Literary notes: A new, complete Urdu translation of Les Misérables
Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, though initially criticised for several reasons, was finally acclaimed as a great work. It is reckoned as one of the great novels of the 19th century. First published in 1862, it was translated from French into English the same year and other translations in several European languages followed.
A website claims that Les Misérables has been translated into 22 languages. What makes this claim dubious is the bizarre fact that the list of languages in which the book was translated includes ‘French’ (I am a firm believer in the notion that the internet is the greatest, cheapest and fastest source of incorrect information, especially about eastern literatures and languages).
What the site does not tell is that Les Misérables was translated into some eastern languages such as Arabic, Persian and Urdu, (Hebrew is the only eastern language mentioned on the website). Dr Nighat Jamal in her dissertation Fransisi Adab ke Urdu Tarajim has mentioned that Les Misérables was rendered into Urdu by Ram Swaroop Sharma. Published by Dar-ul-Isha’at Punjab, Lahore, in 1927, under the title Budnaseeb, it was an abridged translation.
Les Misérables is among the world’s longest novels. The original in French has about 1,900 pages and the English translation about 1,400. It comprises five volumes and over 350 chapters, but Mr Sharma in his Urdu translation tried to capture the essence of the novel within 51 chapters and 250 pages or so. As a result, the fine attributes that make the work great have been compromised. After reading the abridged Urdu translation, she adds, the reader is surprised as to what is so special about the novel and why it is considered among the great pieces of world literature in the first place. Dr Nighat Jamal thinks that despite the shortcomings, the abridged Urdu translation is important since it presents the most famous work of Victor Hugo to the readers of Urdu.
Luckily, that shortcoming has now been overcome, albeit it took Urdu some 85 years to do that. Baqar Naqvi, Urdu’s well-known translator and poet, has yet again achieved a great feat: he has translated the full text of Les Misérables into Urdu. Previously, Baqar Naqvi had done amazing, voluminous translations in such a brief span of time that one wonders if he has got Aladdin’s lamp and the genie carries out the translation for him. First it was some books on science, such as genetics, cloning, artificial intelligence and electronics, which he rendered into Urdu. Then he turned to Nobel Prize winners and translated into Urdu the lectures that the 20th century Nobel laureates gave on the occasion of receiving the Nobel Prize for literature.
It was in 2009. Two years later he came up with the Urdu translation of speeches of the winners of Nobel Peace prize. Both books were quite voluminous. Then he published Urdu translation of the speeches of the winners of Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine. Next Baqar sahib grabbed Nobel winner Herta Müller’s novel The land of Green Plums and translated it into Urdu, which was published in 2012 under the title Nashaibi Sarzameen. He in 2013 published Urdu translation of The Tin Drum, a novel by Noble laureate Gunter Grass.
This time around Baqar Naqvi has made the world of Urdu literature richer by an Urdu translation of the full text of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. It is yet another proverbial feather in his unseen cap (since he does not wear one). The two-volume, 1,826-page translation must have been backbreaking work. It might have made the Allahabad-born, 79-year-old translator look 97. But he looks as young as he looked 10 years ago (and 10 years ago he looked as if he was 59).
The book, titled Mizraab and published by Karachi’s Academy, has blurbs by well-known critics and writers, such as Shameem Hanafi, Fateh Muhammad Malik, Ata-ul-Haq Qasmi and Razi Mujtaba. They have paid rich tributes to Baqar Naqvi, which he truly deserves. They are unanimous that this Urdu translation of Les Misérables is not only rare but Baqar Naqvi has reserved a seat for himself in Urdu translations’ ‘hall of fame’.
The secret to Baqar Naqvi’s mastery over translation is his firm grip on the Urdu language. He not only composes poetry in Urdu but in Hindi, too. His deep knowledge of other languages has helped him a lot. Baqar sahib has taken full advantage of that knowledge and it is a fact that his translations have now become milestones in the history of Urdu translations.