KHUSHWANT SINGH'S "COMPLAINT"*
by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi
I am afraid I am going to come down rather heavily on this book. In order to soften the blow, let me first say what I like about it. But the trouble is that there is not much that I like. Anyway, here are the points that appeal to me. This is a trilingual edition: the original Urdu has been reproduced by photo offset from the centenary edition of Iqbal's collected Urdu poems (Lahore, 1975); each Urdu stanza is followed by the English translation, and a Devanagari transliteration. Thus each page contains just one stanza; this makes for easy reading. The Urdu calligraphy is good (no credit to the publisher); the Devanagari type-face is pleasing .(credit to the publisher) ; while the English type-face is as good as that of any Oxford publication (credit to the Indian printer). The production values of the whole book are excellent. The translator greatly admires Iqbal and the Urdu language, and he is not happy with the extant (admittedly bad) translations of the two poems he has chosen to translate. He has brought to bear on his task a fervor, a vigor and a devotion which are truly commendable. The translator has taken pains to track down the allusions to Islamic history and learning with which the poems abound. He has done some background reading on Iqbal, and provided some useful factual information. He has not made a literal translation, in that he has very often expanded the original lines, endeavoring (but mostly failing) to make their sense more clear.
But, has Khushwant Singh produced a good translation, or even a good poem in English? Is he competent to do a translation from Urdu? The answer to both these questions, I am afraid, has to be a firm "No." It would need a book of almost the same length as the one under review to point out and discuss the numerous blemishes that mark this book. Broadly speaking, there are errors of fact, errors of Urdu language comprehension, errors of Urdu poetry comprehension, and errors of English. I will give just a few examples. I will not divide my comments under the different headings that I have mentioned above, but will do a random sampling, page by page.
Singh says (p. 16): "The bulbul which in real life only emits an unmusical chirp ... is made into a nightingale . . . in order to endow it with a melodious voice. ..." The bulbul does not emit an unmusical chirp, as Singh can easily verify by
Muhammad Iqbal. Shikwa & Jawab-1-Shikwa (Complaint and Answer:
Iqbal's Dialogue with Allah). Translated with an Introduction by Khushwant Singh. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981, 96 pp., Rs. 25.00.