Amarjit Chandan, who resides in London, is an excellent poet, essayist and one of the most well-informed Punjabi activists in the diaspora. However, despite his repeated requests, Punjabi writers from our side of the border, currently living in western countries, have not been able to get any of their original works translated into English.
Thus, we do not have a single English translation of modern Punjabi poetry or short stories at the moment. We can’t deny that English language is currently dominating all fields. Many readers are graduating from English medium schools every year, and whether we like it or not, English is a window to the world. While I do wish for Punjabi literature to be read in its original form, I disagree with staunch Punjabi lovers who do not want to entertain any other language.
The need for Punjabi literature to be translated into English cannot be ignored anymore. Punjabi diaspora in western countries has grown tremendously who need English translations, since English is the first language of children growing up in these countries. It is possible that young people show interest in Punjabi literature if it is presented to them in the language they are more comfortable with.
The Fragrance of Soil, a translation of short stories from western Punjab, by Rishum Ahmad Paul is like fresh breeze.
Rishum Paul is the daughter of well-known Punjabi writer and journalist Jameel Paul who is a dedicated supporter of Punjabi literature for the last four decades and has been publishing an online Punjabi daily newspaper Lokai for over ten years. He has authored more than a hundred books which include short story collections, novels and even a dictionary.
Rishum is naturally inclined towards Punjabi — her mother tongue. She was once attached to the children’s section of a Punjabi magazine, and her byline has also appeared in magazines like Sver and Ravel.
The Fragrance of Soil is perhaps the first English anthology of Punjabi stories to have emerged from Pakistan. The situation is not so dismal across the border. A lot of Punjabi writers like Kulwant Singh Virk and Gurdial Singh, among other modern fiction writers, have been translated into English or other languages by the Sahitya Akademi. I came across many English anthologies of works originally in Bengali, Telugu, Nepali, and Malayalam short fiction, published by Penguin, India. Most of the translations have been done by the Departments of English Literature and Language of different universities in India.
Apparently, English Departments in Pakistan have not been focusing on this; otherwise, translations would have been available in all the local languages of the country.
The late governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, is said to have tried opening a branch of Penguin books in Pakistan. This could have encouraged publishing houses to print more English translations and make our regional literature more widely accessible.
The case of classical Punjabi poetry is not so disheartening because one can easily find complete translations of ‘Heer’ by Waris Shah. Moreover, Muzaffar Ghaffaar has single-handedly translated all the leading poets of Punjabi literature, from Baba Farid to Khawaja Farid. His translations run into twenty nine volumes.
Rishum has translated 16 modern short stories, which include stories from prominent literary figures like Afzal Tauseef, Farkhanda Lodhi, Haneef Bava, Mansha Yaad, Maqsood Saqib, Nawaz, Parveen Malik, along with writers from later generations like Ali Anwar Ahmad, Farooq Nadeem, Hameed Razi, Ilyas Ghumman, Jameel Paul, Karamat Mughal, Meer Tana Yusfi, etc. Rishum has made it clear in her preface that she has not included the pioneers and literary legends like Anwar Ali, Afzal Ahsan Randhawa and Asif Khan. Her selection includes almost all the significant present-day writers who have authored more than one collection of stories.
As far as her translation is concerned, it is a sheer labour of love. Since this is her first translation, there is ample scope for further improvement. It would be good if she seeks the guidance of an accomplished editor about translations.
However, Rishum’s effort must be applauded. We hope that she comes up with more mature translations and tries translating novels as well, as we do have some excellent novels in Punjabi.
The Fragrance of Soil Translation of short stories
Author: Rishum Jameel Paul
Publishers: Book Home, Lahore, 2018