Sufi Taj Gopang: A trendsetter, translator of Siraiki literature

Review of the book, ‘Qisa Karan Sut Patha’ by Sufi Taj Gopang

The colonial interest in what was later identified as the Siraiki language generally became documented because of the colonizers’ interest in converting local people and attracting them towards religion. This objective was achieved through the colonialist agenda of planning translations of the Bible in the nineteenth-century, compiling glossaries, and conducting linguistic surveys by officials posted in the region identified as ‘Siraiki’ region and tagged as South Punjab today.

At a deeper level, the discourse of translation became part of British efforts of ‘improvement’ through introduction of western style of education as a political strategy which made the natives think that they needed this ‘improvement’ in order to attach themselves to the colonial regime. In a way, translation also turned into a way of reconstructing the Indian history. In this context, translation turned into a discourse related to conflicting interests of the colonizer and colonized when something went missing or mistranslated.

The effort of translating the local texts on the one hand turned English into the language of command while also undermining the status of local languages. At this stage, the languages identified by colonizers were just dialects and included ‘jatki’, ‘jagdali’, ‘derawai’, ‘southern Lahnda’, ‘Multani’, ‘Bahawalpuri’, ‘Riasti’ etc. I identify these various dialects as ‘proto-Siraiki’. The term ‘Siraiki’ is a postcolonial development and constitutes all these dialects identified by the colonizers.

My point is that the status of a language becomes marginalized if it is regarded as a dialect and not a language. This evidently reflects through prosperity of languages identified by colonizers which were endorsed by them in the print media and publications (for example, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, and Sindhi). In some ways, the colonizers imposed their language on the natives to create their dominion but destroyed a way of life by not giving their languages a certain status.

For this reason, some critics approach translation as colonizing the source culture. The impact of colonial research on Siraiki resistance and primarily, the understanding of the discourse of translation can therefore be used to understand repercussions of this interaction. In this context, the translation of Siraiki literature into English or efforts of Siraiki translators to translate from various languages into Siraiki can also be observed as a subversive discourse or a symbol of resisting the dominating languages such as English as a symbol of colonization.

Saen Taj Gopang’s efforts of translation reflect the same effort of resisting the colonial impact of English language. This can be the best explained through Ashok Berry’s argument that there is a two way process going on in translations despite imbalance of powers (colonial/colonised). ‘The translated are translating even as they are being translated.’ The translations carried out on the colonized does not occur in a smooth or unproblematic way: one is resistance (active or passive) e.g. the failure of Christian missionary work in India.

One of the purposes of the present discussion is also to explore how regional discourses that resist Pakistan’s official narratives are not only expressed in the political realm but also through literary and cultural activities. In the recent years, publications of translated anthologies are another significant example of creating such subversive and cultural discourses and I see Saen Gopang’s efforts of translating from Punjabi to Siraiki in the same context. The act of translating local works into English or the efforts of translating various literatures into Siraiki turn into a discourse of resisting borders and carrying local literature across the borders.

Commenting on the complexity of the discourse of translation, Ashok Berry writes: ‘The cultures that are being translated modify and adapt the versions of their translated selves that are offered to them. In this way, translation can extend the resources available to a society and enable it to find new ways of dealing with or representing their own and other cultures, while at the same time, resisting the simple imposition of the other culture, which is, as I said earlier, being filtered through their linguistic and cultural apparatus.’

While previously, Siraiki poetry by the local mystic poet, Khwaja Ghulam Farid (1845-1901) and many other contemporary poets (e.g. Riffat Abbas, Aslam Javeed, Safeer Lashari, Shakir Shujaabadi) were being translated into other languages in South Punjab. Recently, poetry from other languages is also being translated into Siriaki language as exemplified in Saen Gopang’s work. His recently-published anthology,  Sadeen Such Alaya (Jhoke, 2013) is an effort made by Siraiki writer and political activist, Sufi Taj Gopang. This book is a classic example of his commitment towards his mother language and mother culture. His translations include not only national poems from various languages but also international works.

This includes translations of selected works by Tagore, Shakespeare, minority writers, extracts from Ramayana and socialist, Marxists and poets of modern and postmodern thought. This book is a reflection of his political and intellectual consciousness and deliberate efforts of using translation as a means of resisting various linguistic and political pressures that surround him as an intellectual and a writer. If writing in one’s mother language is a symbol of resistance, then translating literature into another language is resistance too; the translator is breaking certain rules and regulations of the original language and as a matter of fact, crossing as well as resisting the boundaries between languages and cultures.

In the past, Farid was observed as an inspiration for contemporary Siraiki writers. However, Gopang exemplifies that more than Farid’s influence, contemporary Siraiki writers are inspired by their identity, dominantly symbolized through their language and culture. For this reason, translating world literature into English becomes crucially important for him. Through this book, Gopang intends to introduce Siraiki people to a broader perspective of life offered through world literature, which might not be approachable for them as they do not have the opportunities to learn other languages.

For this reason, he selects best poets from all over the world and translates their important works into Siraiki. The choice of poetic genre is also important because he identifies the significance of this literary expression within the Siriaki culture and understands it will attract more local audience. Most importantly, the present collection includes translation from Punjabi to Siraiki ending one more interesting debate that Siraiki is a dialect of any language (such as Punjabi or Sindhi). It clearly proves that Siraiki and Punjabi are two separate languages and reflect two separate identities and cultures.

As a Siraiki political activist and writer who has an in-depth knowledge of Siraiki language and culture, Gopang Saen’s work deserves remarkable consideration and sets a trend in Siraiki literary scene. Before becoming active political activist involved in Siraiki movement, Gopang has also been involved in Siraiki literary organization named, ‘Lok Sanjh’ and ‘Siraiki Thinkers Forum’. He has played a significant role in influencing youth and promoting Siraiki political ideology and philosophy. I hope this work will also inspire youth and spread his love for his mother language and motherland across Siraikivusaib.


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