Annual of Urdu Studies, v. 6, 1987 p. 55.

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Frances W. Pntchett


Verner Elwin, one of the great scholars of South Asian folklore, did a good deal of translation as well. For his most famous folktale collection, Folktales of Mahakoshal, he committed himself to a scrupulously simple approach" in the translations "there should be no extra words, no fresh images, no alien ideas." He thus managed to achieve, as Dr. Mazharul Islam puts it, a "clear and straightforward" style which "looks like a piece of translation, not an original creation or a bonngly literal transference of the text into English.".1

Other translators, by contrast, set themselves the goal of "transcreation." They recognize the impossibility of perfectly faithful translation, and proceed to make a virtue of necessity. The transcreator feels free to touch up the text, using his own interpretive sensibility. A commitment to transcreation permits one, for example, to convert Premchand's two "wFr," in the crucial last sentences of "Satrany Ke KHilan," into "these two flowers of Moghul chivalry."2

No doubt practice generally falls somewhere between these two visions. But of the two, my own choice inclines toward the former, especially in working with prose I'd like to achieve a translation that is as straightforward as it can be, as exact as good English usage will admit. Thus I try to avoid importing any highly marked turns of phrase: no modern slang, no archaisms, no striking idioms or picturesque images, no interpretive flourishes. I work toward a language that is willing to "look like a translation" in order to be as far as possible a faithful bearer of a message from another culture. Can one then avoid making a "bonngly literal transference" of the text"? Can an English style emerge that will capture and convey the appeal of the original7 The translator can only try; the rest is not his business. The reader must be the real judge. Translating Urdu dastan literature, while certainly less problematical than translating ghazal, nevertheless involves a formidable number of stylistic choices. There is the omnipresent question of punctuation: how does one deal with a text hundreds of pages long and entirely devoid of sentence and paragraph markers, not to mention exclamation points, quotation marks, etc.7 Certainly not by refusing punctuation, for the English reader can't (and shouldn't

1 Dr Mazharul Islam, A History of Folktale Collections in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan (Calcutta Panchali Prakasan, 1970, 2nd ed ), p 182 Elwin's remark, quoted by Islam, comes from the

introduction to Folktales of Mahakoshal

2 Nandini Nopany and P Lal, trs , Twentyfour Stories by Premchand (New Delhi Vikas Publishing

House, 1980), p 28


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