A Tempest in Silence
Author: Jagdish Prakash
I write poetry; mostly in Urdu. Four of my books of Urdu verse have been published and one is under publication. Sharing my poetry with friends on Facebook has led me not only to the pleasant experience of making the acquaintance with lovers of poetry but also building strong bonds and deep associations with other highly talented poets. Among these associations, one of the most rewarding is with Muhammad Shanazar, an educationist and poet from Pakistan. He writes in English and is also one of the best known translators in Pakistan. We shared thoughts on the state of contemporary poetry, the journey of poetry through the rough and tumble of time and on the present state of social angst, anguish, disillusionment and the faint glimmer of hope that hovers on the distant horizon of time, giving a new form, tone, texture, idiom and context to contemporary poetry.
This interaction led to the sharing of my Urdu verse with Shanazar. One morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see a translation of one of my Urdu poems by him on Facebook, along with a short message saying that he wished to translate and publish some of my poems into English . One by one he translated 65 of my poems from my books,’Narendra ke Liye’, ‘Aasman-dar-Aasman’ and ‘Shigaf’. He chose only the nazms (poems) for rendition in English, leaving aside the ghazals which, in his own words, are “untranslatable” as it is almost impossible to capture their rhythm, nuance and flavour in translation.
Among the various forms of creative writing, poetry I feel is the most untranslatable; Urdu poetry even more so. Despite best efforts and application of a highly creative sensibility and sensitivity, it is barely possible to capture the flavour, intent and idiom of a language while translating into another language. As Robert Frost bluntly says, “poetry is what gets lost in translation”. Yet Shanazar has struggled and succeeded in rendering the images, metaphor and idiom as well as poetic expression in Urdu into the English language and tried his best to capture the theme and essence of my poetic thought. In doing so he has gone beyond a word-for-word translation in order to bring out the true intent of my expression. The translated poems have been subjected to further scrutiny, suggestions and renewed rendition to bring them closer in intent and lyrical nuances and linguistic accuracy to the original by Ms. Neena Sood, herself an educationist, poet, translator and editor, who has rendered invaluable help and effort in giving final shape to these poems and compiling them according to the major themes that run in my verse. Through this translation of my verse I hope to share my thoughts and emotions with a wider audience. A Roman transcript of the original poems in Urdu has also been included in the book for the benefit of those who can understand Urdu but are not familiar with its script. I hope this will enable them to enjoy the original essence and lyricism of the poems in Urdu.
My online association with Jagdish Prakash is a happy event that has blossomed into a strong relationship. Greatly impressed by his thought and poetic expression I expressed the urge to study him as a poet. He willingly provided me his books of poetry in Urdu. As I read the volumes, I was more and more enthralled by his immense poetic talent. His work began to get distilled into my thoughts and feelings and made me feel that such a splendid treasure needed to be translated into English to enable lovers of poetry everywhere to enjoy it. Being a member of the International Poetry Translation and Research Centre (IPTRC), China, I gladly undertook the translation of Jagdish’s poetry into English. In doing so, I was also driven by a desire to bring intellectuals from Pakistan and India closer.
Jagdish’s poetry consists of intricate yet subtle images. His diction is embellished and his figures of speech are deeply embedded in similes drawn from the ethnic, cultural and earthy heritage of our subcontinent. Translation of such passages was a challenge which I sailed through by trying to understand the cultural allusions and subtle nuances of his expression through close interaction with him. It also helped in comprehending his poetic idiom and in capturing the real feel and flavour of his poetry. I hope I have succeeded in my endeavour. The most prominent feature in Jagdish’s poetry, however, is the overwhelming urge for calmness, peace, serenity
and silence charged with pathos. He exhibits maturity of thought and expresses his journey through his trail of loneliness in a subtle and dignified manner. He is deeply
attached to his world within rather than the world in which he manifestly resides. The impact of the outer world on his emotional world within is very deep and profound. Jagdish’s poetry is, in fact, like the shrieking cries of sepulchral agony of loneliness emerging from the abyss of his soul. It will undoubtedly be an invaluable addition to Indian literature in translation. I feel happy to have translated this highly sensitive and original work of poetry.
Prof. Muhammad Shanazar
Jagdish Prakash is a natural poet. His poetry flows from the heart and weaves images that express experienced reality. It is both a self expression as well as an expression of the malaise that afflicts the modern world. It is literally a multicoloured patchwork of all the experiences and emotions he has collected over a lifetime. It is based on his close association with the crowds in the cities as well as the silences that haunt the mountains and the mind—all experiences keenly reflected throughout his poems. My introduction to his poetry was through his first book of
English verse ‘Echoes of Silence’ which I edited in 2011. The delightful experience and interesting interactions with him to understand and capture the subtle nuances and moods in his poetry prompted me to take up the reading and later the subsequent challenge of editing his Urdu poetry, albeit in translation. Muhammad Shanazar, a poet from Pakistan, impressed by the thought and emotion in Prakash’s poetry, was keen to make his work available in English. So, on his own initiative, he translated a substantial number of Prakash’s poems into English. Reading through Shanazar’s translations, I realized that editing an English translation of Urdu verse was neither easy nor similar to editing a
book of English verse per se, even by the same poet. Urdu language and poetry has an idiom and flavour, even a context, which is distinct from other languages, especially English. In endeavouring to keep the translated work as close as possible to the original in Urdu, I read and re-read the poems in original, constantly pairing them with Shanazar’s translation to ensure that the flavour and nuances of the original were retained. Working on the translation, editing and compilation of this beautiful collection of verse has been a joyous experience. This collection, which is a joyous outcome of an intensely creative involvement by Prakash, Muhammad Shanazar
and myself, places before the reader the modern world, its fears and demons, themes like love, dejection, unfulfilled desires, solitude, nostalgia, angst, existentialism, dilemmas and hope, a world divided by hatred, bigotry and even terrorism; and yet it has the charm of the sensation a cool breeze awakens when it tingles the body, the passions the desire for a beloved arouses and the journeys the mind undertakes in
imagination. It comments on human relationships, on the hollowness of modern life, exhibition of falsities and touches on core feelings and emotions. There is both pain and love in it, a sense of dejection, as also a faith in the capacity of humans to renew themselves through belief and hope. In fact, a special feature of Prakash’s verse is the constant questioning and search for answers to the dilemmas of modern life.
It has indeed been a pleasure working on this collection of rich verse and I hope the reader too has an enjoyable experience as well.