Eminent Indian media figure and Group Editor of Madhyamam daily and MediaOne Television O. Abdurahman said that the Jeddah International Book Fair has given an amazing experience to see the huge treasure of Arab literature of all time and a big presence of avid readers under one roof.
“The fair is a strong evidence of the growing reading habit among the young Arab men and women at a time when social media and smartphones pose a big threat to books. There has been an unprecedented presence of young Saudi men and women who were seen exchanging ideas and sharing views on books, in addition to buying a lot of them,” he said. “It shows the government’s encouragement of promoting knowledge and motivating younger generation to develop a sound reading habit and thus increasing their knowledge.”
Abdurahman, a well-known writer, author and Arabic scholar, arrived from India as a guest of the Ministry of Culture and Information to attend the fair. He said it is high time to make serious efforts to bring minds closer through exchange of ideas and constructive dialogue, and of course books are the most effective weapon in this regard. “Almost all leading book publishing houses from the Gulf and Arab world as well as from some other countries, including India, have exhibited their books. I see the translated versions of most of the world epics and classics in Arabic at the fair. Apart from literary works, there are also major books on science and technology.”
He congratulated the organizers for arranging such a big fiesta for book lovers.
“The arrangements are outstanding, highly scientific and very much attractive in comparison to other international book fairs that I had visited earlier. Visitors can choose any books from any authors by searching on the device installed in the pavilions.” Another highlight is the cultural events. I watched the Mushaira and it was superb. There are sections for paintings and drawing of Arab artists, including many women. Children’s sections are also being arranged in a fascinating way.
“The rulers’ serious efforts to preserve Islamic culture and heritage to cater to the interests of the Muslims worldwide is highly appreciable,” he said while highlighting that much attention has been given in preserving Islamic heritage even in the ongoing expansion of the Grand Mosque in Makkah.
Abdurahman lamented the lack of opportunities to provide a glimpse of the rich Indian literatures that date back to thousands of years. “I have seen Arabic translations of most of the epics and classics in the world such as The Iliad and Odyssey sans Indian epics and Vedas. It is unfortunate that there are no ways for Arabs to read India’s greatest contributions and epic Hindu literatures — Ramayana and Mahabhrata — as well as Bhagavad Gita. Panchatantra, a collection of Indian fables, is the only exception. It was the Persian writer Ibn Al-Muqaffa who translated the Persian translation of Panchatantra into Arabic as Kalila Wa Dimna. Since then, there have been no attempts to translate any major Indian classics into Arabic.
“This is not the fault of Arabs. Most of these works are in Sanskrit and were mainly confined in India. Under the influence of the British colonial rule and other factors, many Indian writers, in the past, turned to Western literature and turned away from the Arab world.” “The almost zero presence in the exchange of literary works was a great paradox while considering the strong historic bonds and trade relations that fastened the Arabs and India that go beyond the period of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Abdurahman, who has been at the helm of Madhyamam, one of the leading Indian newspapers, since the launching of the newspaper in 1987, held key posts earlier in Qatar. “During my life in the Arab world for eight years, I could see that contributions from Indian literature in Arabic are almost zero. There was a series of writings that gave a brief account about Indian culture. This work, prepared by a researcher at Cairo’s Al Azhar, was the only exception. While working at Indian Embassy in Qatar, several prominent Arab figures contacted me and asked for any books in Arabic about Hindu religion and its dharmas but I could not suggest anything.”
According to Abdurahman, this situation has also contributed to some misconceptions about India and Indian culture in the Arab world. “Perhaps, this low frequency in the cultural exchange could be one reason for India being misunderstood in the Arab world to a great extent. Many Arabs think that India is a land of black magicians, worshippers of snake and cow worshippers. They don’t have any idea about the rich Indian culture, traditions and literatures,” he said while calling for serious attempts to bridge this gap.
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