We approached celebrated literary critic, translator, poet, and currently a senior fellow at the Rekhta Foundation, Anisur Rehman with certain questions on his latest book Socioliterary Cultures in South Asia.
1. How do you view the depiction of music in literature?
A: Music and poetry go hand in hand. Many literary compositions lend themselves to music quite naturally. Brought together, music and poetry tend to become one text and they appeal to larger sections of readers and listeners. Sufi music is a great example of this. This is indeed a matter of breaking barriers of art forms, bringing the written word to performance, and extending the frontiers of literature and other arts.
2. Today, when pulp fiction and metro reads are picked by most youngsters, do you think Indian English fiction has carved out a place of its own?
A: Yes, it certainly has. And in a very big way! Ever since Rajmohan’s Wife which was serialised in 1864, Indian English fiction has passed through three phases of its development. The first phase came to an end with Rao, Narayan, and Anand and the second with Rushdie. It’s in the third phase of great fulfillment now. Experiments with language, the discovery of new forms, and engagement with larger concerns can’t escape anyone’s attention.
3. You have alluded to many beautiful ghazals in the book. Urdu language and literature stand at the heart of it. How do you view the two trajectories, that is, language and literature, as a part of a larger narrative?
A: It should be very interesting for anyone to examine the trajectory of Urdu becoming a language of literary expression through the last five centuries. It would be borne out best by the ghazal which is a quintessential form of Urdu poetry. From Deccan to Delhi, and many other locations in between, Urdu ghazal met with many poets who filled it with exceptional vitality, brought it to the centre stage, and turned it into a major mark of Urdu’s socio literary culture.
4. How are the experiences of Pakistani women poets, those based out of and those in Pakistan, different in trying to forge a common identity and making an eventful career?
A: Women poets from Pakistani write in many languages of their land including English. Many of those poets writing in Urdu have distinguished themselves as poets of great substance, especially in their engagements with socio-political concerns and feminist ideologies. Interestingly, they represent an affluent class and have been greatly appreciated both as poets and achievers.
5. The book showcases the evolution of ghazals as a literary form. What do you think is the importance of ghazals as a literary form? Also, in your translations, the original flavour of the couplets is retained in the translation.
A: Of all the forms of Urdu poetry, the ghazal has received greater attention both from the poets and the readers. This has happened in all the ages ever since the sixteenth century. I thought it was important to share this literary culture with larger sections of readers. I did this by writing about it, and also by translating it into English. I think that if anyone who can imitate the rhythm of ghazal and create a semblance of its form in English can succeed to a great extent in making it a pleasant and plausible read.
6. The opening page has a very beautiful Kajri translated by you. Would you like to share some insights about your technique of translation?
A: Most of us have forgotten about this genre. Surely, there is a case for Kajri which I have tried to make in a chapter of this book. To facilitate the reading of Kajri, I translated some of them. My translations, as always, create parallel texts to bring the readers closer to the source text and help them appreciate the translations for all their worth.