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There is a Premchand short story whose original Hindi title is "Vidhwans"; it's been translated into English as "Catastrophe", as seen here, but the same story has also been translated as "A Positive Change", as seen in this answer sourced from Penguin's Premchand: the complete short stories (2017) edited by M. Asaduddin. The Urdu title is "Tahreek-e Khair"; this was published a year later than the Hindi version, presumably as a translation, but I don't know if any essential story elements were changed between the Hindi, Urdu, and English versions. (I can't read either Hindi or Urdu.)

Why are there two such different translations in English? What do the Hindi and Urdu titles mean? Is there some ambiguity that can't be captured in English - for example, is "Vidhwans" a word that can mean either "catastrophe" or "positive change" depending on context?

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The Hindi title "विध्वंस" (transliterated as "Vidhwans") means "catastrophe" or "destruction". I am not too familiar with Urdu, but Google Translate says that "Tahreek-e Khair" means something like "good step", as in, a "step in the right direction", which is reasonably close in meaning to the title "A Positive Change" given in the Penguin Books collection.

The reason the short story has titles with drastically different meanings in Urdu and Hindi is that the Urdu version is not merely a translation of the Hindi version. Instead, it takes a completely different turn in the climax, in a way that justifies the different titles.

It is the Hindi version that has been translated into English on The Fresh Reads website linked in your post. At the end of the story, not only does Bhungi die from throwing herself into the fire, but the winds spread the flames all over the village and burn down the zamindar's mansion. Catastrophe has fallen upon the villagers with Bhungi's death, and especially upon the zamindar who gave her so much grief.

In the Urdu version, the consequences of Bhungi jumping into the fire are dramatically altered. Here, the zamindar instinctively jumps in to pull Bhungi out, at great risk to himself. He manages to save her life, and he even nurses her back to health in his mansion. When Bhungi asks him why he risked his life for an old woman such as herself, he answers:

[...] I didn't care what I was doing and why. It was as though I had lost my senses. Everything happened on its own. God wanted to save me from disgrace. What else?

Taken from the Urdu translation by M. Asaduddin, published in Premchand: the complete short stories, vol. 2, Penguin Books, 2017.

In this version, the zamindar seems to have had a genuine change of heart through Bhungi's impulsive decision to jump into the fire; hence, the title "A Positive Change".

So, in this case, the difference in the titles is not due to any subtle differences between the two languages, but in the changes made to the story itself.


It turns out, Premchand often modified his stories quite liberally when translating them; M. Asaduddin writes the following in his introduction to that collection:

In a letter to Imtiaz Ali Taj, the dramatist, translator and editor in Urdu, [Premchand] mentioned that he changed entire scenes while translating the text from one version to the other. As usually happens with writer-translators, whenever they translate their own work, the creative impulse often takes over so that translation often turns into rewriting.

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    This is very interesting, even though I had to google Premchand. Do you have information about who did the changes, and why? Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 18:38
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica I think it's quite likely that it was Premchand himself who made the changes when translating the story from Hindi to Urdu. In the introduction to the collection, M. Asaduddin writes, "In a letter to Imtiaz Ali Taj, the dramatist, translator and editor in Urdu, [Premchand] mentioned that he changed entire scenes while translating the text from one version to the other. As usually happens with writer-translators, whenever they translate their own work, the creative impulse often takes over so that translation often turns into rewriting." I suspect this is one such case.
    – Namaskaram
    Commented Oct 30, 2021 at 19:01
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    As to why Premchand felt the need to make these changes, I am not sure. This is not the only story where the nature of the ending has been altered significantly. A few paragraphs later in the introduction, Asaduddin illustrates this using the Hindi and Urdu versions of the story "A Night in the Month of Poos" (or "Poos ki Raat").
    – Namaskaram
    Commented Oct 30, 2021 at 19:04
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    More generally, Premchand has written several stories about the plight of peasants under oppressive systems of society, and scholars have observed a recurring theme in these stories (and others as well) of the oppressor undergoing a "change of heart" and criticized it as an easy way of resolving the conflict set up in the story. Asaduddin touches upon this in the introduction, and cites Shailendra Kumar Singh, Premchand’s Prose of Counter-Insurgency in Colonial North India, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 2016, vol. 39, 29–46.
    – Namaskaram
    Commented Oct 30, 2021 at 19:11
  • @Namaskaram could you incorporate all the fascinating stuff in the comments into your answer itself? It is worth having in a less marginal format. Thanks!
    – verbose
    Commented Apr 10, 2023 at 6:05

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