Qurratulain Hyder, in The Hindu

Via Soniah Kamal at Desilit, I followed a link to a review of a newly translated Qurratulain Hyder novel called My Temples, Too. It was first published in 1949. The reviewer in The Hindu does something a little odd in this review, namely quote herself. Here is an exemplary opening paragraph:

It is in this context that My Temples, Too (Mere Bhi Sanamkhane, 1949) is an important literary event. Hyder, described as the grand dame of Urdu literature, has been credited with refining the form of the novel in a poetry-obsessed Urdu and has been compared to literary icon Gabriel Garcia Marquez for the epic historical sweep of her magnum opus Aag Ka Dariya [Rivers of Fire] (published 1959, translated as River of Fire in 1999 by Kali for Women). Born in Aligarh in UP in 1927, Hyder came from a family of intellectuals and was educated at Lucknow's Isabella Thoburn University, going on to a stint in London as a young sari-clad reporter for Fleet Street, before emigrating to Pakistan to join her family. She returned to India in 1962 and now lives and works in Noida, Delhi. Her novels and short stories are arresting for their complex examination of the cultural inextricability of the Hindu and Muslim cultures in terms of literature, poetry and music, and the forces of history like Colonisation, Independence and Partition as well as and sociological movements like abolition of Zamindari [serfdom], and their conflicts with the flow of individual lives. Here, Hyder differs in her themes from feminist writers like Ismat Chugtai in that the feminist impulse is but one separate strand that is subsumed in the broader sweep of history, and also from the progressive writers group of Manto, Bedi, Bhisham Sahni and Chugtai in her refusal to stay leftist and her nostalgia for the aristocratic zamindari life.

Except for the syntactical error in one sentence ("as well as and sociological"), this is a decent opening paragraph -- at once informative and rhetorically punchy. Hyder is contrasted both to the earlier, Romantic school in Urdu poetry, and to the more narrowly focused feminism of Ismat Chughtai. It's a nice way to position what she does, and seems pretty accurate (though I haven't read enough of Chughtai's works to say for sure whether the assessment of Chughtai's feminism is fair).

But what's sort of surreal is the way the reviewer (Sonya Dutta Choudhry) reprises her own language in the opening paragraph in the final paragraph, putting the repeated phrase in quotation marks:

My Temples, Too is a powerful story, told in an idiom that is distinctively Hyder's, in its syncretic fusion of an innately Indian "centuries of Hindu-Muslim cultural inextricability" style, which simultaneously takes cognizance of western thought and ideas.

To quote myself from above, "The reviewer in The Hindu does something a little odd in this review, namely quote herself," when she refers to "centuries of Hindu-Muslim cultural inextricability," twice.


Kerim Friedman said...

Feeling a little iterable today?

coolie said...

I only have a bare knowledge and reading of Urdu literature, but it seems that in a certain way the Independance period was a bit of a Golden Age for Urdu with writers like Manto, Bedi, Bhisham Sahni and Chugtai, as well as poets like Faiz. Think about the religious and ethnic diversity of the writers, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu, each one writing in different modes, Manto's black comic short stories, Bedi's realism, Chugtai's secular leftist nationalism, all these writers creating all this literature that was diverse in influence and effect, contesting, competing, pulling in different directions, representing diverse life from all the different communities. I dont know what the Urdu scene is like these days, but I dont imagine the novel is in as good a shape as it was then. Perhaps partition dealt it a real blow. Back then, with Bedi and others, it simply was not seen as a singularly 'Muslim' language. And today, in Pakistan, younger novelists are writing in English rather than Urdu. Anyway, good link, I would be interested in reading more of her work.

Anonymous said...

though i haven't read this novel by hyder, but i always wonder at the way she translates her fiction, leaving so much between the two texts. while writing a review, i think one should also take care of the way she translates her own text. the review looks good if we only concentrate at the main themes of hyder .