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Tamas: A classic on India’s partition

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Film Tamas is based on the novel written by Bhisham Sahni known as 'Tamas' Image source: www.koimoi.com
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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 This, however, had to be withdrawn after it was discovered it was riddled with errors, omissions, fanciful additions and was written in a flowery, formal style that did not mirror the original.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.

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  • 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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7 Things A Fictional Writer Should Never Do!

There are many examples of a fictional writer starting off his story on a very promising note and leaving the reader to feel cheated at the end

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fictional writer
Fiction writing has no specified code of conduct, it is an art where you follow your own approach. Pixabay

Based on interviews, with authors over the years, and conferences, it has been found that fiction writing can be challenging. There is no doubt that a reader’s attention span starts dwindling and being said that, an average reader takes less than a minute to abandon a book or piece of writing. There are many examples of a fictional writer starting off his story on a very promising note and leaving the reader to feel cheated at the end.

Whether you are writing a short story or something like a letter to a fictional character at https://gpalabs.com/, avoid these writing mistakes. Here are some points of consensus and observations:

fictional writer
As a fictional writer, it is your job to keep your audience hooked to your script. Pixabay

1. Unhooked:

A well-written piece of fiction book serves to keep the reader interested and drawn towards the story with some point of tension, and some drama; all serve as hooks. Boredom! That’s what you need to avoid while writing a fiction, throw open a question and don’t answer it for a while. As a fictional writer, your job is to keep your audience hooked to your script.

ALSO READ: Indian Origin Writer Akhil Sharma is Stealing the Show in US with Short Stories

2. Don’t assume there is any single path or playbook a fiction writer needs to follow:

Simply you have to do what works best for you, try listening to the voices in your head and learn to train and trust them, because they will let you know if you are on the right path.

3. Cut!

You sure can write a 1000 page book, but should you? It is not about showing off being wordy or your English vocabulary which can be a surefire shot at rejection. Mostly it is about using the right words that your story needs. An unedited story is an agony for readers because they are reading until the end of your story just to know what happens in the end.

fictional writer
Even if you like someone’s way of storytelling, do not copy it. Create your own way of storytelling and present your story in your own words. Pixabay

4. Don’t try to write like your idols:

Be yourself. If you try to pretend to write like anyone else, your readers will know. The one thing you’ve got that no one else does is your own voice, your own style, your own approach, so make each section of your story an acceptable experience for the readers.

5. Choose the adverb correctly:

Choosing the right adverb is very important because it brings about a sense of action while on the other hand, it may dilute the action.

6. Avoid putting all your eggs in one basket when it comes to pitching something:

As a fictional writer, ensure you don’t put all your creativity in one book always be working on your next book or idea while you’re querying. Make sure you send out your crispest version to literary agents and publishers.

ALSO READ: Mahasweta Devi: 90-Year-Old Legendary Writer and Social Activist Dies in Kolkata

7. Don’t be a copycat:

There are many instances such as after the Harry Potter series many writers, all of a sudden, began writing stories with magic as a central premise and after the Twilight series, every other manuscript that landed on a publisher’s desk was about vampires. Yes, you can be inspired by some writers but never ever copy ideas and story plots of other authors.