It is sometime in the first decade of the 20th century. The British Imperialists have been in India for over 150 years. However, life in the small village of Shahpur in undivided Punjab has remained largely unchanged.
The menfolk look to the wealthy and worldly-wise Shahji and his benevolent younger brother Kashi for support and advice, while it is Shahji’s wife’s home and hearth that is the centre of all celebrations for the women.
Local disputes, trade, politics, a trickling of news from the Lahore newspaper are all discussed every evening at the Shah’s haveli. But as the Ghadar Movement gains momentum elsewhere in Punjab and in Bengal, bringing into focus the excesses of the British, the simple village of Shahpur cannot help looking at itself. The discontent has set in.
Krishna Sobti’s magnum opus, Zindaginama brilliantly captures the story of India through a village where people of both faiths coexisted peacefully, living off the land. Detailing the intricately woven personal histories of a wide set of characters, she imbues each with a unique voice, enriching the text with their peculiar idiom. First published in Hindi in 1979, this is a magnificent portrait of India on the brink of its cataclysmic division.
Every reviewer had high praises for this book in its original Hindi, but almost no reviewer liked the translation. See below links.
“By any standards, this is a difficult book to translate. It is a Punjabi story told in Hindi, with extensive use of Punjabi vocabulary. Much of the narrative is dialogue, in a variety of different registers. And the book is full of poetry — from well-known and obscure verse in many languages to songs and couplets composed by Sobti herself. Mani and Mazumdar deserve credit simply for attempting a task of such difficulty. But their translation does a disservice to Sobti’s book. It is clumsy, ungrammatical — there are basic errors on almost every page that ought to have been caught by an editor — and filled with clichés. The tone ranges from anachronistic contemporary English — this village has a “community centre” — to a bizarre mock-Victorian. In a book that is distinguished above all by its attention to the particular sounds and rhythms of rural Punjab, it is jarring to hear one character say of another: ‘Syeda is one skittish filly.’ ”