As an English writer from Punjab, who does not live in the state, to me the act of writing is an act of translation: from a Punjabi reality to an English prose. While writing my books I am acutely aware of how I feel severed from my roots – Punjabi. My readers might not sense it, but with everything I write I feel I have not been able to fully render my lived experience in my adopted language – English. The way it plays out is by leaving me short of depicting the complete reality of what I want to say. It is good enough for English but not good enough for how I experienced the situations and could have rendered them in text. This was my case until I met Daljit Ami a few years back.
In 2014 we published the Punjabi translation of Roll of Honour – Gwah de Fanah hon to Pehlan, translated by Daljit Ami. It is in the course of this translation exercise that I discovered how the novel should truly have been written. What Daljit brings to the text is his acute sensibility, his knowledge of the richness and lacunae of Punjabi language. This comes to him from being a witness to the state in the past quarter century – from the lived experience of the language. The abo-hawah, atmosphere of Punjab, the daily politics of suppression and oppression in the state influence his use of Punjabi language.
To me Daljit is the living Punjab I left behind. We are the same age so I feel if I had stayed back in Punjab I might have turned out like him. Or crumbled. More likely crumbled for Daljit is really rare and resilient. That is why it is he who can shape the voice of the novels and help me discover my own voice. I might hold some kernels of stories from my experience in Punjab but it is Daljit who gives them form, shape, and draws out those roots that I am dimly aware of but he can see with the clarity of a veteran and only he can nourish. I trust his shaping of my voice even more that my own English language. That is why to me it seems my published books in English will be drafts that Daljit will mold into texts in Punjabi which is how they should originally have been written. When I render a Punjabi experience in English and he renders them back into Punjabi, I feel that my voice has returned home – my heart has truly spoken.
We are now working to finish the translation of Sepia Leaves to be out later this year