Mirrors of Time
Title: Shifting Sands-poems of love and other verses Author: Amjad Islam Amjad Edited by: Baidar Bakht and Marie-anne-erki Publisher: Jahangir Book Depot, Pakistan (2010) Pages: 603 pages, Hardback Price: PKR. 750 ISBN: 978-969-573-227-4
Perhaps it is a telling commentary on the times we live in that the work of a major Urdu poet like Amjad Islam Amjad has been translated into English by two engineers – Baidar Bakht and Marie-Anne Erki, both of whom live in Canada.
‘Shifting Sands – poems of love and other verses’ has been described by translator Baidar Bakht as a coffeetable book which he has dedicated ‘to the dream of a peaceful and equalitybased neighbourhood for every human being in the Global village of the 21st Century.
The Urdu language, with all its variety and picturesque idiom that makes the writing of poetry a very pleasant task by those who know the craft well, is still not a medium that attracts many serious translators. Therefore, for these two people to take up the onerous challenge of rendering the poetic works of one of today’s most well-known Pakistani poets into Urdu is certainly creditable – and more so when their efforts create an opportunity for a wider audience around the world, particularly the Pakistani Diaspora, to come closer to the thoughts and feelings of the highly sensitive poetry that Amjad Islam Amjad writes. Not many other of his counterparts writing poetry in Urdu today can consider themselves as fortunate.
The poems have been selected for translation in no particular order but they do manage to provide the reader with a sense of the waves and troughs that the poet’s life has led through. These are poems of love and loss, of trials and trysts, of victories and defeats – the whole range of experiences and emotions that any struggling, endeavoring and feeling human being passes through but only a chosen few have the genius to put down in words.
This is where the translator’s task comes under test because rendering the finesse and sensitivity of the poet’s thought from the original language into another one, where the idiom and syntax is altogether different, presents singular challenges. Baidar and Erki have surmounted these limitations with great success.
There are occasions too where they are seen struggling with the beautiful lyricism of Urdu and becoming bogged down in the flat and prosaic construction of English but this is an allowance they must be given considering the difficult linguistic transformation.
One important function that this magnificent work performs is that of offering a wider and more universal audience to the poetry of a wordsmith like Amjad Islam Amjad who deserves to be read and understood by more people around the world, particularly his own countrymen who would have greater affinity – and a nostalgic attachment – when he writes lines like: A forgotten image flashed in my mind A silken veil of restlessness was drawn On the face of every scene. My eyes could not see the way.
‘Shifting Sands’ is a voluminous work that brings to the fore Amjad Islam Amjad’s life experiences from 1967 to 2007, covering a cornucopia of ghazals and geet spanning everything from his loves and friendships to his deep compassion for humanity, his concern for his beloved land and the dreams that he dreams.
His sensitivity is well reflected in the poem ‘There were so many stars in the sky that night’: The mirror of time is so clouded That reflections of dreams have lost their identity The glow of stars has taken away the light of my eyes. Features of faces have become writing in the sand. They used to peep at the heart from the curtain of time: Those seasons of nameless desires have changed. The reviewer is a freelance writer who writes on international affairs, media and communication, culture and society.
In a moment like this, She came into the desert of my fate Like rain-filled cloud, She perfumed my breaths; The stars in her eyes Were metaphors for desire.