Saturday July 13, 2024

The lost gems of Sindh: Part - II

By Dr Naazir Mahmood
December 10, 2023

My introduction to Wali Ram Vallabh was both personal and through his writing. He was the father of my friends Kamleshwar and Pushpa – both doctors in different fields, and I had also read his short stories and translations of Hindi and world literature. I had met Dr. Pushpa through her husband Dr Murlidhar (no relation with Dr. Murlidhar Jetley though).

Dr Murlidhar works with Dr Adeeb Rizvi at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplant (SIUT) and is one of the most dedicated doctors I have ever met. So Wali Ram Vallabh was also the proud father and father-in-law of three doctors in his family. But his main contribution came from his consistent devotion to Sindhi language and literature throughout his creative life.

Visitors walk through the UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site of Mohenjo Daro in Sindh. — AFP
Visitors walk through the UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site of Mohenjo Daro in Sindh. — AFP

Unlike Dr Murlidhar Jetley who had to migrate from Hyderabad to India, Wali Ram was relatively safe in his hometown Mithi, Tharparkar, where he received his school education.

Wali Ram occasionally recalled some of his best teachers in Mithi who inculcated in him a desire to learn and write, grooming him as an open-minded and secular human being who did not indulge in any parochial practices. His teachers included both Hindus and Muslims such as Balkrishan, Anand Ram, Poonam Goswami, Ali Muhammad Junejo, and Ziaul Haq Chaudhry.

Wali Ram also mentioned his teacher Ziaul Haq Chaudhry at Government High School Mithi, where he used to introduce himself as Om Prakash. When the children expressed their surprise he said that Ziaul Haq and Om Prakash had similar meanings: Zia is light – or Prakash in Hindi – and Haq means rightness, which is Om for Hindus.

Wali Ram moved to Hyderabad to do his BA and then MA in Urdu. That degree helped him gain insights into Urdu language and literature and stood him in good stead when he started translating from English and Sindhi into Urdu and vice versa.

That was the time when Murlidhar Jetley in India obtained his PhD and Wali Ram also continued his education by first doing an LLB and then enrolling for another MA in sociology that he completed in 1970. To earn his living, he had to work for the forest department but he did not allow that mundane job to interfere with his sublime work of literary significance.

He gathered a vast collection of books and immersed himself in the world of history and literature. From his younger days, Wali Ram was keenly interested in literature from around the world and started translating novels and short stories mostly for Sindhi readers.

With his wide exposure to both poetry and prose, it was quite natural that he could translate both with equal ease in Sindhi and Urdu. He was good friends with another great Sindhi writer Imdad Hussaini whose quarterly magazine ‘Mehran’ published many of the translations that Wali Ram Vallabh did in his initial years.

The Sindhi Adabi Board (SAB) has published many of his translations. One of the books that I have in my collection is ‘Pardehi Kahaniyun’ (Foreign Stories) which the SAB published in 2011. It presents the Sindhi translations of 58 stories from writers such as Pearl S Buck, O’Henry, John Galsworthy, Graham Green, James Joyce, Guy de Maupassant, and Albert Camus. But the largest number of translations are from Franz Kafka and Anton Chekhov. Wali Ram did a great service by translating hundreds of stories of the best writers from around the world into Sindhi.

Another of his translated collections in my personal library is ‘Mithra Bhaau’ (Sweet Brother) which Kavita Publications brought out in 2007. It is a collection of short stories from several languages of the Far East, Middle East, and Subcontinent. These stories from Armenia, Assam, and Bengal to Indonesia and Iran present an interesting motley of world literature that would have remained out of the reach of Sindhi readers had Wali Ram not translated them. Two Urdu stories by Krishan Chandar and his wife Salma Siddiqui and one story by Rabindranath Tagore also appear in the same collection.

The most interesting aspect of his literary interests was his deep study of Arabic and Japanese literature which normally do not attract much attention, perhaps because our readers find European and American literature easily available. Vallabh’s translations of Japanese writers Akutagawa and Kawabata are amazingly beautiful.

Akutagawa lived a short life of just 35 years at the beginning of the 20th century but managed to pen some of the best stories in the Japanese language. Kawabata lived much longer and became the first Japanese Nobel Prize laureate in literature.

Wali Ram also translated some Chinese dramas into Sindhi. Amrita Pritam’s Hindi novels and Quratulain Hyder’s Urdu novels and stories were his lifelong passion and he kept returning to them every now and then. Hyder’s ‘Sita Haran’ and ‘Aakhir-e-Shab ke Humsafar’ are classics of Urdu literature, and Wali Ram did full justice in translating them for a wider readership in Sindhi.

Coming to his poetry translation, I must mention two of his collections: ‘Kavita Phulwari’ (The Garden of Poetry) by Kavita Publications published in 2006, and ‘Morchhal’ (a fan made of peacock feathers) by My Publications in 2016.

Asif Farrukhi wrote a detailed introduction to ‘Kavita Phulwari’ praising the literary genius of Vallabh who was also a good friend of Farrukhi. In this collection, Wali Ram translated some English poems of Indian writers that are not well-known in Pakistan.

His love for progressive writers is noticeable in his selections of poetry. He translated the work of Garcia Lorca, Mahmoud Darwish, Nazim Hikmet, and Pablo Neruda. Perhaps Vallabh was the first Sindhi writer to translate the compositions of these poets into Sindhi. From the Urdu poets, Vallabh selected Zeeshan Sahil, Sarwat Hussain, Asghar Nadeem Sayed, and others.

Among the Russian poets Anna Akhmatova, Boris Pasternak, and Mayakovski were his favorites, and from Persian – of course, Forough Farrokhzad. ‘Morchhal’ is a cornucopia of some of the best poetry in India. From Assamese, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Konkani, Malayalam, and Marathi to Rajasthani, Tamil, and Odia or Uriya (spoken in Odisha), Vallabh’s selection is marvelous.

In addition to translating prose and poetry, Wali Ram Vallabh wrote poems and stories that Ajmal Kamal and Asif Farrukhi have translated into Urdu. One of his stories ‘Malbay ka Malik’ (owner of the rubble) is my favourite. In this story, Wali Ram depicts the post-Partition days in the early 1950s when a Muslim old man Ghani from Lahore goes back to his hometown Amritsar.

During the violence of 1947, Ghani tried to persuade his son and daughter-in-law to leave but they refused as they had full confidence in their Sikh neighbors. A local wrestler killed them and burnt the house down. After seven years when Ghani visits Amritsar, he finds the rubble of his house still around and meets the wrestler without knowing that he was the murderer.

Another short story is ‘Focus se Bahar Zindagi’ (Out-of-focus life) which tells us about an underprivileged woman who had many hopes for her eldest daughter Zeno. She was a brilliant student and wanted to do so much in life but then she disappeared and the mother was now in deep pain and sorrow. The story is a moving description of a helpless mother who looks like an old woman in her 30s.

Murlidhar Jetley and Wali Ram Vallabh were the shining stars of Sindhi language and literature. They contributed immensely with their tireless literary and linguistic efforts. These writers opened new horizons for younger generations and left a lasting legacy with their impressive body of work.

The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK. He tweets/posts @NaazirMahmood and can be reached at: