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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 This, however, had to be withdrawn after it was discovered it was riddled with errors, omissions, fanciful additions and was written in a flowery, formal style that did not mirror the original.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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A landmark book to detoxify India

 The researcher of this detoxifying book -- Salil Gewali was born in Shillong, Meghalaya.

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This book is an eye-opener to the Indians who have lost interest in anything that is traditionally their own, and believing that everything of value should come from the post-industrial civilization of the West.
Great Minds of India is a book written by Salil Gewali

By Dr. Naresh Goswami

‘GREAT MINDS ON INDIA’ is simply outstanding! I never knew that such a compilation exists and we all should be thankful to Mr. Salil Gewali! These great quotes should be embossed on plaques and displayed on the walls of our Parliament, State Assembly Halls, and at all our educational institutions. Most importantly, the material should be made a compulsory reading for all the school students.
–Dr. AV Murali, Houston (Former NASA Scientist) 

The rise of the likes of Salil Gewali appears to be a real sunshine of hope. India, which was the fountainhead of the profound knowledge, has unfortunately been groping in the darkness of misinformation. Thanks to hordes of native scholars who love to undermine their own literary heritage and disseminated distorted history.

So, against this disquieting backdrop, Gewali’s exhaustive research-based book “Great minds on INDIA”, which originally published with the title named – “What is India”, is going to be a remarkable testament. The substantive document to inform one and all about the secular basis of Indian literature. The book is doubtlessly going to establish the universal essence of the Indian culture which hitherto misinterpreted by anti-nation forces.

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The Book titled ‘Great Minds on India’ By Salil Gewali

The idea of a compilation of thoughts and opinions of the world top thinkers and writers occurred to Mr. Gewali during his late teens. His father – Krishna Prasad Gewali, who was an erudite scholar, inspired Mr. Salil Gewali and showed him the depth of the ancient literature. From early age, Mr Salil was much drawn to study Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. He reminiscence in one of his articles – “ I had encountered that a good many literary books published from the country, which deliberately undermine the ancient text and denigrate the cultural values of the home country, were held in high esteem. Those authors were only applauded, honored and awarded. Whereas, the ones who loved the country and wanted to uphold the traditional values and preserve the ancient and universal wisdom of the home country were considered as the cohort lost in the wilderness of jingoism”. Gewali could not stomach the rise of the forces which are going to be detriminantal to the nation.

Mr. Gewali made deeper studies of the ancient scriptures vis-a-vise the western intellectuals. He painstakingly picked up the pearls of gem scattered in the various books authored by western geniuses. Gewali’s prime objective was to discover what those western scholars had said about India and her wisdom. Gewali felt that only the opinions and thoughts expressed by the western intellectual can bring the Indian intellectual to the sense.

After a very long struggle, Gewali could bring out the compilation in the Xerox format in the year 1998. For his financial hardship, he could not publish the book in the print format for many years. However, after a long gap of 11 years, the first printed format was published in 2009.

 This unique book immediately caught the attention of so many scholars across the world. The first edition, which was formally launched by the governor of Meghalaya – Shri Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary, the book also reached a NASA scientist – Prof. AV Murali. Later Prof. Being extremely awe-stricken by the contents of the book he remarked: “This compilation is simply outstanding! I never knew that such a compilation exists and we all should be thankful to Mr. Salil Gewali! These great quotes should be embossed on plaques and displayed on the walls of our Parliament, State Assembly Halls, and at all our educational institutions. Most importantly, the material should be made a compulsory reading for all the school students.” Prof. Murali is a former National Research Council Scientist at the Johnson Space Center in Houston of the (NASA). Murali also worked as a scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston. The book has also fascinated the NASA Chief scientist, Dr. Kamlesh Lulla of Houston, who has offered to pen down the preface for the revised edition of the book.

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The first edition, which was formally launched by the governor of Meghalaya – Shri Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary

Prof Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, a world-acclaimed novelist, whose famous novel, ‘The Mistress of Spices’ was released as a film directed by Paul Mayeda Berges starring Aishwarya Rai and Dylan McDermott, applauded Gewali’s book : “An inspirational read that reminds us of our amazing ancient heritage and why we need to incorporate it into our lives as modern Indians.”

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Prof Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, a world-acclaimed novelist, applauded Gewali’s book

Starting from 2011 till the date Gewali’s book has been translated into eleven languages, mostly by prominent literary figures, bureaucrats and scientists.

The book translated in other languages as under :

Hindi: by Vishwa Mohan Tiwari, former Vice Air Marshal, Noida, Delhi and Dr. MP Jain, Udaipur, Rajasthan.

 Malayalam: by Dr. M. Pushpangadan, Kerala and Smt. Mansi PA, Mumbai.

 Telugu: by Satyadeva Prasad and BS Sharma, Secunderabad, Telangana

 Gujarati: by Rekha Dave and edited by Jitu Patwari

 Nepali: by  Dr Govinda Raj Bhattarai, Prof of Tribhuwan University, Kathmandu, Nepal

 Marathi: Deepa Joshi, Thane, Mumbai, Edited by Leena Mehendale, Former Additional Chief Secretary, Government of  Maharashtra, Mumbai

 Kannada: by Dr. Mulliya Raghavayya, former Nuclear scientist, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Karnataka, Mysore.

Tamil: Dr. Pothy C Jayapal, Chennai.

Manipuri: by Sadashiva Singh, Senapati, Manipur.

Bengali, : by Prof. R.N. Das, MD, MRCP (UK), Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (London), edited by Prof. Nirmal Maity.

Another scholar from California Ms. Anna Hourihan writes in her review:  “Salil Gewali’s work puts a spotlight on the importance of the ancient teachings, which are imperative for our future existence in these crucial times. His book is a most worthwhile gift to all of us. But chiefly it’s for the people of India so that they may realize the importance of the role of India and Indians from early times, and which continues even today with its scientists, sages and also the Hindu Indian diaspora.” 

Lastly, the efforts of a scholar like Salil Gewali should be acknowledged and appreciated in the highest terms. Government of India should take the initiative to spread this book before our children become secular and start hating not only the culture and but the country too. I would further add that ‘Great minds on INDIA’ doubtlessly shatters the limitations of mind by making it embrace the higher perceptions. It makes us rise above the false opinions of pseudo intellectuals, who believe that there is no point in looking back, particularly concerning ancient heritage. When one encounters Gewali’s testimonial work, one discovers new routes to unfold our glorious past. After all, we need a right path to arrive at the destination – the self realization. That is not possible with a flawed perspective. So, Salil’s book will be a magnificent light to show the truth in the right perspective which otherwise just undermined as old myth and fairy-tale stories.

 The researcher of this detoxifying book — Salil Gewali was born in Shillong, Meghalaya. His father, (Late) Krishna Prasad Gewali was a very learned scholar and writer who was well versed in ancient scriptures. Gewali was first introduced to the ancient Indian literature by his father who also had a very in-depth knowledge of Sanskrit language. So, from an early age, Mr. Gewali was drawn to study Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita.Gewali passed his School Leaving Certificate examination from ‘Mawprem Modern High School’, in 1986 and joined St. Anthony College, Shillong, Meghalaya for further studies. He completed his post-graduation in English Literature. 

One response to “A landmark book to detoxify India”

  1. There is an adage, If you don’t love yourself, you cannot love anybody else. This book will help many Indians to be proud who they are and hence love themselves first.