The septuagenarian writer Mahmood Ahmad Qazi doesn’t sit idle at all. His romance with the written word prods him to keep reading books, and writing them. That’s why we get to see a new book from him every once in a while. As an established short story writer, translator, cultural historian, classical music buff and left-oriented political worker, he has lived quite a momentous life. Even today, while he is in his late seventies and his eyesight is not that perfect, he likes to surround himself with piles and piles of books at his modest abode in Gujranwala which has been his family’s homeland for centuries. With a couple of Urdu and Punjabi short-story collections and four novels to his credit, he has also translated his favorite fiction from Latin America into Urdu. To pay tribute to his ancestral city Gujranwala, he has written a socio-cultural history of the city titled ‘Ye Gujranwala Hai’ which is an excellent tome about the city where he and his writer and poet friends would discuss everything under the sun in many a tea-house and other literary gathering. He has just finished jotting down his autobiography titled ‘Zard Patton Ka Bun’ which will be in the press within a month or so. It will not only shed light on his literary itinerary but also zoom in on his dabbling in left politics as a worker of the Mazdoor Kisan Party etc.
At present we have with us his latest book which contains Urdu translations of the short stories of many a writer from around the world. These are stories he has read and re-read over the years. He has got these stories published under the title ‘Muntakhib Aalmi Kahanian’ and thus he has shared his choice with the readers of Urdu. There are total twenty-eight short stories in the present volume. While giving a brief introduction to this volume, the esteemed author opines that he doesn’t favor embellished or ornate fiction too much. That’s why he has picked up those writers that are close to his heart as well as his literary ideology.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez mesmerizes him like millions of readers who adore his writings. He has translated two of his stories into Urdu which have a vintage Garcia Marquez touch. Apart from Garcia Marquez, some other heavyweights that feature in the work are: Naguib Mehfouz, Milan Kundera, Chinua Achebe, Yasunari Kawabata, Leo Tolstoy etc. if there are household-name writers included in this anthology, the author has done a commendable job by giving space to certain writers with whom we are not too familiar as their writings haven’t been gone into Urdu translations as frequently. We find names like Moroccan writer Mohamed Mrabit, American poet and story writer Raymond Carver, Chinese Lao Hsiang and others. The most important contribution of his anthology is that we get to read literary snippets from Iraq, Palestine, Morocco, Indonesia, Turkmenistan, Egypt, Thailand, Philippines, and Kirghizstan, all countries which are relatively lesser known among our literary circles.
Getting back to the quality of the translation one can safely state that being a seasoned fiction writer himself, Mahmood Qazi has made every effort to retain the original aroma and flavor of each and every story which he has turned into Urdu. At times one feels as if one is reading an Urdu story instead of the translated one. This shows his prowess as an outstanding translator. I enjoyed re-reading short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Kundera, Marquez, Mohamed Mrabitn and Chinua Achebe but coming across a few writers whose work I hadn’t read so far, helped expand my literary repertoire. Raymond Carver impressed me a lot and thus I plan to read more of his books in the coming days. All credit goes to Mahmood Ahmad Qazi and Pakistan Academy of Letters for this initiative of introducing fiction of other regions into Urdu. One does hope that more such volumes will see the light of the day in the years to come.
Muntakhib Aalmi Kahanian Selected and translated by Mahmood Ahmad Qazi
Published by Pakistan Academy of Letters H.8, Islamabad.