Category Archives: Translation

What The Rats Shall Never Know!

Published / by Jehangir

It’s Annual Translation Time again.

Listen to the incomparable Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan highlighting Javed Akhtar‘s denunciation of our modern obsession with material wealth – and it’s malignant effect on our ability to appreciate the beauty of life.

Listen, and remember that at the end of the day the winner of the rat race is still a rat !

shehr ke dukaandaro
karobar-e-ulfat mein
sood kya ziyan kya hai
tum na jaan paoge

dil ke daam kitne hein
khwab kitne mehnge hein
aur naqd-e-jaan kya hai
tum na jaan paoge

o merchants of the city
in the trade of love
what is profited and what is lost
you shall never know!

the price of a heart
the value of dreams
the currency of life
you shall never know!

koi kaise milta hai
phool kaise khilta hai
aankh kaise jhukti hai
saans kaise rukti hai

kaise raah nikalti hai
kaise baat chalti hai
shouq ki zabaan kya hai
tum na jaan paoge

how soulmates meet
how flowers bloom
the lowering of a gaze
the catch in a breath

how the path emerges
how the tale flows
the language of desire
you shall never know!

wasl ka sukoon kya hai
hijr ka junoon kya hai
husn ka fusoon kya hai
ishq ke daroon kya hai

tum mareez-e-danai
maslihat ke shaydai
raah-e-gumrahan kya hai,
tum na jaan paoge

the tranquility of a tryst
the frenzy of separation
the enchantment of beauty
the essence of love

afflicted with intellect
devoted to self interest
the path to losing oneself
you shall never know!

zakhm kaise phaltay hain
daagh kaise jalte hain
dard kaise hota hai
koi kaise rota hai

ashq kya hai nalay kya
dasht kya hai chalay kya
aah kya fughaan kya hai,
tum na jaan paoge

how wounds fester and heal
how scars smoulder
how pain hurts
how the sufferer cries

tears and lament
wilderness and blisters
sighs and wails
you shall never know!

janta hoon mein tum ko
zouq-e-shaiyri bhi hai
shaksiyat sajaane mein
ik yeh mahiri bhi hai

phir bhi harf chunte ho
sirf lafz sunte ho
in ke darmiyaan kya hai,
tum na jaan paoge

i know you
as a connoisseur of poetry
at personality embellishment
you are adept

yet you pick and choose letters
and hear just the words —
what lies between the lines
you shall never know!

Comments & suggestions are welcome.

Moon As Bright As The Sun

Published / by Jehangir

Finally, a world class effort by a resident Kashmiri author.

The Captured Gazelle is a highly accomplished translation of the Persian poetry of Ghani Kashmiri published by Penguin Classics.

The transliterated passages are like manna for someone like myself – tantalised by, yet unable to read Persian – and thus ignorant of the full genius of Ghani Kashmiri.

Well done Mufti Mudassir Farooqi,
More power to your pen, my friend!

Archived post from August 2008:

The 17th century poet Mulla Muhammad Tahir Ghani Kashmiri {born 1630 A.D} lived during the reign of Aurangzeb and died in the early years of the 18th century. Even during his lifetime his fame transcended the borders of India and he was acknowledged in Iran as one of the great masters of Persian poetry. In India he exerted a great influence on the development of Persian and Urdu poetry. The great poet Mirza Ghalib translated more than 40 of his couplets into Urdu.

Mahjoor refers to him in his famous poem ‘Arise, O’ Gardener’:

Littérateurs of Iran will bow
To you in reverence
if you create a poet with powers of
magical narration like Ghani.

Mirza Muhammed Ali Saib {1601 – 1677}, a famous Persian poet, unable to understand the meaning of a famous verse – in which Ghani Kashmiri had intermingled Persian and Kashmiri words – travelled all the way from Iran to Kashmir to meet him.

The verse, contained in “Diwan-e-Ghani“, reads:

Moi Miane Tu Shud Kraalpan
Kardah Juda Kasai Sar Ze Tun

Like the potter’s thread, your tresses made me dazed and senseless,
severing the head (pot) from the body (lump of clay).

When the Iranian poet arrived the poet was not home yet the doors of his house were open. Iqbal refers to this incident thus in his “Payam-i-Mashriq“:

That nightingale of poetry, Ghani,
Who sang in Kashmir’s paradisal land,
Used, while at home, to shut up all the doors,
But leave them open while away from home.
Somebody questioned him concerning this.
“O charming bard,” he said, “Why do you do
This strange thing, which nobody understands
The meaning of ?”
Ghani, who had no wealth
Except his gift of poetry, replied:
“What people see me doing is quite right.
There is nothing of any value in my house
Except myself. When I am in, the house
Is to be guarded like a treasure-house.
When I am out, it is an empty place,
Which nobody would care to walk into.”

I recall Dr. Ajaz Baba explaining to me how Ghani Kashmiri’s influence inspired the visitor, Saib of Tabriz, to immortalise a chance encounter on the banks of the Jehlum by composing his own version of fusion poetry. The traveller concluded a Persian couplet with an Arabic phrase.

Dast Aaluda Ba Gil, Ay Mahe Hamchu Aftaab
Shud Mara Virdi Zuban, Ya Laytanee Kuntu Turab

Mud Smears Your Hands, O Moon As Bright As The Sun
And My Tongue Recites, O Would That I Were Mud

An example of Ghani’s Urdu poetry :

“Dil yun khayale zulf mein phirta hai n’ara zan
Taarik shab mein jaise koi pasban phire”

Ironically, Ghani Kashmiri is  almost forgotten in his native Kashmir today, while his writings are prescribed study material for scholars in Iran – where some learned scholars regard him as a greater poet in Persian than even Allama Iqbal.

In the sixties a library/reading room was established at his birth place in Rajouri Kadal – and later a sports stadium was developed nearby – but the fall into decay of this reading room and stadium illustrates our apathy towards the great poet.

This is how we treat our heroes.

To the Stars and Beyond

Published / by Jehangir

Regular readers of this blog may have been secretly hoping that they had been spared my summer translation ordeal. No such luck.

In my last post I wrote about Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's live performance of Sitaron Se Aagey by Allama Muhammad Iqbal.

Jamshed has the song on repeat mode and I have to admit that Iqbal's words and Rahat's vocals soar synergistically in this hypnotic qawwali.

Today it is the Allama's turn to suffer my efforts to translate some of his most famous verses.

In his live performance, RFAK quotes additional verses from Iqbal's famous poems like Bang-e-Dara and Armaghan-e-Hijaz besides the poem 'Sitaron Se Aagey' from Bal-e-Jibreel.

sitaron se aagey

fareb-e-nazar hai sakoon-o-sabaat

tadapta hai har zarra-e-kainat (1)

theharta nahin karwaan-e-wujood

ke har lehza hai taaza shaan-e-wujood (1)

samajhta hai tu raaz hai zindagi

faqat zauq-e-parwaaz hai zindagi (1)

jawanon ko meri aah-e-sehar de

phir in shaheen bachon ko baal-o-par de (2)

khudaya! arzoo meri yehi hai

mera noor-e-baseerat aam kar de (2)

sitaron se aagey jahan aur bhi hain

abhi ishq ke imtihan aur bhi hain *

har ek maqam se aagey maqam hai tera

hayat zauq-e-safar ke siva kuch aur nahin (3)

tahi zindagi se nahin yeh fizaayen

yahan sainkadon karwan aur bhi hain *

qanaat na kar alam-e-rang-o-bu par

chaman aur bhi aashiyan aur bhi hain *

tu hi nadaan chand kaliyon par qanaat kar gya

warna gulshan mein ilaaj-e-tangi-e-damaan bhi hai (4)

agar kho gya ek nasheman to kya gham

maqamat-e-aah-o-fughan aur bhi hain *

nishan yehi hai zamaane mein zinda qaumon ka

ke subha-o-shaam badalti hain unki taqdeeren (6)

na pucho mujh se lazzat khanaman barbad rehne ki

nasheman sainkadon main ne bana kar phoonk daale hain (5)

tu shaheen hai parwaaz hai kaam tera

tere samne aasman aur bhi hain *

nahin tera nasheman qasr-e-sultani ke gumbad par

tu shaheen hai basera kar pahaadon ki chataanon mein (7)

guzar auqat kar leta hai ye koh-o-biyaban mein

ke shaheen ke liye zillat hai kaar-e-aashiyan bandi (8)

garche hai dilkushan bahut husn-e-farang ki bahaar

taerik-e-buland baal dana-o-daam se guzar (9)

ay tair-e-lahuti us rizq se maut acchi

jis rizk se aati ho parwaaz mein kotahi (10)

jhapatna palatna palat kar jhapatna

lahoo garam rakhne ka hai ek bahaana (11)

parindon ki duniya ka darvesh hoon main

ke shaheen banata nahin aashiyana (11)

gaye din ke tanha tha main anjuman mein

yahan ab mere raazdan aur bhi hain *

All poetry defies translation, Iqbal's even more so.

I find his poetry hard to understand even in the language it was written in and it is nigh impossible to convey the nuances in an alien language belonging to a vastly different culture. The rhythm, the emotion, the undercurrent is lost but that having been said, here is what Jamshed and I have been able to figure out.

beyond the stars

peace and stability are illusions

each atom of creation is in turbulence

the caravan of life never halts

for each moment renews the glory of life

you think life is a great mystery

life is just the desire to fly

give the young my sighs at dawn

give wings to these young falcons

lord this is my desire

spread wide the light of my awareness

other worlds lie beyond the stars

trials of passion still await

your destination lies beyond all havens

life is nothing but the joy of travel

these breezes do not arise from the void

a hundred more caravans ply here

do not be appeased by just one world of colors and fragrance

other gardens and nests exist

you, the innocent one, were content with a few buds

though the rose-garden held a cure for your limited grasp

why grieve over the loss of one nest

other places to sigh and lament remain

it is the sign of the vital nations of the world

that their destiny changes every night and day

ask me not the rapture of homelessness

i have built and set afire a hundred nests

you are a falcon – flight is your calling

endless skies stretch out before you

nest not upon the dome of the emperor's palace

you are a falcon – dwell amongst rocky mountain peaks

it ekes out a living amidst peaks and deserts

for the trade of nest-building would disgrace the falcon

though the charm of the west is seductive

resist this baited trap – o bird of paradise

o bird of heavenly skies

death is nobler than prey that encumbers your flight

to swoop and to twist, and to twist to pounce

is just a pretext to keep the blood warm

i am the dervish of the kingdom of birds

the falcon builds no nest

gone are the days of my isolation at gatherings

i now have confidants here

Comments & suggestions are welcome especially for

'tahi zindagi se nahin yeh fizaayen'


* Sitaron Se Aagey (Bal-e-Jibril-060)

(1) Bal-e-Jibril-142

(2) Bal-e-Jibril-105

(3) Bal-e-Jibril-044

(4) Bang-e-Dara-116

(5) Bang-e-Dara-055

(6) Armaghan-e-Hijaz-34

(7) Bal-e-Jibril-139

(8) Bal-e-Jibril-012

(9) Bal-e-Jibril-025

(10) Bal-e-Jibril-054

(11) Bal-e-Jibril-176

On Wings of Falcons

Published / by Jehangir

Allama Muhammad Iqbal (1877-1938) was one of the greatest poet-philosophers of the 20th century. Iqbal was born in Sialkot in 1877 to a family that traced its roots to Sapru brahmins of Kashmir.

Iqbal is revered as the Shair-e-Mashriq (Poet of the East) in the subcontinent. For his massive literary achievements in Urdu and Persian he was knighted by King George V in 1922 and gained the title of Sir Muhammad Iqbal.

Annemarie Schimmel (Gabriel's Wing) described Iqbal as a "universalist poet" who strove to span a literary and philosophical bridge between the East and the West.

The central theme of Iqbal's poetic philosophy is the concept of 'Khudi' – a synergestic amalgam of self-realization and decisive action.

The Falcon or Shaheen is a familiar motif in Iqbal’s poetry, especially in exhortative verses meant to inspire muslim youth.

Here are a few of Iqbal’s well-known Shaheen verses, popular enough that even I can quote them when the occasion demands.


Nahin Tera Nasheman Qasr-e-Sultani Ke Gumbad Par

Tu Shaheen Hai, Basera Kar Paharon Ki Chataanon Mein


Tu Shaheen Hai, Parwaz Hai Kaam Tera

Tere Samne Asman Aur Bhi Hain


Jhapatna, Palatna, Palat Kar Jhapatna

Lahoo Garam Rakhne Ka Hai Ek Bahana

Parindon Ki Duniya Ka Darvesh Hoon Main

Ke Shaheen Banata Nahin Ashiyana


One verse graces the header of this blog.

Shaheen Kabhi Parwaz Se Thak Kar Nahin Girta

This is probably my first post that features Allama Muhammad Iqbal even though Iqbal and Ghalib were conversationally quoted at my naanihal.

Faiz and the rest I sought out on my own later in life.

Der Ayad Durust Ayad !

Bonus: Enjoy the Shaheen verses in this spirited performance of Iqbal's 'Sitaron Se Aage' by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan

Faiz Revisited

Published / by Jehangir

It is now officially a summer tradition.

On another hot humid sleepless night, I chanced upon an absolute gem of a poem and could not resist translating it mainly because the liberties taken by a famous translator forced me to simplify things for my own sake.

Enjoy the amazing imagery in this poem by (who else !) Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

tum jo na aaye the

tum jo na aaye the to har cheez wohi thi ke jo hai
aasmaan had-e-nazar, rahguzar rahguzar, sheesha-e-mai,

aur ab sheesha-e-mai, rahguzar, rang-e-falak
rang hai dil ka mere, 'khoon-e-jigar hone tak'
champai rang kabhi, raahat-e-deedar ka rang
surmai rang kabhi, saat-e-bezaar ka rang

zard paton ka, zas-o-zaar kaa rang
surkh phoolon ka, dehekte hue gulzaar ka rang
zehar kaa rang, lahu rang, shab-e-taar ka rang

aasman, rahguzar, sheesha-e-mai
koi bheega hua daaman, koi dukhti hui rag
koi har lehza badaltaa hua aaina hai

ab jo aaye ho to thehro ki koi rang, koi rut koi shai
ek jagah par thehre
phir se ik baar har ik cheez wohi ho ke jo hai
aasmaan had-e-nazar, rahguzar rahguzar, sheesha-e-mai,

Even with my limited command over the language, I could not reconcile to translated verses like "sorceress who flicked her wrist to change dust into soot" that appear nowhere in the original. Apparently the afore-mentioned translator (Naomi Lazard) had taken artistic liberty a tad bit too far and I felt that some simplification was needed.

I have tried to keep my insomnia-fuelled translation close to the original and, owing equally as much to inability as to personal style, have eschewed clever turns of phrase, embellishments, and forced rhyming.

I very nearly dropped this post because "The Rebels Silhouette" has a translation by the incomparable Agha Shahid Ali. It may be akin to brandishing a candle at the sun, but with apologies to Shahid and other learned translators, here goes.

before you came

before you came
everything was just what it was
the sky as far as the eye could see
the road just a path to somewhere
the goblet just a glass of wine

and now
the goblet, the road and the sky
colour my heart
till the blood of the liver is attained

the colour of champa flowers
the colour of the comfort of seeing you
the colour of antimony
the colour of despondence

the colour of autumn leaves
the colour of thorns
the colour of red flowers
the colour of a rose garden in bloom
the colour of poison
the colour of blood
the colour of the black night

the sky, the road and the goblet
a drenched hem
a raw nerve
a mirror of ever-changing reflections

Now that you have come
so every colour, every season, everything
is still once more
and things will be just what they are
the sky as far as the eye can see
the road just a path to somewhere
the goblet just a glass of wine.

Take My Hand

Published / by Jehangir

The best moments in reading are when you come across something –
a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things –
which you had thought special and particular to you.
And now, here it is, set down by someone else.
A person you have never met.
Someone even who is long dead.
And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.

~ Alan Bennett

The Seeker of Words

Published / by Jehangir

Its that time of year again.

Wahrat-triggered insomnia crumbles my resistance, and today, yet again, I must succumb to an irresistible urge to inflict my translations upon innocent stumblers-upon.

Sadly, it is Faiz Ahmed Faiz who today, yet again, has to suffer this posthumous ignominy – but that is just the way it is.

Aaj Ek Harf Ko – Faiz Ahmed Faiz

aaj ek harf ko phir dhoondta phirta hai khayal

madh bhara harf koi, zeher bhara harf koi

dil-nashin harf koi, qeher bhara harf koi

aaj ek harf ko phir dhoondta phirta hai khayal…

harf-e-ulfat koi dildar-nazar ho jaise

jis se milti hai nazar bosa-e-lab ki surat

itna roshan ke sare-mauja-e-zar ho jaise

sohbat-e-yaar main aghaaz-e-tarab ki surat

harf-e-nafrat koi shamsheer-e-ghazab ho jaise,

aaj ek harf ko phir dhoondta phirta hai khayal…

ta abad shahre-sitam jis se tabah ho jayein

itna tareek ke shamshan ki shab ho jaise

lab pe laoon to mere honth siyah ho jayein

aaj ek harf ko phir dhoondta phirta hai khayal…

Here goes…

today, yet again, my thoughts wander seeking a word

an intoxicating word, a venomous word

a bewitching word, a wrathful word

today, yet again, my thoughts wander seeking a word

a word of desire that brings to mind my beloved's glance

meeting my gaze like a kiss on the lips

as radiant as the crest of a wave of gold

like the first stirrings of ecstasy in a lovers tryst

a word of hate slicing like a dreadful sword

today, yet again, my thoughts wander seeking a word

a word that shall destroy these flourishing cities of oppression

a word as dark as the dusk over a cremation ground

a word that, if spoken, shall blacken my lips

today, yet again, my thoughts wander seeking a word

Strangely enough, it is Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and not Ghalib, whose poems feature most on my blog, even though the latter is my favourite poet.

Shashi Kapoor, who self-confessedly did not know a single word of Urdu, did an amazing job in this version of Aaj Ek Harf Ko featured in Merchant-Ivory's Muhafiz/in Custody.

Enjoy !

Return to The Land of Poems

Published / by Jehangir

Kashmir is famous for the lol of Zooni, its poetess-queen, and Arnimal.
Rasul Mir and Mahjoor represent the peak of the romantic era.

hatyuk rath bu kadha,
naman tas bu malha,
hekya baar temkui,
su naazuk athanh peth

This kashmiri couplet was narrated to me years ago by the late Mohiuddin Shah, one of the most outstanding bureaucrats that Kashmir has produced. There is a bit of history associated with it, which I may relate at a later date. Meanwhile, permit me to attempt a translation:

If I slit my throat
to paint my beloveds' nails
Would she bear the strain
on her delicate hands?

A similar sentiment is echoed in this translation of a Kashmiri poem by Marion Doughty, an English traveller to the valley.

O that my blood were water, thou athirst !
And thou and I in some far desert land,
How would I shed it gladly, if but first
It touched thy lips before it reached the sand.

Urdu poetry is a goldmine of romantic imagery. Ghalib is said to have offered his Diwan in exchange for this couplet by his rival Momin.

tum mere paas hote ho goya
jab koi doosra nahin hota.

Then there is Ibn-e-Insha and his Farhad-meets-Freud ballad, Farz Karo.

farz karo hum ahl-e-wafaa ho
farz karo deewane ho
farz karo yeh dono baatein
jhooti ho afsane hon
farz karo yeh ji ki bipta
ji se jor sunai ho
farz karo abhi aur ho itni
aadhi humne chhupai ho
farz karo tumhe khush karne ke
dhoonde humne bahaane ho
farz karo yeh nain tumhare
sach-much ke maikhaane ho
farz karo yeh rog hai jhoota,
jhooti preet hamari ho
farz karo is preet ke rog mein
saans bhi hum pe bhaari ho
farz karo yeh jog bijog ka
humne dhong rachaaya ho
farz karo bas yahi haqeeqat
baqi sab kuch maaya ho

How about the great revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz with Teri Samundar Ankhon Mein.

ye dhoop kinara, sham dhale
milte hain dono waqt jahan,
jo raat na din, jo aaj na kal,
pal bhar ko amar,
pal bhar mein dhuan,
is dhoop kinare, pal do pal,
honton ki lapak,
baahon ki chanak,
ye mel hamara jhoot na sach,
kyon raaz karo, kyun dosh dharo,
kis kaaran jhooti baat karo,
jab teri samundar aankhon mein,
is shaam ka sooraj doobega,
sukh soenge ghar dar wale,
aur raahi apni raah lega

Let me dedicate the last poem to my wife:

The Land of Poems*
For just one glimpse of you,
The rosebud of your street
Has bloomed anew !
No songbird there to greet
Your rose, which blooms alone,
But in that land
Of poems, where have grown
My roses, and I stand
Within the shrine
Of secret meanings, hail !
How every verse of mine
The nightingale
Will sing, and none destroy
The ecstasy we share,
His house of joy
On heights none others dare.

* Persian Diwan of Mahmud Gami
(Translation by Nilla Cram Cook)