BANGALORE : Author Rakhshanda Jalil, best known for her book Invisible City: The hidden Monuments of India, has been one of the frontrunners in the movement to create awareness about Hindi-Urdu literature in India. Having come to the field of writing as a translator in 1992, she published a series of translated works before moving to the fray of critical writing. She also wrote academic pieces, biographies, historiographies and even English fiction.
She recently completed her book on Rashid Jahan, an Indian writer, a member of the Communist party and the Progressive Writers’ Association. “It was then I realised that this is what I enjoy doing. I like to locate writers in a certain context,” she said. At the moment, she is working on a biography of an Urdu poet, Sardar Jafri, to be published by Oxford University Press.
At the recently concluded Bangalore Literature Festival, Jalil took part in a panel discussion that traced the roots of Urdu in India and Pakistan and also mapped its future. About the state of the language, she said, “This whole business of script, where people are saying it has to be written in Devanagari is contributing to its downfall. When we learn Japanese or Russian or Chinese, we take the trouble to learn their script. With Urdu, why do we want to take the easy way out? This is just doing more harm than good.”
Being a proponent of translating works from Urdu to English and making it available for the masses, she does feel that the essence of the language is most often lost in the process.
“There is no way you can say that what you are translating is 100 per cent right,” she says. In a language as disparate as Urdu, not only the resonances or speech patterns differ but also the way of constructing sentences. Hence as a translator you have to work within these limitations and put out a work that is sincere and sensible, she says.
Childhood, they say, has a very strong impact on a writer’s psyche and it is true in Jalil’s case as well. Having grown up in a house filled with books, taught by a mother who retired as a librarian, she feels lucky. She adds, “When I was in the eighth grade, I got a book called The Exile by a French existentialist writer as a birthday gift. When most children got Enid Blyton books, I was encouraged to read books from different genres. That, in a way, drew me to writing and if I hadn’t been a writer I would have done something else in writing.”
Incidentally, Jalil started her career, first as a teacher and then as an editor in the publishing industry. She agrees, “I have felt words. I write them now. But I have known them all throughout.”