Metamorphosing Kakfa into Urdu

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    Morris Johns holds up a copy of the Urdu version of Kafka’s Metamorphosis
    Morris Johns holds up a copy of the Urdu version of Kafka’s Metamorphosis

    MEET MORRIS JOHNS, THE LAHORE-BORN UK-BASED TRANSLATOR OF MOST ENIGMATIC WORKS OF FRANZ KAFKA INCLUDING ‘THE METAMORPHOSIS’

    By ShaikZakeerHussain

    BANGALORE — In Franz Kafka’s seminal novel ‘The Metamorphosis’, the protagonist GregorSamsa, wakes up one day to find himself transformed into a monstrous vermin. There is no explanation given, as to why a perfectly fine human being, a traveling salesman to be precise has changed into an insect, however, what follows is the story of a pitiful individual with human pathos, squeezed in the crowd of selfish characters and his attempts to have him in his current form accepted by them, eventually failing in his struggle and dying in that despair.

    The work, originally written in German, has been translated into various languages and is considered a modern classic. In this Interview, TCN’S ShaikZakeerHussainmeets Morris Johns, a Lahore-born UK-based writer who recently translated the novel into Urdu, in Bangalore to find out more about the metamorphosis of Kakfa into Urdu.

    What drew you to Franz Kafka and The Metamorphosis?

    I was not aware of Kafka or any of his books, indeed much about the East European literature. A friend gave me ‘The Metamorphosis’ to read. After reading the first sentence, I was fascinated and could not put the book down until the end. The next day I re-read it and then I went to the library to take out Kafka’s other books. Recently, I went to Prague to look at the Kafka Institute and to his grave to pay my respects to the great man.

    What was your translation process and how long did it take to translate this book? And can you also talk about the challenges you’ve faced when translating the work, either cultural or linguistic?

    I thought one day that it is a pity the book has not been translated into Urdu, despite it being translated into so many other world languages. At that time there was a lot of talk about the book, ‘The Clash of Civilizations’ by Samuel Huntington. I thought that we all needed to play our part, no matter how small, in order to avoid misunderstandings among people from different countries and backgrounds. I decided that this will be my little contribution towards encouraging reconciliation and understanding among people of different background. I was working full time when I thought about translating it, so I was only able to do it at night when everybody was asleep and I could get my hands on the computer. However, it was a labor of love and I enjoyed every minute of it.

    It’s been almost a century since Kafka wrote The Metamorphosis.Much has changed since, at least technologically.How far, do you think, has society changed, after all the main antagonist of this story is society?

    Of course, technology has changed everything around the world, even in developing countries. The world is obviously not the same as it was hundred years ago, but the basic values, emotions and relationships remain the same. At some level, we look at other people differently now, for example, in metamorphosis, the relationship between parents and son changes fundamentally when Gregor,the main character, changes from a human into an insect. I think that Kafka wanted to show the human beings’ attitude changes when they confront someone who is different from the norm, for example their attitude to the handicapped people. I hope that at present that attitude has changed for better from Kafka’s days and people are able to look at someone different with more humanity.

    Is the book available in India?

    Unfortunately, the book is not available in India but I have donated it to top libraries in India. I am exploring the ways of putting it on the internet, so anybody interested could read it there. But if someone wants to have a copy, I would be pleased to send them a copy.

    Are you translating any more of Kafka’s works now?

    I have already translated Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ and hope to publish it next year.

    (If you would like a copy of his translated work, email the author at morrisjohns@yahoo.co.uk.)

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