An Evening with Poet Irfan Malik
By Ali Hasan Cemendtaur

 


Irfan Malik

A small gathering of Bay Area Punjabi poets and their fans took place last Saturday at the San Francisco Library. The get-together was arranged to honor the distinguished Punjabi poet Irfan Malik from Boston. Irfan Malik has five books to his credit: two translations ('Ghoonghe', Urdu translation of Swedish short stories and 'Vaddha hoia ghaira', Punjabi translation of Swedish poetry) and three books of Punjabi poetry (Vich jagrate sutti taangh, Akath, and Noon Ghuna.) The translations are the result of Malik's eleven-year stay in Sweden.

The local Bay Area Punjabi poet s -- Kulwinder, Parminder Parwana, Resham Sidhu, Major Bhupinder Daler and Jagjit Naushehrvi - attending the literary gathering are members of Vishav Punjabi Sahit Academy, a Bay Area group of Punjabi poets. Some heartwarming poetry, including a poem on the recent Asian Tsunami tragedy (by Major Bhupinder Daler), was read. Besides reading selections from his published books Irfan Malik informally spoke with the audience and explained the motivations behind his creative work. He told the listeners he was intrigued by the influence of script on the way things are said in a particular language and on the ultimate evolution of that language.

He elaborated on this point by giving examples of original Punjabi letters with nasal sounds that are still used by the Punjabis of the Indian Punjab, but are being forgotten by the Pakistani Punjabis. The visiting scholar's books were available for purchase at the gathering. This writer quickly browsed 'Ghoonghe' and 'Akath.' 'Ghoonghe' is a collection of Urdu translation of nine Swedish short stories written by Lars Ahlin, Stig Dagerman, Lars Gyllensten, Nina Lekander, Torgny Lindgren, Bodil Malmsten, Goran Nordstrom, August Strindberg, and Hjalmar Soderberg. The collection has been titled 'Ghoonghe' based on Goran Nordstrom's story titled 'Fossils.' A good translation of the English word 'fossil' doesn't exist in Urdu (Ghoonghe is not the correct translation of fossils); puritans of Urdu - for whom borrowing from Farsi or Arabic is more acceptable than borrowing from English -- use the Arabic word 'Hajr.' Malik translated fossils as 'Ghoonghe' probably because Nordstrom's story is set at a beach. The merit of Malik's translations lies in them being direct from Swedish to Urdu and Punjabi.

Most translations in Urdu from foreign languages come through English. 'Ghoonghe' should be further welcomed because it contains translated works of Swedish writers that don't even exist in English - all except Stig Dagerman, August Strindberg, and Hjalmar Soderberg. A discussion on the evolution of languages continued beyond the SF Library gathering. It was noted that the establishment of the Aligarh Muslim University earned Urdu the recognition of the lingua franca of the Muslims of the subcontinent. That Dr. Iqbal was the main force in making Urdu as a language of communication, acceptable to the Punjabis.

That the creation of Pakistan changed the linguistic landscape of the subcontinent -- Urdu erstwhile seen as a friendly language was resented when thrust upon people unwilling to accept it as their primary language. One thing about the literary evening that remained with this writer was how profusely the SF Library is infested with foul smelling homeless people. The homeless were everywhere in the library and they seemed to be having a not-taken-a-bath-in-the-last-x-days competition going on among them. A little research over the Internet revealed that the SF homeless feel very associated with the city library. The homeless have been attending the Library Commission meetings and have recommended keeping the library open for longer hours. [See here: http://sfpl.lib.ca.us/librarylocations/libcomm/minutes052003.htm]

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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