Ralph Russell, the legendary British scholar of Urdu literature, whose tireless efforts to explore the Byzantine layers of Urdu will always serve as a reference point for global Urdu-walas, once summed up the eternal dilemma of achieving a perfect translation of Urdu literature into English. He pointed out that the work of Indian and Pakistani translators suffered from a lack of command in either language. “The English-knowing products of what in India and Pakistan are generally called ‘convent schools’ have acquired their nearly (but not quite) perfect English at the cost of losing full command of their mother tongue,” he wrote in 1996.
This is not to say that translations of Urdu literature have not been accomplished. In fact, there are many 20th century writers whose works have been translated by competent men and women. Key examples are the translations of the short stories of Saadat Hasan Manto and Ismat Chughtai. Their poignant and non-conformist writings have found a wide readership in predominantly English-reading Indian middle classes and western readers attempting to understand the nuances of South Asia’s literary output. The contribution of The Annual of Urdu Studies – edited by Muhammad Umar Memon and published every year from the US – has been immense in this regard. Some writers and poets whose works have been translated include Abdullah Hussein, Patras Bukhari, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Ghulam Abbas, Hajra Masroor, Premchand, Qudratullah Shahab, Intizar whose contribution and devotion to the translation of Urdu literature remains unparalleled and who has provided fine examples of literary translations, leaving out no major contemporary Urdu writer. His academic journal, The Annual of Urdu Studies, continues to publish translated works from Urdu every year.
Raza Rumi is a writer based in Lahore, Pakistan. He regularly writes for the Pakistani weekly The Friday Times, The News and Daily DAWN on myriad topics such as history, arts, literature and society. Raza blogs at Jahane Rumi – a website devoted to Sufi thought, the arts, literature, and cultures of South Asia. Raza also edits cyber-magazines Pak Tea House & Lahore Nama; and compiles the Development Industry blog . He is also a self-taught painter and his works can be seen at the online Saatchi Gallery. Check him out on flickr too. Raza’s interests include writing, literature, world civilizations and cultures, travel, painting and mysticism. Academically, he is trained in economics, social development, law and public administration.
‘Raza Rumi’ is a nome de plume used as a writer/journalist. The author, Raza Ahmad, has worked in Pakistan and abroad in various organizations including multilateral institutions such as the United Nations. His day job comprises working as a policy adviser and development practitioner. As a policy expert, Raza works with international development institutions, government agencies and leading Pakistani NGOs. He is an adviser to an Asia Pacific governance network and also on the editorial board of Journal of Administration and Governance; and contributes to various publications in Pakistan and abroad.