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Translations lack beauty: Pak author

Ms Hina urges the world to shed the opinion that Islamic women are not allowed many liberties. Anita Joseph reports.
None | By Anita Joseph (, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 28, 2006 05:34 PM IST

Zahida Hina is a Pakistani author writing in Urdu. She has a host of published works to her credit, including three collections of short stories, one full-length novel, four books of essays and several anthologies. Her works have been translated into English, Hindi, Punjabi, German, Russian, Marathi and Bangla.  She is also a columnist for many reputed Pakistani newspapers. A prominent peace activist, Ms Hina is also a noted speaker and the National Coordinator for Women's Writing in South Asia. 

In town to attend the awards function of the newly-instituted award - TLM SALAM (The Little Magazine South Asian Literature Award for the Masters) - Ms Hina shared her thoughts on writing and literature withAnita Joseph:
How popular are Urdu writings in South Asia?
If you are talking of original works in Urdu, the readership has gone down considerably in recent years. This is because there are many Urdu speakers who are unfamiliar with the Urdu lipi. They just know how to speak Urdu, they cannot read or write. This happens because parents do not encourage their children to learn Urdu language or literature. So, the readership is not much now.

In terms of translated Urdu works, these are very popular. There are many well-known writers in Urdu, like Ismat Chughtai, Premchand. And people are very appreciative of these works.    

What is your opinion on women writing in Urdu? How are they received, in terms of male writing?
See, I do not think there is a distinction per se between women and men authors in literature, especially Urdu. If a writer writes well, is sensitive to the reader's needs and produces good work, then he/she is well liked. It really doesn't matter if the author is a man or a woman. 

How important is South Asian literature in the modern world?
South Asian Literature is a fast growing body of writing, and it is very popular internationally. You have such talented writers in various South Asian countries. English-speaking people are aware of these authors and are extremely curious about life in countries like India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. So, they eagerly lap up literature from these countries.    

What about literature in translation? Do translated works retain the life and spirit of the original? Or is some of the meaning lost when translated?

I'm sorry to say that most of the translated works do not have the beauty and spirit of the original. I've seen so many wonderful works translated and made a mess of! All I can say is that if the person who is translating has an excellent command over both languages and is a widely-read literature enthusiast, then a work can be well-translated. Unfortunately, there is no one I can think of, who fulfils these criteria. So for the present, translated works are poor shadows of the original.

There is a popular perception that women in Islamic countries still lead a very sheltered existence and are not allowed many of the liberties that women elsewhere in the world enjoy. What is take on this?
I would say that this perception is very wrong. True, Islamic women do lead a sort of subdued existence, but that doesn't mean they don't have the courage to stand up and fight. In fact, there are so many women, who the world still hasn't heard of, who have a strong conscience and lots of courage, who go on to make a name for themselves.

They have had the courage to rebel against their circumstances and make their presence in a male-dominated world. So, it's time we shed all previous opinions about the Islamic world and started waking up to reality.

How free are women writers (or for that matter any writer) free to express themselves?
All writers are absolutely free to express themselves. At least I think so. Because to me, freedom is not an external force. It is something within us. The problem as I see it, is not with the mullahs or the pundits, it is with ourselves. We are scared of terrorists, fundamentalists and the government, and hesitate to write against these forces.

And to excuse ourselves, we say that we don't have the freedom to write. But all that is bunkum.

Terrorists, fundamentalists and the government will always be a part of our system. You cannot erase them from life. So the best thing to do is to fearlessly write what you think. If you are convinced about something, you should write about it and not fear anyone or anything.

What are you inspired by, when you write?
My inspiration are the realities that stare into me in my daily life.  My inspiration are the challenges that life throws at me everyday. I also tend to look at things from a historical perspective, since I'm a history student. So my writings are all very realistic, with a sense of the past embodied strongly in them.

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