What this translation means

On Daljit Ami’s translation of Amandeep Sandhu’s novel Roll of Honour

By Rajesh Sharma 

There are books with souls and there are books without souls. Amandeep Sandhu’s Roll of Honour is a book with a soul.
What impregnates a book with a soul is the writer’s capacity to undergo the baptism of truth. To bear witness. To submit to the knowing that truth entails. The novel bears out that those who side with truth take no sides. Sandhu tells a very Punjabi story without succumbing to the baneful provincialism of today’s decadent cultural production.
Ami’s decision to translate the novel’s title as Gawah de Phanah Hon ton Pahilan (Before the Witness Ceases to Be) could only have been made because he was able to peer into the novel’s soul. And that happened because the ways of the two witnesses, Ami and Sandhu, crossed. Ami saw himself in the novel, saw his own life, saw his own experience of history. As a historian and documentarist reading and translating a novel, he demonstrates a felt grasp of Sandhu’s profound sense of the way history enfolds us even as we carry history.  In fact, Ami’s ‘form’ of the novel—as he describes the translation—has a longer timeline: it incorporates events that happened after the novel was published in 2012. The reason they are incorporated is that they belong to the same body of signification. History is a luxury—and a potential IED—if we refuse to identify and recognize it in the present.
Sandhu is very happy with the translation. He even asks, ‘Which is better, the English or the Punjabi?’
It is a rare acknowledgement of the quality of the translation: the large-hearted man that he is, Sandhu probably feels he wrote a Punjabi novel in English which has been ‘brought home’ (as he says) into Punjabi by Ami. Perhaps he wrote two novels, one actual, the other potential. And the potential has now found incarnation in Ami’s rendering.
Postcolonialism’s ghosts are hovering.
Borges would probably sniff a plot here:  Once upon a time there was a translation which preceded the original…
But would Sandhu allow the same latitude to another translator? From another language or continent? From another history?
There will, perhaps, never be a final word on this unprecedented experiment in literary translation. One thing, however, is clear: the novelist’s magnanimity and the translator’s courage had to meet for this miracle to happen.


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