Saturday, April 20, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

Faiz: A revolutionary Urdu poet
Khushwant Singh

OF the galaxy of great poets of the Urdu language the three who have been translated the most into foreign languages are Ghalib, Iqbal and Faiz, in that order. And for very good reasons. Each of the trio excelled as a poet of a particular theme: Ghalib for his love poetry, Iqbal for his patriotic and Islamic fervour, Faiz as a leftist and revolutionary who was jailed many times by the Pakistan government. All three had sound knowledge of Arabic and Persian and composed poetry in Persian before they opted for Urdu to reach the common masses.

Faiz has been translated into English by quite a few scholars, the most successful of whom was Scotsman V. G. Kiernan who for some years taught English at the Aitchison Chiefs College, Lahore. Besides having an Indian wife, Kiernan had the great advantage of knowing Faiz and interacting with him. His selection remains the paradigm of what translations should be. The only justification of attempting a fresh translation is if the translator can improve on those done earlier. Sarvat Rahman wisely avoided trying her hand at most of those already done by Kiernan, thus tacitly admitting that Kiernan cannot be bettered. However, she includes one which most Faiz admirers know by heart and have tried to put in English words:

Tikka Khan was dubbed the ‘Butcher of Bangladesh’
April 13, 2002
What the Sahibs thought of natives
April 6, 2002
From herbs to haathis and tigers
March 23, 2002
Kashi: The oldest place of pilgrimage
March 16, 2002
When writers talk about themselves
March 9, 2002
Travelling in a women’s compartment
March 2, 2002
Glimpses of Urdu poetry
February 23, 2002
Stamping the police
February 16, 2002
Beer came before bread
February 9, 2002
Getting away from the world... to be in Goa
February 2, 2002
Coping with the death of a loved one
January 26, 2002
Count the blessings of old age
January 19, 2002
Vajpayee, the poet
January 12, 2002
When Indian writers meet
January 5, 2002

Raat yun dil mein teri khoi hui yaad aai

Jaisey wiraney mein chupkey sey bahaar aajaae

Jaisey sehraon mein hawley say chaley bad-e-naseem

Jaisey bimaar ko be-wajaa qaraar aajaae

Sarvat Rahman translates the verse as follows:-

Last night, your long-lost memory came back to me as though

Spring stealthily should come to a forsaken wilderness

A gentle breeze its fragrance over burning deserts blow

Or, all at once be soothed somehow the sick soul's distress.

Another favourite is Faiz's poem on his disillusionment with freedom: Sub-'h-e-Azadi 1947. I quote three verses with Sarvat Rahman's renderings into English:

Yeh daagh daagh ujaala, yeh shab gazida sahar

Woh intizaar tha jis ka, yeh woh sahar to nahin

Yeh woh sahar to nahin jis ki aarzoo lay kar

Chaley tthey yaar key miljaegi kahin na kahin

Falak kay dasht mein tarron ki akhiri manzil

Kahin to hoga shab-e-sust ghum ka saahil

Kahin to jakey lageyga safina-e-ghum-e-dil.

(This blemished light, this dawn by night half-devoured.

Is surely not the dawn for which we were waiting

This cannot be the dawn in quest of which, hoping

To find it somewhere, friends, we all set out.

In the deserts of the sky, beyond the stars last flight,

Must be the shore of the ocean of slow-moving night

A haven where the heart’s load of pain may alight.)


Suna hai ho bhi chukaa hai firaag-e-zulmat-o-noor

Suna hai ho bhi chukaa hai wasal-e-manzil-o-gaam

Badal chuka hai bahut ahle-dard ka dastoor

Nishat-e-wasl hallal-o-azab-e-hijr haraam

(Light and dark have been parted, it is now maintained;

Footsteps have found their path, and their home attain,

Changed are the rules for the brotherhood of pain,

Woes of parting forbidden, joys of meeting unconstrained.)


Abhi garaani-e-shab mein kami nahin aaee

Nijat-e-dida-o-dil ki ghari nahin aaee

Chale chalo ke wo manzil abhi nahin aaee

(The darkness of the night has not yet waned,

Heart and eyes their freedom have not yet obtained,

Let us go on, for the goal has not yet been attained.)

Sarvat Rahman is a doctor of medicine. She has spent many years in Paris doing medical research. At the same time she spent the time she could spare working on Faiz’s poems. The outcome is 100 Poems by Faiz Ahmed Faiz (Abhinav). Besides the original in Urdu the poems have been transliterated in Roman for the benefit of those who cannot read the Arabic script and a glossary of the more difficult words has been appended. The book is a must for every library and home where Urdu is cherished.


Survival kit

Dr Mathura Das Pahwa was the most sought after physician of Lahore in the years before Partition. More than his skills as a doctor it was his perpetual cheerfulness which taught his patients to look at the sunnier side of life. Among his closest friends was Rai Bahadur Ishwar Das, Registrar of Panjab University (grandfather of Justice B.N. Kirpal of the Supreme Court), who usually took a very melancholic view of the world. I often ran into Dr Mathura Das in Ishwar Das’ home. After assuring Ishwar Das that there was nothing wrong with him, he would recite his favourite couplet in Urdu:

Meyrey yaar, patang uraya kar

Kat jaee to gham na khaaya kar

(My friend, always fly your kite high in the sky

If, by chance, its string is cut and it falls apart

Do not let it get you down, do not take it to heart.)

Strangely enough, this brought a brief smile on Ishwar Das’ face. But while he often quoted these lines to other people, he himself relapsed into his gloomy world. In contrast, his son, Prem Kirpal, repeats the same lines and though now deaf and confined to a wheel-chair, he remains a cheerful nonagenarian. All one can conclude is that a formula for survival may work with one person but not with another.

The world has become a gloomy place to live in, India gloomier than other countries. And in India, Gujarat has become the gloomiest state. There it appears goondas now outnumber good people. They lay rough hands on a saintly person like Medha Patkar and the beautiful danseuse Mallika Sarabhai. Goondas who raised their hands on these ladies gloat over their goondagardy. The police officer who tried to protect them is punished by being transferred. I have strongly criticised Medha Patkar’s (and Arundhati Roy’s) stand on the Narbada issue without losing respect for them. In Gujarat they have lost respect for life as well as respect for women of virtues.

My hackles rise when I hear people defending or explaining away what is happening in Gujarat. They say media reports are biased. My own reactions are that they are fair. I have enormous admiration for people like Rajdeep Sardesai, Pachauri, Barkha Dutt and others who have the guts to confront hate-mongers in their dens. On the other hand, there is my friend Prafulla Goradia ex-MP and one time editor of the BJP’s weekly journal. He has coined a new expression for people like me — anti-Hindu Hindus. I want to spit back and call the likes of him anti-Indian Hindus. What purpose will abuse replied by abuse serve? Do we have to say nasty untruths about Muslims to prove we are not anti-Hindu? I want to call for a social boycott, hukka paanee band, of all people who question the patriotism of their fellow Indians. The upsurge of anger does me no good. On the contrary, it raises my blood pressure to a dangerously high level. I let my anger cool down and my B.P. returns to normal. I realise there is little or nothing I can do about bringing people round to my point of view, except keep repeating "You are wrong, I am right." I leave it at that and like Dr Mathura Das Pahwa continue to fly my kite high in the Indian sky.


Gujarat FIR

My shop was looted in broad daylight

It is not from Police Station afar,

I request you, Sir, for sake of record

To register in your books my FIR.

The rioters came in large numbers

They were hordes and ruthless hordes.

Some came by cars, the others on foot

All were armed with sticks and swords.

They ransacked my shop before my eyes

And carried away whatever they could.

The Police looked on, I didn’t know

What to do or what I should?

I sell shoes but they are all gone

Only one shoe is left, I wonder,

SHO, should I hurl it at you

Or your men who saw the plunder?

(Courtesy: G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)