The Politics of Translation: Manto's Partition Stories and Khalid Hasan's English Version
On one level translating Saadat Hasan Manto into English is not very difficult. As a storyteller he never retreats from the complexity of lived experience to find easy refuge in political posturing or moral and religious sermonising. That is why the style of his best stories, devoid of all metaphoric excess and sentimental inflections, is always precise, bare-boned and conversational. Most of his narrators are either hard-drinking and whoring men who live in cities which have neither space for graciousness nor time for romance, or are men who have seen so much horror that they can only offer a disenchanted and cynical vision of the world. Their descriptions, ironic and cold-eyed, seem to be authentic versions of life at a particular historical moment, because they have the feel of the real and the pitilessness of stone. It should not, therefore, be impossible for a translator to find verbal and cultural equivalents for his stories in English.
Structurally, Manto's tales are idiosyncratic but should not make a translator anxious. Manto often disrupts the linear and chronological flow of his stories by using the same kind of parenthetical interruptions, digressions or elisions that are common to all ordinary conversations. Since he is not conducting political and ethical arguments, he doesn't worry about constructing well-argued paragraphs^ whose internal coherence is essential to convince us of the truth of some abstract proposition. Instead, with the fine cunning of a master storyteller, at times he disrupts the narrative to increase suspense, or breaks the story's spell to remind us that life always frustrates our longing for completion; at other times, he offers different narrative possibilities within the same story and invites us to puzzle them out, or merely writes a fragment which emerges from silence
Professor at the Centre for European Studies, CIEFL, Hyderabad.
Social Scientist, Vol. 29, Nos. 7 - 8, July-August 2001