Parveen Shakir, Translated
By Dr. Riz Rahim
Chicago, IL

If translation between two philologically and culturally related languages were not already difficult enough, a similar attempt between two languages with little in common (Urdu  and English)  is going to be barely acceptable, if at all, to speakers of either language. If it was a graceful line in Urdu, it could well be turned into gibberish in English,  and vice versa. Such an exercise might not be much different from watching an Arabian horse that, upon crossing a linguistic border, acquires all the elegance, grace, and agility of a mule on an alien terrain.
On this, Robert Frost’s reminder couldn’t be more apt: Poetry is what gets lost in translation.
One cannot, however, ignore the fact that by importing Pushkin, Rilke, Voltaire, Neruda, Omar Khayyam, Rumi, and others from across the linguistic borders, English literature has only gotten richer, more expansive and inclusive.
With these thoughts on the problems in poetry translation, expressed in detail elsewhere in another context [ ], I present here what was first submitted to  a British forum,  my translation of a few Urdu poems by Parveen Shakir (along with original Urdu): 

1.   This beautiful evening of ours (Yay haseen shaam apni…)

 This beautiful evening of ours,
a beautiful evening with
fragrance of your dress
still dissolving
flowers of my dreams
still blossoming –
a still unfolding scene.
Little later, on the horizon,
a star will appear
looking at you
giving you some hint
to make your heart recall
someone dear
some tale of separation
incomplete things
unrealized dream,
things unsaid.
We should have met
in some pleasant times
in a hopeful dream
in some other world
under some other skies.
We should have met...

Yay haseen shaam apni
yay haseen shaam apni
abhi jiss meiN ghul rahi hai
theray pai-rahan kee khushboo
abhi jiss meiN khil rahay heiN
meray khawab kay shagoofay
zera dair ka hai manzar

zera dair meiN ufq par

khilay ga koi sitaara
teri simt daik kar woh
karay ga koi ishara
teray dil ko aayay ga phir
kissi yaad ka bullawa
koi qissa-ay judaaee, koi kaar-ay naam-u-kamal
koi khawab-ay naa shagufta, koi baat kehnay wali

humeiN chaa hiyay tha milna

kissi ahad-ay mehrbaaN meiN
kissi khawab kay yaqeeN meiN
kissi aur aasmaaN par
kissi aur sarzameeN meiN
humeiN chahiyay tha milna…

2.    Spread from place to place    (Khuu-ba-khuu phail ga_ee…)

Slowly, from place to place
spread the rumor of our love,
he made me well-known
the way fragrance spreads.
How can I say he left me,
which is true,
though an embarrassment
to me.
No matter where he goes,
he always comes back to me,
and this is the best thing
about my wayward lover.
May he always be happy,
vibrant like his heart,
and may he never suffer
a calamitous night of separation.
When he put his consoling hand
on my feverish forehead,
my very soul felt
a messianic relief.

Khuu-ba-khuu phail ga_ee
baath  shanaasaa_ee kee
us ne Khushbuu kee tarah
meeei paziiraa_ee kee
kaise kah duu.N kee
mujhe chhor diyaa hai oos nay
baath  tho sach hai
magar baath hai rusvaa_ee kee
vo kahii.n bhi gayaa, lauTa
tho mere paas aayaa
bas yahii baath hai achch-h-ee
mere harajaa_ee kee
there dil kee tarah aabaad rahay
tujh pe guzaray na khayaamat
shab-e-tanhaa_ee kee
us ne jalatii hu_ee peshaanee pay
jo haath rakhaa
ruuh tak aa ga_ee
taasiir masiihaa_ee kee

3.  Dr. Faustus* (‘Hum soub ek ther-ha say Dr. Faustus hain...)
In a  way,
we are all Dr. Faustus.
Some out of fascination,
others in their weakness,
blackmailed into it,
sell their soul.

Some pawn their eyes,
and begin trading their dreams,  
others feel obliged to
sell their mind.

All we need to know is
the currency of the time.
Life’s ‘Wall Street’ tells us that
among those with power to buy
the most popular these days
is their own interest.



Hum soub ek therha say
Dr. Faustus hain.
Koi upnay shawq kay kha-thir
Aur koi upni mujboori say black-mail ho ker
Upni roh ka sauda ker laytha hai
Koi sirf aankhain rahen rukh-wa ker
Khaw-bawn ki thijaruth shoroo ker daytha hai
Kisi ko saara zahen he girohi rukh-wana pertha hai
Bus daykh-na yeh hai
Kay sikh-hahai raa-ej ul-waqth kiya hai
So zindagi kee Wall Street ka ek jaa-eza yeh keh-tha hai
Kay aaj-kul khoo-wuth-e- kha-reed rukh-nay waal-awn main
Izzath-e-nufs bahuth maq-bool hai !

[* Faustus or Faust, the subject of an old German legend, makes a pact with the Devil for the sake of knowledge. This legend and tales based on it have appeared in literature and music,dating back to Christopher Marlowe in mid-16th century and by others later, notably  Goethe ]



Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.