Monday, April 11, 2005

Lost in TR

I have found that the worst part about writing in english is translating the odd word and verse. My stories are about Pakistan, if not, Pakistanis. The multitude of voices, the difference in tone associated with many of the phrases (Kithoun aaye ou sohneoun!) are clearly drawn in most people's mind, but bring this into english, and the words are no longer animated. Its just another greeting in a strange town with strange customs.
Dialogue in Urdu is even harder, the partial phrases are different from english, and a literal translation ruins the whole effect. Example, the word/phrase from Lahore, cheetaa, colloquial for cool - Would you put it in?
The technique I have seen other authors use is to put description in movement to try and capture the environment, the phrase is used in. But that means long boring descriptions of the dull of everyday life.
Or, I could avoid the whole fiasco and resort to minimalist language, capture the essence of the story, keep it in motion, focus on action rather than interaction. But that technique fails to capture richness. The difference is the difference of Nadeem Aslam and Mohsin Hamid.
Which brings me to Dasht-e-tanhai, Faiz's metaphor that captures loneliness, isolation, an unrewarding life and its bleakness in one phrase. Such phrases can NOT be shifted from one language to another, and we have to do with its translation; no matter how literal it might sound.
I guess I have to achieve some sort of balance, between capturing the scene and narrating it. I believe if I were published, or rather when I am published, my readers will be somewhat familiar with the culture. And hence, I can count on the body of literature already making the rounds, and use it as a background canvas on which images can be drawn.
But the way I see these stories, and the way someone not familiar with South Asia sees these stories would be different. I can see the red bricks, the fields passing by on the GT road, the distance from one corner of Mazang to the other, I can smell the Jalaibi as it sizzles, and I can hear the katakat of the knives from which the dish gets its name...
It becomes a question of focus on the elements that give life to the scene, and thats what I have to edit for. The scene, the angle, the distance which tells the story as it should be told.
And my background in an arcane science based on mathematics and boolean logic is of no help here.