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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lost In Translation - Frances W. Pritchett

I met Frances many moons ago. She is a wonderful person. Her own website is a treasure chest of her many interests and the one on Ghalib and Mir are truly her labour of love. Please do visit the site. Poetry lovers will be enthralled by her passion. And for the rest of this 'response' click on the heading - t.

Lost In Translation
I'd like to believe that Khushwant Singh was writing with a wonderfully self-mocking sense of humour, but the whole peevish tone of his review suggests that when he says he feels "aggrieved," he means it. ...
Frances W. Pritchett

On this website there recently appeared a remarkably peevish review by Khushwant Singh of a two-volume work by Mehr Afshan Farooqi called The Oxford India Anthology of Modern Urdu Literature (OUP Delhi, 2008). I want to talk about a few of that review's particular complaints, and then move on to a project actually invited by the review itself: a comparative examination of two poems by Iqbal that have been translated in significantly different ways.

At the start of his review, Khushwant Singh makes a great show of believing that it's an extraordinary honour to be published by OUP, like being "married to a duchess"; he claims to be "green with envy." But since OUP India has also published several of his own books, these protestations of envy make little sense. (They're obviously some kind of rhetorical device, but what are they designed to achieve?)

He then proceeds to complain that Prof. Farooqi's view of the history of Urdu literature is one that he's never heard of. His own view is that it was "the mixing of Turkish, Farsi and Arabic speaking soldiers in the armies of Muslim invaders with Braj and Daccani speaking Hindu soldiers in military cantonments that evolved into a new language called Urdu, meaning Camp. It was also known as Rekhtaba [sic]." This recipe-like view (take one cup of Persian, one cup of Turkish, one cup of Braj, pour them into an army camp, and stir) was the classic British colonial prescription, going straight back to Fort William and Gilchrist, and is no longer (if it ever was) anything like the scholarly consensus. In Prof. Farooqi's view, Urdu began in fifteenth-century Gujarat, flourished in the Deccan, and then moved north. Any reader of another well-researched and amply documented OUP work, Early Urdu Literary Culture and History by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (OUP 2001), will know that the evidence supports Prof. Farooqi's vi

Dr. Frances W. Pritchett is Professor of Modern Indic Languages, Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University, New York. She is currently engaged in the most comprehensive project ever undertaken on Ghalib (A Desertful of Roses) and Mir's (A Garden of Kashmir) Urdu poetry. She is also the author of Nets of Awareness and, translator of Muhammad Husain Azad's Ab-e Hayat.


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