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The lesser society reads, the safer writers are: Mustansar Hussain Tarar

Tarar is perhaps the most popular of contemporary fiction and travelogue writers in Urdu. He claims he has the capability to write another Aag Ka Darya, a novel on the Partition written by Qurratulain Hyder, but she could not have written a novel like his Bahao that talks about the disappearance of a civilisation.

Tarar’s mass popularity is perhaps the reason why he keeps distinguishing himself from other Pakistani writers. No other Pakistani writer has been honoured like him, he says: a lake in the northern areas has been named after him. But, in the same breath, he says critics need to pay attention to other contemporary fiction writers, particularly Khalida Hussain and Sami Ahuja.

Source: The Herald


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Speaking in tongues: Literary translation as a work of art

Dividend by language, united by translations, literature from various Indian states, as well as from regions across the world, is now within easy reach of the Indian reader. As former editorial head of Pan Macmillan, translator and founder of Ponytale Books, Pranav Kumar Singh observes: “A country’s literature is part of its soft power. Today, most Indian languages have become just a medium of communication in urban Indian households, and English has become the language of reading. Therefore, it is important to translate the best of Indian literature not only for the benefit of native non-readers, but also for the growing readership in English, both in India and abroad. With the increasing prominence of India globally, a time will come when translations will play an important role in creating an understanding of the Indian experience. On the other hand, despite everything, there will be a resurgence of Indian languages, and a consequent need for both academic and general interest reading material. Therefore, there is need to look at translations both ways.”

“One bit that needs more exploring,” adds writer, columnist, translator and head of Amnesty International India, Aakar Patel, “is the publishing of Indian languages in the Roman script. Turkey made the transition easily. What is the benefit of this? In the modern world, though mobile phones and tablets can use most scripts, it is still simpler to use the Roman. Advertising in India uses Roman-Hindi. The turn of literature will come soon.’’ Patel, like Pranav Kumar Singh, is among the few editors in the country who have the ability to straddle more than two languages with equal ease. “I am a Gujarati,” says Patel. “My favourite poet is Narsinh Mehta, and though I can recite ‘Ozymandias’ or some of Eliot’s stuff, I am moved most by [Narsinh] Mehta’s Nag Daman on the boy Krishna. I began learning Arabic many years ago and did not get far, but because the script became familiar, I began to read Urdu. There is essentially no difference between Urdu and Hindi because the grammar is the same and north Indians who familiarise themselves with the Perso-Arabic script will be surprised to know that there is hardly any difference between Urdu and Hindi.” Read more

Source: Sunday Guardian Live

 


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Found In Our Mother Tongue: Thoughts On Mental Health, South Asian Languages and Poetry

Not so long ago I wrote an open letter on mental health in South Asian communities which was rooted in my own experiences with anxiety (“We Need to Talk About How Mental Health Affects South Asian Men”). After some time, spurred by questions and comments from readers and my own research, I began to have doubts about one element, summarized as this argument:

Languages such as Urdu, Punjabi and Gujarati do not have adequate terms to communicate about mental illness. As a result, derogatory terms are used.

This argument was derived from a study of UK South Asian communities which presented findings that some South Asian languages, including Urdu, Punjabi, and Gujarati, do not have adequate terminology when it comes to mental health illnesses, and therefore often times derogatory terms are used such as ‘pagal’ (‘Breaking Silence’: A Consultation on Mental Ill Health in South Asian Communities, 2008). Other writing like this piece called “Finding a word for ‘mental health’ in Urdu and Punjabi” refer to this point too. The author writes:

At that time I didn’t know it was referred to as a ‘mental health’. Why? Because there is no term for what ‘mental health’ is in Urdu or Punjabi.

In its literal translation it means something like ‘problem with the brain’, which implies ‘being mental/crazy’. In my experience there was a lot of stigma, ignorance, discrimination and oppression against those that were identified as ‘mental/crazy’.

Such derogatory terms and attitudes stem partly from a lack of understanding in regards to these South Asian languages and their capabilities to provide terms to discuss mental health illnesses. Read more


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An era of Urdu literature ends with Kashmiri Lal Zakir

“Jiyenge taaza gulab ban kar, ye teh hua tha, mareinge khushboo ka khwab ban kar, yeh teh hua tha”.

This couplet from the latest ghazal written by the pride of the region and literary stalwart, the legendary Kashmiri Lal Zakir (97), and immortalised by ghazal maestro Vinod Sehgal and others, is the veritable glimpse of the life of Zakir, who died today after rejuvenating the otherwise dying Urdu “adab” for over eight decades.

Zakir held prestigious posts in adult education and literary institutions like secretary, Haryana Urdu Akademi, for over 20 years and later that of deputy chairman. He travelled the world over working onUNESCO projects and for international seminars and mushairas. He felt uneasy this morning and died at 11.30 am, disclosed Zakir’s daughter, Dr Kamlesh Mohan.

Born on April 7, 1919, in Pakistan, Zakir, a postgraduate in English and Education, began his creative journey early on in life.

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Win for Free Speech in India: Urdu novelist Rahman Abbas’ Novel Cleared of Obscenity Charges

Award-winning Urdu writer Rahman Abbas

Award-winning Urdu writer Rahman Abbas

On 19 August 2016, a lower court in Mumbai delivered a judgment on a ten-year-old case against the Urdu novel Nakhlistan ki Talash (In Search of an Oasis). The novel and its author, Rahman Abbas, were acquitted of obscenity charges made under the colonial-era Section 292 (sale of obscene books) of the Indian Penal Code. Abbas feels free today, and vindicated, and so do all readers and writers. But he spent ten years searching for an oasis without regressive, outdated laws, where writers and readers can do what they must without supervision by the thought police.

The book, a romance set in Mumbai after the 1992-93 riots, takes on two themes Rahman Abbas has returned to time and again: love and politics. In 2005, a nineteen year old Mumbai student lodged a complaint against the novel, objecting that two paragraphs in it were “objectionable and obscene”. The publisher, distributor and author were charged. The police went to the author’s home to arrest him. He spent a night in jail; the allegation cost him his job as a school teacher. It also brought him vilification from fundamentalists and sections of the Urdu media for questioning “religion” and “the existence of God”.

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The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Rakhshanda Jalil

R jalilLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Let me tweak Descartes and say, ‘I write; therefore I am.’ I think by now it is almost a compulsion; it defines who I am.

 Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

I always have more than one in various stages. So, there is a biography of the Urdu poet Shahryar which is almost two-thirds done; a translation of a novel by Krishan Chandar called Ghaddar which my publishers are hoping to pitch as a partition novel next year (2017 marks the 70th year of the annus horribilis that was 1947); an edited volume of critical writings on Ismat Chughtai which is nearly done; and a translated volume of short stories and poems by Gulzar on the partition, again due in 2017 to mark the 70th anniversary. And lurking somewhere in the future is a travelogue – on Ghalib’s journey from Delhi to Calcutta and back in the early 19th century.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

KLF LogoI worked for years as an editor in various publishing houses. I have also written journalistic pieces for various newspapers. My training for the Ph D taught me diligence and painstaking research. And then I have also been a translator for decades now. So all of these ‘roles’ have defined my writing style. As an editor, I produce a clean copy and have learnt over the years to do a self edit of everything I write. As a translator, I trained myself to do a close reading of texts and also learnt to value words and tease out their exact meanings. As a columnist, I learnt to write quickly and meet deadlines and be considered a reliable and swift writer. As a researcher, I learnt there are no short cuts to producing good writing. So everything comes together in a happy mix! Continue reading


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Writing is like making love: An interview with Mustansar Hussain Tarar

by Muhammad Asim Butt & Mushtaq Bilal

Mustansar Hussain Tarar

Mustansar Hussain Tarar

Lined with trees on both sides, a narrow alley leads one to the cloistered quarters of the house where Mustansar Hussain Tarar writes. He spends most of his day in this room. Almost all of his novels, travelogues, plays, and columns were written in this room. Despite being in the vicinity of Firdous Market, this particular neighborhood in Gulberg III has an air of tranquility about it. There are two parks in front of Tarar’s house. A few years ago, when I went to meet him for the first time, he had said, while giving directions, “There is a park right in front of the house, with a slide for kids. If you look in the direction in which kids slide down, you’ll be able to see my house.” The slide is no longer there.

The room opens into a small, narrow hall full of antiques worth thousands of dollars. Tarar has been collecting antiques for decades.

There is a kind of deliberation to the way Tarar’s writing table is arranged. Coffee mug-shaped penholders sit in a neat queue by the wall on his writing table, with pens, pencils, paper cutters, sharpeners, a letter opener, and a stapler stowed separately. There is also a solitary ashtray sitting on the table. On one side of the table, there is the latest issue of Loh (The Slate) along with a couple of files and a few documents. There is another table in the room with a folding tabletop. Tarar told me that the carpenter who made the table had died and that this was probably one of the last tables of its kind. He lifted the tabletop and slid open a wooden tray, which converted it into a writing table.

Right next to this table is a tall cupboard stuffed with books. A few paintings hang on one of the walls. One of them is by Sadequain. A huge portrait of Tarar by Saeed Akhtar hangs on the wall adjacent to his writing table. Saeed Akhtar also made a bust of Tarar’s, which is placed on the table by the sofa. There is another portrait of Tarar’s made by Bashir Mirza, which depicts Tarar as a carefree vagrant. Continue reading


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Writing fiction is what fires me: Interview with Marion Molteno

by Zafar Anjum

MarionMarion Molteno’s writing reflects the breadth of her life experience. She grew up in South Africa where she was active in opposition to the apartheid regime. She lived in Zambia at a time of profound social change, has pioneered educational projects in multi-ethnic communities in the UK, and worked for Save the Children in many of the poorest areas of Asia and Africa. Her latest novel, Uncertain Light, is set in the world of international aid workers, much of it in Central Asia in the years following the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union. If you can walk, you can dance, the story of a young woman’s life on the run across frontiers and cultures, was awarded the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the best book in the Africa region, and was selected for the top 20 books in the Women’s Writers Festival in New Zealand. A Shield of Coolest Air, set among Somali asylum seekers, won the David St John Thomas Award for fiction. Somewhere More Simple is set on the Isles of Scilly and explores relationships among outsiders in a small community cut off from the mainland. Her short story collection, A Language in Common, reflects the experiences of South Asian women in Britain in the 1980s, and has been translated into Panjabi, Urdu and Bengali.  She has written and lectured on language, education and development. The books which grew out of her experience with Save the Children have been translated into many languages and used across the world. She studied Urdu with the scholar Ralph Russell, and edits his writing on Urdu literature.

Tell us about Uncertain Light

It starts when an Indian humanitarian worker is taken hostage in Tajikistan during a civil war – and the story follows those closest to him as they try to come to terms with what has happened.

It was inspired by years of working with Save the Children in countries across Asia. But essentially – like many good stories! – it’s about love, and loss, and what it means to be human.

Read the first chapter of the novel Uncertain Light here (pdf):

Uncertain Light

The Indie Book Award – what is it?

It’s an international award for books published by independent publishers. It’s run from the US but gets entries from all over the world. Uncertain Light is a finalist in the general fiction category. They also give awards for specific categories: thrillers, science fiction, children’s fiction, etc.

Publishing these days is dominated by the giant conglomerates, yet there are so many independent publishers producing really good books, so it’s great to have these awards to recognise that. Smaller publishers are often more willing to take risks – give a space to more original writing – and that means they often come up with winners. Continue reading


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India: Urdu writers asked to declare: My book not against the govt, nation

The form, received by several Urdu writers and editors over the past few months, also asks authors to provide signatures of two witnesses: The Indian Express

The National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL), which operates under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, has introduced a form which requires authors of books NCPUL acquires annually to declare that the content will not be against the government or the country. The form, received by several Urdu writers and editors over the past few months, also asks authors to provide signatures of two witnesses. Originally circulated in Urdu, the form, accessed by The Indian Express, reads: “I son/daughter of confirm that my book/magazine titled which has been approved for bulk purchase by NCPUL’s monetary assistance scheme does not contain anything against the policies of the government of India or the interest of the nation, does not cause disharmony of any sort between different classes of the country, and is not monetarily supported by any government or non-government institution.”

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India: Urdu book fair a flop

Spread over 10 days, the Kul Hind Urdu Kitab Mela or the All-India Urdu Book Exhibition at the Quli Qutub Shah Stadium in Hyderabad was touted to be a grand book fair. One which would be a delight for lovers of the language. But a day before its conclusion, all the diacritics and its nuanced nastaliq script could not stop it from being a flop show, or so scores of publishers claim.

The book exhibition is a collaborative effort of the National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language, a ministry of HRD agency , and the state’s own Urdu Academy (UA).Hundreds of titles stocked at its 123 stalls expectantly stare at a handful of visitors. “The exhibition has failed.I would have made as much as Rs 1.25 lakh in 10 days. I have sold books worth only Rs 6,000,” said Sultan Chowdhary , a Delhi-based publisher.

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