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Yaldaram and His Literary Landscape

Syed Sajjad Haider Yaldaram, a scholar and writer, is credited with founding the modern Urdu short story. He received his education at Aligarh Muslim University and later worked as a translator for the British in Baghdad, where he honed his Turkish language skills. Yaldaram’s greatest contribution lies in translating Turkish literary works, including short stories and novels, into Urdu. These translations, known for their fluency, exposed Urdu readers to new styles and broadened their literary horizons. His writings left a significant influence on Turkish literature in Urdu. Through his translations, Yaldaram played a significant role in bridging the gap between Urdu and Turkish literature, enriching both literary landscapes.

Literature is a vibrant tapestry, woven from the contributions of numerous voices across generations and continents. Each author or poet adds a thread, a unique perspective that enriches the overall design. Among these threads, some stand out for their transformative power, shaping the very fabric of a language’s literary tradition. Such is the case with Syed Sajjad Haider Yaldaram. Yaldaram was an influential writer, translator, humorist, linguist, and essayist who wrote in the Urdu language and is considered to be the founder of modern Urdu short stories.

Born in Bijnor (India), he received his education at Aligarh Muslim University, where he later served as the Registrar of the university. He is said to have been sent to the Ottoman Empire by the British Government to support the ‘Young Turks’. His daughter Qurratulain Hyder (known as the ‘great dame’ of Urdu literature) tells in her book ‘The Sound of Fallen Leaves’ about Haji Ismail Khan, who lived in Ottoman Arabia and had a sound knowledge of Turkish language, literature, and culture. He started a literary magazine, Maarif, influenced by a Turkish magazine Servet-i-Funun (The Wealth of Knowledge). He taught Yaldaram the Turkish language and in return, Yaldaram taught him English. After graduating from Aligarh in 1901, he went to work as a translator and interpreter for the British embassy in Baghdad, where he received his fluency in the language. Later, Yaldaram along with Haji Ismail Khan translated and transcreated several Turkish literary works and serialized them in Maarif.

Yaldaram’s primary contribution lies in introducing Urdu readers to Turkish literature. When his contemporaries were translating Western literature into Urdu, he thought of doing the same with Turkish literature by using his language skills and knowledge of the cultural life of Turks. He translated short stories, novels, and other literary works by renowned Turkish writers and enriched the Urdu literary landscape. Yaldaram helped bridge the gap between the two literary traditions. His translations were known for their fluency, making them look like original Urdu works rather than translations. His book Khayalistan is regarded to be one of the masterpieces in Urdu literature. His translations include some works by famous writers like Ahmet Hikmet and Namik Kemal. Aaseb-e-Ulfat, Zehra, Kharistan-o-Gulistan, Matloob Haseena, Salis Bakhair, etc. are some of his major translations and transcreations which brought new flavors to Urdu literature, introducing fresh narrative styles and themes that resonate with readers.

He played a crucial role in promoting cultural exchange between Urdu and Turkish literature by exposing Urdu readers to new literary styles and broadening the perspectives of the audience. His role lies in not only borrowing the elements but in adapting them into his literary masterpieces. He was influenced by romanticism which was prevalent during his time. In his work Khayalistan, he incorporated a wider range of Urdu vocabulary and used figures of speech extensively. Khayalistan displayed a clear influence of Turkish literary styles and themes. Literary translation, like Yaldaram’s work, is essential. It breaks down language barriers, allowing readers to experience the beauty and ideas of other cultures’ literature. This enriches their literary landscape by introducing new styles and perspectives, fostering a richer and more diverse world of stories.

Yaldaram passed away in 1943, leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire generations of writers and readers. He is remembered as a pioneer of the modern Urdu short story. His masterful translations of Turkish works opened new literary worlds for the audience of Urdu literature. A true scholar, he bridged cultures through the power of language.

Abdullah Khan is a student pursuing Turkish Language and Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Sana Faiz

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Written by Abdullah Khan

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