Free Press Journal

Lost and found, in translation


Book: Two

Author: Gulzar

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Pages: 179

Price: Rs 399

Scene 75

Author: Dr Rahi Masoom Raza

Translator: Poonam Saxena

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Pages: 224

Price: Rs399

If you are a ’90s kids, the chances are your Sundays would be more or less similar to mine. Waking up to the melodious Rangoli, followed by historical shows and cartoon, and not leaving the sofa till your mother yanks you from the seat and pushes you in the bathroom. We didn’t have the nuisance of remote-controlled television as the option of flicking the channels was none. Hence, we used to watch what Doordarshan used to dish out at us as obediently as we used to eat what our moms cooked for the ‘special’ Sunday.

Two shows which I loved during those days, and even now, were Jungle Book and Mahabharata. But as a child, I knew little about the stalwarts behind these shows; I just loved the booming voice of ‘Main Samay Hoon’ and fun jingle of ‘Jangal Jangal Baat Chali Hai’. It was much later in life, when I developed a taste for literature, music and poetry, that I understood the kind of hard work which went to make these and many other programmes during that time a success. It was because of Mahabharata that Dr Rahi Masoom Raza was never unknown to me, and so wasn’t Gulzar, though it would take a few years to actually know them, and their work. I am fortunate enough to read these writers in their original language of writing.

I discovered Raza after Premchand had already won me over (I had finished Masarovars and was on the last leg of his novels). I didn’t find anything new in Neem ka Ped, maybe because I was drunk on Premchand, but I started devouring his other works. Os ki Boond and Aadha Gaon were astounding but it was his poetry which overwhelmed me. He was one of the first Hindi-Urdu poets whose work I started to read and love (before him I used to worship Dinkar, Bachchan and Maithili Sharan Gupt) which also paved way for other Urdu stalwarts like Kaifi Azmi, Sahir and Ali Sardar Jafri. It was during this time that I discovered Gulzar as well. I found it hard to believe that the Gulzar who used words like maknatees and aqeedat in his poems was the same Gulzar who penned Chaddi Pehen Ke Phool Khila Hai!

The versatility of artiste is something you experience only when you start feeling their work; it takes patience and a lot of reading! As the world opened up, I was introduced to many more writers and in a quest to stay updated with the peers, got immersed in the language of the world: English. What we read today is mostly either written in English or translated in it, thanks to the universal popularity of that language.

Translations may not do justice to the original works of the writers but they do help them connect with the newer, younger readers. It’s a treat to read books in their original written language, but if there weren’t any translations, the world would have been deprived of the gems like Neruda, Kundra, Chekhov, Murakami, Coelho, and the list is endless. Of course, a translated work would be nothing as compared to the original writing – the bliss of reading Hafiz in Farsi, or Ba Jin in Chinese or Kafka in German is unmatched – but it’s also true that without translations Hafiz, Kafka and Jin would have never transcended their physical boundaries and ruled the world of literature. Hence, when Gulzar complains that he’s never satisfied with his translated version of Two, but still went ahead with it as it would have meant not letting the book have an exposure – the original story maybe seventy-year-old – we completely understand.

The tragedy of the Partition and the pain associated with it cannot be written, let alone be exposed, but it’s also essential to make the younger generation acquainted with our past. Two is Gulzar’s past; it’s been with him for years but has been published only now. When you go through the book, you realise the pain and stifled anger of the characters during the time of Partition. Also the question – asked perennially and left unanswered forever – of leaving one’s home for political reasons leaves the reader with distinguished anguish.

The poignant stories of different characters may start on different notes, but end with same emotions, scarred souls forever searching for closures. Few are lucky to have it, rest keep looking some more. Every time Gulzar narrates a story about Partition, he goes back in time, his past, some of his self which he left behind in Pakistan seems to come back to haunt him. And Two depicts that emotion beautifully, through its Karam Singh, Master Fazal, Lakhbeer, Soni, Moni, Bhapa ji and others. He has fleetingly mentioned Sikh carnage of 1984, and we hope to read more on the same by him in future. But for now, Two is a good pick for some emotional tug that an unrelated past brings to the indifferent present.

However, few things never change. Raza’s Scene 75 reads as new as any contemporary author’s book, and the credit goes to the translator Poonam Saxena. His nuances on Hindi film industry and people related to it can easily apply to the new crop of actors. His Bombay of 70s (and India in general) was buzzing with revolutionary ideas and new money. The middle class was still a fledgling and the imported brands were many years away. His characters are creative and ambitious. They try to be ethical but ethics never brought any money hence they become practical instead. The background maybe movie-related but the story is a scathing narration of the hypocrite society. While he criticises babus and businessmen, Raza doesn’t spare the superstars of his time as well including Rajesh Khanna and Rajendra Kumar, but then when was Raza ever afraid to call a spade a spade? And that’s what makes scene 75 such an interesting read. As for me, the book seemed more like meeting my childhood friend, only this time there was no TV.