The adventure stories—passed down the generations in ancient Persian oral literature dastan—was never published in its unabridged glory with its rhythmic flow and splendour intact. Seven years back, Farooqi decided to translate the fables, which he had cherished as a child while in Pakistan and could never get over them as a grown up. “Most of these dastans are fast becoming inaccessible in their original language even to the native speakers of Urdu. Many in my generation are unable to read the unpunctuated text or understand the highly Persian expressions,” says the 40-year-old translator, whose effort has been hailed worldwide.
The task was daunting. Farooqi had read about the exploits of Hamza—who saved kingdoms, wooing princesses—in abridged Urdu versions meant for children. In fact that’s how the legendary tales were still surviving in the time of superheroes. An Indian publisher had brought out dastan of Hamza in 1883 as narrated by some unnamed storytellers. The transcription had run into 46 volumes, each comprising nearly 1,500 pages. But instead of treading through these humongous volumes, Farooqi blended the epic’s two shorter versions—the 1855 compilation by Urdu poet Ghalib Lakhnavi and the 1871 text by Urdu scholar Abdullah Bilgrami. The result is 900-page tome published by Random House.
The tales known for the linguistic flourishes have a host of supernatural characters, angels, djinns, giants, sorcerers and dragons. Their exploits are enriched by the surfeit of imagination and sub-plots that centuries of storytelling has brought in. Though its similarity with Thousand And One Nights is striking, Farooqi differs. “Unlike the Shahnama and the Thousand And One Nights, this represents a continuous narrative,” says the translator about the stories, which had found an avid patron in Emperor Akbar, who had commissioned 1,400 exquisite canvas folios depicting scenes from them.
Despite being celebrated in the sub-continent, albeit years ago, most Indian readers have remained out Hamza’s magical realm. “For many South Asian readers this English translation would be a first introduction to Amir Hamza. I knew that an English translation would also open the way for its translation into other languages,” says Farooqi, who feels the book can contribute to the promotion of multi-faceted world of Islam.
The writer, who has never been to India, feels the book has a rich Indian flavour. “All the cultural references are Indian, including the food, dress and the dialogue details. King Landhoor, the Emperor of India, is a central character in Adventures,” he says.