WINTER blues get severe for us in December as it brings back painful memories that linger, nay fester without closure. So close to the New Year one does not want to dig up all that went wrong in December. The colossal tragedy some half a century ago is by itself enough to keep us astray like the proverbial ‘original sin’.
In recent history the rancour between the Brits and the French or that between the French and the Germans is too well known to bear repetition; however, it is pertinent to note that they continue to speak each other’s language. Since linguistic plurality was among the beauties we turned into a challenge between the erstwhile eastern and western wings of Pakistan, maybe we can start mending our ways by learning and appreciating each other’s language?
Maybe we can start learning each other’s language.
Dr Naazir Mahmood, in his recently published book Pen and Politics: Resistance in Pakistan, has done a great job in tracing both the original works by Pakistani and Bangladeshi authors and translations of and by them. The stories record the events of the partition and the issues between the majority Bengali population and their counterparts in West Pakistan. Jahan Ara Imam’s Bangla book translated into Urdu as Ikhatar Ke Wo Din (days of ’71) and Masood Ashar’s collection of short stories Ankhon Par Donon Haath (eyes covered with both hands) stand out amongst Dr Mahmood’s narration of the socioeconomic issues that came to a head in 1971. Mazharul Islam, Zahida Hina and Zeenat Afshan, to name only a few, are amongst the authors discussed in the section of the book dealing with associated subjects.
After a lull of many decades, fortunately there is a revival of interest in translating works originally produced in Bangla into Urdu. Prof Inamullah Nadeem stands out in this respect as he has recently translated Rabisankar Bal’s Bangla novel Dozakhnama (letter from hell) into Urdu. With a slight misnomer of a title — the characters are actually in limbo — Dozakhnama revolves around the postmortem exchange of letters between the great poet Ghalib and arguably one of the finest prose writers, Saadat Hasan Manto. The importance of languages as a bridge to bring people together cannot be stressed enough.
There is no way Bal could have delved so deeply into the lives and works of the greatest proponents of Urdu poetry and prose without an in-depth understanding of not just Urdu but perhaps Persian as well. What gives credence to this belief is also the fact that another of his books, A Mirrored Life, revolves around Jalal ad-Din Rumi’s story. This book too has been rendered into Urdu by Mr Nadeem. While he has done an exceptional job in not just translating Bal’s prose, Mr Nadeem has also done a great service by correcting all the hundreds of Persian couplets erroneously quoted in the English version of Dozakhnama owing to the dissonance between the Bangla and Persian alphabet.
Most present-day Pakistani translators are dependent on the English translation of original Bangla works; in other words what we get is a translation of a translation, hence what is called a ‘generation loss’ in the world of technology is inevitable. Pakistan and Bangladesh would do well to learn from the Iranians, Germans, French and even the Brits, all of whom have language and cultural centres attached to their diplomatic missions abroad. It is difficult to find any city worth its name without a Goethe Centre, Alliance Française or a British Council teaching their respective languages and promoting the cultures associated with them. Iran too has Khana-i-Farhang to meet such needs where it feels they exist.
Why cannot Bangladesh and Pakistan have reciprocal programmes for imparting Bangla and Urdu language skills along with their diplomatic missions? Universities can then take their cue from them and establish departments of Urdu and Bangla just like they have for Persian, Arabic, English literature etc. It is very encouraging that centres for the Chinese language are coming up in both the public and private sector in Pakistan. This, however, was preceded by economic and strategic co-dependence.
In Pakistan’s and Bangladesh’s case let us kick-start the process of sociocultural appreciation by learning each other’s languages in the hope that it will soon lead to a mutual realisation about myriad other benefits of cooperation.
‘Once done cannot be undone’ has been proven wrong as history is replete with instances where mistakes have been rectified with enough resolve from all sides concerned. To move forward to forge new relationships, the sad chapter of the past needs closure. Since our very existence is traced back to a poet’s dream, why cannot we dream again? Respectful coexistence is a prerequisite for even a dream of reunion. For a good thing to start, it is never too late; however, one must refer to the title of another of Mr Ashar’s story — Bela Nai Rey, Joldi Joldi (there is no time, hurry up).
The writer is a poet and analyst.
Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2021