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Bram Stoker's Dracula In Punjabi


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Bram Stoker's Dracula - in Punjabi

Dracula is a very famous 1897 novel, which has inspired countless films in the last century, and come to define the blood sucking demon with all its characteristics. It is also apt that it has been chosen amongst the few western novels translated into our mother tongue.

Punjabi is a beautiful language, which has at the root of its soul spiritualism seen in Sufi literature, old Vedic works, and most recently, many passages and pearls of wisdom in the Guru Granth Sahib. It was a language that never shied away from critizing the state, its own society and the foibles of fundamentalism.
This is strongly seen in the verses of Guru Nanak and Baba Farid, for example.

Yet over the last few decades, we have placed this language as second to English or Urdu or Hindi. Much literature that has been produced has been pendu navel gazing, which does not excite the modern youth of India or Pakistan. In India, at least, Punjabi literature has carried on being produced, whereas as in the greater Punjab in Pakistan, it is almost extinct.

Almost exclusively, the best books are now only produced in Gurmukhi script, which while clearly associated with Sikhs, does not render the language exclusive to all other Punjabis. In fact most of the literature in the Guru Granth is not Punjabi. It just happens to be in Gurmukhi. Of course this means that in theory Punjabi should be very important to the lives of the Sikhs.

In the modern era, youth is either drifting away completely from literature in their mother tongue, because nothing of interest has been produced in the same, or they are focusing on the outer aspects of their religious heritage, unable now to decipher for themselves the pearls of wisdom and philosophy in the Guru Granth Sahib, which is if one thinks about it, told through the enriching medium of literature.

Whereas the Semitic God is some bloke with a white beard floating on a cloud, trying to touch Adam’s finger, the Sikh God is much more complex, and has his-her (mata-pita) conceptualisation, in so far as we can understand it, embodied in the verses of the Guru Granth, in many passages in Punjabi, our mother tongue.

Thus, literature should be as important to us Punjabis as it is to the Shakespeare worshipping English speakers. We should have the same pride in our language and not be afraid to teach literature, not be afraid of criticism, of society and indeed our own faiths, as after all that is what Guru Nanak did, that is what the Sufis have always done.

So, is there a way to get our more urban and savvy youth interested in reading Punjabi?

Yes, there is.

One method can be the translation of internationally well known works such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The translation, mainly due to the power of the original work, has much to recommend it. Alas, there are some pitfalls as well, and ones that are becoming all too familiar in modern Punjabi Literature produced in Hindi-Urdu obsessed India and Pakistan.
First, the story.

I am sure most of you are quite familiar with it. It is the story of how a trainee solicitor, Jonathan Harker, is sent to Transylvania to conduct a property transaction for a certain Count Vlad Dracula. It is his first task and he is keen to take it, as he is poor and wants to impress his fiancée Mina Harker. Unfortunately for him, Dracula turns out to be a rather terrifying old man, living in a terrifying and strange castle, where Harker becomes a prisoner.

Mina meanwhile awaits in Whitby, tending to her friend Lucy Westerna. Whilst Harker falls under the power of three wanton brides of Dracula, the man himself proceeds to England, trashing on the shores in Whitby, near a cemetery where the two women, strangely sit and often converse.

What happens afterwards is quite well known in popular culture, depending upon whether you have seen the Dracula play, or of the many movie versions.

Those who have seen the Francis Ford Coppola version may find that it the closest to the novel, however the emphasis
is quite different in the book. Dracula himself, is not the loving Vlad Dracula of the film, nor is Mina a reincarnation of Elizabetha. Instead, he is the embodiment of British society fearing all foreigners who may come to England and different cultural norms.

It is very much an example of invasion literature. It is also an indication of British society of the time fearing the new strong female, embodied by Lucy, compared to the traditional female, as depicted by Mina. This battle between the more liberated and free-willed new woman and the traditional Mina, is quite pertinent still in modern contemporary society.

In the U.K., it took the suffragette movement to begin the tide of change. Yet, despite the Sikh Gurus giving full amd equal rights to women 500 years ago, modern Punjabi society is still stifling for women - and, sadly, much more so in the rest of the subcontinent.

So the themes are apt. That said, this translation has made a major change to the plot, perhaps because of this
very reason.
In the original version, there are three suitors to Lucy, Seward Holmswood and the American Quincy Morris. Perhaps this was too much for the sensitivities of the translator - the edition does not name them - or it was felt that Punjabi society is not ready for this, or more likely the idea of giving the female a choice of who she wants to marry goes against Punjabi male chauvinism, that Quincy Morris is completely eliminated from the plot (thus making the novel shorter) and Seward takes not the role of a man who also wanted to marry Lucy, but is described in this version as the uncle. This allows a situation where Mina clearly has only one lover, Harker, and Lucy only Arthur Holmswood, neither of whom will lie with these women until after marriage.

Thus, you end up with two tragic heroes. One who has had his personality changed from the poetry-loving man Mina fell in love with, and the other who never consummates his love with his fiancée.

This has had the impact of making the translation strongly focus on the story of Lucy, which in the original was the halfway point, and made the climax her “staking”, reducing all the latter chapters and passages down to a few pages, taking the impact away from Dracula’s demise, as in the original, and changing who did it.

Whilst it is very clear that the true hero of the book is Van Helsing, this is a liberty I feel a translator must never take. He has effectively re-written part of the book. Also, the original novel was very much formatted as a set of letters and newspaper articles. This one becomes mostly a conventional novella. I say 'novella', as the translation has also disposed of chapters.

Again, this is wrong.

I can fully appreciate the concept, “Lost in Translation”, such as the phrase “grass is greener on the otherside” would be rendered meaningless in Punjabi, unless it was “thali vich laddoo”, but the translator must reinterpret the context and text only, to match the equivalent Punjabi idiom. What has been done here is wrong. If there was a fear of the plot being too forward for the Punjabi audience, then this novel should never have been chosen to be translated.

Lokgeet Parkashan should not have allowed this (one cannot help feel that as copyright to the book is now expired, the motivator as usual was profit, not love of literature). One wonders if they are treating such an old book with Victorian values as a hot potato, censored as it is, how on earth would they ever cope with translations of modern world literature?

Perhaps that is the point. If they are this conservative, they are helping to put the stake into Punjabi Literature and people’s interest in reading it. Maybe all of these right wingers and male conservatives do not see it, but the modern generation of Punjabis do have access to English novels, and will quickly drop reading Punjabi if it becomes this stale.

Translating this book should be an opportunity to advance, not regress.

Modern youth in India is already rejecting much tradition. This will only help them lose one more ... that of reading their mother tongue.
The greatest flaw however in the translation (on the basis that someone unfamiliar with Quincy Morris’s character would know no different) is the heavy use I have seen time and time again in modern Eastern Punjabi of littering the paragraphs with Hindi words instead of Punjabi ones, and over-sankritizing the language. This is as bad as the over-use of English and Urdu. It is not Punjabi.

A well-written piece of Punjabi should be as easily understood by an Indian Punjabi and Pakistani Punjabi. As it is, this is clearly what has led the new generation of Punjabis in Punjab, speaking less proper Punjabi than the children of the Punjabi immigrants to the West in the 1960s! Again and again I found it grating that Hindi words were used instead of Punjabi. I think this has a very negative effect. I hear it on even radio stations like BBC Asian Network, where the so called Punjabi host, without realising, says things like 'doosra' instead of 'dooja', or 'itna' instead of 'inna'.

No wonder no one can speak Punjabi anymore!

For those of you buying Sangram, Unistar or other such book provider texts, please be aware if your students are studying these, they must be aware that pure Punjabi is not there.

That said, there is much to recommend this translation as well. The story is fast paced and genuinely interesting. The early part of the book has great gothic atmosphere captured with superb skill by the Punjabi translator. Dare I say it, but this has been the only unputdownable Punjabi book I have read, perhaps because it’s plotting comes from a western mind, and I believe it is the kind of option to give to a student of Punjabi in the West to read, for their course/ exams.

The characters are well drawn, with Harker and Helsing in particular coming across as memorable, followed by Renfield and Seward. At times you actually feel like you are watching a Bombay film like “Darna Mana Hai”. Lucy’s transformation is terrifying and suspenseful, though I wonder how much of that was due to the movies playing in my mind?

There were scenes and characters I was not familiar with from the films, that were intriguing and interesting. It was at times darker than any of the films, with the strongest section of the translation in Castle Dracula itself in the beginning. Unlike in the films, Dracula became a sideline character throughout most of the book, a shadow always lurking, a monster to be feared but never seen or met. The most disturbing scenes were those involving the kidnapping of babies to feed the vampires, especially one that has the mother begging at the castle gates, a scene I have never seen in the films.

Maybe Punjabi naturally lends itself to emotion, but I found these descriptions particularly emotive.

Anyone interested in horror or, again, not wanting to read the typical Punjabi novel for their course, I would rate this as one of the better and well paced reads available in Punjabi.

The book is available from Unistar books at Rs. 95.

July 5, 2011



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