Poetry has always been my first love and Urdu poetry has fascinated me the most. Urdu poetry casts a spell which poetry in no other language does. I remember when as a schoolboy I first read:
I was in a state of daze for good eight days. The sheer wit of it tragic tinge therein so well fused, I don’t find it, say in English poetry (excepting Shakespeare) which I have read and taught all my life and which I have been writing for some time now. If this is one’s experience with Bahadur Shah Zafar, who is not among the greatest of the Urdu poets, it is not difficult to imagine how one would respond to Ghalib, Meer, Faiz or Iqbal. I have virtually lived with them, enjoying them immensely, moved, comforted and uplifted by them. If Ghalib has a couplet for every situation in our daily lives, Iqbal can infuse life even in a dying man, and if Meer can teach you how to illuminate an abstract idea by illustrating if with images and allusions from ordinary life, Faiz moves you with his lyrical sweetness, rousing you at the same time to fight injustice and oppression. A part from these great names, some of the later poets like Parvin Shakir and Ahmed Faraz (both from Pakistan) are remarkable for their freshness, depth and awareness. And then there is a long list of good poets.
However, much as I have loved Urdu poetry, I had never thought of translating it into Preface English. The encouragement for it came from my publisher Shri Vishwa Nath Ji who is a connoisseur of poetry and a good poet himself. Also I had all along felt the need for an anthology of Urdu poetry in English translation for the benefit of readers who are not so well versed in Urdu. Preparing such an anthology I knew, was an uphill task, particularly because where poetry is concerned, I am bit of a perfectionist. And I cannot reconcile to the idea of a translation of ghazals and nazms which merely conveys the meaning of the original and is as such not much better than a prose rendering of them. Translation of poetry from one language to the other is extremely difficult, some would, say impossible. The challenge here is the challenge of being faithful to the original that is to be conveyed but its soul, its strength, its poignancy and sweetness, and if possible, its rhythm and resonance should also reach reader. As Sheffered Peach said, “Translation is not just translating ideas from one language to the other; a good translation is akin to the original, even better”. The challenge is that in the translation also, it must read like good poetry. And the challenge is particularly tough in the case of the ghazal. One of the ways I could think of meeting this challenge is to translate the verses in rhymed couplets provided the rhymes are not labored.
I started on the project with Ghalib and got so immersed in the poetry of the great man that the number of pieses translated went on increasing till it became a separate book ‘Diwan e Ghalib, a selection.’ For the present anthology, I have selected thirty four poets from Meer to Ahmed Faraz and Shaharyar. Needdless to say, some important names have remained unrepresented. This is because the number of good poets is so large that it is very difficult to include them all. Also, I have had to make a rigorous selection of verses even within a single ghazals so that only the best reaches the readers.
Besides Vishwa Nath Ji, I thank Dr. Khalid Ashraf of the Urdu Department, kirori mal college, Delhi University for his invaluable help in preparing the anthology. He has read through and corrected the manuscript and made valuable suggestions.
Thanks are also due to Mr.Khushwant Singh for his encouraging words. When I sent to him three or four of my pieces for opinion, he wrote “you have done a superb job of ‘Abhi to main jawan hoon’. I tried my hand at it and published the first half in my column. It was not half as good as yours. Majaz and Sahir are also well done”. I thank Mr.Mithuraaj Dhusiya, shri O.P. sapra and Shri Rahul Gupta for their help in preparing the manuscript. Also to be thanked are my daughters, Ritu Dewan and Sarika Jha for being readily available for consultation and correction and for running miscellaneous errands. Last but not the least; I thank my wife for bearing with me when I was annoyingly busy with the translations.
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