Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sorrow of the Snows - Upendra Nath Ashk

Hasandin's life is in two 'avtars'. During the season, when tourists flocks the valleys of Kashmir, he works as a guide, renting his horses to the visitors and trekkers. During the off season, he is a simple peasant labourer.  He leads a normal life with his family and the horses , with an only intention of saving some money to afford a grand wedding of his son at the Shrine of Baba Pamdin, with whose help, he wife had borne him a son.  During season, he goes to the bus stand, with his three horses accompanied by his son and nephew, after offering the morning namaz, in anticipation of his clients and with a hope of making a a good fortune at the mercy of a generous customer . As expected in any such cases, he has to struggle his way through forces of evil and opposition within his own quarters. The fellow horse-laden guides who stoop to any tactics to win the customers, the police authorities whose only intent is to steal from the meager earnings of these poor guides, and the customers who refuse to pay the agreed sum under one pretext or other.

This tale of sorrow and pathos talks about one another such incident.  When he met Khanna Sahib at the bus stand and been selected to take him to Gulmarg, Khilanmarg, Afrabat and to the frozen lake of Al-Pathar, his heart was filed with joy, calculating the potential money he would make in the next couple of days from the wealthy tourist.  It did not take long to realise the true nature of his customer. Khanna Sahib, a shrewd businessman from Delhi, was all cunning and stingy. At the end of the eventful trip, he not only refuse to pay for the tour and service, but accused Hasandin of stealing his Camera, sending him into the Police Station, where he was asked to pay a large sum to secure his release.

A simple story of pathos in the common man where the nature, authorities, the clients and the colleagues adds to his daily struggle to live. Despite the initial hopes and anticipation, every thing in the end conspires against his poor , innocent existence. The only solace is in the hands of the almighty. Written in 1957, 'Pathar - al - Pathar', made Upendra Nath Ashk as one of the leading writers on Hindi Literature. His writing, with simple and elegant prose, the crisp characterisation, the background imagery of the place and history, the influence of the religious beliefs and the ability of the villager to submit to the Gods for all his fortunes are very typical of the Indian writers. As we experienced in the writings of the post independent literature, this too reflects the exploitation, the inequality, the inefficiency of the systems to provide justice to the masses of the nation, through a passionate, yet detached, powerful  narration.

Upendranath Ashk, a controversial figure in Indian Literature, had written numerous books in Hindi as well as Urdu. Many of his books are available in translation. This too a part satirical , part anecdotal narrative with sly humour ( hard hitting, but does not make one laugh or smile as the drama that unfolds in pathos) reflects his ability to bring the nuances of the daily life. The religion sans politics plays a key role here. The shrine of Baba, an abode for downloading all his sorrows, a guiding force whom he trust to be his savior ( despite the cunning methods of the caretakers to loot the visitors),  Baba's popularity among believers of all faiths, reflects the strengths of the social harmony that existed once in the valley, before the trouble erupted.

Translation was effective, but not without blemishes. Many a places, the unevenness was felt while reading. Thinking in Hindi and translating from Hindi to English (  as against thinking in English - or the target language - and translating as English from Hindi ) , a common handicap I see in any translation from Indian Language to English is rampant in this translation too. It is difficult to preserve the lyrical and structural beauty of Urdu and Hindi sentences to English, without loosing some of those fragrance, and that was evident in this case as well. However, any attempt to bring the Indian Literature to a wider audience is a laudable effort.
Sorrow of the Snows ( 1957)

Upendra Nath Ashk ( translated from Hindi by Jai Ratan)

Harper Perenniel 

133 Pages
Taylor & Francis (not free)


Sabu Hariharan said...


Sabu Hariharan said...


SteepedinLove said...

I am just finding your blog and love it! Pretty please come out and share some more. I love a good book! :)