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A Multi-layered Workd

Gillian Wright

By Qurratulain Hyder
Women Unlimited, Delhi, 2008, pp. 378, Rs. 350.00


Often one of the most difficult things to translate in a novel is the title and the most difficult thing to choose is a translator. Qurratulain Hyder, one of the greatest modern Urdu literary figures, was not one to be easily satisfied in these matters. Therefore she translated this novel herself. She also chose to discard the original title Akhir-e-Shab ke Hamsafar, probably because, like so many evocative Urdu phrases, it was practically impossible to put into meaningful English.   The original title suited the novel perfectly, being the first part of a couplet by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, a poet who shared the Marxist sentiments of this novel’s leading characters and was probably expressing his own experience of the evaporation of idealism. He wrote   Akhir-e-Shab ke hamsafar, Faiz, na jaane kya hue Reh gayi kis jagah saba, subah kidhar nikal gayi Aamer Hussein has translated this verse in his informative and insightful introduction. ‘Those fellow travellers of the night’s last hours, Faiz—Who knows what became of them?/Where did they leave, the morning breeze, what direction did the dawn take?’   In the novel itself Qurratulain Hyder brings together, not for the first time, a group of idealistic, courageous and well-educated young people from different religious and social backgrounds. She has a particular talent for creating strong, independent women characters. In this book there is a triumvirate of three friends Deepali Sarkar and Jahan Ara, both from zamindar families and Rosie Bannerjee, daughter of a Christian priest. They are each presented with several choices—adherence to convention, or becoming communists, or risking their lives by joining the terrorists once Germany attacks the Soviet Union and the communists come over to the British side. Hyder uses the word terrorism in the context of pre-Independence India, and expects her readers to understand this.   These three girls are some of the fireflies in the mist, full of brilliance and energy. Hyder avoided using the ‘parwana’ or moth of conventional Urdu tradition for her title as it seeks only the light of the candle flame and annihilation in it. The ever-present metaphor in this image is the soul’s search for union with God. The communists and terrorists of Bengal were atheists. Fireflies fit them better, because, unlike the parwana, they create their own light. They carry it within themselves and make their own separate paths, in so far as they can within ...

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