A renaissance of sorts

Many a summer ago, a piece of information emanated from Pakistan that the legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz was so mesmerised by the rendition of his ghazal ‘Mujh Se Pehli Si Mohabbat Mere Mehboob Na Maang’ by the peerless Noor Jehan that he “gifted” the ghazal to her. Life afforded me no luxury of crosschecking from either. But in retrospect, the couplet (which roughly translates to ‘My love, don’t ask me for the love I once gave you’), beautiful as it is, could not have been more paradoxical. Because, many years after Faiz breathed his last, the poet’s popularity shows no sign of tapering off. And the couplet, indeed the ghazal itself, is popular as ever.

Indeed, for Faiz there is a renaissance of sorts. Marxism may be dead. Left politics may not win you elections at many places. But the revolutionary poet, part of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, continues to ignite many a dream. Even youngsters born after he passed away swear by his work as is evident from the fact that any discussion on the poet or any visit by his family members sees a sizeable presence of students. Of course, the fire is kept burning, thanks to innumerable books on the poet. Faiz himself may not have penned more than a handful of works, but the lesser mortals have found in them enough shades to colour a rainbow. Last April, we had Ali Madeeh Hashmi, the poet’s grandson, giving us A Man Called Faiz. The book was short neither on insights into the times of Faiz nor personal anecdotes. A little before that we had Celebrating Faiz by D.P. Tripathi. It had its moments too. Now veteran Shiv K. Kumar joins the group of fawning admirers of Faiz with The Best Of Faiz brought out by Random House.

Kumar, himself a novelist-poet-critic of great repute, brings all his skills to fine use here to give us a book that should find space on the shelf of all book-lovers, be they Hindi connoisseurs, Urdu dilettantes or those who got to know Faiz only through English translations. The book retains the original couplets in Urdu, just the way the master craftsman churned them out. Where Kumar comes to the party is with the nuances that he grabs almost naturally, the subtleties he is able to impart. For instance, in ‘Jab Teri Samundar Aankhon Mein’, he beautifully translates Faiz’s couplet, ‘Hoton Ki Lapak, Baahon Ki Chhanak, Ye Male Hamara Jhooth Na Sach’ as “the fervour of lips, the armour of arms, this union of ours, neither true nor false”. Similar sensitivity comes into play when he translates ‘Yaad’. ‘Dashte Tanhai Mein, Ae Jaane Jahan, Larza Hai / Teri Aawaaz Ke Saaye Tere Hoto Ke Sarab’ comes across in letter and spirit as ‘In the wilderness of my heart, O love, waver the shadows of your voice / the mirages of your lips’.

Such a translation comes only when the soul is in the right place. For Kumar, it doubtlessly is, as he has often sought sustenance for his soul through Ghalib, Iqbal and Faiz too. Though his translation is quite moving, Kumar raises the book a notch or two with his purposeful foreword where he talks of Faiz as a rebel, as a poet in exile, as a synthesis of the modern and the traditional and as a humanist. He did not submit himself to any tyranny, political, social or religious, Kumar notes. In a simple sentence the paradigm of life in his times is covered.

Incidentally, there is a nice little anecdote too in the section that points to the similarities between the peerless poet and the diligent translator. Both natives of Lahore, they shared a mother tongue (Punjabi) and started their careers as lecturers in English. Same yet different. As alike as a poet and a translator. In the end, The Best Of Faiz is the story of the loved and the lover.

As for ‘Mujh Se Pehli Si Mohabbat’, well, who is to deny love to the poet? Faiz, yesterday, today, tomorrow remains the same.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2022 9:56:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-columns/A-renaissance-of-sorts/article11888440.ece

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