Thursday, March 02, 2006

Paon se lahoo ko dho dalo

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Listen (to Falstaff read)

Hum kya karte kis reh chalte
Har raah mein kaante bikhre the
Un rishton ke jo choot gaye
Un sadiyon ke yaranon key
Jo ik-ik karke toot gaye.

Jis raah chale jist simt gaye
Yun paon lahoo-luhan hue
Sab dekhne vaale kahte the
Ye kaisi reet rachai hai
Ye mehndi kyon lagvai hai
Vo kehte the, kyon kahat-e-vapha
Ka nahak charcha karte ho
Paon se lahoo ko dho dalo

Ye raatein jab at jayengi
Sow raste in se phootenge
Tum dil ko sambholo jismein abhi
Sow tarah ke nashtar tootenge.

And an excellent translation by Falstaff.

Wash the blood from your feet

Where should we go and what should we do
When every road is scattered
With the thorns of our fallen loves?
When the friendships of centuries
Have broken, one by one?

Whatever path we take, whatever direction we choose
Our feet come away bathed in blood.

And the onlookers say:
What is this ritual you have devised?
Why have you tattooed yourself with these wounds?
Who are you to question
The barrenness of faith?

Wash the blood from your feet.

When the night has passed
A hundred new roads will blossom.
You must steady your heart,
For it has to break many, many times.

Faiz is one of my favourite poets. Rarely do you get poetry, which takes a real hard look at things in such excellent lyrical fashion. I like true honest writing in any form and I love ghazals for their form. With Faiz, you get them beautifully intertwined.

Salman Rushdie on Faiz.


Blogger neha vish said...

Falstaff huzoor - zara dheeme padha karo. :) But really, great effort you guys. Pehle patha hotha - toh hum bhi aajate.. :)

Meanwhile - here's a treat. Abrilliant recording of 'Ishtihar' by Batalvi himself! It's beautiful. A voice from the seventies. And words of an itinerant language.

3/02/2006 01:05:00 AM  
Blogger Falstaff said...

Neha: :-). You realised you just asked for it, don't you? If you go look at the FAQ tab on the right hand side of the blog you'll see that we're actually eagerly looking for more people to collaborate on this, so all these 'pehle pata hota' excuses won't work - all you have to do is e-mail us two more recordings (In all fairness, I guess we should count the one you link to here) and you too can be a bona fide member of poi-tre and inflict your atrocious recordings of poems on other people.

Let me say for the record that I have no illusions whatsoever about being good at either reading or translating Urdu. Thanks for the feedback though. Will try to work on it, though not for the next two poems that are sitting in BM's inbox awaiting wider release. :-). (see, if you were a member, you would already know these things. yet another perk).

Meanwhile, by way of perspective, here's Agha Shahid Ali's translation of the same poem:

What could I have done, gone where?
My feet were bare
and every road was covered with thorns -
of ruined friendships, of loves left behind,
of eras of loyalty that finished, one by one.

Wherever I went, in whatever direction,
my feet were soaked -
there was so much blood
that bystanders couldn't help asking:
What fashion is this, what new tradition?
For what unknown festival have you dyed your feet?

I said nothing, but they went on asking:
Why do you still complain
of the utter famine of love? You're doing it for nothing.
There's no chance of fidelity now.

So wash this blood of your feet, they said.
Let your feet heal.
These roads, now soft with blood, will harden again.
And a hundred new paths will break through their dried mud.
Keep your feet ready for these roads, they said.

And be careful, they said, take care of the heart.
It still has to break
open into a thousand different wounds.
It still has to know knife after knife after knife.

- Agha Shahid Ali

3/02/2006 05:10:00 AM  
Blogger neha vish said...

Uff! Phas gayi. You know what.. I'll actually send you guys a recording. It's been long since I did something so different!

And isn't Agha Shahid Ali superb!

3/02/2006 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Falstaff said...

Neha: good show. Looking forward to it.

About Shahid. I don't know. In general I'm a HUGE admirer of Shahid's work (as you've probably figured out by now) but I do think that his translations often end up straying a little too far from the original. To the point where it's sometimes hard to tell how much of what you're reading is Shahid vs. Faiz. To some extent that's unavoidable in any translation, I guess (and I wonder how true this is of other poets who I've read only in translation), especially so in translating Urdu, but I think one has to be careful not to overstep that line. Rushdie, in the article BM links to, speaks of Nabokov's three sins of translation, and I can't help feeling that Shahid may occassionaly be guilty of the third one.

Which is not to say that the poems in Rebel's Silheoutte aren't mind-blowing works by themselves. There are many places where his digressions actually capture the spirit of Faiz's point better than any literal translation could (in the translation here - I love the 'for what unknown festival have you dyed your feet' line - such a good way of rendering 'yeh mehandi kyon lagvai hai'). And even when he does change things, Shahid is too brilliant a poet to do anything but heighten the poem's impact. It's just that reading the original and the translation I often come away with the sense of having read two different, if equally brilliant poems. That's why it's useful, I think, to have a more straight-up translation of Faiz.

In particular, the thing I often miss from Shahid's translations is the simplicity of Faiz, the force and rhythm of his writing, his gift for everyday speech. In translation the lines end up being far more grandoise sounding than they are in the original. There's such a difference in tone between saying 'tum dil ko samhalo, jisme abhi sow tarah ke nashtar tootenge' and saying 'And be careful, they said, take care of the heart / It still has to break / open into a thousand wounds. / It still has to know knife after knife after knife'.

3/02/2006 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Emma said...

I am very interested in poetry and I am interested in being a member here. I believe, as you all do, that the beauty of the poetry is in listening to it than reading it itself. Can I please know how I can do this? You can reach me at

3/03/2006 02:43:00 AM  
Blogger Falstaff said...

Emma: Thanks for your interest. I've sent you an e-mail on this, but for the benefit of anyone else with the same query, the details of how to become a member are part of the FAQ on the main blog site (It's the link that says 'A Few Questions Answered'). Look forward to hearing from you.

3/03/2006 04:38:00 AM  
Blogger Ludwig said...

This is a most nice poem, Falst. Thanks for posting. The translation issue is a vexing one. There are strong arguments in favour of your approach, i.e. try to stick with a more literal translation, and let the reader's sensibilities do the rest. Here, the more the reader knows about Urdu/Hindustani and the milieu from which poetry in that language comes, perhaps the easier it is to enjoy the work.

Which is why perhaps for the desi, the literal translation helps in revealing the meanings of strange words (thanks for simt!), while the rest of the scenery is provided by the reader's mind.

On the other hand, Shahid Ali was probably writing for a more international audience, where the 'dryness' of literal translation may be off-putting. Hence the need for filling it with atmosphere, as Shahid Ali does.

Some random items:

1. It would be nice to find the dictionary meaning of the difficult words in sher-o-shayari, and so probably a good idea to provide a link to the Urdu dictionary at eBazm, which seems to be an excellent resource. Another nice resource is the UrduPoetry website.

2. You translate kahat-e-vapha as the 'barrenness of faith'. Isn't vapha closer in meaning to loyalty/fidelity (as in Shahid Ali's translation)? Makes a huge difference, that word to the meaning of the whole poem, non?

3/05/2006 08:34:00 PM  
Blogger Falstaff said...

Ludwig: Okay, first off, you will please get your three recordings in and become a bona fide collaborator on this blog so you can put your own links up! :-).

Thanks for the links. Good stuff - especially the UrduPoetry site. For urdu-english stuff, I personally tend to favour this geocities site:

it's probably less comprehensive, but I like the structure.

About translations - my own sense is that the two don't need to be (and shouldn't be) mutually exclusive - I think both the literal and the poetic have their uses and so my bias is just to include both.

About vapha as fidelity - you (and Shahid) are right, of course. I guess I just didn't like how serious and poly-syllabic fidelity sounded - vapha is such an everyday word in Urdu, fidelity is such a 'big' word. But you're right, the sense of the poem probably demands fidelity. Or maybe loyalty. Sigh. Serve me right for trying to translate this stuff.

3/06/2006 09:03:00 AM  

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