Once upon a time in the land of five rivers : a comparative analysis of translated Punjabi folk tale editions, from Flora Annie Steel's colonial collection to Shafi Aqeel's post-partition collection and beyond : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English Literature, Massey University, Manawatu Campus, New Zealand
This thesis offers a critical analysis of two different collections of Punjabi folk tales which were collected at different moments in Punjab’s history: Tales of the Punjab (1894), collected by Flora Annie Steel and, Popular Folk Tales of the Punjab (2008) collected by Shafi Aqeel and translated from Urdu into English by Ahmad Bashir. The study claims that the changes evident in collections of Punjabi folk tales published in the last hundred years reveal the different social, political and ideological assumptions of the collectors, translators and the audiences for whom they were disseminated.
Each of these collections have one prior edition that differs in important ways from the later one. Steel’s edition was first published during the late-colonial era in India as Wide-awake Stories in 1884 and consisted of tales that she translated from Punjabi into English. Aqeel’s first edition was collected shortly after the partition of India and Pakistan, as Punjabi Lok Kahaniyan in 1963 and consisted of tales he translated from Punjabi into Urdu. Taking as my starting point the extensive (often feminist) scholarship on the ideological functions of folk lore and tale-telling, I explore the assumptions affirmed or challenged in these collections. My particular focus is on the differences between Steel’s late nineteenth-century, female-edited, Western/colonial Indian collection and Aqeel’s post-partition, ‘native,’ male-edited, Islam-inflected Pakistani collection, keeping in mind the collectors’ sociohistorical and political backgrounds along with differences in their implied audiences.
The first chapter considers the history of and motivations for folklore collection in nineteenth-century British India and the colonial folklorists who were involved in this activity, especially in the Punjab. The second chapter offers a discussion of Flora Annie Steel’s biographical background and her various writings in order to suggest how her position as a (ostensibly) feminist colonial Memsahib, along with the editorial supervision of Richard C. Temple, may have influenced her collection and translation of Punjabi tales. The chapter also discusses how, at the time, female collectors like Steel relied on the authority of men to secure the validity of their work, needing a male scholarly stamp of approval. The third chapter discusses the life and works of Shafi Aqeel and the differences between the two editions of the collection (one published in Urdu in 1963, the other in English almost fifty years later in 2008). My own translation of the Urdu version illuminates the extent to which the English translator of Popular Folk Tales of the Punjab, Ahmad Bashir, added yet another level of appropriation to what were originally oral tales from the Punjabi region. Chapter Four provides a comparative analysis of selected tales from each collection focusing on the differences evident between similar tales that appear in each collection and discusses the reasons behind the changes introduced. Building on this, my concluding chapter, makes claims about what is distinctive about each version of the tale and collection, and offers possible reasons for their differences. As a supplement to the thesis I have included my own translations of selected tales from Aqeel’s Urdu edition as an Appendix, along with a note detailing the principles followed in the preparation of these translations. I have also appended two scanned versions of one tale from Aqeel’s Urdu edition and its English version, my own translation of which is already in the appendix.
Through the analysis of the historical, social, political, and authorial background of the collections, and the analysis of the prefaces and notes to these, my study concludes that each collector (and/or translator) has imposed their own particular set of assumptions and values on the tales they have chosen to collect. The differences I observe between the collections and editions are often subtle but sometimes startling. These differences, I argue, can be attributed to the historical moment in which they were collected/published, and the ideological/political persuasion of the collectors and their anticipation of readers’ expectations. Differences between the editions not only prove revealing about the workings of folktales but also about how the collection of these might reflect cultural and social shifts and understandings, particularly in the Punjab region of Pakistan.