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

Southasia - - Book Review -

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.

Re­viewed by S.G. Ji­la­nee

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