If you steal from one author, it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many, it’s research. -- Wilson Mizner, U.S. dramatist


Beowulf

"Everything human in the hand of God was and now is. Best therefore is intelligence, foresight. Much must he learn both in love and horror, who for long here in these days of warring draws breath in the world!" -- lines 1058-1062

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Why "Koh-e-Kaaf"?

What is the significance of using the term Koh-e-Kaaf to tell a story? For those of you unfamiliar with this term, I can offer a modest explanation. Koh-e-Kaaf means the Mountain of Kaaf. Koh-e-Kaaf is a world beyond our own world, belonging to the space above us where various creatures of the imagination, those corresponding to human and non-human forms, possessing powers of magic and deception; A world of creatures that exist to parallel our world in Literature of the antiquity and the modern, in Arabic, Persian and Urdu. Now the world deception might seem strong to some of you but I'm using it nonetheless. For me deception can be trivial, a trick to steal a man's ring from his hand while keeping him occupied through conversation or mere card trick a street urchin might be using to feed his belly, or it can be something sinister and far more consequential.

Koh-e-Kaaf has a vast historical background, going back as far as a millennium and even beyond that. Its been used in various stories of valor, of fairies and Jinns. A significant populace of the Muslim world is well acquainted with this name even if they have not read any of the stories or Dastans that mention Koh-e-Kaaf.

Imagine a world of great kingdoms, powerful sorcerers, witches, jinns and fairies. Imagine they are looking out for the good of Humans here on earth. It takes place in a world beyond their world. The idea behind a Dastan was to create a story as far fetched as possible from the reality of the world you lived in.

Using Koh-e-Kaaf in modernity and not to plagiarize the writings of antiquity is the goal of the recreation of the world of Koh-e-Kaaf and behind the story of Sons of Koh-e-Kaaf. Most of the literature available today is the plagiarizing of the literature that has been written hundreds of years ago. No real updating of this literature has been done in more than 130 years. Those that love the literature of the past and hold it in great reverence may question the motives behind taking something as precious and common as Koh-e-Kaaf in Urdu Literature and putting out a new story that not only updates and expands on the ideas that have existed about Koh-e-Kaaf, but does it in English.

Translations of Urdu Texts into English are very important for People like me. Pakistani-Americans who have very limited knowledge of the Urdu Language, especially the literary lyricism of the Urdu language which draws on all Romantic languages, especially Farsi and Sanskrit. But the Translations themselves belong to a different era of romantic poetry and lyricism. There place in modernity is a place of reverence and respect as a document of antiquity. I only wish I could write the updating of Koh-e-Kaaf in Modern Urdu, in a way perhaps Manto would've done. But I lack the training to do so, and must make do with what I know and possess to get my point across as accurately and with as much brevity as possible.

Koh-e-Kaaf as a place, as an element of a story, needs to be updated; needs to be brought into the world of modernity, into the world of 2007, for the modern readers, not just English readers, but those Expatriates from Pakistan or any of the other South Asian nations who live in an English speaking world and can point to their friends and tell them to read a story, a Dastan, that doesn't seem alien to them, that they can relate to and enjoy.

Sons of Koh-e-Kaaf is in a specific genre, Dastan. The stories of the Dastan will deal with two central characters, two brothers. They will be set in a fantastical world, a world of imagination that corresponds to our world. Hopefully the stories will be worth telling and anguishing over.

A lot of elements from oriental cultures have been brought into the western canon and have been perverted by the lack of cultural knowledge necessary to understand the depth and substance of the story and its characters and most of all perhaps, why it was written in the first place. We will not set ourselves the lofty goal of not repeating the same mistakes. Although we are South Asians, our training has been in western literature and lacks a full exposure to the oriental world of literature. But we can promise not to make mistakes that can be remedied through research and a little common sense and paying mind to oriental sensibilities.

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