Wednesday, September 16, 2009

undone by each

Perhaps, rather, one mourns when one accepts that by the loss one undergoes one will be changed, possibly for ever. Perhaps mourning has to do with agreeing to undergo a transformation (perhaps one should say submitting to a transformation) the full result of which one cannot know in advance. There is losing, as we know, but there is the transformative effect of loss, and this latter cannot be charted or planned... Let's face it. We're undone by each other. And if we're not, we're missing something.

-- Judith Butler, Precarious Life

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

on beginning to understand the task of the translator.

कुछ क़फ़स की तीलियों से छन रहा है नूर सा
कुछ फ़ज़ा, कुछ हसरत-ए- परवाज़ की बातें करो

Kuchh qafas ki teeliyoN se chhan raha hai noor sa
Kuchh fazaa kuchh hasrat-e parvaaz ki baateiN karo

Bare bones translation --
Some(thing like) light filters through the bars of the cage
Talk some of spaciousness, some of the grievous longing for flight

Can one translate poetry from Urdu to English? NN and I were talking about this one evening. The consensus: of course, but it is bloody hard. I came down hard on Agha Shahid Ali whose ghazals in English I love, but whose translations of Faiz (while occasionally exquisite) I mostly find problematic in their too-muchness. There is often a sense of being overwhelmed by the untranslatability of Urdu in his English renderings, trying desperately to throw as many meanings and nuances out of a terse phrase as possible, a lifeline to save the reader from the wicked sea of his ignorance and lack of context.

In my hubris, I indicated my preference for the bare bones translation, like the one above. Write as literally, as sparingly, as possible, and let the reader make the meanings that s/he will. Two days later, I met my nemesis. In the form of this sh'er from Firaq Gorakhpuri, while listening to Kahkashan online.

Something like light does indeed filter through the bars of the cage, but it barely pierces the gloom in/of English.
"qafas", according to Platts, قفس qafas, s.m. A bird's cage, a cage; a coop; a lattice, grate; network; (met.) the body; the skeleton of the thorax. And my mind races, and thinks, wow, this is just like in "Indic" Hindi - where पिंजड़ा (cage) and पिंजर (skeleton) share the same etymological root. As Benjamin says, "... languages are not strangers to one another, but are , a priori and apart from all historical relationships, interrelated in what they want to express..." And so here in English too, we're trapped in the cage of a skeleton ship...

The body is a cage, and the soul then a bird, and I begin to understand Agha Shahid Ali's inability to be economical with words. Something like light shines through, the skin stretched tight turns translucent. But it is still only something like light, and not the light. Trapped in the cage of the body, the soul yearns for the space to fly, and my translation falls like a stone. "Hasrat" is both grief and desire, and just one of them won't do. I remember Reading Plato, and just for a moment there, something like the light brightens. now, when Socrates describes
the lover's wings spreading through the soul

like flames on a horizon, it isn't so much light
I think about, but the back's skin cracking
to let each wing's nub break through,

the surprise of the first pain and the eventual

lightening, the blood on the feathers drying
as you begin to sense the use for them.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

prescience. or a ghazal, london, july 2008.

तुम्हारा नाम लेते हैं, तुम्हीं को याद करते हैं
गुज़रे जनाज़ा तुम्हारा यह फरियाद करते हैं

तुम न हो तो कैसे हो बहारों का यहाँ इम्काँ?
तुम्हारे जश्न-ए मय्यत में जहाँ बरबाद करते हैं

वो माशूक़ कैसा जो काँटों का ताज न पहने?
मोहब्बत ऐसी होती है, जैसी जल्लाद करते हैं

बस्ती वीरां होने की ख़बर तो जल्द मिलती है
रस्म-ए-अश्क रवानी कई दिन बाद करते हैं

दुनिया होती जाती है दिन-ब-दिन और संगीन
दिल मुन्तज़िम शिकस्त, जिगर फौलाद करते हैं

In Roman --

Tumhaara naam lete haiN, tumhi ko yaad karte haiN
Guzre janaaza tumhaara, yeh fariyaad karte haiN

Tum na ho to kaise ho bahaaroN ka yahaaN imkaaN?
Tumhare Jashn-e mayyat meiN jahaaN barbaad karte haiN

Woh mashooq kaisa jo kaanton ka taj na pehne?
Mohabbat aisi hoti hai, jaisi jallaad karte haiN

Basti veeraN hone ki Khabar to jald milti hai
Rasm-e ashk ravaani kai din baad karte haiN

Duniya hoti jaati hain din-ba-din aur sangeen
Dil muntazim shikast, jigar faulaad karte haiN

Bad, bald, extremely literal translation --

We take your name, only you do we remember
We pray for the passing of your funeral procession

Without you, how can there be the possibility of spring?
In the celebration of your death, we destroy the world

What kind of beloved does not wear a crown of thorns?
Love is done this way, the way torturers do it

News of the settlement being ruined comes soon
We do the rite of flowing tears many days later

The world becomes harder and stonier day by day
We prepare the heart for defeat/breaking, and turn the liver to steel
Listed on BlogShares