1927 - Aligarh, India
2007 - Noida, India
In August I will for the second year participate in Women in Transition Month, began six years ago as a book blog event. It is now observed by publishers and book stores all over the world along with book bloggers. Without meaning to, over my ten years of blogging I have very happily read and posted on probably hundreds of short stories by women which have been translated into English. Where possible I will focus on stories that can be read online,as can today’s story.
In 2018 I did not participate, Here are my concluding remarks for Women in Translation 2017
"I ended up reading works from nine different Indian languages, two in languages spoken in Uganda, three works by contemporary Japanese writers, one of my great literary loves. I read two stories focusing on same sex relationships, one in Italy, one in Croatia. I read two works by authors from Poland, the great Clarice Lispector represented the Portuguese language. Additionally I read stories by authors from Finland, one of two Science Fiction stories, one about an Indonesian household helper in Hong Kong. I traveled through rural Argentina up into Paraguay with Marianna Enriquez. Goli Taraghi, from Iran and translated from Persian, will join my read all I can list. She left Tehran in 1980. Her work and her life history reminds me a bit of Mavis Gallant. Kundanika Kundanika's "Red Glow of the New Moon" is as beautiful and moving s story of the Reading Life as i have ever read.
All of these stories together take up at most 600 pages. I read each one at least twice, I researched the background of the authors and in some cases the language in which they originally wrote. Often reading one of these stories closely enough to let it sink into my consciousness was all I could read in a day.”
I hope this year to post on several short stories by translated from Urdu short stories by women.
(Urdu is a living language which, according to estimates, is spoken by close to 100 million people around the world. It is the official language of Pakistan, a status which it shares with English. It is also spoken and understood in parts of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, the Middle East, and many other countries around the world where Pakistani communities have settled.
The Urdu community in the UK numbers about four hundred thousand speakers.- from the BBC)
Qurratulain Hyder’s River of Fire is considered by all the greatest work of the modern Urdu novel. A few days ago several of those I follow on Twittef highly recommended this novel, chronicling twenty five hundred years of life in India. I added this book to my Amazon wish list. Based on his wonderful today's short "Beyond the Fog" was I will hopefully read it soon.
Beyond the Fog begins in a rooming house in Moussourie, in the Uttarakhand district of India, where Urdu is the main language. The rooming house is owned by an English woman:
"Hers is a second-class “Europeans Only” facility where run-of-the-mill English, poor white missionaries, or fair-skinned Eurasians come to stay. With her keen, hawk-like sight, Miss Richmond can immediately see who has what percentage of English blood. If an Anglo-Indian with even the slightest trace of sallow shows up, she has Katto tell him that all the rooms are taken".
Katto, from the area, has worked for her for a long time.
Every day a poor man, Fazi Masih, who looks like an unemployed sweeper, a Dalit occupation, stays on a bridge holding a young blond girl. He is Katto's older brother. The father was a drummer in the British army, a private, staying in the house for a while. When he is called back to India he says he is not much of a writer but he will try to correspond. After he leaves Miss Richmind she tells everyone he was a Colonel in the British Army.
I love these lines, I can hear Miss Richmond in them:
"Miss Richmond also indulged in absurd fancies and theatrics now. And very much like her kind, ordinary middle-class English ladies, she was a perfect snob. She cooked up quite a story about the little girl to tell to the erstwhile residents of the guesthouse. “Her father, Colonel Arthur Bolton, was lost in action on the Berlin front. Poor Arthur . . . ” she would say heaving a deep sigh while serving a guest their breakfast. “Poor Arthur was my first cousin. Before coming to India he married the daughter of some Irish lord. Both of them were stationed at the Peshawar garrison. Soon after Arthur left for the front, poor Bridget died giving birth to the girl in the military hospital. Arthur had given my address as ‘next of kin’ so the Red Cross sent the girl to me"
She accepts the child and takes care of her. Time goes on and they never hear from Arthur Balton. Catherine at 15 has grown into a besuty. Following the advice of a guest from Australia who tells her a girl of mixed blood will not find a decent husband in India, they relocate to Sydney, the guest house bring sold.
Catherine becomes very beautiful with lots of boyfriends. By the time Catherine turns 18, Miss Richmond dies.
Hyder comprsses so much about post colonial S. E. Asia. Catherine goes through a lot, from being a movie actress in Singapore, a high class prostitute in Hong Kong until she marries a forty year old man of Dutch and Indonesia ancestry. She assumes a Muslim names when they move to Jakarta. So much happens, the man robs her of her jewelery and leaves. She becomes an fashion model and would you believe there is a brief article about her father being Colonel Bolton and her mother an India woman from Moussourie. It says she has moved back home. It gets published in a London magazine and Arthur Bolton sees it.
The ending brings us full circle. I really enjoyed this story, twenty years, several cultures and countries in a few delightful pages.
The story made me think of Candide.
Qurratulain Hyder (1928–2007) was one of the leading writers of Urdu fiction in India. A prose stylist of rare accomplishment, she wrote in both Urdu and English, and her books have been translated into all Indian languages. She was awarded the Bharatiya Gnapinth, India’s highest literary award, in 1989. New Directions Press