Ghalib is the most famous and popular poet of Urdu. His poetry of supreme originality and power is universal in its appeal and will last as long as Urdu language. It is characterised by a matchless fusion of thought and emotion, a mark of truly great poetry.
Ghalib's Ghazals are marked by richness, thought-content, originality and felicity of expression, delicacy in choice of diction, freshness and elegance of imagery, haunting melody and ecstatic intensity of realization of experience.
It is a great pity indeed that Ghalib is not widely known amongst the English knowing people. He is not lucky like the other great poet of Urdu, Iqbal, whose poetry was rendered into English by the well-known scholars of England. His Persian Mathnavi 'Asrar -I- Khudi' was rendered into English and published under the title Secrets of Self by Prof. R. A. Nichalson of the Cambridge University in 1920. Some of his other poems were translated into English by Prof. A. J. Arberry and others.
None was, however, favoured by fortune like Omar Khayyam whose fame has spread throughout the world out of all proportion to his ranking in the accepted hierarchy of the Persian poets. This was because a nearly mad English man, Edward Fitzgerald, an opium addict, deeply immersed in the exotic and what he considered to be esoteric, Persian poetry, took a fancy to his Rubayyat and rendered them into English. His attempt, in all fairness, cannot be called translation; it is really transcreations. Some of his translation, in fact, excel the originals.
In this context, it may be mentioned that translation of literature of one language into another is not easy, more so of poetry. As a matter of fact, some people hold the view that poetry is simply untranslatable. Here it will be relevant to recall Shelly's observation on the subject:
"It were as wise to cast a violet into a crucible that you might discover the formal principle of its colour and odour as to translate from one language into another the creations of a poet". *1
Another poet (of Urdu) Faiz had this to say with reference to translation of Urdu Ghazals:
"One may or may not wholly subscribe to the view that Ghazal poetry is wholly untranslatable, but there is not denying that in the particular idiom evolved by Ghazal writers over many centuries, words and terms and phrases rarely mean what they appear to mean and it is difficult to locate in another language
(except in cognate language, like Urdu and Persian) satisfactory equivalents which embrace the entire associative context of the original expression".*2
Notwithstanding all these inherent difficulties, there have been several English translations of Persian and Urdu poetry of Ghalib. Notable amongst these are the renderings of Ghalib's Persian and Urdu Ghazals by Dr. Yusuf Husain Khan.
Here is another excellent translation of selected Urdu verses of Ghalib into English by Mrs. Prema Johari. She has chosen 118 couples from 32 Ghazal. Of these, eight of her renderings were published earlier in the Ghalib Institute's publication "Whispers of the Angel" and seven more were included in 'Ghalib 1797-1869' Centenary Publication.
Mrs. Johari says in her note dated 21st April, 1994 to the Director of the Institute, "I wrote these at a much younger age while I was undergoing a period of great unhappiness and deep distress. This, however, enabled me to identify myself with the underlying spirit and emotions expressed in Ghalib's verses".
I must say that I have been fascinated by Mrs. Johari's transcreations. For one thing, it is not a literal translation; yet it retains fidelity to the text. It is said that transaction is like a woman. If she is faithful, she is not beautiful; if she is beautiful, she is not faithful. Mrs. Johari's translation is an exception; it is both beautiful and faithful.
Another distinguishing feature of her translation is that it is in rhyme. Those who have made a deep study of poetry of both the languages, would realize how difficult it is to fit Urdu Ghazal into a rhyme pattern in English. It is to Mrs. Johari's credit that she has bound herself by a rhyme scheme and yet preserved the underlying inner spirit and haunting beauty of Ghalib's verses.
In this connection one has to bear in mind that Ghalib is by no means an easy poet. He is profound, complex and highly individualistic. His language is largely difficult, and at times obscure. His early poetry was, indeed, criticized for its uncommonly difficult language. His thought process is also involved and his poetry is rich in allusive and associative context that lends itself to various interpretations depending on reader's comprehension of and insight into its import: Ghalib calls it, Magic Treasure-Trove of Meaning. To use Keats picturesque phrase, Ghalib loads every rift with ore. Again, he is highly innovative in his use of metaphors and images and compact words or word-constructions that defy translation into another language.
Despite all these difficulties, Mrs. Johari has remarkably succeded in capturing the spirit of Ghalib's verses and transmuted it into her translation. Her choice of diction and poetic idiom all match marvellously with Ghalib's verses.
In short, her rendering of Ghalib's selected verses is a rare feat that deserves wide appreciation. I hope and trust that this publication would spur Mrs. johari to embark upon rendering the whole Diwan-I-Ghalib into English. I am sure it will be a monumental work in "Ghalibiat".
Syed Muzaffar Husain Burney
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