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When I was a skinny little kid (I don’t really remember how old, but I couldn’t have been more than 10), I once accompanied my Nana ji to a book shop. The owner of that book shop was a friend of my Nana ji and almost all my requests for a new story book used to land on his desk. Every time when I would visit his shop, I would try to convince whoever I’d be with to buy me a new story book or a novel. So that day too when my Nana ji was busy chatting with his friend, I started scanning the shelves and spotted four new titles: ٹارزن, ٹارزن کی واپسی, ٹارزن اور درندے, and ٹارزن کا بیٹا.
Now, I was no stranger to the character of Tarzan. I knew that he was an extremely strong man, wore just a loincloth, lived in the jungles of Africa, and ruled over animals, even the lion. I also knew that there was this Mazhar Kaleem who wrote Tarzan’s stories and “Yousuf Brothers, Pak Gate, Multan” published them. (Years later, when I finally grew up enough to recognize that there was no genius in Mazhar Kaleem’s pen, I regretted how I was introduced to many fictional characters through his adaptations/plagiarizations. Side note: I really should write a separate post for ranting against Mazhar Kaleem once and for all.) So anyway, those four Tarzan books immediately caught my attention because one, they were bulkier in comparison with other story books; two, their cover designs were in complete contrast with the plastic looking cover drawings of Yousuf Brothers’ stories; and three, I could clearly see the all-familiar Ferozsons logo, and I had always enjoyed reading stories published by Ferozsons.
So I turned to my Nana ji’s friend and asked him about the novels. He told me that those were the Urdu translations, meant for children, of the original Tarzan novels. That was enough for me to start tugging at my Nana ji’s sleeve, and he bought the first two books for me.
The next few days were filled with excitement and surprises. One surprise was knowing that Tarzan’s stories were originally written in English by an American writer, Edgar Rice Burroughs. At that time, I’d read his name as Edgar Rice Bruce, thanks to the transliteration of his name which was ایڈگر رائس بروس. The transliteration of English and French names had played quite some games with my young mind; I remember reading William as Waleem, because that was how it was written: ولیم! I did, however, realize that جان was John and not jaan, but I wondered why the name of Tarzan’s ape-mother was Kala instead of, you know, Kali. And the pronunciation of D’Arnot is still a mystery for me—it was transliterated as ڈارنوٹ, but considering that it’s a French name, I am guessing it’s pronounced something like داخ نو. Do let me know if you know.
Other surprises included knowing the backstory of Tarzan: why he was in Africa in the first place (his British parents were marooned by a gang of mutinous sailors), how he learnt how to swim and hunt, how—in an extremely persevering manner—he taught himself to read and write just by looking at a bunch of books and a dictionary (yep, Tarzan was not just super strong and super athletic, he was also super smart), how he discovered “civilization” when a party of British and American elite were marooned on his jungle, how his friend D’Arnot helped him in adjusting to the ways of the cultured man, and how Tarzan continued his adventures outside the jungle. All of this was so different from the usual Mazhar Kaleem’s Tarzan stories (where Tarzan had no other thing to do except picking fights with wehshi tribes and rescuing some random princess) that I was completely hooked and I soon finished all four books, only to start reading them again.
Time passed, and—cue some sad music—I lost my copies of Tarzan novels. But then I discovered some old tapes of Cassette Kahani that my parents had bought for us siblings, which I had previously ignored.
Cassette Kahani was a series of audio stories in Urdu, and they were absolutely brilliant—amazing voice acting, spell binding narratives, awesome background music, and overall great production. (They actually deserve a whole post of their own, and I found some resources out there for those who are interested.) Anyway, so in that series of audio stories they had presented Tarzan’s story too, and I was overjoyed to hear that the story they were telling was the same as I had read in the first two Ferozsons books of Tarzan. Listening to those stories was always a great pastime, and I with my siblings used to act out the lines of Tarzan and other characters. (One of our most favourite lines was Kerchak’s (leader of the apes) when he was trying to snatch some meat from Tarzan’s ape-mother, Kala: ”دے دے، دے دے۔ یہ گوشت مجھے دے دے، کالا!“)
Time passed, again, and—cue some more sad music—I lost my tapes of Tarzan’s Cassette Kahani too. I didn’t mourn for long; my attention was soon grabbed by Ishtiaq Ahmad’s novels and, eventually, the Imran Series.
A couple of months ago when I was getting bored in the office, I looked for Tarzan on Wikipedia, and found out that Edgar Rice Burroughs had written 26 books about the ape-man. A little bit of reading around the web also revealed that most of his later Tarzan books are seen as “formulaic”. Nevertheless, I just thought to read the first two anyway, because they were my most favourites and I had nothing else to do. So I headed over to Project Gutenberg and downloaded Tarzan of the Apes and The Return of Tarzan.
And boy, did that bring back memories. I never knew that after all this time, the abridged translation of Tarzan’s stories that I had read and listened to in my childhood was still buried deep inside my mind. As I continued to read on, I surprised myself by recalling many details, which only increased the pleasure and joy as I read again how John Clayton’s son became Tarzan. But the biggest surprises came when I read the plot elements that were censored by Ferozsons (rightly so since they were targeting children), including the details of the romance between Tarzan and Jane Porter.
Let me show you the love letter that Tarzan wrote to Jane in the jungle. (Keep in mind that he learnt to read and write English on his own, but couldn’t speak a word of it.)
I am Tarzan of the Apes. I want you. I am yours. You are mine. We live here together always in my house. I will bring you the best of fruits, the tenderest deer, the finest meats that roam the jungle. I will hunt for you. I am the greatest of the jungle fighters. I will fight for you. I am the mightiest of the jungle fighters. You are Jane Porter, I saw it in your letter. When you see this you will know that it is for you and that Tarzan of the Apes loves you.
Getting straight to the point, our dear ape-man. Burroughs preceded the letter with “While [Tarzan] waited he passed the time printing a message to [Jane] [...] in which he was not so uncivilized after all.”
I personally liked Olga de Coude—another romantic interest of Tarzan who, I believe, was completely omitted in the Ferozsons translation—better than Jane Porter. But since Burroughs was American, I guess he preferred an American girl over a Russian for his hero. *shrug*
Also removed in Ferozsons translations were the comparisons that Burroughs made between the jungle and the civilization (through Tarzan, of course). As a kid, these would have bored me to death (“Civilization held nothing like this in its narrow and circumscribed sphere, hemmed in by restrictions and conventionalities. Even clothes were a hindrance and a nuisance.” and “Who would go back to the stifling, wicked cities of civilized man when the mighty reaches of the great jungle offered peace and liberty? Not he.”), but reading them as an adult was amusing.
And then there was the wicked and cowardly Rokoff, who was an absolute pain in the ass. Of all the fiction I have ever read, there have only been two negative characters who have managed to get on my nerves. One is Dolores Umbridge, and the other is Nikolas Rokoff. I had decided not to read past the 2nd novel (because although I didn’t remember the details of the 3rd and 4th novels from my childhood, I did remember that my real favourites were only the first two), but when I read on Wikipedia that in the beginning of the 3rd novel (The Beasts of Tarzan), Rokoff escapes from the prison he was thrown into at the end of the 2nd novel, I just had to read it. And after Rokoff meets his absolutely hideous end, I didn’t read any further—even the remaining four chapters. (It might be the fact that I was getting bored of how Burroughs was stretching the story; in my opinion, Tarzan’s adventures should have ended with the 2nd novel. And it also might be the fact that I didn’t care much about Tarzan’s son.)
In the end, here’s a favourite excerpt of mine from the first novel. It happens after D’Arnot succeeds in making “Tarzan of the Apes a polished gentleman in so far as nicety of manners and speech were concerned.”
“There would be little pleasure in hunting,” retorted the first speaker, “if one is afraid of the thing he hunts.”
D’Arnot smiled. Tarzan afraid!
“I do not exactly understand what you mean by fear,” said Tarzan. “Like lions, fear is a different thing in different men, but to me the only pleasure in the hunt is the knowledge that the hunted thing has power to harm me as much as I have to harm him. If I went out with a couple of rifles and a gun bearer, and twenty or thirty beaters, to hunt a lion, I should not feel that the lion had much chance, and so the pleasure of the hunt would be lessened in proportion to the increased safety which I felt.”
“Then I am to take it that Monsieur Tarzan would prefer to go naked into the jungle, armed only with a jackknife, to kill the king of beasts,” laughed the other, good naturedly, but with the merest touch of sarcasm in his tone.
“And a piece of rope,” added Tarzan.
Just then the deep roar of a lion sounded from the distant jungle, as though to challenge whoever dared enter the lists with him.
“There is your opportunity, Monsieur Tarzan,” bantered the Frenchman.
“I am not hungry,” said Tarzan simply.
The men laughed, all but D’Arnot. He alone knew that a savage beast had spoken its simple reason through the lips of the ape-man.
“But you are afraid, just as any of us would be, to go out there naked, armed only with a knife and a piece of rope,” said the banterer. “Is it not so?”
“No,” replied Tarzan. “Only a fool performs any act without reason.”
“Five thousand francs is a reason,” said the other. “I wager you that amount you cannot bring back a lion from the jungle under the conditions we have named—naked and armed only with a knife and a piece of rope.”
Tarzan glanced toward D’Arnot and nodded his head.
“Make it ten thousand,” said D’Arnot.
“Done,” replied the other.
Naturally, Tarzan wins the wager.