AUTHOR: A labour of love
ON a bone-chilling evening in Toronto, Musharraf Ali Farooqi agreed to come by the Canadian Broadcasting Centre in downtown Toronto to talk about his life, his work and all that makes him tick in his adopted hometown.
The bespectacled Farooqi looked every bit the writer with a leather satchel slung diagonally across his shoulders.
Perhaps what was missing was the khadar kurta, which was replaced by a heavy overcoat. It was, after all, 20 degrees below zero outside.
Politely declining an offer of tea or coffee, he got talking. Although not one to seem to be in a hurry, he came straight to the point. Even though his latest book, The Story of a Widow has been published to some critical acclaim, Farooqi primarily sees himself as Urdu`s advocate.
`Right off the bat I want to say that this is not the first time that literature is coming out of South Asia. Let me not mince words, people in the West are not interested in literature from the East per se, but rather their interest lies in someone who they can identify with, who writes about society as it happens back home. This in a nutshell is what they are looking for.`
Although he has several books to his credit, Farooqi laments that there has been no major effort on the part of publishing houses to translate any of the classical works from Urdu to English. `Urdu literature is my passion and translating several well-known Urdu works of literature into English will probably be the mainstay of what I propose to do from now on.
`We have to go beyond just interpreting literature, we must be able to provide literature in as pure a form as possible,`
he adds. `Language is essential to a culture and if we let our language slip away it means we are not interested enough in our culture.`
Not one to talk empty rhetoric, Farooqi has put his money where his mouth is. In 2007 he translated the Indo-Persian classical romance Dastan-i-Amir Hamza (a grand epic from the Islamic cultures of the Middle East) to great critical acclaim.
Titled The Adventures of Amir Hamza, the 1000-page tome was the first major translation of an Urdu classic in almost 300 years, and it took Farooqi seven years to complete. `It is quite tedious,` he says, `one has to look at how best the word fits into the English language. I consult several dictionaries and change it several times as the annotations must fit and sound right.`
Would it not be easier to just write literature? For Farooqi it is a labour of love. `If we don`t do it, who will? Classical Urdu literature is part of our written heritage and preserving that for future generations is what drives me.`
Besides writing and translating, Farooqi is also setting up a portal called the Urdu Project for scholars and readers of classical Urdu literature. An attempt at preserving this body of knowledge, he hopes it will be a resource for small publishing houses to turn to for accessing English translations of texts from Urdu.
As for choosing what to translate, he is very candid in his reply. `I translate what takes my fancy. Currently I am working on a translation of a selection of poetry by Afzal Ahmed Syed called Rococo and Other Worlds.` It is slated to be published by the Wesleyan University Press Poetry Series in the US later this year.
Another project up his sleeve is translating the Urdu classic, Tilism-i-Hoshruba (1883-1893), the greatest magical fantasy of the Indo-Islamic world. `Hoshruba is the greatest creation of Urdu fantasy literature. It comprises 24 volumes, so I am looking at it from a point of view of a 10-year project.`
Passionate about the dissemination of classical Urdu literature, Farooqi also draws inspiration from Urdu writers such as Azim Beg Chugtai and Ismat Chugtai. However, what inspired him to write The Story of a Widow is as far away from Urdu literature as one can get.
`When I read Japanese writer Junichiro Tanizaki`s book The Makioka Sisters, I knew that though we were separated by differences in culture, there was a common thread. Tanizaki`s works deal with the tensions between the traditional and modern culture of his native land which are no different from what any society faces. In Tanizaki`s writing I found my Mona.`