Beyond Borders

Author and diplomat Navtej Sarna talks about his new book — an English translation of his father’s short stories on the Partition,written in Punjabi

Written by Parul | Published: September 11, 2013 5:45:56 am

If literature holds a mirror to the society,then language becomes the vehicle for reflection. Driving this vehicle are authors who are committed to take the literature of Punjabi writers to readers who want to connect with the stories of that era. One such example is author and diplomat Navtej Sarna,who decided to relive the experiences of the Partition,as he decided to translate the stories written by his father Mohinder Singh Sarna from Punjabi to English.

Titled Savage Harvest: Stories of Partition (Rupa,Rs 221),Sarna describes his latest work as his “duty”. This compilation includes 30 stories on the exodus. “There were as many as 80 short stories,and the effort was to bring the best to English,” says Navtej. His father had selected these stories before he passed away,he said. Having grown up listening to these stories,Navtej feels not much has been written on the subject,and a wider audience,including the young,need to know what happened.

Like all translators,Navtej admits the biggest challenge was to remain true to the original,and recreate accounts from “literary Punjabi,which carried nuances of the language spoken in Rawalpindi at that time”. The hero of all these stories is humanity. “The stories are about human contact from both sides of the borders,like the one where a poet returns to his home across the border to find his books intact among strangers. Another one is about a young man challenging the neighbourhood rogue to a horse-riding bet to rescue a captive girl,” says Navtej.

This is not his first work of translation. Navtej has translated Guru Gobind Singh’s Zafarnama (Penguin),which he describes as a humbling experience. “Research,meeting with scholars,reading various texts,poring over various works on the text,it has been a labour of love,” he says. Zafarnama has 111 short verses by Guru Gobind Singh,and Navtej describes the poetry as exquisite.

The author of novels such as The Exile and We Weren’t Lovers Like That,a short-story collection titled Winter Evenings,and other works such as The Book of Nanak and Folk Tales of Poland,Navtej is now working on a book on the Indian connection to Jerusalem. Four years as Indian Ambassador to Israel has given Navtej enough research material and food for thought. He describes this one as a narrative which is personal,not political. 

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