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Thursday, March 27, 2008

COVER STORY: Blast From The Past - Eftiqar Haider

This has to be read in one go. From Dawn Books.

Translation is a difficult task, but when it comes to translating poetry it is somewhat more difficult, or rather, in words of Khalid Hasan, ‘the most difficult thing in the world.’ The book under review contains 90 pieces of Faiz’s poetry rendered into English by both Khalid Hasan and Daud Kamal. It also carries the editor’s note, Faiz’s comment on Daud Kamal as well as a personal memoir about Faiz by Khalid Hasan.

It is in the personal memoir that the reader learns that Mian Muhammad Shafi, (Meen Sheen — a veteran Pakistani journalist who was also a nominated member of General Zia’s Majlis-i-iShoora) would exhort Faiz ‘to devote his life to the service of Islam,’ as when Faiz had returned to Pakistan 1982. Written in style that is typical of Khalid Hasan’, memoir perhaps is the best part of the book.a It contains few new things on Faiz, particularly for those of us who did not the opportunity to read the memoir earlier, when it was originally published in two installments in Viewpoint (Lahore) in 1982.

The memoir informs us that ‘Faiz was a devotee of Iqbal, but the living poet, not the fossil he has been turned into by the religious commissars and various selection of Iqbal’s poetry with a critical introduction.’ He (Faiz) told me, as Khalid Hasan has put it, ‘Iqbal’s views on Islam and other fundamental questions were contained in his English writings, something the mullahs don’t read.’ The memoir is largely about Faiz’s stay in London. ‘Faiz knew his streets well’ and it is ‘perhaps not an accident that the street is a recurring image of great power in Faiz’s poetry… I might add that I am acquainted with people who have been visiting London for years but who would be quite unable to take you from Knightsbridge to Regent Street unassisted.’

During one journey from London to Birmingham via Oxford, Khalid Hasan ‘fed a Taj Multani cassette into the car stereo, a scintillating rendition of Khawaja Ghulam Farid’s Kafis. “This is poetry of a very high order” Faiz said. Faiz was deeply moved by one of the lines Ishaq hai sada pir. I rewound the tape and played it again. “Listen to it carefully” Faiz said. “You will see that one of the greatest poets of the Punjabi has no hesitation in making profuse and liberal use of Persian and Arabic words. This is something people like Najam Hussain Syed either lose sight of or do not understand when they go on about the ‘purity’ of the Punjabi language.”

‘I said that Khawaja Farid had even employed an English word in one of his most famous kafis: Sona nahin soonda, dukhan di appeal ai. That is the point Faiz said.’ “To a poet, the supreme thing is poetry. He is not a grammarian or a lexicographer. Language is his tool, the material he uses to create. It is thus subservient to him, not he to it.”

By translating Faiz’s conversation with Mirza Zafar-ul-Hassan from Urdu into English, Hasan and Kamal take us into scholarly environs where Faiz once breathed as when he joined Lahore’s Government College. Faiz had the privilege to be with Professor A.S. Bokhari (‘Patras’) while Dr Taseer was teaching at nearby Islamia College. Imtaiz Ali Taj, Chzragh Hassan Hasrat, Akhtar Shirani and others luminaries of the time were present there too. ‘In the summer holidays I either used to go with Khawaja Khurshid Anwar, or my brother, Tufail, to Srinagar…I may not have learnt much in college, but I learnt a great deal from these wonderful men. Whenever, I would leave one of them, I would feel that I was walking away with something precious.’

‘To a poet, the supreme thing is poetry. He is not a grammarian or a lexicographer. Language is his tool, the material he uses to create.’

The book contains ‘The Unicorn and the Dancing Girl’ which is a poem that Faiz wrote for a documentary on Mohenjodaro that was never produced. Reading this, one cannot resist the temptation to read further about other great civilisations. One tries to explore values, systems and the general outlook towards life of a given great civilisation at its zenith while also trying to comprehend the causes of its downfall as well. The message contained in the poem is simple: one cannot re-create the past. One can only understand past. Images of past glories are only sources of inspiration that are made available in the present for the development of the future.

Of the 90 poems translated into English, some are good while a few are very good. Yet, to judge the quality of any translation it is best to take into account those who cannot read a given work in the language it was produced originally. It is hard to satisfy those who know both the languages. Khalid Hasan too ‘had once expressed to Faiz the inadequacy of any available English translation of his poetry and he (Faiz) said in his laid back gentle style, “bhai tum kar do na.”

Below are translations of the same poem by Khalid Hasan and Daud Kamal. There is more music in Daud Kamal’s version. It is also more direct. The combining prose of Khalid Hasan, however, makes the book truly worth reading.

Do not grieve
Do not grieve
This pain will cease
Friends will return
Wounds will heal
Don’t grieve
Day will dawn
Night will end
Clouds will burst
Do not grieve
Do not grieve
Times will change
Birds will sing
Spring will come
Do not grieve
Do not grieve.

— Translated by Daud Kamal

Pain will cease, grieve not, grieve not;
Friends will return, the heart will find repose,
Grieve not, grieve not.
The wounds will heal,
The day will dawn,
Grieve not, grieve not.
The clouds will lift, the night will end,
The times will change,
Grieve not, grieve not.

—Transl. by Khalid Hasan

O City of Lights: Selected poetry and biographical notes
Translations by Daud Kamal and Khalid Hasan
Edited by Khalid Hasan
Oxford University Press, Karachi
ISBN-13: 978-019-547330-8
291pp Rs495


Anonymous Anonymous said...

dear friend, this is not a comment but a request for help. i need urgently good english translations of Khwaja Ghulam Farid's poems for a documentary film on sufi music. could you pls let me know in case you know of any source on the net for his poems. thanks. my email address is

April 09, 2008 10:04 AM  

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