Ghazala's Weblog

a poetic thread to string my words and experiences on…

Translating Faiz- Raat Yun Dil Mein… — August 18, 2013

Translating Faiz- Raat Yun Dil Mein…

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?

Habib Jalib’s “Main Nahin Manta” — September 22, 2012

Habib Jalib’s “Main Nahin Manta”

Habib Jalib was one of the most loved people’s poets of Pakistan though not so well known as other Pakistani Urdu poets in the rest of the subcontinent. I came across his work while reading and researching other contemporary Urdu Pakistani poets. Jalib’s language is, like Ibn-e-insha and unlike Faiz, the plebeian language of the streets. But unlike Insha Jalib does not dabble in satire and subtleties. He is more like Paash who grabs hold of the truth about the oppressor by its neck. He is straight-forward and utterly unafraid.

I attempted a translation of his most popular poem which is also pretty representative of his work and approach.

Deep jis ka mehllaat hi mein jaley,
Chand logon ki khushiyon ko le kar chaley,
Wo jo saaye mein har maslehat ke paley,
Aisey dastoor ko,
Sub-he-be-noor ko,
Main nahein maanta,
Main nahein jaanta.

Main bhi khaaif nahein takhta-e-daar se,
Main bhi Mansoor hoon, keh do aghyaar se,
Kyun daraatey ho zindaan ki deevar se,
Zulm ki baat ko,
Jehl ki raat ko,
Main nahein maanta,
Main nahein jaanta.

“Phool shaakhon pe khilne lagey” tum kaho,
“Jaam rindon ko milne lagey” tum kaho,
“Chaak seenon kay silne lagey” tum kaho,
Iss khule jhooth ko,
Zehn ki loot ko,
Main nahein maanta,
Main nahein jaanta.

Tum nay loota hai sadyon hamaara sukoon,
Ab na hum per chalega tumhara fasoon,
Charaagar dardmandon ke bantey ho kyun?
Tum nahein charaagar,
Koi maane magar,
Main nahein maanta,
Main nahein jaanta.

Jalib used to recite his poetry in an extremely powerful tarannum (a musical rendition) during mushairas (gathering of poets and listeners and public meetings.

My Translation

Whose lamp shines only in mansions,
Which sets out only with a few folk’s elation,
Under the shadow of self-interest which finds protection,That tradition…That dark morning…I shall not revere!

I shall not greet!

I too am not afraid of the powers that be!

I too am Mansoor, go and tell the enemy!

With the prison wall why do you try to scare me?

The tongue of oppression…

The night of ignorance…

I shall not defer to!

I shall not acknowledge!

“Branches are abloom with flowers” you say!

“The thirsty have got to drink” you say!

“Wounds of the heart are being sewn” you say!

This open lie…

A plunder of reason…

I shall not consent to!

I shall not recognise!

For centuries you have pillaged peace that was our

Your spell over us shall have no more power

Why do you pretend to be a healer of those lamenting in grief?

You are no healer!

Even though some may agree…

I shall dis-agree!

I shall not concede!

 
 
Lal- A leftist band from Pakistan has remixed Jalib’s rendition of this poem to (what I think is) good effect.
 
Faiz Ahmed Faiz (Feb 13, 1911- Nov 20, 1984 ) — February 13, 2011

Faiz Ahmed Faiz (Feb 13, 1911- Nov 20, 1984 )

 

‘Faiz’ is the name of not just a poet.

‘Faiz’ is a name of the aural experience that is at once full of sensuous beauty and excruciating reality. It is the name of the artifice that turns words into images. It is the name of the subtle sorcery that stirs extraordinary ardour in ordinary hearts. It is the name of the beacon of hope that inspires weary travellers to plod on.

‘Faiz’ is the name of voice of humanity’s yearning for freedom. It is the name of the voice raised by people so that they may fully determine their own destiny and truly realise their potential. It is the name of voice that pierces the darkness of oppression and illuminates minds. It is the name of the voice that provokes the weak into rebellion… the voice that startles people from their slumber.

‘Faiz’ is the name of not just a poet!

 

 

Shakespeare’s sister… — August 2, 2009

Shakespeare’s sister…

A big house

with a study and lawn

A little money

to call my own

Would then my poems be more profound?

and new ideas

my essays expound?

Sylvia Plath…?

crazed by her craft?

Virginia Woolf with stones in her pockets

To remain grounded

and let my dreams defer?

With tradition shall my poems concur?

Write haikus

and of love borrowed

Or like Hughes, let it exlode?

Your blood will plant an olive tree and your people shall live in its shade… — August 22, 2008

Your blood will plant an olive tree and your people shall live in its shade…

What makes a poem subversive? Expressing a common humanity? Refuting identities thrust at us? Turning the pen against injustices? Appreciating beauty in people? Confronting history? Telling stories of life as it is? Singing of sadness, regret and anger? Ironical, but the answer is yes. Mahmoud Darwish of Palestine did all this. He belonged to the tribe of ‘raconteurs of conscience’ whose poetry stirs the hearts that have not closed their eyes to oppression of people and their misery.  Darwish’s is really “an utterly necessary voice, unforgettable once discovered…” as his fellow Arab poet Naomi Shihab once famously said.

Mahmoud Darwish’s death on 9th August 2008 went largely unnoticed in India which has all but turned its back on the Palestinian struggle and people. It was left to the independent voices on internet to let us Indians know that the great voice will no longer sing the songs it had created and give us pleasure, touch us with the beauty of his thoughts, make us sad and uncomfortable with what he recounts. Breyten Breytenbach, an anti-apartheid Afrikaner poet who also knows well the pangs of exile and pain of prison, was at the last reading by Derwish just weeks before he died. He describes the evening thus…

“The sun was setting, there was a soundless wind in the trees and from the neighbouring streets we could hear the voices of children playing. And for hours we sat on the ancient stone seats, spellbound by the depth and the beauty of this poetry. Was it about Palestine? Was it about his people dying, the darkening sky, the intimate relationships with those on the other side of the wall, ‘soldier’ and ‘guest’, exile and love, the return to what is no longer there, the memory of orchards, the dreams of freedom…? Yes – like a deep stream all of these themes were there, of course they so constantly informed his verses; but it was also about olives and figs and a horse against the skyline and the feel of cloth and the mystery of the colour of a flower and the eyes of a beloved and the imagination of a child and the hands of a grandfather. And of death.”

Derwish was fluent in Hebrew and read the work of Lorca and Pablo Neruda in Hebrew translations. His poetry resembles that of Faiz in the sense that he uses stylistically classical language but writes of common concerns in the voice of oppressed people. Also, like Faiz, Derwish’s poetry has many layers of meaning. In a hard hitting poem, he describes the violence that Palestinians face on day to day basis. Its full force comes not from harsh angry words but soft, melancholy tones of lost relationships, death, dreams and colours.

Victim #18

The olive grove was once green;
It was! And the sky was
A blue forest; it was!
What has changed it tonight?

And tonight
I’ll come through the window
And bring you jasmine.
Don’t blame me if I’m late;
They always stop me on the way.

They quietly stopped our truck
at the curve of the road
and quietly turned us East.

My heart was once a blue sparrow;
It was! And your handkerchiefs
Were all white, my beloved.
What has soiled them tonight?
I don’t understand.

They quietly stopped our truck
and quietly turned us East.

For you I have everything:
Both shade and light
And a wedding ring
And even an orchard of fig trees.

They quietly stopped our truck
and quietly turned us East.

The olive grove was always green;
It was, my beloved.
But tonight
The blood of fifty victims
Has turned it into a red pool.
Please don’t blame me
If I can’t come;
They’ve murdered me, too.

A Palestinian blogger from Gaza- Heba says, “He taught me to believe that our cause is alive and just and that a Palestinian does live in the conscience of millions with his/her long legacy of love, patience, exile, and nostalgia.” Heba, you are right Palestine will continue to live in my heart with Derwish’s legacy and poetry.  

In one of his last poems, set in ditch where a victim and his enemy have fallen, he articulates his dejectedness at not having been able to see a resolution of Palestine Israel conflict and passes the baton to future poets to dream on and realize their dreams for the Palestinian people.

He said: Would you negotiate with me now?
I said: For what would you negotiate me now,
in this grave-hole?
He said: On my share and your share of this common grave
I said: What use is it?
Time has passed us,
our fate is an exception to the rule
here lay a murderer and the murdered, sleeping in one hole
and it remains for another poet to take this scenario to its end!

I conclude with another of his famous poems, a chance reading of which introduced me to Derwish and the Palestinian struggle, years ago.

The Earth is closing on us
pushing us through the last passage
and we tear off our limbs to pass through.
The Earth is squeezing us.
I wish we were its wheat
so we could die and live again.
I wish the Earth was our mother
so she’d be kind to us.

I wish we were pictures on the rocks
for our dreams to carry as mirrors.
We saw the faces of those who will throw
our children out of the window of this last space.
Our star will hang up mirrors.
Where should we go after the last frontiers?
Where should the birds fly after the last sky?
Where should the plants sleep after the last breath of air?
We will write our names with scarlet steam.
We will cut off the hand of the song to be finished by our flesh.
We will die here, here in the last passage.
Here and here our blood will plant its olive tree.

 

Mahmoud Darwish, poet, born March 15, 1941; died August 9, 2008