Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Ghazal ka Saaz: The Ghazal Instrument (a translation)

The Ghazal Instrument (Ghazal ka Saaz Uthao)
By Firaaq Gorakhpuri.

[Translated from the Urdu by Siyaah]

Pick up the ghazal instrument - the night is sad indeed
Play the melody of Mir - the night is sad indeed [1]

If not to you - to whom else should I go and complain:
O shadows of black tresses - the night is sad indeed [2]

We have heard of lamps dying out in such times before:
Do pray for the hearts - the night is sad indeed [3]

Let your hand remain in mine, as is, for a little while
Do not yet depart - the night is sad indeed [4]

Translator's Notes

I first thought this would be easy. But translating Firaaq Gorakhpuri poses unique challenges. While Firaaq often does not use heavily persianized expressions, some of his apparently simple idiomatic expressions can be hard to translate accurately.

[1] Saaz: instrument, apparatus. Can also refer to the sound from the instrument. I left "ghazal" as-is in the translation, since any translation of this into a general word such as "poetry" would miss all the traditional implications inherent in the reference to the ghazal form. Nawa-e-Mir: Nawa means melody, tune, sound; Firaaq's reference to Mir is an acknowledgement of inspiration from, and deep appreciation of, the well-known poet of an earlier generation, Mir Taqi Mir. Firaaq has similarly referred to Mir in other ghazals as well.

[2] Kis se jaa ke kahen: Though the literal meaning is "to whom should I go and say", the "say" here implies "complain" and it is difficult to transfer the meaning in English without using "complain" directly. Zulf: hair, tresses. Interesting implications are possible here: is the night sad (dark) due to the (one with) black tresses - notice the imagery of sad night and black tresses - , and if so, who else more appropriate to complain to about it?

[3] Khair manao: This is an idiomatic expression that could mean "pray for the safety of", "take precautions for the safety of", etc.

[4] The first line uses the words "yun hi" (as-is) in a manner that allows two readings: I have translated it as the first more obvious meaning. It could also idiomatically mean, "for no real reason". I wondered if "just like that" could fulfill both meanings in English, but wasn't satisfied. This remains the key difficulty in translating poetry - poets are adept at using words that mean more than they seem to, and as listeners in the native language, we sometimes don't even realize that is why some verses subconsciously strike a chord with us.

Thoughts on improvements are welcome!