Sepoy in Chapati Mystery:
The early books of famed Urdu satirist Mustaq Ahmed Yousufi (b. 1922), Chiragh Talay (1961) and Khakam-e Badhan (1969), functioned in the college space for us in Lahore as cigarettes function in a prison camp – a currency, a momentary respite, a surge, and a day dream. We used to crack jokes from his oeuvre claiming them as they were uttered. He was not very well liked by my elders, however. They found him a poor replacement for the other satirists at play, Pitras Bukhari or Mustanssar Hussain Tarad or often Ibn-e Insha. Yet he was beloved by us near-adults as a rock star. Now a new translation from Urdu of Yousufi’s Aab-e Gum is coming out (by end May). Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad, the co-translators, have excerpted their translation earlier in Caravan India and Asymptote. They were both recipients of the 2012 PEN Translation grant for this project. At the occasion of this publication, I asked a few questions from Reeck & Ahmad. Enjoy:
Q. Who was Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi?
Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi is a humor and satire writer and a resident of Karachi, where he has lived since immigrating to Pakistan soon after Partition. How he will be remembered is still up for debate: while he was the top official at many major Pakistani banks, he is also one of the greatest living Pakistani writers. With more publicity for his works, he may last in the collective memory of literary audiences in South Asia and abroad for this latter skill—that of a writer.
Q. Why is it important to translate him into English?
His work is good. It deserves to be read by more people. That’s the simple answer. The more complicated answer involves how world literature operates, and how its restrictive canon needs to admit more writers from unrepresented areas and literatures, like Pakistan and Urdu, respectively. For inclusion in world literature canons, texts must be available in English, or another major European language, for these are the languages of arbitration in these canon formation processes.