago.

He is also a poet and has published several books of his own verse. So he was eminently qualified to undertake translating selections of Ghalib who has been his life-long love. I give one example, which is my favourite, and I can recite by heart:

Dil he to hai na sango-khisht, dard se bhar na aaye kyon
royenge hum hazaar baar, koi hamein sataye kyon

(It is heart after all, not brick and stone, why won't it well up with pain,
Why should anybody harass us, we shall a thousand times cry.)
Dair nahin, harum nahin, dar nahin, aastaan nahin
Baithey hain rahguzar pe hum, koi hamain uthaye kyon
(No home, no hearth for us, no temple, no mosque
Why should anyone remove us from one thoroughfare, can we ask.)
Jab who jamale-dil-faroz suratey-mehare-neemroz
Aap he ho nazara soaz, pardey mein muhn chhipaye kyon
(Her beauty illumines all, a full waxing moon in grace
Loveliness incarnate indeed, why should she hide her face.)
Qaide-hayat-o-bande-ghum, asal mein dono ek hain
Maut se pahale aadmi ghum sey nijaat paye kyon
(Life’s incarceration and bondage to suffering are the same thing indeed
Until our death how can we from suffering be relieved)
Haan who nahin Khuda parast, jao who bewafa sahi
Jisko ho dino-dil aziz, uski gali mein jaye kyon
(All right she is not kind hearted, nor faithful she, so
Why should anybody who loves, his faith and life, go to her street)


The chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) is Ashok Puri. I wonder if this entitles him to be called Bhel Puri?

(Contributed by Rajeshwari Singh, Delhi)

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