Annual of Urdu Studies, v. 7, 1990 p. 117.


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Review Article

SOME RECENT ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OF MODERN URDU POETRY

Anisur Rahman

There have been several English translations of modern Urdu poetry in the recent past.1 Of these, it seems proper to choose four that fall under some pattern. These are the two selections of modem Urdu poetry, one by native speakers of Urdu, and two of individual poets done by native speakers of English. All of them present different kinds of problems and pleasures and their study provides interesting insights into the craft of translation.2 Let us begin with The Penguin Book of Modern Urdu Poetry by Mahmood JamaL

Mahmood Jamal has enough to disappoint as also to satisfy the curious reader. It does not take long to conclude that this anthology is an inadequate representation of modem Urdu poetry. It leaves out many of the more important poets while it includes some of the lesser ones. The excuse that no selection can ever satisfy every reader does not hold good in this case. No logic could justify an unimaginative selection of four poems by Akhtar-ul-Iman and three by Miraji in comparison to nine poems by Ahmad Faraz, who has made no mark as a poet of the Urdu nazm. Both the selection of poets and the number of poems in individual cases do not create any logical or literary pattern.3 These apart, we have

^Of several anthologies published recently, I have chosen only four to review here. These are: An Anthology of Modem Urdu Poetry, Vol. I, (ed.) Baidar Bakht and Kathleen Grant Jaeger, (tr.) Kathleen Grant Jaeger and Baidar Bakht (Delhi:Educational Publishing House, 1984); The Penguin Book of Modern Urdu Poetry, (selected and translated by) Mahmood Jamal (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1986); A Listening Game, (tr.) Frances W. Pritchett, (selected and introduced by) Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (London: Lokamaya Press, 1987); The True Subject, (tr.) Naomi Lazard (Princeton:

Princeton University Press, 1988). Apart from these four we also have translations of Faiz by Sain Sucha (pen-name of Mushtaq Ahmed), of Balraj Komal by Bedar Bakht, of Wazir Agha and Ashfaq Husain by diverse hands.

curiously enough, they give contrary reports regarding the status of Urdu. Khushwant Singh in his "Foreword" to An Anthology of Modem Urdu Poetry writes: "outside the groves of academe few people in the western world would be aware of a language called Urdu." (p.xi). This view is echoed in 'Translating Faiz" in The True Subject by Naomi Lazard: "Though Faiz's poetry is almost unknown in this country, the opposite is true on the other side of the world." (p.xi). Frances W. Pritchett, however, makes an entirely different observation in 'Translator's Introduction" in A Listening Game: "...the horizon of Urdu poetry is in a sense worldwide." (p.24).

Mahmood Jamal has chosen seventeen poets to translate. Their names and number of poems are: Faiz Ahmad Faiz: 19 poems; N.M.Rashed: 10 poems; Miraji: 2 poems; Akhtar-ul-Iman: 4 poems; Ali Sardar Jafri: 5 poems; Kaifi Azmi: 2 poems; Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi: 3 poems; Ahmad

Annual of Urdu Studies, #7 ^7


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