Translating GulzarGulzar Sahab’s trusted translator on working with a legend

Translation is much more than transferring of words and ideas from the source language to the target language. More so, when the words are of the master craftsman, Gulzar.

Gulzar, with the intention of carrying the literature forward to the coming generations, adapted the stories of Premchand onto a different medium, that of television. Stories, which were written in the beginning of the twentieth century were trans-created for an audience in the beginning of twenty-first century. There was a remarkable change in the language already – one, because of the huge time gap between Premchand writing the story and Gulzar retelling it, and second, now it was being written for another medium, digital and not print. And, I was entrusted to translate these screenplays from Hindustani to English.

Translators always deal with the question of re-translating a text that has already been translated before. Here, apart from this issue, was the involvement of two big names in the literary world – Premchand and Gulzar. It was magnanimous. I had the colossal task of translating the words of Gulzar and setting them in the socio-cultural world of Premchand, keeping in mind that these classic stories would be read in 2016 and beyond. This implied that the target language (English, in this case) had to have an extremely contemporary vocabulary, retaining the ethos of a village in north India of the previous century, where the original story is based. Although, the list of words that tossed problems at me is quite long, the one word that I would like to mention here, with special reference to Godaan, is gayyia. If gai can be easily translated as the ‘cow’, the problem arose when a kind of fondness was used in expressing the same word, and gai became gaiyya. As we all know, Godaan is a story of a farmer and his wife who dream of possessing a cow. The emotional connect that came with gaiyya was very different from gai. However, when translated into English, the word for both the words remained ‘cow’. I am unsure if I was able to produce the same kind of fondness that was expressed in Hindustani.

“Words not only have sounds, they have a smell too”, once Gulzar saab had mentioned to me, in another context. How a translator carries forward these sounds and smells in another language, is a challenge that only a translator can understand!

– Saba Mahmood Bashir

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2 years ago / Saba Mahmood Bashir
Saba Mahmood Bashir

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