‘Pitras ke mazameen’ translated into Arabic
By: Rauf Parekh
Roy Campbell once remarked that “translations, like wives, are seldom strictly faithful if they are in the least attractive”. Excluding the words ‘like wives’, one tends to agree with Campbell as some critics believe that it is very difficult to translate a piece of literature into another language both faithfully and beautifully at the same time. Some believe it is almost impossible to render poetry into another language without sacrificing its spirit, style and charm. When it comes to humour, however, a faithful translation sometimes may not work, especially if the humour is based on wordplay.
In spite of its somewhat controversial status, translation seems to be inevitable as it opens up a whole new world to readers. How else are we to know and appreciate the ideas and creativity of those who write in alien languages if translating the texts across the languages is not done? No matter how lacking a translation is, it is better than not having a translation at all: a drowsing mouse is better than a dead lion, as they say. We have a long tradition of translations into Urdu, especially from Arabic, Persian and from some western languages. But what delights one equally is the rendering of some Urdu text into another language. In this domain, too, Urdu does not lag behind. For instance, Bagh-o-Bahar, one of the classics of Urdu prose, has been translated into some 20 languages. Poetry of Ghalib, Iqbal, Faiz and some other Urdu poets has been rendered into many languages, either in entirety or in part. Similarly, some of the writings of Urdu fiction writers such as Manto, Krishan Chandr, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Shaukat Siddiqi, Qurrat-ul-Ain Hyder, Ibn-e-Safi and many others have been translated into different languages.
As for humour, some writings of Urdu’s Indian humorist Mujtaba Hussain have been translated into Japanese. But aside from that, any translation of Urdu humour into another language is rare, if at all. Therefore, I was simply elated when I lately came across an Arabic translation of ‘Pitras ke mazameen’. Published from Cairo in 2012, the Arabic translation is titled ‘Maqalat-i-Boutros’. Prof Dr Ibrahim Muhammad Ibrahim As-Saiyyid has rendered ‘Pitras ke mazameen’ into Arabic. Prof Ibrahim teaches Urdu at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University.
He earned a PhD in Urdu from Punjab University and later assisted in Punjab University’s project of Urdu encyclopaedia of Islam. These days he is the chairman of the department of Urdu language and literature at Al-Azhar.
‘Pitras ke mazameen’ is one of Urdu’s evergreen books. Written by Ahmed Shah Pitras Bukhari, it is one of the books that have run into many editions and must rank fairly high in the list of Urdu’s all-time bestsellers. Dr Ibrahim has not only rendered the text into Arabic but has done a wonderful job by adding a preface and two introductory articles to the book. The preface briefly describes the history of humour in Urdu literature and establishes Pitras Bukhari’s stature with references. The first article included in the book is titled ‘Boutros Bukhari’ and gives a life-sketch of Pitras Bukhari. It also discusses at length all the works of Pitras Bukhari, giving the publishing details of his creative and critical works.
About a year ago, someone asked me about the time and date when Pitras wrote the humorous pieces included in ‘Pitras ke mazameen’. I said I was not sure but knew that many of them were written when Pitras was a student at Lahore’s Government College. Now I am able to answer that question precisely as the second introductory article in the Arabic translation is titled ‘Mazameen-e-Boutros’ and introduces each piece included in the book. Dr Ibrahim has done quite a bit of research on Pitras and also gives the date of the first publication of many of the articles. He says, for instance, Pitras’s hilarious piece ‘Savere jo kal aankh meri khuli’ (when I woke up in the morning) appeared in December 1921 issue of ‘Ravi’, Government College’s magazine. ‘Mable aur main’ (Mable and I) had been published in November 1919 issue of ‘Tehzeeb-i-Nisvaan’, a magazine for women, which was published from Lahore. Dr Ibrahim has also reviewed these pieces and reproduced the original Urdu text of the entire book.
Ahmed Shah Pitras Bukhari, one of the foremost humorists of Urdu, a translator and a critic, was born in Peshawar on Oct 1, 1898. He did his MA in English from Government College, Lahore, where he had taken admission in 1916. Having completed higher studies in England, he taught, first, at Central Training College, and later at Government College, Lahore. In 1937, Pitras joined All India Radio. After partition, he rendered invaluable services for Pakistan and one of them was serving as Pakistan’s envoy to the UN. Pitras Bukhari died in New York on Dec 5, 1958.