Reminiscing What is Lost
Title: Moraje’at Translated by: Hameed Razi Publisher: Sanjh Publications, Pakistan (January 2010) Pages: PKR 102, Hardback Price: PKR 1500 ISBN: 9789698957704
Moraje’at is the Urdu translation of Czech writer, Milan Kundera’s latest novel, Ignorance, by Hameed Razi. Moraje’at which translates into “return” is more appropriate because the novel’s theme is less about ignorance, per se, and more about the irresistible urge for return that nostalgia exerts on people who have been cut off from home for many years and the shock of disillusionment the exiles face on return.
At the very outset, Kundera holds a lengthy discourse on nostalgia and its etymology to posit that nostalgia is bred by the exile’s ignorance about events at home during his/her absence and the yearning to learn about it.
Irena and Josef are prototypes who had known each other briefly before they fled Czechoslovakia in the aftermath of the Soviet takeover of their country in 1968. Irena mi- grated with her husband to France. After his death, she worked various jobs to earn a living and raise her two daughters before settling permanently in France. Josef, a vet by profession, migrated to Denmark, set up a practice, and married a Dane. He, too, adapted to the new environment. His wife later died.
The year is now 1989. The Soviet occupation has ended. The country is back to democracy. But Irena and Josef and both un- aware of the great upheavals that occurred at home during their 20 years’ absence. Excited with curiosity about the momentous events that must be happening in Prague, Irena’s friend, Sylvie, coaxes her to return. Irena’s boyfriend Gustav, who has a business both in Paris and Prague, also weighs in with the offer to facilitate her return. Finally, Irena gives in.
Josef also feels the urge to return. By coincidence they meet at the Paris airport. But when they arrive at home, both are shocked to find that everything has changed. Even their old friends now treat them as strangers.
Irena throws a party for her former girlfriends. Ignorant to how their tastes have changed, she serves a fine French Bordeaux to them. But they have no taste for it and prefer local beer instead. The questions they ask her relate only to how far she is aware of events in Prague, but none about her life during the long absence. It almost seems like 20 years of her life have been effaced.
Josef has a similar experience with his brother and sister-in-law. They ask only if he married and he answers “Yes,” but no more. His elder brother now owns the family home. He has taken possession of all the family belongings, including a painting Josef had purchased from a Czech painter. He wears Jo-
sef’s wristwatch nonchalantly as if completely ignorant of its original owner.
That sets the ground for the author to frequently refer to Odysseus, who spent the better part of his life in the 20 years of his wanderings away from home. He yearned for home. Yet, when he did return, no one in Ithaca was interested in his adventures
The memories of the returnees also play tricks. Josef remembers the painting but when it comes to his break-up with a girlfriend in his adolescence, his mind is a blank. Likewise, Irena remembers her first encounter with Josef but he has forgotten everything -- even her name. Both characters are like Rip van Winkles in a practically new world to which they can no longer adjust.
The book’s themes revolve around long absence without communication and its effects upon the lives of the exiles that stir tender feelings. The carnal scene at the end, therefore, is not only banal but even out of sync.
Hameed Razi has put in his best effort but translation is always a difficult endeavor, especially when the theme is philosophical. In some places he soars high but at others sinks low and robs the flow of the narrative by introducing Punjabi colloquialisms such as kukh for Urdu kuchh and irrelevant remarks such as “daur peechhay ki taraf ai gardish-e-ayyam too.” This is a gratuitous insertion by the translator and not a translation of any statement by Kundera, ultimately making the book a poor read. S. G. Jilanee is a senior political analyst and former editor of SouthAsia Magazine.