YASUNARI Kawabata (1899-1972), the Japanese writer, is not unknown to the readers of Urdu for two reasons: Kawabata had won the 1968 Nobel Prize for literature and one of his works was translated into Urdu by Baqar Naqvi and published under the title Japan Ka Nobel Adab (2018).
Now another of Kawabata’s work, The Sound of the Mountain (1970), has been translated into Urdu. Titled Pahar Ki Awaz and published by Lahore’s Ilqa Publications, it has been rendered into Urdu by Muhammad Saleem-ur-Rahman.
In his intro to the translation, Saleem-ur-Rahman says that Kawabata’s parents had died when he was an infant and he was brought up by his grandparents. Kawabata spent his early childhood and youth in solitude and the deep sense of loneliness that pervades his novels was perhaps the result of that unwanted loneliness. This novel tells the story of a family that is unhappy in its own way, says Saleem-ur-Rahman, quoting Leo Tolstoy’s famous words “all happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”.
The novel tells in a simple way the story of a 60-year-old, but it is not devoid of sublime. Set in the post Second World War Japan, many may feel the tale sounds as if it were their own story. It does not have a grand canvas or larger-than-life characters, as Kawabata unfolds the story in a slow manner, depicting how a family trudges to unhappiness, adds Muhammad Saleem-ur-Rahman who is a veteran poet, fiction writer, translator, editor and lexicographer. Saleem Sahib was born on April 12, 1934, in Saharanpur, British India. Having migrated to Pakistan, he was settled in Lahore. He writes in both Urdu and English. This work has been rendered into Urdu from an English translation of the Japanese text.
Another world famous work translated into Urdu is War and Peace. Considered one of the world’s greatest novels, this masterpiece by Leo Tolstoy was translated into Urdu some three decades ago by Shahid Hameed. Now it has been reprinted by Lahore’s Readings. Translating War and Peace in any language is so gigantic a task that it is in itself a great feat to achieve and when the job is well-done it is hard to find proper words to pay tribute to the translator. The bulky tome --- it has 1687 pages --- requires a lot of time to read, let alone translate it. Shahid Hameed did not only translate it, but took pains to add a brief sketch of Tolstoy’s life as well as detailed explanatory notes on the novel’s background, the text and its editing, its English translations, Russian history, Russian society and Russia’s cultural background.
Shahid Hameed was an academic and lexicographer, but above all he was a great translator. It is a pity that his work was not acknowledged in his lifetime the way it should have been. Shahid Hameed had given us the Urdu translations of masterpieces as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Dostoevsky’s Brother Karamazov, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and Edward Said’s The Question of Palestine, to name but a few.
Shahid Hameed was born in 1928 in a village near Jallandhar, in British India. He moved to Lahore and having done M.A. in English from Lahore’s Government College, he began teaching, ultimately becoming professor at his Alma meter. Shahid Hameed died in Lahore on Jan 29, 2018.
Another translation just published by Book Corner, Jehlum, is in fact a collection of translations. Titled Junoobi Asia Ki Muntakhab Nazmein, or selected poems from South Asia, the book proffers Urdu translations of 104 poems from 16 South Asian languages. Rendered into Urdu by Yasmeen Hameed, these poems have been taken from languages that include: Assamese, Bengali, Dogri, English, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Panjabi, Sinhala, Tamil and Telugu.
Yasmeen Hameed writes in her intro that “during editing Pakistan Academy of Letter’s magazine Pakistani Literature, I came across translations of poetry from different Pakistani languages and while going through the ‘lost poetry’ composed in South Asian languages by women poets, I felt the style and the sensitivity was quite modern. These poems do not seem to be written in different languages and sound familiar. Though pertaining to two different families of languages, namely Indo-Aryan and Dravidian, the poems share a common cultural atmosphere”.
Yasmeen Hameed has been engaged in writing and teaching for the last 35 years. She was the founder director of Gurmani Centre for Languages and Literature at LUMS. She has five collections of poetry to her credit and has been a regular contributor to Dawn’s ‘Books and Authors’.
Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2022