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‘Tears of the Begums’ needed to be told: Rana Safvi

Culture‘Tears of the Begums’ needed to be told: Rana Safvi

In this interview, Rana Safvi talks about her sessions at the 2023 Jaipur Literature Festival, what got her interested in the English translation of Tears of the Begums and her approach to translation.

Acclaimed author, historian, and translator Rana Safvi is returning to the Jaipur Literature Festival this year with the long-awaited English translation of Khwaja Hasan Nizami’s epic work ‘Begumat Kay Ansoo: Dehli Kay Afsanay,’ which has been translated by her as ‘Tears of the Begums, Stories of Survivors of the Uprising of 1857.’ The book, which collates stories from the aftermath of the uprising of 1857, includes twenty-nine devastating accounts of the newly dethroned royals in their search for safety and survival after Bahadur Shah Zafar’s departure from the Red Fort, and the ruin of the Mughal Empire. Safvi will also be in conversation with Moin Mir whose latest offering ‘The Lost Fragrance of Infinity,’ is essentially a story of love, friendship and the celebration of the diversity of people and ideas.
In this interview, Rana Safvi talks about her sessions at the 2023 Jaipur Literature Festival, what got her interested in the English translation of Tears of the Begums, her approach to translation, among other things.
Q. What can we expect from you this time at the Jaipur Literature Festival?
A. I have two sessions in the Jaipur Litfest this time.
One is on ‘Tears of the Begums’ wherein I will be in conversation with Vidya Shah and I am really looking forward to that.
And the second one is a session that I am moderating with Moin Mir on his book’ The Lost Fragrance of Infinity.’ It’s always such a pleasure to talk to him and so I am looking forward to that as well.
And apart from that I hope to meet wonderful people. The Jaipur Literature Festival always has such a buzz to it. So it’s a great pleasure to interact with like-minded people there: be it authors, editors, Instagrammers, and fans of the writers.
Q. Tell us about Tears of the Begums. What got you interested in the English translation of the book?
A. During the pandemic when I could not travel for a book that I was working on I decided to spend that time on the translation of ‘Tears of the Begums.’
The fact that it’s the hundredth year of the book made it that more important. This is the book that was written in 1921-22. And till 1942 it had gone into thirteen reprints, translated into many regional languages but never in English. So I thought it would be a tribute to Khwaja Hasan Nizami to translate it into English on the occasion of its 100th year. Also, this is a story that needed to be told because we don’t know the lives of the Mughals after the fall of Delhi. We only know what happened to Bahadur Shah Zafar that he was exiled to Rangoon but we don’t know what happened to the rest of the people. There were 3000 people living inside the Fort. So this is their story and it is a very, very heartbreaking and tragic story.
Q. How do you look at the role of translator vis-à-vis the author? What according to you are the biggest challenges faced by the translator?
A. When I am writing as an author I have full liberty to write whatever I want: like take the story in whatever direction, give it whatever nuance, put in my opinion, everything. But when I am translating I have to be very faithful to the intent of the original author. So here I cannot take any liberties and the way I translate like sometimes there are a few Urdu words for which there is no English equivalent. So I provide the Urdu word only and in the footnote I actually describe what it means as otherwise if use a phrase or a sentence to describe one particular word then the flow of the story would be lost. That’s how I do it and it works well because people have appreciated it. It is not easy to translate from one language to another however proficient you may be in both the languages. You also have to understand the nuances and the culture of the original language.
Q. You will also be in conversation with Moin Mir about his latest historical novel, ‘The Lost Fragrance of Infinity.’ How do you look at his book and what can we expect from the conversation?
A. I will be talking to Moin Mir about the process of his writing the book. It’s quite similar to how I do it. He has also traveled to all the places he has written about, which is something that I also do. And, ‘The Lost Fragrance of Infinity’ is a gem of a book with the journey of a young 18th century craftsman named Qaraar Ali through many stages and many countries and how the weaving of the mystical angle of the journey takes place I think that’s very important. That’s what I will mainly be focusing upon.
Q. How do you look at the importance of the Jaipur Literature Festival? What makes it different from other such festivals?
A. Jaipur Litfest is such a fantastic festival. I look forward to going to it. It’s such a huge festival, the largest of course in the world. And apart from that the hospitality is very good. You meet so many people across genres as far as writing goes. And I love interacting with the Instagrammers and the young students and the fans who come there. It’s just fantastic.
Q. Tell us about your upcoming projects.
A. Right now I am taking a break. I will only go back to writing late this year or early next year. And most probably it would be a translation.

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