It was Day 2 at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2015. The crisp winter cold of the previous day had given way to an annoying drizzle as we all made our way to the gorgeous Diggi Palace, the festival venue. Nevertheless, the wet surroundings had done little to dampen the spirits of all of us. I made my way to the Baithak to catch Shamsur Rahman Faruqi and Bilal Tanweer in a tete-a-tete on “Of Beauty and Truth”.
“Award winning Pakistani writer Bilal Tanweer writes in English, but is equally fluent in his mother-tongue Urdu, and considers it his language of emotions and personal growth. Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, leading Urdu novelist and critic, writes in Urdu but translates his own writings into English. Across generations, across borders, across languages, the two authors, both on the shortlist for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature were there to talk of the source of their literary inspirations and the craft and discipline of writing”, as mentioned in the festival schedule.
Faruqi saab is a genteel elderly gentleman and writer of the mesmerizing Mirror of Beauty – a massive historical novel that paints an entire civilization. Set in imperial Delhi, the story is about Wazir Khanam, a dazzlingly beautiful and fiercely independent woman who takes a series of lovers, including a Navab and a Mughal prince—and whom history remembers as the mother of the famous poet Daagh. The story itself is littered with references to Ghalib and Mir and brings out the beguiling language of that time. To hear Faruqi saab’s thoughts and ideas was to take yourself back to a time and space of imagined nostalgia.
As the discussion ensued, there was a point about translating metaphors where Faruqi saab explained that metaphors should be translated literally to retain their essence. E.g. if you say something is like a lion, it could mean it is majestic, proud, powerful or angry or so many other things best left to the reader’s interpretation in the sentence. It was a brilliant point, but for the counter that Bilal Tanweer gave, which posed a conundrum, as to how would you retain the essence when using words like ‘owl’ which have contradictory metaphorical meanings in different languages – as in, owl in Hindi/Urdu as ‘ullu’ refers to an idiot but in English it is the symbol of wisdom. It was something to ponder about and got a few laughs…
There is a wonderous, anonymous camaraderie at the fest, a sense of belonging to a fellowship, as if you know everyone present there and yet are oblivious to their presence. As one gets immersed in the thoughts of a writer and the opinions of fellow attendees, hopes are risen, ideas emerge and the mind is enlightened.
Towards the end of the session, an elderly gentleman from the audience asked if there was anything being done to revive the Urdu language in India, to which Faruqi saab befittingly replied saying that Urdu hasn’t died or disappeared that it needed revival. Urdu has always been around and will continue to evolve as we go along.
At the end of the session, I had the providential chance to a one-on-one chat with Faruqi saab, thanks to the drizzling rain that had resigned him to a smaller lounge. I chatted with him about his book and Urdu and had a chance to tell him about the Urduwallahs and our ideas and endeavors in bringing our generation closer to the beautiful culture and language of Urdu. And it was supremely thrilling to receive tremendous encouragement from him, as is also evident from his book signing on the Mirror of Beauty book, which says “For Priya and Urduwallahs, With best wishes for you and your Club. Shamsur Rehman Faruqi, Jaipur, Jan 22, 2015”
Faruqi saab, Shukriya! :)
– Urduwalli Priya Nijhara