These translations are a meditation on the notion of translatability. Written by a young poet and assistant editor, they offer a humorous leftist political critique of bigotry, conservatism, and small-mindedness through a lens of orthography and syntax. In “Ooh, Oooh!” the poet explains the difference between the long and short vowel “u” in Hindi, as a critique of ignorance and conservatism slowly shimmers into view. For “Ooh, Oooh!” I have offered three possible translations and an illustration of an owl (my own), an ullū, a word which contains both the short and long “u” in Hindi. In Hindi and Urdu, owls are symbols of foolishness, rather than wisdom, and this owl is pointing to the foolishness of the task the translator has set out to accomplish. For the other three poems, I have gone with the “freestyle” approach suggested by the third translation of “Ooh, Oooh!”. In “Sub-Editrix,” the poet expresses his annoyance at an editor who does not know how to spell. In “News Editor,” another editor’s confusion over the difference between the spellings of Iran and Iraq (in Hindi, “Iran” starts with a long “ī”, and “Iraq” with a short “i”) unfurls into a thought on the constant state of war in the Middle East, and in “Communalist Statement,” the poet plays with syntax to critique bigoted statements (in India, the term “communalism” refers to bigotry toward members of other religious communities).
– Daisy Rockwell
As a lifelong Indian civil servant, Shrilal Shukla was intimately familiar with every aspect of government in his native state of Uttar Pradesh in North India. This story showcases not only his often very subtle satire—he was not the sort to look for belly laughs, inspiring something more along the lines of wry smiles—but also his detailed knowledge of the daily life of the Chief Minister of a state (the equivalent of an American governor). Here he leads us into the mind of an extremely powerful man surrounded by sycophants, who is really no better than the members of his entourage. The title of the story ‘A Few News Items’ suggests that each incident that occurs in the story might be something one would read the next day in the morning paper. One of these, the inspection of an enormous natural disaster, leads the Chief Minister to a moment of true humanity, as he remembers a similar flood in his own childhood. As he becomes overwhelmed by what he sees, he suddenly loses his ability to think like a politician, an ability that he is sure to recover soon enough.
Many thanks to Aftab Ahmad for his help on this translation, and to Sadhna Shukla for granting permission to publish it.
– Daisy Rockwell
From the thirteenth to the fourteen century, two Persian poets of Indian background changed literary history. The most famous is Amir Khusrow, who has attained iconic status in South Asian historiography. The second is Amir Khusrow’s friend, rival, and contemporary, Hasan Sijzi, whose work has almost been forgotten, except by devotees of classical Persian poetry. (Although in Central Asia, where the longest standing tradition of modern scholarship exists [see Salmatshoeva], and South Asia, where Hasan’s poetry has until recently been neglected, scholars have begun to rediscover the founder of the South Asian ghazal [see Borah; Jahan 1998]). Although Hasan’s fame does not approach that of Amir Khusrow, many medieval Persian poets acknowledged Hasan to be superior to Amir Khusrow in the domain of the ghazal, a genre introduced to South Asia. Amir Khusrow himself was among Hasan’s admirers; he acknowledged the inspiration he drew from his fellow poet:
Khusrow, your poetry contains the secrets of speech
but your words breathe Hasan’s poetry.
Shibli Numani, arguably the most famous modern Urdu critic, offered much the same praise to Hasan as a poet who surpassed Amir Khusrow in the domain of the ghazal (Numani 1: 131). Concerning Hasan’s prose recollections of the Sufi Shaikh Nizam al-Din Awliya, entitled Fawa’id al-Fuwad (Morals of the Heart), Amir Khusrow was even more enthusiastic:
If only all my writings were inscribed with the name of Hasan
if only Hasan’s book would be inscribed with my name.
In addition to his many ghazals, Hasan also composed a verse narrative called Ishqnama (Love). This narrative tells the story of a Muslim man who falls in love with a Hindu girl. Contrary to the common practice of widowers burning themselves on pyres when their husband died, the Muslim man in this particular narrative burns to death on a pyre after his wife’s death. Until Amir Khusrow and Hasan Sijzi, such tales had never been part of Persian literature. These two Delhi poets Indianized Persian, and thereby influenced the future of Indo-Persian literary culture.
Morals of the Heart testifies to Hasan’s preference for keeping a distance from courtly life. Like Amir Khusrow, but to an even greater extent, Hasan severed his connections with the court late in his life. From 1307 onwards, Hasan completely broke with the Khalji court and turned to Shaikh Nizam al-Din Awliya as his spiritual guide. He eventually moved to Dawlatabad, a city in southern India to which Mohammad Tughluq had moved his capital in 1327, with the intention, according to one scholar, of “preaching Islam” (Jahan 1998: 9). Hasan died just under three decades later and was buried in Khuldabad in the district of Aurangabad in modern-day Maharashtra.
Called the Sa’di of Hindustan even during his lifetime, after the most famous Persian poet and didacticist of the thirteenth century, Hasan’s ghazals probe the depths of human condition, asking what it means to love, to die, and to be born. Their meaning is frequently as ambiguous as the gender of the beloved (Persian does not distinguish between male and female pronouns; I have chosen to translate the neutral third person by “she” though the beloved Hasan had in mind may well have been male). But even and especially when their precise referents are ambiguous, these ghazals seek, and sometimes find, that space where language overcomes mortality. (Rebecca Gould)
A writer’s identity is a fragile thing, but what happens when two writers living in the same city share the same name? Can their voices and styles distinguish them? But the real issue isn’t about credit, but rather who will be remembered in the footnotes of time. There is a certain terseness in the original, an abruptness, that I’ve struggled to do justice to in this translation. (Mira Desai)
Poor children witness the destruction of their neighborhood. While playing, they build their own small replica of what had been destroyed and guard it from destruction.
Based in Bombay, Suryabala is originally from Varanasi in the northern part of India. She completed her Ph.D. in Hindi Literature at Benares Hindu University. She has been a prolific writer for more than three decades, publishing in all the major Hindi-language magazines and newspapers in the country. Besides satire, she has written novels and short stories, some of which have been adapted for television.
The Brooklyn Rail welcomes you to our web-exclusive section InTranslation, where we feature unpublished translations of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and dramatic writing. Launched in April 2007, InTranslation is a venue for outstanding work in translation and a resource for translators, authors, editors, and publishers seeking to collaborate.
We seek exceptional unpublished English translations from all languages.
Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry: Manuscripts of no longer than 20 pages (double-spaced).
Plays: Manuscripts of no longer than 30 pages (in left-justified format).