In this and the following columns, I will present my English translations of some parts of “A Soldier from Oman: Memory’s Nectar” (2016). Written originally in Arabic, this book gives a detailed biographical account of Rashid bin Said al Kalbani, the first Omani Inspector General of the Royal Police.
A Word on the Importance of the Book
I understand that “A Soldier from Oman ” assumes importance for two main reasons. Firstly, whatever our political orientations, we perhaps all agree that the year 1970 was a turning point in Oman’s contemporary history. The modern developed Oman of today is, to a large extent, a cumulative effect of the building process initiated in that year. Lest we limit our view to the prosperity and stability we see before our eyes today, this book reminds us that transforming Oman into a viable modern state was a process fraught with all manner of difficulties. It reminds us that there were Omanis who struggled to overcome those difficulties. One such Omanis are the author of the book, retired Inspector General Said bin Rashid al Kalbani. Presenting his journey from the army to the police and his account of what can be characterised as his pioneering role in establishing the Omani police force, Al Kalbani is an eye witness to the challenging building process.
Secondly, though the time span from 1970 to 2016 is by no means long, the sheer rapidity of the changes that Oman has been experiencing resulted in rendering many cultural phenomena of the pre-1970s a thing of the past. This book is an interesting account of some forms of Omani heritage that are growing less perceptible day by day. From this perspective, I would say that it has direct pertinence to Middle Eastern cultural and political studies.
A Word on the Translation
A book orally narrated and then transformed into writing by a person with a literary background could be quite a challenging read. The challenge is perhaps bigger for the translator who has to accommodate the voices of both the narrator/author and the writer on the one hand and the cultural background of the English reader on the other. In the midst of all these voices, the individual translator can hardly sit on the fence. Being aware of this, whilst taking faithfulness to the original text as my guiding principle, I tried to accommodate the reader by adhering to the 3Cs: cohesion, coherence and conciseness. This led me at times to disentangle what I took to be entangled and to untie the knots.
There is an unmistakable Omani flavour in the book. Perhaps the clearest manifestation of this is the author’s constant references to local customs and traditions, especially in the first chapter. Acutely aware of the differences between his generation and the current one, Al Kalbani provides us himself with brief explanatory notes essential to the understanding of those traditions. From my part, in an attempt to preserve this local flavour in the English translation, I have often used the original names of the customs with explanatory footnotes I deemed necessary for the English reader.
Writing Arabic names in English is a perennial problem, as there are no clear rules to go by. The whole process is at the mercy of the individual writer. The resultant situation may be one of confusion and chaos. I am afraid I have played my own part in this sorry tale. In the absence of standards, I have gone by my own way and spelt the names as I deemed fit. Having admitted this, I should say I have tried to be consistent throughout.
*The title of the source text is “A Soldier from Miskin, Memory’s Nectar”. I suggested to the author that “Miskan”, a small village, far from the capital Muscat, would probably be unfamiliar to the English reader; as such, it could be replaced by “Oman”. He gracefully accepted the suggestion (the translator).
**This book was narrated by Al Kalbani to Mohammed al Rahbi, an Omani novelist and writer (the translator).