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Updated: November 3, 2012 20:05 IST

Mystical musings

ABDULLAH KHAN
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Rumi: A New Translation; Farrukh Dhondy.
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Rumi: A New Translation; Farrukh Dhondy.

This book offers a great excuse to revisit the poetry of Rumi.

Rumi: A New Translation; Farrukh Dhondy, Harper Perennial, Rs.299.

Reynold A. Nicholson, renowned English Orientalist and Islamic scholar, once said of Sufi mystic and poet Mevalana Jalaluddin Rumi: “The influence of his example, his thought and his language is powerfully felt through all the succeeding centuries; every Sufi after him capable of reading Persian has acknowledged his unchallenged leadership. To the West, now slowly realising the magnitude of his genius ... he is fully able to prove a source of inspiration and delight not surpassed by any other poet in the world’s literature.”

Nicholson made this statement many decades ago but it still holds true. While Rumi has been widely read for the last eight centuries in countries where Persian is spoken, he has now become popular in Europe and the U.S. When it comes to rendering Rumi’s works into English, prominent names include Reynold A. Nicholson, Arthur John Arberry, Coleman Barks and Nadel Khalili. Both Nicholson and Arberry were British scholars and translated Rumi’s poetry either literally or semi-literally. But, the person who made Rumi a household name in the U.S., Coleman Barks, doesn’t know Persian and his translations are not actually translations but reinterpretations of English translations. That is why many critics point out that Barks’ translations (despite their popularity among general readers) are superficial. Another translator Nadel Khalili was a native of Iran and familiar with the essence of Rumi’s mystical musings. But Khallili could not replicate the rhyme schemes of Rumi.

When Farrukh Dhondy, the well known novelist and screenplay writer, embarked on a mission to render Rumi’s poetry in English, he kept three things in his mind. One, the English version should have the fragrance of the original verses. Two, the translation of a poem should be a poem. Three, he would stick to Rumi’s rhyme schemes. The result of his labour is delightful.

Dhondy’s translations reflect that he understands the cultural and philosophical context of Rumi’s poetry. Though, like Barks, he is not a scholar of Persian language but understands Urdu, a language which borrows heavily from Persian vocabulary. And that might have helped him to decipher the real Rumi. This offering is a beautiful excuse for us to revisit Rumi.

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