BOOK REVIEW: Should one translate Ghalib?

Sept 24: Kejariwal says each reader discovers something new in Ghalib. It is equally true that the same reader may discover different meanings in Ghalib at various stages of his own mental growth

Ghalib in Translation
by OP Kejariwal
Publisher: UPSPD Publishers New Delhi 2006
Pp200; Price Rs 395
Available at bookshops in Pakistan

Generally speaking, one should leave Ghalib alone. Yes, you should attempt it if you know the idiom in which he wrote and grasp andesha not as fear alone but as thought too. Don't touch him if you want to subject him to the tyranny of rhyme, unless you are a poet of English of equivalent, if not equal, status. If you still insist, you are bound to pare Ghalib down and make him as ordinary as yourself.

Mr Kejariwal is an enthusiast and has been trying to convey the genius of Ghalib for the ordinary reader who can't understand Ghalib's diction. He did a hundred couplets in his first attempt and got the Indian External Affairs Ministry to publish the book as a kind of memento. This time, he has done 200 and the result is predictably below par. He began by rhyming and made a terrible mess of it, then abandoned it, but was hounded by two additional handicaps: one innate, born of his incompetence as a reader of Urdu and as a poet in English; the other, his self-imposed obligation to make Ghalib easy on the presumption that the reader will not be able to grasp complex conceits.

Kejariwal says each reader discovers something new in Ghalib. It is equally true that the same reader may discover different meanings in Ghalib at various stages of his own mental growth. He selects Ghalib and as always betrays his own sensibility through selection. Was the selection made by first presuming that the reader will be 'average' in his sensibility or has it materialised out of Kejariwal's own limitations as a reader of Urdu poetry? Some of the lines he has chosen he simply doesn't understand.

Ghalib wrote the couplet: Naam ka meray hai jo dukh keh kisi ko na mila tha/ kaam mein meray hai jo fitna keh barpa na hua tha. Kejraiwal translates: Who could have borne/the sadness and the grief/ which are my destiny/ Why is it/ that it's only me/ whose no effort/ is accompanied without a crisis/ and disaster. The fact is that Ghalib claims the upheaval/revolution in his lines never happened because of lack of grasp of his readership. It is not that Ghalib never wanted the fitna to happen. He is lamenting the fact that the suffering that he has endured is something which normally happens to the genius who transforms the society, but the transformation that his poetry promised never happened. The translation has the meaning back-to-front.

Confronting the famous phrase Ghalib ka hai andaz-e-bayan aur, the translator says: But they say there was that Ghalib who could say/ as nobody could/ and nobody can. There is another couplet where the translator has given a meaning never intended by Ghalib. In fact, Ghalib would spin like a lathe in his grave upon reading this rendering. His couplet was: Partav-e-khur say hai shabnam ko fana ki taleem/ main bhi hun aik inayat ki nazar honay tak. Translation: The dew does die/ at a glance from the sun/ I too survive only as long/ that I receive/ a glance from her. Ghalib actually wanted to say that he would die upon receiving attention, not that he would live as long as he received it.

Ralph Russel did the right thing by translating Ghalib close to the original text. The couplet Nahin kucch subha-o-zunnaar kay phanday mein giraai has been ruined by not creating the metaphor of the trap (phanda) as being without purchase (giraai). The translator has it like this: Is the noose any different/ whether cast by the thread/ that is sacred/ or the rosary of the moulavi? It is in fact/ the faith of the Sheikh and of the Brahmin/ which are/ on test. Linking faith to plural 'are' is grammatically wrong. The wafadari of the priests pointed to adherence to their own faiths, not loyalty.

Kejariwal accepts the received wisdom that early Ghalib was too difficult because of his excessively Persianised diction. He thinks that Ghalib's self-correction was an admission of his prolixity. Now that all his lost verse has been recovered by Kali Das Gupta Raza and printed in his Diwan-e-Kamil, published in 1990 by Anjuman-e-Taraqqi-e-Urdu, Karachi, it is also clear that he was reacting to two factors: the assault engineered against him in Calcutta and offence he thought he had given to the increasingly influential Ahle Hadith in Delhi.

Strangely, lovers of Ghalib have ignored Diwan-e-Kamil perhaps on the yardstick of "difficult Ghalib". They may not have read the highly Persianised couplets written by him in 1816-17; but any careful reading of them will disclose the extraordinary new sensibility buried in them. For once, Ghalib was wrong to have dropped these lines in his authorised Diwan, which is now only half of the total versification of the poet. On the other hand, Mir Taqi Mir did us a great favour by not censoring his work, bequeathing some of the profoundest lines in Urdu to us.

Kejariwal should have ventured out of the authorised Diwan to get at some of the greatest lines written by Ghalib. One can even say that the lines ignored by Urdu scholars even after they were made available by Kali Das Gupta Raza are superior to any that he considered worth keeping. It is by adding to the Ghalib's 'rejected' MS of Bhopal that Raza put in circulation the new gems from the poet, showing how erroneous his deletions were. Look at this line for universality of thought: Kucch nahin haasil ta'alluq mein beghair az kashmakash/ Ai khushaa rinday keh murghe-e-gulshan-e-tajreed hai (Nothing is gained in relationships except struggle/ happy is the drunk who is the bird of the orchard of bachelorhood).

Look at another line: Nahin raftaar-e-umr-e-tezrau paband-e-matlab-ha (The pace of a fast-slipping life is not tied down to any designated meaning). How about this couplet: Rashk hai aasaesh-e-arbab-e-gaflat par Asad/ Pech-o-tab-e-dil nasib-e-khatar-e-agah hai (I envy the contentment of the shallow/ the anxiety of the heart is the fate only of the one who has a knowing consciousness).

In his introduction, the translator quotes from a letter of Ghalib explaining his racial origin, and gets the sub-tribal designation wrong: Pashang instead of Pecheneg. As explained by Russian scholar Prigarina, Ghalib was an Oghuz from Central Asia, from a ferocious sub-tribe called Pecheneg that had spread from its home around the Caspian Sea to the Balkans and Eastern Europe, threatening the Byzantine Empire in the 10th century AD. Pakistan's test cricketer Majid Khan, from the Ghuzz tribe, could be the fellow-tribesman of Ghalib.

On page 190, the couplet Dil aap ka keh dil mein hai jo kucch so aap ka/ dil lijiay magar meray armaan nikaal kar could be challenged by many 'Ghalib-watchers' as not being Ghalib's. The Urdu version says kay but the English transcription says kar. * Daily Times



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