Savage Harvest – Stories of Partition
By Manpriya Singh
Bureaucrat and author Navtej Sarna has a gift of words. This time around, it is an English translation of Punjabi stories based on Partition…
It couldn’t have been an easy switch after shuttling the landscapes of Geneva, Shimla, Paris, Delhi and Bombay in Winter Evenings to getting down to recounting the harrowing experience of 1947.
With his latest offering, Navtej Sarna decides to revisit the horrors of Partition. In Chandigarh, for an interaction on his translation work, he comes with his earlier works that shift effortlessly from fiction to translation. Books that span as wide a spectrum of genres as the places he’s served as an Indian diplomat; Moscow, Warsaw, Thimpu, Geneva, Tehran and Washington.
The focus shifts to the one lying on top of the table: Savage Harvest: Stories of Partition; translation from Punjabi to English of his father Mohinder Singh Sarna’s work. "Most of my father’s works are based on Partition, but these are the thirty stories written by him that are specifically based on Partition."
Even though the selection was already done by him before he passed away, the challenge of reproducing the essence of the original remained. He shares, "Most of these works have been written in very literary Punjabi with a strong influence of words then used in Rawalpindi." It was a challenge to recreate the accounts from a language that might still not be in use even in Pakistan.
Even though the difference in language was the difficult part, "I tried to be as true as possible to the works." He adds, "There is only so much of liberty as you can take, they are someone else’s works." The fact that he had grown up with the stories ensured that it was, "not only my desire to translate these works but also duty." Some of the stories: "I’d done earlier but it took me close to a year."
The collection eternalises the moments of survival and victory of humans spirit during the sea of violence in North India. "There is particularly this last story Defender of Humanity, which is very close to me. In all the stories, the hero or heroine is the humanity." He adds, "Despite the barbarism, there were some people that kept humanity alive."
Partition — a subject that despite cinematic portrayals is yet to receive its due. "Unfortunately, not enough has been written on the subject in terms of fiction," he rues.
It is time to graduate the conversation to some of his past works and future plans. Cinematic adaptations bring us back to his work on Maharaja Duleep Singh. He shares, "The Exile is ready-made work for a film. Shyam Benegal had written to me saying the same but I’m yet to explore that option. Even though it is completely meant for the cinema it has to be a big film; it has to be a period film."
Coming up is a book on the Indian connection to Jerusalem. "Indian travellers have been visiting Jerusalem since the time Baba Farid went there…a lot of Sufis used to go to this place." Four years as an Indian ambassador to Israel ensured that there was no dearth of research on the subject. "It is history told as a personal narrative, in which I’ve managed to steer clear of current politics." He’s all set to take us again to Jerusalem.
Courtesy of www.tribuneindia.com