A quarterly called City was launched by Ajmal Kamal in 2002 and later in 2015 he decided to launch an English version. This literary journal in English was meant to explore the contemporary South Asian scene in its many languages and styles. But he was still not able to execute the plan and had to wait for another couple of years till he teamed up with Sophia Naz, a poet of Pakistani origin living in the US. The help was valuable because she was better exposed to English and the translated poetry landscape in South Asia, Europe and North America.
The journal offers a platform for people to share how South Asia looks at itself and the world through the eyes of its creative writers. In this debut edition, special sections have been dedicated to contemporary Sri Lankan writings in English as well as Sinhalese and Tamil translations into English. The team probably gathered confidence from Aaj, the quarterly magazine in Urdu of world literature, which was initially launched in 1989 and has published its 100th issue this year. During its lifespan it has presented a rich selection of original Urdu writings and writings from other languages through Urdu translations.
Translation is a tricky issue, especially if it happens to be of literature, and even trickier if it is about its most specialised part: poetry. The raw material of poetry and prose is language itself; language is not a vehicle where it is merely meant to transfer concepts or ideas, like in history, politics or sociology. That too must be difficult, for if it were not so, then the Pakistani market would have seen many good translations of works that traditionally fall under social and even natural sciences. But it is now obvious that the local market is devoid of it as translations do not facilitate but obfuscate and make everything denser.
In literature, translation is even more difficult for one has to have a complete grasp of both languages with all its multifaceted nuances and asides. The most admired translations have been of Russian fiction but it is mostly venerated by those who do not know the Russian language. Since the translations appear to be good, gripping and get to the core of what is assumedly being said by a Russian, these are considered as models to be emulated.
In Pakistan most literature when translated into Urdu seems like an exercise that takes life away from words. They appear to be limp, without any flare and leave one to wonder why the work in its original language is so admired and celebrated in the first place.
It is actually very difficult to comment on the quality of translation if one does not know the works in their original language. The barometer can just be how well the writings read and whether they are easy on the mind as compared to what is dense and intractable. Perhaps it can be said that the writings or the translations have been less turgid than they tend to be in the hands of translators who are not fully comfortable with both the languages. If one knows one language better, then the translation may read well but there will be chances that it will not be faithful to the original.
Since the writings are from South Asia, they share a certain ethos, and perhaps it may be easier or more valid to judge the writings based on the ethos that they have been able to evoke and sustain. Shared ethos is probably the backbone of any creative venture in this part of the world and all the characters and plots, so to say, emanate from it. This is the soil that they take root in to sprout, flower and fruit.
The magazine has introduced many writers from Sri Lanka to Pakistani readers. It can generally be assumed that readers here would not be acquainted with these names and works, and that this translation of poetry and prose may be incentive to explore further and be more familiar with the general body of work being produced in that country.
Poets included are S. Pathmanathan, Parakrama Kodituwakku, Liyanage Amerakeerti, Shirani Rajapakse, Nawya Ponnamperuma, Saanka Perera, Mishal Mizan, Vasika Udurawarne, Imaat Majeed, Pireeni Sundaralingam, Sumathy Sivomohan, Stefhan Sebastian, Geetha Sukumaran, Tamilini, Cheran, Yalini, Sithanthan, P. Alihan, Anar; while fiction writers are Piyal Kariyawasam, Jayatilaka Kammallaweera, Lal Medawattegedara, Chiranthi Rajapakse, Kumri Kumaragamage, Raisa Wickrematunge and Pankaja Kariyawasam.
Other writers included in the journal are Susan Visvanathan, Julien Columeau, Bhaswati Ghosh, Sarim Baig, Subimal Misra, Sophia Naz, Kamud, Giorgia Stavrolpoulou, Farha Noor, Sadia Khatri, Tanveer Anjum, Linda Ashok, Mallika Shakya, Sascha Aurora Akhtar, Micheal Creighton, Jhilmil Breckenbridge, Ramsha Ashraf, Mani Dixit and Maaz Bin Bilal.
In the future, the editorial team has promised to dedicate special issues to explore literature belonging to an area, language, theme, and gradually increase awareness of indigenous South Asian writings. But the story does not stop here, because writers born in other regions of the world who have written about this region and have directed their literary passions towards this region, also fall within City’s catchment area.
Editors: Ajmal Kamal, Sophia Naz
Publisher: City Press Publication
Price: Rs 350