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Tamas: A classic on India’s partition

Film Tamas is based on the novel written by Bhisham Sahni known as 'Tamas' Image source:

New Delhi: Bhisham Sahni’s “Tamas”, a timeless classic on India’s partition, holds strong relevance in the present scenario because it speaks of how politicians “manipulate public opinion through rumours and purposefully start conflagrations”, says American author Daisy Rockwell, who has translated the work into English for the third time.

“It could not be more relevant. Sahni shows us how politicians manipulate public opinion through rumours and purposefully start conflagrations in order to divide and rule communities. The Divide and Rule is quite clearly alive and well in modern India and this leads to both real and horrifying violence.

“Reading ‘Tamas’ and understanding Sahni’s message is a sobering lesson in the usefulness of communal hatreds to certain political groups and power blocs,” Rockwell told IANS in an email interview.

“Tamas” has also been a hugely successful TV series. It was first rendered in English by Jai Ratan, a prolific 20th century translator of Hindi and Urdu fiction. This, however, had to be withdrawn after it was discovered it was riddled with errors, omissions, fanciful additions and was written in a flowery, formal style that did not mirror the original.

Sahni himself translated “Tamas” for the second time.

“Sahni’s version is a great improvement on Ratan’s, but Sahni himself, as the author, could not resist the temptation of changing aspects of the text in translation — a common problem for authors translating their own work. Sahni also wrote in a style of English that was much more formal than that of the original Hindi,” added Rockwell, who is also a painter.

So, how did the third translation, one element of commemorating Sahni’s birth centenary in 2015 come about?

“Penguin commissioned a translation of Sahni’s memoir, ‘Today’s Pasts’ by Snehal Shingavi, and published four novels, including a retranslation of ‘Tamas’ by me. It was decided that a new translation would be a fitting way to mark the centenary and keep this important novel fresh and relevant for new readers,” Rockwell explained.

“Tamas” is written in a fairly simple, colloquial style of Hindi. In terms of technical difficulties, the greatest hurdle that Rockwell faced was descriptions of historical features of daily life in Punjab that are no longer around.

“Luckily I had already translated a novel and a collection of short stories by Upendranath Ashk, who was also a Punjabi writer of Hindi, so I had become familiar with common architectural features, food, clothing, turns of phrase and the like,” Rockwell explained.

For the author, Tamas was also quite difficult to translate on an emotional level as the book is full of disturbing and horrifying moments and uncomfortable truths.

“A translator must read a work many, many times over. It is not unusual for me to end up editing an entire text ten times. There are many scenes that I found painful to read each time, such as the mass suicide of Sikh women in the village well, even though I was already quite familiar with this and have taught classes about Partition literature and written articles about it as well,” she said.

Translation often loses the essence of original writing. For Rockwell, maintaining the original touch was the main aspect.

“I came to realize that Sahni had written the book in a style that was flowing and casual. One should not stumble or stop when reading the book, or muse over a turn of phrase. It’s meant to be consumed in one horrifying gulp. In my translation, I attempted to mimic that style, to convey the quick pace and the urgency in my use of language,” she said.

Rockwell never hesitates to ask people for help. And she did so while translating the book.

“I have translator friends and contacts who know Punjabi well, historians, architects, physicians — anyone who can help. I often crowd-source queries for terms that are in no dictionaries via Twitter, which is an excellent tool. You will see in my acknowledgments that I thank numerous people for all sorts of help and information,” the author said.

  • Annesha Das Gupta

    An excellent article on the difficulties of translations and the past sociological perspective on Punjab during partition.

  • Shriya Katoch

    An eye opening book making us aware of the deep seeded power of politics .

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Read about Your Favourite Marvel Superhero in Book Format

As with the novels Marvel themselves published previously, the Titan releases are specifically based on the comic book incarnations

Marvel, Superhero, Book
Now, read about your favourite Marvel Superhero in book format with the seven titles that have been released. IANS

You have read about them in comics — that was the original genre. They then transformed to the stage, to the small screen, then to the big screen and soon the streaming platform. Now, read about your favourite Marvel Superhero in book format with the seven titles that have been released making waves worldwide and also in India, where they recently debuted.

What prompted the release of these books considering that some of the original comics date back to the mid-1960s and that all of the originals, barring Thanos, have been turned into hugely successful movies?

“As with the novels Marvel themselves published previously, the Titan releases are specifically based on the comic book incarnations of the characters. In some cases, such as ‘Captain Marvel: Liberation Run’, the authors have produced entirely new stories set within the comic book canon. In others, as with ‘X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga’, they’ve adapted seminal storylines,” Stephen W. Saffel, Senior Acquisitions Editor at Titan Books, the London-based publisher, told IANS in an email interview.

“Our goal is to entertain as many readers as possible, so frequently we will choose the most high-profile characters. Because of their tremendous popularity, many of these characters and storylines have also led to films. Other novels will feature stories entirely new to the film and TV audiences,” Saffel added.

Marvel, Superhero, Book
You have read about them in comics — that was the original genre. IANS

Among the titles released are ‘Avengers — Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, ‘Ant-Man – Natural Enemy’, ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Thanos — Death Sentence’.

Detailing the process of the transformation from the comics to the TV shows to the movies to the book format, he said Titan was not involved in the development of the television and film storylines “though certainly we follow them and enjoy them tremendously. Our focus is entirely on adapting the comic book concepts”.

This comes with challenges, though, as exemplified by ‘Avengers: Infinity’. That comic book event had many threads that fed into various Marvel comic book titles, “Yet we were tasked with producing a novel that would be self-contained and entertaining. Thus the writer had to organise the material very carefully, at times removing elements that weren’t essential to the core storyline, while expanding or reorganizing facets to keep the narrative focused and dramatic” Saffel explained.

What has been the response to these books since they were released in the West in 2018?

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“We’ve had a wonderful response. The books have been very well-reviewed, and the readers have been enthusiastic. In many cases the novel has been a reader’s first introduction to the characters or comic book storylines, while in other instances the readers have enjoyed the new approach to familiar storylines,’ Saffel said.

What has prompted their release in India?

“As a publisher Titan exists to entertain as many readers as possible — an important measure of our success is the number of people who enjoy what we produce. Thus we make the English-language editions available to as many people as we can, including those who live in India. Beyond that, we frequently partner with local publishers in other countries to produce translated versions of the stories,” he said.

What is next in the pipeline?

Marvel, Superhero, Book
They then transformed to the stage, to the small screen, then to the big screen and soon the streaming platform. IANS

“We very much enjoy our relationship with Marvel and the opportunity to work with such wonderful characters and concepts. While we don’t have anything ready to announce at this moment, there will be more novels, and we’ll keep doing this for as long as the readers ask for it,” Saffel said.

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MARVEL COMICS opened the doors to the Marvel Universe on August 31, 1939. It marks its 80th anniversary this year. (IANS)