‘Keerru’ by Fauzia Rafique reviewed by Rashid Javed Ahmed

Translated from Punjabi

Keerru : Punjabi novel

Novelist : Fauzia Rafique

Review : Rashid Javed Ahmed

It was by mere chance that I got to read this unique Punjabi novelette, thanks to Author Ayesha Aslam. Before this I had read Fauzia Rafique Jee’s poetry and I had published her Urdu poem ‘Zindagi thee / it was life’ in my magazine. I knew Fauzia Rafique Jee with reference to her work with Pakistan television Lahore where in better times my Punjabi and Urdu plays were also presented. I came to know of her earlier novel ‘Skeena’, and I have made a request to Sanjh Publication’s Amjad Saleem Minhas, Skeena’s publisher, for a copy. I will definitely read it if I get it.

Keerru is the story of Mohammad Hussain Keerru who is accused of blasphemy, he first escapes to Karachi from Lahore and then leaves for Canada. In Canada, he sees many colors of life and he adapts. Keerru’s mother arrives from Pakistan. She tells her story from the 1947 partition of the Punjab, what happened to her then, and how being a Christian she had to live in a Muslim cultural environment. She brings the novel to the next level by relating her story and talking about her marriage with Keerru’s father.   

In this novella every character tells us about their life themselves, and in this way Fauzia Rafique Jee has presented this story in a beautiful manner. There are five characters in the novelette: Keerru, Haleema, Naila, Isabella and Daljit. The story revolves around these people who have come out of their own countries to settle in Canada. The story of these characters creates a naked image of the class injustices and societal contradictions rampant in the Indian Subcontinent.

Haleema is the main character of this novelette, and her full name is Haleema Alice Bibi. Working as a servant in rich people’s homes, poor family’s daughter Haleema who never got the opportunity to go to school, is actually the most aware character of all. Haleema is a woman belonging to the lowest tier of her society and despite facing the various difficulties that life had subjected her to, and in spite of all the pain, hardship and sorrow, she still is able to have a sane mind. She is a personification of the highest values of humanity. Through Haleema’s character, Fauzia Jee has weaved all kinds of exploitation and injustice- whether religious or societal- so artfully that it has become its class identity. This is such a character created by the novelist that becomes the precursor for the whole body of thought behind the novella. Haleema and other people like her, die working day and night physically and mentally trying to sustain the systems of their lives. In this society, some people, some very few people try to support them but even they keep them out of their class. Living like insects, they believe that this is their fate and to change it or to come out of it is not in their power.

The second big character of the novelette is Haleema’s son Keerru. Saving his life from religious extremists, somehow, he arrives in Canada, and after working menial jobs for many years, he becomes the owner of a garments company. He has brought his mother over too who now lives with him and she takes good care of him and his friends. People often ask her the reasons why she named her son ‘keerru’, but to hear her answer, you’ll have to read the novelette because what will be the benefit in writing everything here. But I will definitely say one thing that Keerru’s character is a strange character who hates the reality of his inner self, there can’t be a bigger torture than this. I believe the name Keerru is given to him not by Haleema but by Fauzia Rafique herself, and what an amazing choice. Other than praising the beauty of the Punjabi language used, much admiration for using this name.

I will not talk about the rest of the characters because that would mean revealing most of the story, neither am I giving any ‘basic theme’ but the characters Fauzia Rafiq jee has created are full of life and they have distinct characteristics of their own. Through these characters, the readers come to know of the pain of exploitation of women and then the description of a charater’s rebellion as a way to come out of it. Repression of women has many forms and one of those is coercion and violence from man or husband, and many writers have spoken about it in their writings but what is a plus point with Fauzia Jee is that she did not make it into a slogan but through the story she has shown that the strength to be free of repression is also within women’s selves. Similarly, you will see the tall walls of social apartheid and casteism in the novelette.

I am not a critic but a reader of Punjabi and Urdu literature, and I have much appreciation for Fauzia Jee’s characterization. Five characters tell their stories in the language of ordinary people, sometimes they go in their pasts, then return to the present but the continuity of the story is never broken. The environment is described so well that the reader feels himself to be present there and everything passes in front of his eyes like a film.

About Keerru and Daljit’s relationship, Fauzia Jee has mentioned Shah Hussain and Madhu Lal, Bulleh Shah and Shah Inayat. Some people may object to it but I am in agreement with Fauzia Jee on this pointer.

I am very happy to have read Fauzia Jee’s novelette.     

Read Punjabi original at Penslips Magazine

View it on YouTube

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‘CV’ a poem by Farooq Sulehria

uve-2020-jesus-curia

My trade union membership
party card number
the (scorching) summer spent behind bars
ostracizations (endured) in kabul and damascas
the stinking stony cell of royal fort

late evening
a few kisses stolen on the campus bridge

for a small job opportunity
all the merits of a long life
I must hide in my CV

Art work by Jesús Curiá

Translated from Urdu by Fauzia Rafique

Read Urdu original at Jeddojehad

Farooq Sulehria is an author, journalist and an educationist living and working in Lahore, Pakistan.

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Shah Hussain: Kāfi No. 1 and 2

shah hussain 4

Kāfi No. 1

Rabbā merā hāl dā mahram tūñ
Andar tūñ haiñ bāhar tūñ haiñ rom rom vich tūñ
Tu hī tānā tūñ hī bānā sabh kuch merā tūñ
Kahe Hussain faqīr nimānā maiñ nāhīñ sabh tūñ

O God, you are the confidant of my days
You are inside, outside, you are in every pore
You are the warp and weft, my each and everything you are
Says Hussein, the worthless fakir, I am nothing, you are all

Kāfi No. 2

Charkha merā rangā rang lāl
je va
charkha te va mune
hun kaha gayā bārāñ punne
sāīñ kāran lo’in runne
roe vanjāyā hāl
je va
charkha te va ghumā’an
sabhe āīāñ sīs gundā’an
kāI na āyā hāl van
ā’an
hun kāī na chaldī nāl
vacche khāhad g
ūhaā vāā
sabho la
da veā pār
maiñ kīa phe
yā veā dā nī
sabh paīāñ mere khayal
je va
charkha te va pachī
mā peāñ mere sar te rakhī
kahe hussein faqīr sāīñ dā
har dam nāl sañbhāl

My colourful spinning wheel I painted red
the bigger grew the wheel
the greater the weave
twelve years passed
for the sake of my Sain
these eyes weep
and weeping worsens my state
the bigger the wheel
the wider the spins
they all came to get their hair done
no one came to share my sorrows
no one willing to go along
a calf ate up the cotton ball
all my neighbours raised a ruckus
what did I do wrong? They all went after me
the bigger the wheel
the heavier the basket my parents placed on my head
say Hussein, the Sain’s fakir
take good care of what you carry

Read the original Punjabi in Shahmukhi and Gurmukhi

Translated by Naveed Alam (from Verses of a Lowly Fakir).

Transliterated and edited by R. Singh

Confucius in Punjabi

classic_chinese_painting

Translated and compiled by Randeep Singh

These are translations of Yasir Javid’s Urdu translations into Punjabi, with Hindi and Urdu alternatives added only where necessary.

Thank you to Sadhu Binning  and Ajay Bhardwaj for their help.

Kee eh khushi dee gall nahin ki tu jo vee sikhya os da amal kitta jaave?

Kee eh vee khushi dee gall nahin ki door toN tain nooN dost miln aave?

Je lok main noon na pahnchaan te main noon nahin takleef hundi
kee main ek vadhiya insaan nahin haan?

學而時習之、不亦說乎。有朋自遠方來、不亦樂乎。人不知而不慍、不亦君子乎。

Isn’t it a joy to apply what one has learnt?
Isn’t it also a joy to have friends come from afar?
If people don’t  recognize me, and this bothers me not, am I not a sage?

(1:1)

Main har roz tin nuktiaN bare khud nu parakdha haaN
Kee main dujiyaan dee madad le khud nu smarpit/waqf kita hai?
Kee main apne dostaan de naal gallaan de vich bharosa da qaabil si?
Kee mere amal mere qaul de mutaabiq nahin san?

吾日三省吾身、爲人謀而不忠乎。與朋友交而不信乎。傳不習乎。

Everyday, I examine myself on three points
Have I been devoted in helping others?
Have I been worthy of trust in what I say to my friends?
Have I not acted according to my word?

(1:4)

Oh gall karan to pehla amal karda te baad de vich amaal te mutaabiq gal karda
子貢問君子。子曰。先行其言、而后從之。
The noble person acts before speaking and then speaks according to his action

(2:13)

Sikhna sochna to beghair bekaar hain te sochna sikhna to beghair khatarnaak hai
攻乎異端、斯害也己。
Learning without thinking is useless. Thinking without learning is dangerous.

(2:15)

Booha Bandd Karainde’ay . ‘About To Shut The Door’ by Mahmood Awan

A poem in Punjabi and English

.
Tainday Naa Di Roz ChambaylRi
Mainday Sukkay Seenay Jaagdi
Tainday Suraj Naal SvailRay
Tainday VehRay KhaiRday VailRay
Nit Holi Holi Kholday
Maindaty SahwaaN Wajji TaakRi

Taindi Neeli Saavi Chunni’aaN
Aa Door Samundar Runni’aaN
Tainday SahwaaN Paani GaiRyaa
Din Aokha AaN SahayRya

Maindi Raat Udaas AkailRi
Mainda Bistar Painday Torda
MaiN Sutta Hor day Hor da

Mainday Pindday Andar Bhaonde’ay
Mainday KhaabaaN day wich Ronde’ay
Nee Boha Bandd Karainde’ay
Mainu ThoRa Hor Udeek
..

بُوہا بند کریندیٔے
محمود اعوان

تینڈے ناں دی روز چنبیلڑی
مینڈے سُکّے سینے جاگدی
تینڈے سورج نال سویلڑے
تینڈے ویڑھے کھیڈدے ویلڑے
نِت ہولی ہولی کھولدے
مینڈے ساہواں وجّی تاکڑی
تینڈی نیلی ساوی چُنیاں
تینڈے ہوٹھیں کِھڑدی چمیاں
آ دور سمندر رُنیاں
تینڈے ساہواں پانی گیڑیا
دِن اوکھا آن سہیڑیا
مینڈی رات اداس اکیلڑی
مینڈا بستر پَینڈے ٹوردا
میں سُتا ہور دے ہور دا
مینڈے پِنڈے اندر بَھوندیٔے
مینڈے خاباں دے وچ روندیٔے
نی بُوہا بند کریندیٔے
مینوں تھوڑا ہور اُڈیک
..


About to Shut the Door
Mahmood Awan

Jasmine of your name each day
awakens in my dry chest
morning rises with your sun
times playing in your back yard
slowly open
my breath-shut window
your blue green scarves
kisses blooming on your lips
Longing to reach across oceans
breath-pulled water of your eyes
begets a tough day
my night sad, alone
distance-tracking bed
transforms me in my sleep
the woman whirling in my body
weeping in my dreams
who is about to shut the door
wait for me a bit more!

Translation: Fauzia Rafique
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‘Dislocutions: art and translation – Skeena’ by Fauzia Rafique

At the Surrey Art Gallery in 2011, i was happy to discuss aspects of my back and forth journey between two languages while writing Skeena. Here is an updated version of it.

frafique-jkvammen2011

Surrey Art Gallery
Dislocutions: a panel discussion on art and translation
October 15, 2011

It is a wonderful location for me to share my experience of writing a novel in two languages where striking and insightful expressions of art by Brendan Fernandes, Digital Natives, Soheila K. Esfahani, Mark Neufeld, Emilio Rojas, Tony Romano, Ming Wong and Dipna Horra are happening, and, here for this discussion we have artists Lorna Brown, Emilio Rojas and Jordan Strom. Thank you for having me.

I will read to you the very first thing that Skeena, the narrator, says to us to begin her story:
My name means different things in different languages. In Arabic, it is the ‘Spirit of Tranquility’ (Sakina), in Hebrew; the ‘Indwelling Feminine Face of Divinity’ (Shekhinah); and in the languages of Native Peoples, the ‘River of Mists’ (Skeena). At this time, I don’t favor one meaning over the other. They make a lot of sense together but if I met a people who associated this sound to a meaning that does not fit my scheme, I will have to pick and choose.

In my mind, with the delivery of its main themes, one of the ‘purposes’ of my novel Skeena was to communicate across cultures and languages. In 1991, when I began writing it in Toronto, I had been in Canada for five years and already I could feel the loss of language at different levels. I cannot say that I experienced loss of culture but I did experience the presence of barriers in seeing across cultures. Barriers were of assumptions and preconceived notions, some mine and some those of others, all coming out of the prejudiced systemic structures that rule both my worlds.

For me, there is no conflict in the fact that I simultaneously own as my homelands both Pakistan and Canada. Within it, I am a Punjabi woman of Muslim family origin from Pakistani side of South Asia who has by now lived in the East and the West Coast of Canada for twenty five years, and who considers Vancouver Lower Mainland her hometown alongwith Lahore. For me, my art must reflect and reveal my evolved identity, my physical locations, my combined cultures, and my deepest thoughts. The stories I am inspired to tell come from, and satisfy, my organic communities in both Canada and Pakistan.

The draft manuscript of Skeena, begun in Toronto in 1991 and completed here in Surrey in 2004, brought together my two languages for me when all its dialogue, about 80% of the whole, was expressed in both English and (roman) Punjabi. A realistic critical literary work of fiction, it required communicating across many cultures, the thoughts and lived realities of a young Muslim Punjabi Canadian woman. In evolving this format, there was my need to reflect/reproduce in English the feel/nuance of conversations taking place in Punjabi. It was most important to do that because dialogue is one of the major ways for the reader to get into a different culture, its stories and people; and, to form our own opinions as readers while we visit and become part of various situations in a novel.

Skeena provides a vibrant context to the lives of people living in different social and cultural environments where they may know some facts about each other but where lived experiences are so different that it is hard sometimes to communicate the meaning of words. The term ‘violence against women’, for example, may not give any clear idea to a person born and raised here in Canada about the extent of violence faced by Muslim women in Pakistan. The same term when used to illustrate the situation of women in present day Canada, may also provide misleading notions to a reader in South Asia. To me, these things cannot be told; they must be experienced. So, Skeena happens in the present, and is steeped in the culture/s of its characters.

As well, there was a desire to involve Punjabi Canadian youth, the second/third/fourth generation, by using a lay-person’s form of roman for Punjabi, similar to the written communication now carried out by Punjabis on facebook, twitter and in texting. It was also geared to overcome the Gurumukhi/Shahmukhi divide in the language, and by offering the dialogue in both Punjabi and English, I was hoping to create a story that could unobtrusively become a beautiful culture-sharing, language-learning tool.

In 2004, the first draft of the novel was complete. An engaging story that begins in Pakistan, ends in Canada; uses both English and Punjabi; and, is captivating in the projection of its themes and subject matter. I felt that the manuscript fulfilled all its purposes. But my editor felt otherwise. She said that it would be tedious for the reader to go through two languages at every dialogue, and, she said that I will be ‘ghettoizing’ my writing if I did not remove the Punjabi.

It took many months of thinking while I worked on my other two novels, to come to a point in 2005 where all Punjabi sentences were removed from English manuscript, and placed in a new file. At that point, I think, I heard an actual sigh of relief from the English manuscript as it was released from the repetitive burden of about 200 pages of Punjabi. Plus, I was overjoyed to see an 80% complete Punjabi manuscript, even when in roman. What an amazing bonus! Skeena gave me the gift of two novels when I was writing one, and my mother language gave me the third, Skeena’s Gurumukhi edition via script-conversion. But that happens a little later.

After Punjabi sentences were removed, numerous Punjabi/Urdu/Arabic/Persian words and terms remained in the 2005 manuscript because I thought the reader may like some flavour of languages without being stalled by them. I sent this manuscript to a couple of friends including one in California who went ahead to read over the phone, a couple of scenes from the second section, to a mutual friend in Pakistan who happened to be a writer, editor and publisher. Zubair Ahmad, who later edited the Punjabi ms of Skeena, was taken by the passages he heard over the phone, and invited me to come to Pakistan to translate it in Punjabi for publication. I left for Pakistan in early 2006.

Zubair Ahmad asked me an important question: which language did I use to ‘perceive/imagine’ the story. My thoughtful reply to him was ‘English’ since the novel was perceived, told and written in English. But that was half the truth because all dialogue by and among Punjabi characters was mind-developed in Punjabi, written in roman on the page, and then rendered in English.

In about six months of full time work, a Punjabi Shahmukhi manuscript was ready for publication. Daily I translated a few pages, and worked with the editor to finalize them. It was a powerful and learning experience for me in many different ways. First, the creative space that evolved between the Writer, the Editor, and the Publisher was conducive to both fine-ness and speed. The result was a satisfying manuscript that was then published by Sanjh Publications in Lahore in 2007. Second, something i never expected or knew that could happen though Zubair Ahmad had predicted it: After 1975-76 when I had adapted from English to Punjabi Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novelette ‘The Poor Folk’ for Pakistan Television, I had not had the chance to do any major work in Punjabi except for two incomplete novels and a couple of unpublished short stories. Now suddenly, during translating Skeena in Lahore, a fountain of Punjabi words and terms began to sprout in my mind, even words that I thought I never knew. With it, a whole lot of Punjabi poems began to surface. Some of them are part of my (out-of-print) chapbook ‘Passion Fruit/Tahnget Phal’ (Surrey 2011)*.

I returned to Canada in 2007, and began to work on the English manuscript referencing it with the published Punjabi version. The detail became clearer at every step. The English manuscript became freer of all kinds of weaknesses in expression, content and style. In Lahore, as I was converting dialogue from lay-roman to Shahmukhi script, and translating narrative from English to Punjabi, I had felt that all the remaining weaknesses/gaps, the things i call the ‘lies’ of a manuscript, in concept, style, structure or expression, were revealed to me (i remember wondering if it’ll at all be ‘practical’ to run this same ‘test of translation’ on my other two English novels). I found that it’s really hard to translate an unfamiliar action or concept from one language to another, and even harder to translate an unclear one. I have examples of both.

In the first section that takes place in a village in Pakistani Punjab, a character makes a common (in Punjab) gesture of seeking forgiveness from Allah where certain fingertips are placed on the tongue and then on the lower ear tips with the word ‘tauba’ meaning ‘forgiveness’. It took many agonizing attempts before I could come to this, with the help of my editor, i presume.
Allah Forgiveness!’ He touches his tongue with both his first finger tips, and then touches his ears with them’. 
But I was not happy with it because in Punjabi, it was effortless:
Allah Maafi!’ Oh unglaN de poTay jeebh te rakh ke kannaN noon laanday naiN’.
Later, back in Canada in 2007-08 when I was referencing the English manuscript with the published Punjabi version, the above English sentence also became better.
‘Allah Forgiveness!’ He places his fingertips on his tongue, and then touches his ears with them. (Skeena, Section 1, 17. Libros Libertad, Surrey 2011)

The second example is of another difficult point that benefitted from the act of translation. This is what I had in 2005 in a para, again from the first section, and with the same character:
SaeeN Jee is lying unconscious. His cheeks are blotched with surma kohl from his eyes, and his white and orange hair is sticky with sweat. But the scariest is his mouth with his dandasa-orange lips stretched over sparkling white teeth biting a light brown piece of wood.
However painful in English, it’s rendering in Punjabi flows perfectly. Later, still bumpy, it does become a bit better in English:
SayeeN Jee is unconscious. The run-down kohl from his eyes has blotched his cheeks, and his henna-coloured white and red hair is sticky with sweat. But the scariest is his mouth where his walnut-tree-barked orange lips are stretched around a jaw revealing sparkling white teeth over a brown horizontal piece of firewood. (Skeena, Section 1, 18. Libros Libertad, Surrey 2011)

The manuscript was accepted by a publisher in 2010, and the very first editorial ‘suggestion’ was to remove all non-English words. I expected it but there’s no harm in trying. I removed most of the words within a couple of days but even then so many remained. Several methods were applied; explaining the word in text, putting meaning beside it, coming up with an acceptable translation, and re-doing the sentence. It had to be done this way, and in stages, so that the manuscript did not get scratched or injured by the extraction or addition. I am grateful to its editors and publishers in Lahore, Surrey and Vancouver for their support in letting me find suitable solutions for each instance.

Going through the editing of the Gurumukhi version of Skeena with Editor/Author Surjeet Kalsey in 2010, I realized that there were a large number of Arabic/Urdu/Persian words that would be new or unclear to the Gurumukhi reader whose cultural reference is Sikhism with language influences coming from Hindi/Sansikrit. We did contemplate adding meaning of some words but the task seemed larger than the time available. Also, how some words are written differently in Shahmukhi, and, questions if they should be left as they are or changed to the prevalent Gurumukhi convention. May be these issues will be addressed when Skeena’s Gurmukhi edition actually publishes from India.

In poetry, i find that my voice changes from one language to the other. In Punjabi, it easily links to the folk, and the emotion; in English, it is a bit blunt, unwilling to express deep emotion. Mainly because, as I was saying to Jordan Strom, so far I have had many funerals in Punjabi but not many in English, so when a woman is stoned to death or buried alive, my experience of mourning and sadness will likely find expression in Punjabi, and my anger and outrage in English. This, I guess, somewhat has to do with the privilege of being a first generation immigrant who continues to own both my languages and all my chosen Pakistani Canadian cultural values.

My current projects include a translation of Madholal Hussain’s selected Punjabi poetry in English, and some of my favourite English poems to Punjabi.

Fauzia Rafique Surrey 2011
http://gandholi.wordpress.com/
http://www.facebook.com/fauzia.zohra.rafique
@RafiqueFauzia

Photo by Janet Kvamman 2011 (treated)
*Now in an upcoming collection of Punjabi poetry.
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Hindi and Urdu: Sa’adat Hasan Manto

manto-whitestar-670x-350

This is Muhammad Umar Memon’s translation of an article by Sa’adat Hasan Manto.

The translation first appeared in The Annual of Urdu Studies.The Hindi-Urdu dispute has been raging for some time now. Maulvi Abdul Haq Sahib, Dr Tara Singh and Mahatma Gandhi know what there is to know about this dispute. For me, though, it has so far remained incomprehensible. Try as hard as I might, I just haven’t been able to understand. Why are Hindus wasting their time supporting Hindi, and why are Muslims so beside themselves over their preservation of Urdu? A language is not made, it makes itself. And no amount of human effort can ever kill a language. When I tried to write something about this current hot issue, I ended up with the following long conversation:Munshi Narain Parshad:  Iqbal Sahib, are you going to drink this soda water?

Mirza Muhammad Iqbal: Yes, I am.

Munshi: Why dont you drink lemon?

Iqbal: No particular reason. I just like soda water. At our house, everyone likes to drink it.

Munshi: In other words, you hate lemon.

Iqbal: Oh, not at all. Why would I hate it, Munshi Narain Parshad? Since everyone at home drinks soda water, I’ve sort of grown accustomed to it. That’s all. But if you ask me, actually lemon tastes better than plain soda.

Munshi: That is precisely why I was surprised hat you would prefer something salty over something sweet. and lemon isn’t just sweet, it has a nice flavour. What do you think?

Iqbal: You are absolutely right, but…

Munshi: But what?

Iqbal: Nothing. I was just going to say that I’ll take soda.

Munshi: Same nonsense again. I’m not forcing you to drink poison, am I? Brother, what’s the difference between the two? Both bottles are made in the same factory after all. The same machine has poured water into them. If you take the sweetness and flavour out of the lemon, what’s left?

Iqbal: Just soda… a kind of salty water…

Munshi: Then, what’s the harm in drinking the lemon?

Iqbal: No harm at all.

Munshi: Then drink!

Iqbal: And what will you drink?

Munshi: I’ll send for another bottle.

Iqbal: Why would you send for another bottle? What’s the harm in drinking plain soda?

Munshi: N… n… no harm.

Iqbal: So then, here, drink the soda water.

Munshi: And what will you drink?

Iqbal: I’ll get another bottle.

Munshi: Why would you send for another bottle? What’s the harm in drinking lemon?

Iqbal: N… n… no harm. And what’s the harm in drinking soda?

Munshi: None at all.

Iqbal: The fact is, soda is rather good.

Munshi: But I think that lemon… is rather good.

Iqbal: Perhaps, if you say so. Although I’ve heard all along from my elders that soda is rather good.

Munshi: Now what’s a person to make of this: I’ve heard all along from my elders that lemon is rather good.

Iqbal: But what’s your own opinion?

Munshi: And what’s yours?

Iqbal: My opinion… hum… my opinion. My opinion is just this… but why don’t you tell me your opinion?

Munshi: My opinion… hum… my opinion is just this… but why should I tell it first?

Iqbal: I don’t think we’ll get anywhere this way. Look, just put a lid on your glass. I’ll do the same. Then we’ll discuss the matter leisurely.

Munshi: No, we can’t do that. I’ve already popped the caps off the bottles. We’ll just have to drink. Come on, make up your mind, before all the fizz is gone. These drinks are worthless without the fizz.

Iqbal: I agree. And at least you do agree that there’s no real difference between lemon and soda.

Munshi: When did I ever say that? There’s plenty of difference. They’re as different as night and day. Lemon is sweet, flavourful, tart-three things more than soda. Soda only has fizz, and that’s so strong it just barges into the nose. By comparison, lemon is very tasty. One bottle and you feel fresh for hours. Generally, soda water is for sick people. Besides, you’ve just admitted yourself that lemon tends to be tastier than soda.

Iqbal: Well, that I did. But I never said that lemon is better than soda. Tasty doesn’t mean that a thing is also beneficial. Take achaar, it’s very tasty, but you already know about its harmful effects. he presence of sweetness and tartness doesn’t prove that something is good. If you cnsulted a doctor he would tell you the harm lemon does to the stomach. But soda, that’s something else. The thing is, it helps digestion.

Munshi: Look, we can settle the matter by mixing the two.

Iqbal: I have no objection to that.

Munshi: Well, then, fill this glass halfway with soda.

Iqbal: Why don’t you fill half the glass with your lemon? I’ll pour my soda after that.

Munshi: Makes no sense. Why don’t you pour your soda first?

Iqbal: Because I want to drink soda-lemon mixed.

Munshi: And I want lemon-soda mixed.

By Shivam Vij. Reproduced from Minds@UW and posted December 5, 2011 in “Kafila” at http://kafila.org/2011/12/05/hindi-and-urdu-saadat-hasan-manto/

Translations of Classical Chinese Poetry into Punjabi

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Poems of Chinese poet, Li Bai (701-762). Translated by R. Singh, edited by Fauzia Rafique.

日     照     香     爐     生     紫     煙

遙     看     瀑     布     掛     前     川

飛     流     直     下     三     千     尺

疑     是     銀     河     落     九     天

Xiang Lū* te dhūp channan dhund udānda ae

Dūron maiñ vekhiya ek ābshār

uDdā vagdā dhenda tīn hazār foott thalle

Jivaiñ tāriān de rāh arsh toñ digdī ae

The mist rises from sunlit Xiang Lu

From afar, I see a waterfall

Flying, flowing plunging three thousand feet

Like the milkway falling from heaven

問     余     何     意     棲     碧     山

笑     而     不     答     心     自     閒

桃     花     流     水     杳     然     去

別     有     天     地     非     人     間

Lok pūchde maiñ sāvī choTi te kyoñ rehnāñ

Muskdā maiñ chup apne dil de sukūn’ch

Aarū de phūl pānī te tarde jānde

Fāniāñ de is jahāñ toñ agge kisse haur jahāñ’ch

They ask me why I live on Green Mountain

Smiling, I stay quiet, my heart at peace

Peach blossoms float along the water’s surface

To another world beyond that of mortals

床     前     明     月     光

疑     是     地     上     霜

举     头     望     明     月

低     头     思     故     乡

Mere bistre de samne chamkde chan de lo

Farsh de paindi lagge jivaiñ korā

Sar chañdeyañ maiñ chan taknāñ

Sar niwañdeyañ apna ghar yaad karnāñ

Before my bed the bright moon shines

So that it seems like frost on the ground

Raising my head, I gaze at the moon

Lowering my head, I think of my home

* Xiang Lū: the name of a mountain in southern central China

Holier Than Life ‘زندگی سے مقدس تر’ by Fauzia Rafique – Urdu rendition Shamoon Saleem

رمشا مسیح کیس اور بابوسر میں 19 شیعہ مسلمانوں کے قتلِ عام پہ احتجاج کی نظم

زندگی سے مقدس تر

ہاں، آج میں اک مُہر ثبت کرتی ہوں
قرآن کے اک صفحے پر
اس معصوم کے نام کی
جسے کل اسلام کے جانثاروں نے
اس کی توہین کے الزام میں
قتل کیا ہے

میں مہر ثبت کرتی ہوں
ہندوؤں اور ان گنت احمدیوں کی اپنے وطن سے ہجرت کی
اور کل کی خبرمیں سے
ان انیس شیعہ مقتولوں کے ناموں کی
گیارہ برس کی اس بچی کی گرفتاری کی
اور موت تک زدوکوب ہونے والے اس عیسائ جوان کی
جو دونوں ذہن میں کچھ ہلکے تھے، سادہ تھے
مگر دل میں موتیوں سے شفاف تھے

چلو دل کی بات رہنے دو
مگر ذہن کی ہلکی اور سادہ تو میں بھی ہوں

میں اس ورق کو جلاتی نہیں ہوں
میں کتابوں کے ورق جلانے میں یقین نہیں رکھتی
میں اسے پھاڑتی بھی نہیں ہوں
میں بے سود تخریب میں یقین نہیں رکھتی

میں اس پر سیاہ حرفوں میں
مہر ثبت کرتی ہوں، ”قاتل“ کی
ہر اک مقتول کے نام کی سرخی سے

یہ دیکھنے کو کہ
کتاب کے نام پہ کتنے قتلوں کی گنجائش
قاتلوں کی اس کتاب پہ ہے

یا کبھی یہ دیکھ سکنے کو کہ
کس کتاب کے قاتلوں کا جتھہ
بالآخر تمغہ جیتتا ہے
تورات کے نام پر فلسطین میں
قران کے نام پہ پاکستان یاایران میں
انجیل کے نام پر ویتنام میں
یا تریپیتکا کے نام پہ برما میں

ہاں، آج میں اک مہر ثبت کرتی ہوں
قرآن کے اک صفحے پر
اس معصوم کے نام کی
جسے کل اسلام کے جانثاروں نے
اس کی توہین کے الزام میں
قتل کیا ہے

اور اے جاں نثارو
مجھے بےوقوف مت بناؤ
اپنے متشدد مظاہروں سے
کہ تمہیں قتل کا مقدس حق تفویض ہے
کسی بھی کتاب کی تقدیس کی خاطر
کسی بھی نام کی تقدیس کی خاطر
یا کسی بھی شے یاجگہ کی تقدیس کی خاطر

زندگی سے مقدس تر کچھ نہیں ہو سکتا
دل سے مقدس تر کچھ نہیں ہو سکتا
جو دھڑکتا ہے، ایک خوشی بھرے مستقبل کی امید میں
محبت کرتا ہے اور جیتا ہے
ایک پھول، ایک پرندہ،
اک گھاس کا سبز تنکا
وحشیو، تم مجھے اپنے
طیش آور مظاہروں سے بیوقوف مت بناؤ
خود زندگی سے مقدس تر
کچھ نہیں ہوتا

فوزیہ رفیق
ترجمہ: شمعون سلیم

View English original
https://uddari.wordpress.com/2012/08/19/holier-than-life-by-fauzia-rafique/
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URGENT: Coming Together for Ahmad Salim – London August 4/12

Author/Archivist Ahmad Salim, winner of Pakistan’s Pride of Performance, is very ill and will probably undergo liver transplant within the next THREE to FOUR months.

In spite of his suffering, he is concerned about archives of South Asian Research and Resource Centre (SARRC) that he worked hard to build over decades. Now, the SARRC materials are used by researchers worldwide.

Friends in UK are taking the lead by inviting you to a meeting to discuss what we can do for Ahmad Salim and for the continuation of SARRC. If you don’t live in London or cannot attend the meeting, please contact Nuzhat or Abbas at:
abbas1960@gmail.com

More information on Ahmad Salim
https://uddari.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/pride-of-performance-for-ahmad-salim/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ahmad_Salim

Date and Time: Saturday 4 August 1500 to 1700 hours
Venue: C/o Rashad Aslam,
Adam Bernard Solicitors
25 Barking Road, Upton Park
London E6 1PW
Mobile (Rashad Aslam): 07833 345 535

Hope to see all of you there.

RSVP
Nuzhat and Abbas
Mobile Nuzhat: 07962 426 065
Mobile Abbas: 07890 844 149
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An Afternoon of Bengali Poetry বৈকালিক – Richmond July 28/12

Vancouver Tagore Society & City of Richmond with World Poetry

Present

বৈকালিক

An Afternoon of Bengali Poetry

1:30PM-4:00PM

Saturday July 28, 2012

Rooftop Garden, Richmond Cultural Centre

7700 Minoru Gate, Richmond, BC V6Y 1R9

Admission: Free

Program Schedule

 Welcome Poems: 1:30PM

Two Birds – Rabindranath Tagore / Lee Tan

An Eventual Victory – Alan Hill / Alan Hill

Keynote Speech: 1:40PM

The Evolution of Bengali Poetry – Leena Chatterjee / Anuradha Mitra

Woven Tapestry of Words – World Poetry: 1:50PM

Day’s End – Rabindranath Tagore

Tirthankar Bose (Bengali), Ariadne Sawyer (English, translated by Willliam Radice),

Bong Ja Ahn (Korean), Subrath Shrestha (Nepali), Yilin Wang (Chinese),

Jacqueline Maire (French), Selene Bertelsen (Middle-English), and

Anita Aguirre Nieveras (Tagalog)

Amorous, Rebellious, Humorous: Spirits of Bengal through its Poetry: 2:00PM 

Couple-Confluence – Abul Hasan / Emilia Jahangir & Avik Ranjan Dey

Tryst – Rabindranath Tagore / Sanzida Habib Swati, Amlan Das Gupta,

Shankhanaad Mallick & Arno Kamolika

Banalata Sen – Jibanananda Das / Duke Ashrafuzzaman

Man and Nature – Amitava Das Gupta / Sanzida Habib Swati & Amlan Das Gupta

My Letter to Ranjini – Srijat Bandopaddhaya / Avik Ranjan Dey

Ballad of A Farm-laborer – Nirmalendu Goon / Anika Mahmud, Amlan Das Gupta &

Sanzida Habib Swati

Poem of May Day – Subhash Mukhopaddhaya / Chorus

Oh Great Life – Sukanto Bhattacharja / Emilia Jahangir

Give Me Food, Bastard – Rafique Azad / Sabuj Mazumder

My Rights – Shankha Ghosh / Amlan Das Gupta

The Rebel – Kazi Nazrul Islam / Shankhanaad Mallick, Anika Mahmud & Arno Kamolika

Deep Inside My Soul – Syed Shamsul Haque / Sabuj Majumder

For You, Freedom – Shamsur Rahman / Zeenat Zahan Anita

Truth Absconding – Asad Choudhury / Shankhanaad Mallick

Delicious Food – – Sukanto Bhattacharja / Maisha Haque

Nanda Lal – Dijendralal Roy / Anika Mahmud, Avik Ranjan Dey & Others

Solution to Food Scarcity – Sukanto Bhattacharja / Anika Mahmud & Zeenat Zahan Anita

Doctor Safdar – Hosne Ara / Amlan Das Gupta & Arno Kamolika

Mamur Bari – Lutfar Rahman Riton / Sabuj Majumder

Sound of Words – Sukumar Roy / Shankhanaad Mallick & Sanzida Habib Swati

Distant Journey – Satyandranath Datta / Chorus

Vote of Thanks & Refreshments: 3:00PM 

Wrap-up: 4:00PM

Host – Duke Ashrafuzzaman

Music – Sabuj Majumder & Arno Kamolika

Set Design and Décor – Shakhawat Hossain

Coordination – Raihan Akhter

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English Poems find a home at Uddari

‘English Poems’ is a new page that brings together poems published at Uddari in English since 2008. These include translations from other languages.

The page was created on a ‘hunch’ that there were a few English poems rolling around on the blog that somehow could not be reflected on the existing poetry page (clearly) called Punjabi Poems. Even then, a couple of English poems did make their way into it by the grace of their powerful Punjabi counterparts.

Collecting ‘a few’ poems for this page took three times the amount of work anticipated. You will see why when you visit it. No one thought we had so much of such potent poetic content at Uddar. It is powerhouse poetry!

Check it out:
https://uddari.wordpress.com/english-poems/

You will notice that only some poems are published on the page, the rest have links to their independent posts. The poems on the page are extracted from larger posts on the blog, and the links are provided.

We suspect, some poems still may have escaped us. If you come across any that isn’t on English Poems page, let us know at uddari@live.ca.
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‘Hamraz Ahsan’s Third Eye’ by Arif Waqar

Hamraz Ahsan is a well known figure in the Asian circles of England: an experienced Urdu journalist and columnist, a trusted researcher for documentary film producers, and an authentic Punjabi poet who is equally respected in the Muslim and Sikh communities of the UK.

His first Punjabi collection ‘Tibyan uttay Chhawaan’ (Shades on Dunes) got good response from general readers as well as skeptical critics. He wrote several short poems on various aspects of the life of Pakistani immigrants in Great Britain and these poems were collected in a book called ‘Paar Samundraan Wallay’ (Trapped on the Other side of the Ocean). His most recent work is a collection of Punjabi quatrains: ‘Meki Kujh na Aakh’ (Don’t Scold Me)

These short poems draw on the Sufi tradition of Punjabi poetry and they are composed in the traditional four-line format. Before we proceed further let’s have a look at some of these quatrains… in English translation, of course:

Don’t scold me
The worthlessness immersed in my soul
I took the leash of the beast within
And collared myself instead

Don’t scold me
I left both mammon and mother
To take a peek at the firmament
I returned disenchanted, Adam’s brood once more

Don’t scold me
I have wept in my dreams
Churning the vat of my heart
Hot tears my only curd

Don’t scold me
I have worn out my soul
For each act I was given a different costume
Made by the designer, I simply put it on

Don’t scold me
In the dust before me glint particles of sand
In my sky only darkness reins
Stars are trodden underfoot

Don’t scold me
My mantra neither Rab nor Rama
I seek benediction without supplication
Clutching neither Koran nor Gita

Don’t scold me
I have forged eternal bonds with fire
Red embers caress my palms
I, the baker, whose hand is married to the burning clay oven

Don’t scold me
I met my groom in my dotage
My ear rings hang loose from my ears
My nose cannot bear the knobbing ornament’s weight
Translated by the poet

These quatrains are preceded by a detailed, and rather philosophical preface, titled ‘Khraabkaar di teeji akkh’… The Third Eye of the Subverter… masterfully written by Professor Amin Mughal, who firmly believes in the Subversion Theory of Herbert Marcuse, and without referring to him directly, Professor Mughal says, “Authentic poetry, indeed all authentic art, is subversive. Hamraz Ahsan is subversive, and his subversion is directed against his (inner) self. Let’s not forget that ‘self’ is constituted by man’s relations with the universe, of which he himself is a part. Hamraz seeks to break his self, that is, his relations with the rest of the universe and his self, in order to identify all those relations that stand in the way of his self becoming, or moving continuously towards becoming, an authentic self!’

To describe the subversive nature of an authentic artist, Prof. Mughal uses the term ‘kharaabkaar’. This Persian word denotes a destroyer or a saboteur, but traditionally this expression has been reserved for qalanders, or the wandering dervishes. Some of the quatrains in this book have direct references to qalanders.

Hamraz negates class and cast, and the lust that is caused by them. But a distinctive feature of Hamraz’s poetry is his negation of gender distinction. This aspect may easily be overlooked because it forms the base of Punjabi poetry and is therefore not obtrusive and hence not visible. The obliteration of the category of gender turns the poet and the sufi into the woman, and not merely a woman but, following Dostoevsky, they become the prostitute the dust of whose feet they kiss with reverence.

To become a fallen woman is not enough; to think and feel like her is the ultimate test of the negation of gender, and Hamraz tries to do precisely the same.

A major role in the formation of inauthentic relations is played by the way that man employs to see the universe. The way is empirical, rooted in rationalism, and ultimately the senses. The metaphor for the senses in Hamraz’s poetry is ‘the two eyes’ The third eye is needed to authenticate one’s self. The failure of the third eye to open causes the elusiveness of what is missing. The poet starts from negation and reconstitute his self and ultimately affirms life and the universe, but on his own terms. It is no accident then, that Hamraz’s patron saint is Madho Lal Hussain and the 101 quatrains dedicated to his murshid have grown on soil of the Punjabi folk tradition.

‘I did not follow any particular genre of Punjabi poetry’ says Hamraz, ‘the four-line structure came naturally to me, but the words of the first line (me ki kujh na aakh) were uttered by a woman in Pothohar. I heard them years ago and somehow they stuck to my mind’.

One unique feature of this poetry book is its dual script: it’s printed both in Persian and Gurmukhi scripts. It’s worth mentioning that the Lingua Franca of the pre-partition Punjab was divided into two separate languages, in 1947, on the basis of Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi (Persian) scripts. Speakers of the same language, ironically, are unable to read each other’s ideas in the written form, and thus the Punjabi literature is mutually unintelligible across the borders in Indian and Pakistani Punjab.

During my recent visit to London, I had a chance to see the poet in person and discuss the situation with him. ‘How do you compare the situation in Southhall, Nottingham, Birmingham, Leeds or other diaspora centres in the UK?’ I asked Hamraz, ‘Do you think there are better chances, in this more educated and liberal atmosphere, of breaking the script barrier?’

‘I don’t accept the premise that Punjabi communities are more educated and liberal in the UK than in the Punjab’ comes the answer from the poet, ‘I migrated to this country as an adult, but all my children were born and brought up here in Britain, and the willful lack of integration between diverse groups meant that while Hindu, Sikh and Muslim children may have been friends at school, intermarriage between these religions means ostracism for both parties, or even worse, rather than creating a need to understand and communicate across the divide. Certainly anecdotally most of the young Punjabis I know – Sikh, Hindu or Muslim – do not read either script, even if they’re fluent orally. The similarities of language mean a close bond of friendship but friendship is not the same as a desire to read extant literature of either group because this would require a level of educating oneself that is barely there for the English language, let alone for either scripts of the Punjabi’.

If that’s the case, why did he take the trouble to publish his poetry in both scripts? ‘Just because most of my friends and readers in East Punjab, Europe and North America, cannot read Persian script’.

The status of Punjabi language in the Pakistani Punjab is quite enigmatic: there are hundreds of Sindhi medium and Pushto medium schools in Pakistan but not a single Punjabi medium school in the whole country. ‘What’s your take on educating Punjabi kids in their mother tongue?’
Hamraz looked at me rather helplessly, as if I had put him a very unexpected question. ‘well, I’m a Punjabi poet, but not an activist; this question should be asked of those who have been working for the cause of Punjabi’.

Alright then, let’s come to a less political question:
Shahmukhi (Persian) script is not hundred percent phonetic and Gurmukhi is associated with the Sikh religion; in this situation, can Roman script be a way-out? If not, what else can be done to enable the Punjabis across the borders to read each other’s literature?
‘I think that would be an inelegant solution’ comes the answer from the Punjabi poet, ‘to me, the best approach is straightforward translation. While it is easy to become dazzled by the thought that it is the same language in two distinct scripts and want logically to bring about one that crosses borders, it isn’t resolved by learning a third set of phonetic symbols. Before long each group would be bemoaning the endangerment of their own scripts as youth are always game for learning the easiest way out, in this case Roman script. In a lesser form, good publishers edit books for American English and idioms when presenting a UK or Australian text in the States. Publishers should just accept the need to pay translators to do the same for texts crossing borders within the Punjab’.

From Saqib Maqsood (http://puncham.com/) at Pancham Sulaikh SaNg
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New Punjabi-English Dictionary – A much-needed resource

Review
Punjabi-English Dictionary
Authors: Kanwal Bashir, Abbas Kazmi
ISBN: 978-1-931546-89-8
Dunwoody Press, Hyattsville USA, 2012
Pages: 660
$125.00

‘Punjabi-English Dictionary’ by Bashir and Kazmi is a much-needed resource for students, teachers, researchers and writers of Punjabi. Designed ‘to assist beginning and intermediate students of Pakistani Punjabi’, this work is an important step in reading, learning and teaching of the language in South Asia and Abroad.

The 660-page dictionary contains about 2,500 main entries selected from Punjabi newspapers published from Lahore, and audios of unrehearsed conversations of Punjabi speakers in the province.

Each entry begins with a headword in Perso-Arabic (commonly called Shahmukhi) script followed by it’s romanization. Descriptions include speech patterns, definition/s, and one (or more) examples in Punjabi with English translation. Here are some of the perks: the authors have developed and implemented a pronunciation system for learners, they have included sentences in both languages; and, you will find verb charts and notes on grammar at the end of the book.

The dictionary appears well-researched, well-written and well-produced. Check it out here:
http://www.dunwoodypress.com/products/-/328

Kanwal Bashir is a senior linguist at a language research center in Maryland. Earlier, she had worked as an Instructor of Urdu and Punjabi language and culture in USA, and as lecturer and later assistant professor of English in Pakistan.

Abbas Kazmi worked as an Instructor, Subject Matter Expert and Tester of Urdu and Punjabi language and culture in Washington. Earlier, he had served Pakistan Foreign Service as a career diplomat.

Bashir and Kazmi began work on this first volume of Punjabi English dictionary in 2008, and now they are working on the second one.
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‘Not Your Father’s Kabir’ by Hasan Altaf

Image from Wikipedia

The poet Kabir died in 1518, so it is jarring to open a translation of his writings and read the following line: “O pundit, your hairsplitting’s/so much bullshit.” It is even stranger to look up and realize that the poem bears an epigraph (“It take a man that have the blues so to sing the blues”) from the American musician Lead Belly, who was not even born until 1888. A quick scan through the volume reveals more epigraphs (Pound, Coleridge), a dedication (one poem is for Geoff Dyer) and vocabulary that Kabir himself could not have come up with: “Smelling of aftershave/and deodorants/the body’s a dried up well…” Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s Songs of Kabir is not, it is safe to say, your father’s Kabir.

We have certain expectations when it comes to literature of this sort – the literature that we call “classical” or “ancient” or “historical” (to say nothing of that literature we call “sacred”): We want grandeur, pomp and circumstance; we want even a touch of the archaic – no thee-ing and thou-ing, necessarily, but some whiff of the past, something epic, removed from the mundane and the modern. Those translators who subvert this expectation and leave that desire unfulfilled are not always looked on kindly: A review of Anne Carson’s An Oresteia, for example (Carson’s, and indefinitely-articled, because she took one play each from Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides to refashion the story of the house of Atreus; call it a remix) took umbrage with her diction, her use of the word “car” rather than “carriage.” Agamemnon comes home from Troy in a car; what, did he roll up in a Volvo? Did he have to stop somewhere for gas before reaching Mycenae?

Mehrotra’s Kabir has, at first, a similar effect. It’s jarring to hear this poet speak in a language that is so simple, modern, familiar; Kabir should sound old and wise, like the saint he was, like a holy book or, at the very least, like Yoda. This Kabir, though, calls the pundit out on “bullshit” and ask the muezzin the simple question, “What’s your problem?” In another poem, we get this: “I fucked young men/too numerous to count/and stayed a virgin” – it’s like hearing your grandmother start speaking like your friends, using curses that could put them to shame.

Some people might close the book at that point, go looking for another translation that better captures the dignity or the grandeur that we seek in this kind of literature. But although some of Mehrotra’s devices remain awkward (as when he has Kabir wish for a megaphone), eventually the strangeness becomes rewarding. The language of these translations makes them more immediate, brings Kabir closer to the reader – the distance of “time” and “great literary and historical and cultural value” is lost, and readers can approach him without all that baggage. One poem in particular makes this clear; Mehrotra translates:

I’m grapefruit
And I’m sweet lime
I’m Hindu
And I’m Muslim

I’m fish
And I’m net
I’m fisherman
And I’m time

I’m nothing
Says Kabir
I’m not among the living
Or the dead

The sentiment remains recognizably ancient (almost Zen: I’m fish/and I’m net), recognizably Kabir (na Kaashi na Kailash mein), but the language itself is very much a twenty-first century language, very much our language. In her preface to this edition, Wendy Doniger writes that the “slang, neologisms, and anachronisms… are a brilliant means of conveying much of the shock effect that upside-down language would have had upon Kabir’s fifteenth-century audiences” (“upside-down language” referring to this kind of riddling poem). Mehrotra himself, discussing other translations, describes the corpus of Kabir as a kind of pada, which for a medieval or even a modern singer “was not something whose words had unalterably been fixed… but something that was provisional and fluid, a working draft, whose lines and images could be shifted around, or substituted by others, or deleted entirely.” He compares this to the blues, rendering the epigraph from Lead Belly even more appropriate.

I remember thinking, the first time I read (or was forced to read, at the hands of my three-years-older brother) Shakespeare, that someone should have updated the language, brought it out of that Elizabethan skin and made it new, more appropriate for the modern age. Thankfully, this reaction did not last very long (I blame it on the entirely understandable derision of a child for his sibling’s interests), but the underlying point remains, I think, valid. Literature that is “destined to endure as a piece of literature,” as Lydia Davis put it in The Paris Review, is usually that literature that we ourselves feel compelled to update, to bring out of the past, to bring out of its origins and into our own lives.

The literature that is in our own languages, we often simply turn into films: Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, for example, in which the words remained in the original but the setting became more our own. With literature that is foreign, this duty falls to translators. (Davis was discussing her new translation of Madame Bovary; the quote was in context of Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones, which had been translated into English once, but if “destined to endure,” at some point would have to be translated again.) When the work is both foreign and ancient – Kabir, Sanskrit literature, Greek drama – the translator’s job is doubled: They have to not only render it in a language understandable to us, but also, somehow, to make it fresh, make it breathe again.

The precise, footnoted and annotated word-for-word translations are, of course, valuable, but translations like Mehrotra’s Kabir or Carson’s Greeks are equally so, and having both available to us is a greater wealth than either would be alone. The former provide us with the meaning, with what was actually said; the latter show us its power, the heart behind the words. It is a testament to Kabir that, so many years later, we are still reading his work, still learning from it, and it is a testament to Mehrotra’s translations that even with a poet of this stature, a poet who has been translated and studied so much, he could make the words seem fresh and new. This Kabir is our Kabir, speaking to us, for us; this Kabir is one of us.

From TheSouthAsianIdea Weblog
First published by 3 Quarks Daily on April 16, 2012

Pointed to by Rabia Nadir
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