‘Low readership behind limited translation of Urdu fiction’

Published: February 5, 2012
Regrets lack of recognition of Urdu literature.

Regrets lack of recognition of Urdu literature.


Before making sweeping statements such as “there aren’t enough Urdu to English translations of Pakistani literary works”, one should try understanding the market.

A literaty book with 200 copies can take years to sell but a magazine can easily sell copies many times more.

“This speaks about the complicated nature of the readership of Urdu fiction,” said noted literary figure Prof Muhammad Umar Memon at a critical literary session on “Urdu Fiction and its Audience” held here on Friday.

Dr Memon pointed out that the knowledge about scarce readership of Urdu literature can be answered by analysing the number of literate people who are interested in fiction.

Sharing his experience on translations, Dr Memon said he often amalgamates or divides sentences to make more sense of the work in the other language.

In addition to that, he also addressed the large canon of translations in Persian and Arabic compared to Urdu. He regretted that Urdu literature lacks the translation it deserves even though it is far more comprehensive and vast.

He also spoke on problems in translations due to cultural disparity and highlighted the difference which must be accounted for while translating a literary work. Some works, he posited, are simply untranslatable due to their firm grounding within a language and/or culture.

The notion of transcreating instead of translating was also introduced, which can entail transforming a work instead of trying to mimic the original. However, transcreating is a fairly new concept that is only accomplished by professionals.

The participants, mostly comprising literary enthusiasts, appreciated Dr Memon’s insight into the topic. “As a student of literature I found the lecture to be very useful and enlightening,” said Sara.

Haya, a translator by profession, also appreciated the event, saying that she learnt a lot of new techniques to do a better work with her job. “It is not every day that you get to interact with such people,” she said.

Dr Memon is a Professor Emeritus of Urdu Literature and Arabic Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison in the United States. He is a scholar, translator, poet, Urdu short story writer and the editor of The Annual of Urdu Studies. The event was organised by the Literature Podium, Pakistan Academy of Letters.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 5th, 2012.

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