Dislocutions: art and translation – Skeena

At the Surrey Art Gallery in 2011, i was happy to discuss aspects of my back and forth journey between two languages while writing Skeena. Here is an updated version of it.

frafique-jkvammen2011

Surrey Art Gallery
Dislocutions: a panel discussion on art and translation
October 15, 2011

It is a wonderful location for me to share my experience of writing a novel in two languages where striking and insightful expressions of art by Brendan Fernandes, Digital Natives, Soheila K. Esfahani, Mark Neufeld, Emilio Rojas, Tony Romano, Ming Wong and Dipna Horra are happening, and, here for this discussion we have artists Lorna Brown, Emilio Rojas and Jordan Strom. Thank you for having me.

I will read to you the very first thing that Skeena, the narrator, says to us to begin her story:
My name means different things in different languages. In Arabic, it is the ‘Spirit of Tranquility’ (Sakina), in Hebrew; the ‘Indwelling Feminine Face of Divinity’ (Shekhinah); and in the languages of Native Peoples, the ‘River of Mists’ (Skeena). At this time, I don’t favor one meaning over the other. They make a lot of sense together but if I met a people who associated this sound to a meaning that does not fit my scheme, I will have to pick and choose.

In my mind, with the delivery of its main themes, one of the ‘purposes’ of my novel Skeena was to communicate across cultures and languages. In 1991, when I began writing it in Toronto, I had been in Canada for five years and already I could feel the loss of language at different levels. I cannot say that I experienced loss of culture but I did experience the presence of barriers in seeing across cultures. Barriers were of assumptions and preconceived notions, some mine and some those of others, all coming out of the prejudiced systemic structures that rule both my worlds.

For me, there is no conflict in the fact that I simultaneously own as my homelands both Pakistan and Canada. Within it, I am a Punjabi woman of Muslim family origin from Pakistani side of South Asia who has by now lived in the East and the West Coast of Canada for twenty five years, and who considers Vancouver Lower Mainland her hometown alongwith Lahore. For me, my art must reflect and reveal my evolved identity, my physical locations, my combined cultures, and my deepest thoughts. The stories I am inspired to tell come from, and satisfy, my organic communities in both Canada and Pakistan.

The draft manuscript of Skeena, begun in Toronto in 1991 and completed here in Surrey in 2004, brought together my two languages for me when all its dialogue, about 80% of the whole, was expressed in both English and (roman) Punjabi. A realistic critical literary work of fiction, it required communicating across many cultures, the thoughts and lived realities of a young Muslim Punjabi Canadian woman. In evolving this format, there was my need to reflect/reproduce in English the feel/nuance of conversations taking place in Punjabi. It was most important to do that because dialogue is one of the major ways for the reader to get into a different culture, its stories and people; and, to form our own opinions as readers while we visit and become part of various situations in a novel.

Skeena provides a vibrant context to the lives of people living in different social and cultural environments where they may know some facts about each other but where lived experiences are so different that it is hard sometimes to communicate the meaning of words. The term ‘violence against women’, for example, may not give any clear idea to a person born and raised here in Canada about the extent of violence faced by Muslim women in Pakistan. The same term when used to illustrate the situation of women in present day Canada, may also provide misleading notions to a reader in South Asia. To me, these things cannot be told; they must be experienced. So, Skeena happens in the present, and is steeped in the culture/s of its characters.

As well, there was a desire to involve Punjabi Canadian youth, the second/third/fourth generation, by using a lay-person’s form of roman for Punjabi, similar to the written communication now carried out by Punjabis on facebook, twitter and in texting. It was also geared to overcome the Gurumukhi/Shahmukhi divide in the language, and by offering the dialogue in both Punjabi and English, I was hoping to create a story that could unobtrusively become a beautiful culture-sharing, language-learning tool.

In 2004, the first draft of the novel was complete. An engaging story that begins in Pakistan, ends in Canada; uses both English and Punjabi; and, is captivating in the projection of its themes and subject matter. I felt that the manuscript fulfilled all its purposes. But my editor felt otherwise. She said that it would be tedious for the reader to go through two languages at every dialogue, and, she said that I will be ‘ghettoizing’ my writing if I did not remove the Punjabi.

It took many months of thinking while I worked on my other two novels, to come to a point in 2005 where all Punjabi sentences were removed from English manuscript, and placed in a new file. At that point, I think, I heard an actual sigh of relief from the English manuscript as it was released from the repetitive burden of about 200 pages of Punjabi. Plus, I was overjoyed to see an 80% complete Punjabi manuscript, even when in roman. What an amazing bonus! Skeena gave me the gift of two novels when I was writing one, and my mother language gave me the third, Skeena’s Gurumukhi edition via script-conversion. But that happens a little later.

After Punjabi sentences were removed, numerous Punjabi/Urdu/Arabic/Persian words and terms remained in the 2005 manuscript because I thought the reader may like some flavour of languages without being stalled by them. I sent this manuscript to a couple of friends including one in California who went ahead to read over the phone, a couple of scenes from the second section, to a mutual friend in Pakistan who happened to be a writer, editor and publisher. Zubair Ahmad, who later edited the Punjabi ms of Skeena, was taken by the passages he heard over the phone, and invited me to come to Pakistan to translate it in Punjabi for publication. I left for Pakistan in early 2006.

Zubair Ahmad asked me an important question: which language did I use to ‘perceive/imagine’ the story. My thoughtful reply to him was ‘English’ since the novel was perceived, told and written in English. But that was half the truth because all dialogue by and among Punjabi characters was mind-developed in Punjabi, written in roman on the page, and then rendered in English.

In about six months of full time work, a Punjabi Shahmukhi manuscript was ready for publication. Daily I translated a few pages, and worked with the editor to finalize them. It was a powerful and learning experience for me in many different ways. First, the creative space that evolved between the Writer, the Editor, and the Publisher was conducive to both fine-ness and speed. The result was a satisfying manuscript that was then published by Sanjh Publications in Lahore in 2007. Second, something i never expected or knew that could happen though Zubair Ahmad had predicted it: After 1975-76 when I had adapted from English to Punjabi Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novelette ‘The Poor Folk’ for Pakistan Television, I had not had the chance to do any major work in Punjabi except for two incomplete novels and a couple of unpublished short stories. Now suddenly, during translating Skeena in Lahore, a fountain of Punjabi words and terms began to sprout in my mind, even words that I thought I never knew. With it, a whole lot of Punjabi poems began to surface. Some of them are part of my (out-of-print) chapbook ‘Passion Fruit/Tahnget Phal’ (Surrey 2011)*.

I returned to Canada in 2007, and began to work on the English manuscript referencing it with the published Punjabi version. The detail became clearer at every step. The English manuscript became freer of all kinds of weaknesses in expression, content and style. In Lahore, as I was converting dialogue from lay-roman to Shahmukhi script, and translating narrative from English to Punjabi, I had felt that all the remaining weaknesses/gaps, the things i call the ‘lies’ of a manuscript, in concept, style, structure or expression, were revealed to me (i remember wondering if it’ll at all be ‘practical’ to run this same ‘test of translation’ on my other two English novels). I found that it’s really hard to translate an unfamiliar action or concept from one language to another, and even harder to translate an unclear one. I have examples of both.

In the first section that takes place in a village in Pakistani Punjab, a character makes a common (in Punjab) gesture of seeking forgiveness from Allah where certain fingertips are placed on the tongue and then on the lower ear tips with the word ‘tauba’ meaning ‘forgiveness’. It took many agonizing attempts before I could come to this, with the help of my editor, i presume.
Allah Forgiveness!’ He touches his tongue with both his first finger tips, and then touches his ears with them’. 
But I was not happy with it because in Punjabi, it was effortless:
Allah Maafi!’ Oh unglaN de poTay jeebh te rakh ke kannaN noon laanday naiN’.
Later, back in Canada in 2007-08 when I was referencing the English manuscript with the published Punjabi version, the above English sentence also became better.
‘Allah Forgiveness!’ He places his fingertips on his tongue, and then touches his ears with them. (Skeena, Section 1, 17. Libros Libertad, Surrey 2011)

The second example is of another difficult point that benefitted from the act of translation. This is what I had in 2005 in a para, again from the first section, and with the same character:
SaeeN Jee is lying unconscious. His cheeks are blotched with surma kohl from his eyes, and his white and orange hair is sticky with sweat. But the scariest is his mouth with his dandasa-orange lips stretched over sparkling white teeth biting a light brown piece of wood.
However painful in English, it’s rendering in Punjabi flows perfectly. Later, still bumpy, it does become a bit better in English:
SayeeN Jee is unconscious. The run-down kohl from his eyes has blotched his cheeks, and his henna-coloured white and red hair is sticky with sweat. But the scariest is his mouth where his walnut-tree-barked orange lips are stretched around a jaw revealing sparkling white teeth over a brown horizontal piece of firewood. (Skeena, Section 1, 18. Libros Libertad, Surrey 2011)

The manuscript was accepted by a publisher in 2010, and the very first editorial ‘suggestion’ was to remove all non-English words. I expected it but there’s no harm in trying. I removed most of the words within a couple of days but even then so many remained. Several methods were applied; explaining the word in text, putting meaning beside it, coming up with an acceptable translation, and re-doing the sentence. It had to be done this way, and in stages, so that the manuscript did not get scratched or injured by the extraction or addition. I am grateful to its editors and publishers in Lahore, Surrey and Vancouver for their support in letting me find suitable solutions for each instance.

Going through the editing of the Gurumukhi version of Skeena with Editor/Author Surjeet Kalsey in 2010, I realized that there were a large number of Arabic/Urdu/Persian words that would be new or unclear to the Gurumukhi reader whose cultural reference is Sikhism with language influences coming from Hindi/Sansikrit. We did contemplate adding meaning of some words but the task seemed larger than the time available. Also, how some words are written differently in Shahmukhi, and, questions if they should be left as they are or changed to the prevalent Gurumukhi convention. May be these issues will be addressed when Skeena’s Gurmukhi edition actually publishes from India.

In poetry, i find that my voice changes from one language to the other. In Punjabi, it easily links to the folk, and the emotion; in English, it is a bit blunt, unwilling to express deep emotion. Mainly because, as I was saying to Jordan Strom, so far I have had many funerals in Punjabi but not many in English, so when a woman is stoned to death or buried alive, my experience of mourning and sadness will likely find expression in Punjabi, and my anger and outrage in English. This, I guess, somewhat has to do with the privilege of being a first generation immigrant who continues to own both my languages and all my chosen Pakistani Canadian cultural values.

My current projects include a translation of Madholal Hussain’s selected Punjabi poetry in English, and some of my favourite English poems to Punjabi.

Fauzia Rafique Surrey 2011
http://gandholi.wordpress.com/
http://www.facebook.com/fauzia.zohra.rafique
@RafiqueFauzia

Photo by Janet Kvamman 2011 (treated)
*Now in an upcoming collection of Punjabi poetry.
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Kishwar Naheed on ‘Skeena’

kishwar

When Skeena’s Punjabi edition was published by Sanjh Publications in Lahore in 2007, I was indeed curious to know what some people, including Kishwar Naheed, would think of it. For Islamabad launch, I offered her a copy. She looked at the cover, and an intriguing smile appeared on her face (she’ll read it, i thought). She said that she was about to travel abroad for a couple of weeks, so she’ll have time to read on the way over and back. Book launch in Islamabad was a month or so away.

Kishwar returned, and i spoke with her over the phone. She said nothing about Skeena.

On the day of the launch i arrived at the venue, and Kishwar was already there seated with Author Mansha Yaad (1937-2011).
Toon khufia book launch kerni paye ain? (Are you having a secret book launch?) Kishwar asked the moment she saw me.
‘Jee?’ I didn’t get it.
Shehr ch patta ee nahin kissay noon‘ (No one knows about it in the city).
I viewed my surroundings, there were about a dozen people ‘milling around’ in the upper portion of a restaurant, and i liked them all.
‘This is good enough for me’, i said.
Also, it was her city not mine, and she knew how Lahore Press Club had cancelled Skeena launch a day earlier, and how Academy of Letters in Islamabad had refrained from giving it space.
Patriarchy da lafz use keeta ae toon kidray kitab ch?’ (Did you use the word ‘patriarchy’ any where in the book?) She asked.
Certainly there was no attempt on my part to ban any words but it did not seem likely. It could not have been in Skeena’s vocabulary because the character was not projected to be as ‘politicized’ or ‘educated’. It was possible that the characters of Ruffo or Joyni or one of the ‘comrades’ may have used it, but i could not recall the instance.
‘No’, i shook my head.
‘I thought so’, Kishwar said.

Later, in her verbal presentation Kishwar gave us three thoughts about Skeena, each illuminating and each, for me, to be utterly grateful for.

Kishwar began by saying that she had read ‘Skeena’ thrice in the previous few weeks.
‘I read it three times: First, to become fluent in Punjabi (Kishwar’s mother tongue is Urdu, there aren’t many novels published in Punjabi, and so perhaps this was the first Punjabi novel she had actually read), the second time to understand it, and the third time to enjoy it’.

I need to take a pause here because this to me is about the most beautiful and gratifying compliment an author can get from any one; An author can get from another author; And, an author can get from Kishwar Naheed who is known to be a fierce and fearless critic of art and literature.

Then she said:
‘Skeena is a novel on patriarchy that never uses this word’.
What a wonderful thing to say about a novel! This one short sentence affirms that Skeena is not an extended pamphlet on Muslim women’s status or liberation or anything but a creative work going beyond slogans.

The third point was more detailed, and i don’t remember it all but it was something like this:
‘The telling of the story is deceptively simple. This simplicity of it’s expression is based in the profoundity of lived experience.’

It is amazing that each of Kishwar’s three points bring into focus the very things that are unique about Skeena: it’s readability (almost everyone i know has read it two or three times), artistic value and literary expression, and the depth of its simplicity.

Islamabad launch of Skeena was well-organized by Publisher Amjad Saleem, and beautifully presided over and coordinated by Professor/Poet Ali Arshad Mir (1951-2008). There were over 35 people, and it turned out to be a warm gathering with fiery discussions and a couple of walk-outs.

The first walk-out was the first presenter Ashfaq Salim Mirza, who had cast a macho-istic gaze on Skeena, and had offended many people who wanted to challenge his assertions. He left without giving anyone a chance to say anything.

The second walk-out occurred near the end when someone observed that the depiction of the Left in Skeena was less than exalted. At that, long time revolutionary activist Iqbal Singh got up, waved his copy of Skeena at me, and said in Punjabi:
‘I’ll go home and read it, and if there is anything damaging to the Left, i will come after you’, and then he left.
Without giving me the chance to tell him that the character Iqbal Singh is not just (in part) named after him, but that the character’s flip religious identity was inspired by him. From the early 70s I knew Iqbal Singh as ‘Sathi (comrade) Iqbal’ , and would often meet him in gatherings at Rawalpindi, Islamabad and Lahore, but it was in 1998 that i came to know that he was a Sikh when my friend Zafaryab Ahmad (1953-2006) took me to his home in Rawalpindi to meet with his family.
I was in Pakistan many months after that but Sathi Iqbal Singh did not come after me, guess he did not find anything incriminating enough.
A few years later, he moved on.

After the launch, when Kishwar left, a couple of learned friends including Ahmad Salim observed that they had never seen Kishwar so mellow, even tender, when talking about a literary work.
Skeena must be a lucky woman!

Fauzia Rafique
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One used copy of Skeena for $307.53

At Amazon, two used copies of ‘Skeena’ are each being offered for $307.53 + 3.99 shipping while on the same page the new copies of the same novel are still selling for the usual $20.

It was brought to our attention last night by Andrew John Gie, a Facebook user who was visiting Amazon to buy a new copy of Skeena. He contacted author Fauzia Rafique from Skeena’s Facebook page asking ‘Is there something else in the used copies we should know about?’

There’s contemplation around why a used copy of Skeena would be or could be (so much) more valuable than the new one. Another Facebook user Amjad Mahmood says: ‘The question is those books are used by whom? if by Princess Kate,than price is less.’ Abbas R. Kazmi likes it, and Skeena’s author Fauzia Rafique wonders if perhaps there’s money in used books.

For more information, view original post:
http://uddari.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/used-copies-of-skeena-selling-at-amazon-for-307-53/

‘Like’ Skeena on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/GETSKEENA

Update May 5 – Facebook
We have a more ‘realistic’ appraisal of a used copy of novel ‘Skeena': $19.99. New of course still at $20.

The Amazon page where last week two used copies of Skeena were selling at $307.53 each, now has three copies for sale, one still at over three hundred, and two at $19.99 each. Just one cent less than the new.

A part of it could be that the novel is not really available at many places, but it still is a strange and refreshing compliment to my work, and i think i need/ed it for sure. Here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/1926763122/ref=sr_1_1_up_1_main_olp?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335675797&sr=1-1&condition=used

Update May 17

Three used copies. Two at $19.99, one at 91.09!
Goings on with Skeena!
http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/1926763122/ref=sr_1_1_up_1_main_olp?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1335675797&sr=1-1&condition=used
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‘Expansive Emotive Well-paced and Realistic fictional work’ – Novel Skeena

South Asian Ensemble, a Peer-reviewed Canadian Quarterly of Arts, Literature and Culture has published a review on Skeena in Volumes 3/4 of Autumn 2011 and Winter 2012.

The book review is written by Shikha Kenneth, and it is published on pages 223-28. Kenneth acclaims Fauzia Rafique for ‘uniting various contemporary topics of interest and presenting them in the form of an expansive, emotive, well-paced and realistic fictional work’.

View complete text here:
http://uddari.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/capturing-the-essence-of-patriarchy-in-skeena-by-shikha-kenneth/

South Asian Ensemble
A Peer-reviewed Canadian Quarterly of Arts, Literature and Culture
Vol. 3, Number 4, Autumn 2011 &
Vol. 4, Number 1, Winter 2012
ISSN 1920-6763

Pages 223-28

For South Asian Ensemble
Contact
Editor Rajesh Kumar Sharma
sharajesh@gmail.com
http://kriticulture.blogspot.com
www.southasianensemble.com
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‘Writing for Social Change – Betsy Warland & Fauzia Rafiq’ by Susan Crean

Betsy Warland and Fauzia Rafiq were our featured writers in November, on back-to-back Sundays. They are both spirited feminists and activists, committed to a way of writing that reflects the real personal and political experience of women. So, as women and writers they have lived and worked close to the edge, challenging the norm; Betsy as lesbian, and Fauzia a non-practising Muslim.

I met both women in the eighties in Toronto, and so their visits to Kogawa House were opportunities to reread their work. It was delicious going back to Betsy’s early books, submerging myself in her exploration of words and meanings, her archaeological expeditions. Serpent (w)rites from 1987; Open is Broken in 1984. After a while I could see poetry in the Table of Contents. Nothing is in not considered in these texts; the visual composition of the poems matters, the bibliography matters. Here it is cast as prose, gathered in a single paragraph. Nothing is sacrosanct. Quotes from other books are used, and references to feminist theory and archival documents made. So, non-fiction poetry?

Then there is Bloodroot. A personal essay/memoir about her mother’s dying, it is at heart a meditation on how her mother dealt with homosexuality and in the end, as death approached, found a way around it to her daughter.

With Fauzia, it’s her short story “Birth of a Murder” I return to. About the stoning of a baby in front of a mosque in Karachi, that was published in This Magazine in 1989. Her 2007 novel Skeena might be taken for as a portrait of that baby’s mother, for it’s the universal story of Muslim women. In this case, the little village girl become student in Lahore, and then a wife in Toronto and at each stage finds her wings clipped, confined to the prison within the family. (At the end, though, it is the Surrey Police in the aftermath of 9/11 who put her under house arrest.)

The group at Betsy’s reading were full ideas and interjections, and asked about the changes over time in her work. Not just the forms, but the ideas and arguments. They expressed a delight in her reading, and I felt the same. It was as if Betsy had scored the passages she read. The repeated pauses, the drawing of breath.

When I introduced Fauzia to the gathering, she told us about the impact Obasan had on her when she read it shortly after arriving in Canada. In Joy’s novel about Japanese Internment during the War she saw tremendous harshness and suffering, yet there was a gentleness, a kind of peace underlying the telling. She admired that, and aspired to do something similar in her own fiction.

Much of the talk that afternoon revolved around language — Punjabi, Urdu, and English. Fauzia writes in all three, and she spoke about her voice differing in each. Several other writers joined in, Tariq Malik, Phinder Dulai, Ashok Bhargava, and Ajmir Rode included.

All of these writers have gotten behind a new initiative, Surrey Muse, which hosts monthly get-togethers at the Surrey Public Library with an open-mike and scheduled readers. “Interdisciplinary arts and literature presentations” which deliberately cross-over and invites intruders. It’s first meeting was on November 25th and I read along with Greek poet Manolis, and a very young and talented playwright, Sana Janjua, who read a passage from her play that had people in tears. The highlight of the evening was a young man who stumbled upon the meeting, and stayed to listen. He asked interesting questions, and before the evening was done, we’d ascertained he was a poet and pressed him to recite something. Which he did, in Ukrainian. (Manolis had also read in Greek.)

I believe the writing we value is writing which springs from necessity.” — Betsy Warland

Published on February 8th, 2012 at:
http://www.susancrean.ca/at-kogawa-house/writing-for-social-change-betsy-warland-fauzia-rafiq
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