Many have attempted to translate Faiz Ahmed, including yours truly humbly on this blog. The list of prominent Faiz translators includes many who are poets in their own right.  Most prominent among these is, arguably, Agha Shahid Ali, whose ‘A Country Without a Post Office’ I consider one of the most brilliant poetic works having their roots in contemporary South Asian realities. Others who have also tried their hand at a few Faiz poems are Khushwant Singh and Vikram Seth. Apart from writing fiction, Khushwant Singh is a prolific translator of Punjabi texts. Vikram Seth, a world renowned novelist also known for his travelogues, is a polyglot and has translated several poets from many languages such as Urdu, Chinese.

In this post I present to you several translations of a very simple and beautiful Qat’a (quartain) of Faiz.

Raat yun dil mein teri khoyi hui yaad aayi,
Jaise viraane mein chupke se bahaar aa jaye,
Jaise sehraaon mein haule se chale baad-e-naseem,
Jaise beemaar ko be-wajhe qaraar aa jaaye.

 

Khushwant Singh

At night your lost memory stole into my mind
As spring silently appears in the wilderness;
As in desert wastes morning breeze begins to blow
As in one sick beyond hope, hope begins to grow…

 

Vikram Seth

Last night your faded memory came to me
As in the wilderness spring comes quietly,
As, slowly, in the desert, moves the breeze,
As, to a sick man, without cause, comes peace.

 

Agha Shahid Ali

At night my lost memory of you returned

and I was like the empty field where springtime,
without being noticed, is bringing flowers;

I was like the desert over which
the breeze moves gently, with great care;

I was like the dying patient
who, for no reason, smiles.

 

Sarvat Rahman

Last night, your long-lost memory came back to me as though
Spring stealthily should come to a forsaken wilderness
A gentle breeze its fragrance over burning deserts blow
Or, all at once be soothed somehow the sick soul’s distress.

 

My Translation

The night brought to heart your long lost memory
And felt as though spring arrives in a desolate place
It felt like gentle morning breeze in a desert
As if without a reason the ailing receives solace.

 

I like Vikram Seth’s translation the best. It is the truest to the original literally and still manages to retain a certain ‘Faiz-like’ quality to the way it sounds. Agha Shahid’s translation is too laboured and wordy. It makes me think that probably his intended readers are western people who, he might have thought, would not get the South Asian idioms. Sarvat Hussain’s translation is a bit awkward in reading so offers little joy and Khushwant Singh’s reading of Faiz seem to me as if his focus is a little different than Faiz. When I read the qat’a, it seems to me that Faiz is describing the effect of this long lost memory presenting itself. Khushwant Singh seems to describing  the mode of arrival of the memory.

How do you like my translation?