BOOK REVIEW: Bringing a legend to life —by Dr Amjad Parvez
Momi Gaind — Translations of Maupassant’s short stories
By Dr Kauser Mahmood
Takhleeqaat; Pp 160; Rs 150
French history is rich with art and culture. One of its famous short story writers is Henri-René-Albert-Guy de Maupassant. Dr Kauser Mahmood, a dental surgeon by profession and a poet-cum-translator by passion, has translated eight short stories by Maupassant from French to Urdu in the form of a book titled Momi Gainde. Before we enter this work we must find out, for the benefit of our younger generation, who Maupassant was.
Maupassant was born on August 5, 1850 at the château de Miromesnil, near Dieppe in the Seine-Inférieure. At 13, he was sent to a small seminary near Rouen for classical studies. As he entered junior high school, he met the great author Gustave Flaubert. After spending time in a religious seminary, he joined Imperial College, Rouen. These were the days when Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables and Charles Darwin’s De L’origine des Espeses (The Origin of Species) made a dent in the existing literature. The Franco-Prussian War broke out soon after his graduation from college in 1870; he enlisted himself as a volunteer and fought bravely. In 1871, it was time to bid farewell to Normandy. He moved to Paris where he spent 10 years as a clerk in the navy. During these days, Gustave Flaubert acted as his literary guardian. He guided Maupassant towards his debut in journalism and literature. It was an opportunity to meet Émile Zola and the Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev, as well as many of the protagonists of the realist and naturalist schools.
In 1870, Maupassant enrolled to become a lawyer and, in the same year, Paul Verlaine’s poetic endeavour La bonne Chanson appeared and since Rouen was part of the cities captured by Germany, Maupassant came out with his first story titled Boule de Sufi that has been translated by Dr Kauser Mahmood as Momi Gainde.
It goes to the credit of Dr Mahmood that he has introduced this story to Urdu readers. Maupassant had started giving time to writing short stories and novels a couple of years earlier when he was the contributing editor of several leading newspapers such as Le Figaro, Gil Blas, Le Gaulois and l’Echo de Paris. The notable short stories selected by Dr Kausar for translation are titled Zaiwaraat and Kursian Bunenai Waali. In this part of the world, it is perceived that women have a soft corner for gold jewellery. However, this reviewer has found that it is the same in the West to some extent also, but there the penchant is more for artificial jewellery. Even Maupassant found it to be so. Zaiwaraat was published on March 27, 1883 in a local daily and then became part of Maupassant’s collection titled Clair de Lune, meaning ‘moonshine’. It is a story of a beautiful but simple lady whose father has died and her mother has started moving with her in the social circles of Paris for want of a proper match. She finds one in Monsieur Lateen who is a head clerk, earning 3,500 franks in the ministry of the interior. Both start living a happy life. Monsieur’s wife has only two weaknesses: one, to go to the theatre and two, to wear artificial jewellery. The husband endures these by allowing her to go to the theatre with her lady friends. This develops an interest in her to wear jewellery. One night, when she returns from the opera, she starts shivering and subsequently dies of pneumonia. Her husband loses interest in life, gets sick and leaves his job. One day, out of hunger and poverty, he visits a jewellery shop to sell off his late wife’s artificial jewellery but is dumbstruck to find that these are real pieces of jewellery. The subsequent narrations raise many questions in his mind, the foremost being if his late wife was unfaithful. He checks from the shop as to whom the jewellery was sold to. It is confirmed that it was sent to his address. He sells everything and goes to the most expensive restaurant for breakfast and drinks the most expensive wine. He tells his friends that he got 400,000 franks from his ancestral state. He re-marries. His second wife is a very honest lady. However, he remains unhappy with her. Critics believe that Maupassant’s short stories had an abrupt ending like the one just analysed.
The second story, La Rempilleuse, is translated as the lady who makes chairs out of straw. It is the story of a poor girl always clad in rags, who spends all her life in this profession but gives her earnings to a street boy in return for love and kisses. The boy obliges her for the money. As time passes, the boy gets affluent and marries and the poor lady does not come across him as he moves in higher circles. When the poor lady dies, she leaves all her life’s earnings to the boy she loved all her life through a will she leaves with her lawyer. This short story was first published on September 17, 1882 in a local daily, Le Gaulois. Critics started believing that a man could never love the way a woman did.
The other translated short stories are Sarae Shoran Bach, Yateem, Pierrot, Mashriq and Madam Hermey. Here I must mention that in 1883, he finished his first novel, Une Vie (A Woman’s Life), 25,000 copies of which were sold in less than a year.
Through this literary work, Dr Mahmood has not only introduced Maupassant’s stories to a Pakistani generation that is familiar only with Urdu but also the socio-political circumstances prevalent in Europe in the 19th century have been reflected upon.
The reviewer is based in Lahore and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org