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

Southasia - - Book review - Re­viewed by J. En­ver

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.

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