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A conversation with translator Yousuf bin Mohammad

Transom:
Is it possible for the original text to be reborn through the translator?

bin Mohammad:
Gadriel Orozco once said “Art happens in that space between the spectator and the work.” I believe this holds true in case of literary arts as well, especially so in the case of poetry. A majority of poetry has this inherent quality of being open to a number of interpretations, and an apt translation (adaptation would be a more apt term) has the capability of bringing about an entirely fresh perspective and an interpretation of a poem which might have been hitherto obscure.

As for rebirth of the original text through the translator, Peter Cole once said, “Pound says somewhere that centuries of use have worn out a lot of the key words of early poetries, and that’s certainly the case with some of the ‘big’ small words here—soul, spirit, angels, et cetera. Maybe even god. The poet or translator has to bring them and everything that comes with them back to life, to reanimate the occasion that gives rise to them.”

For the inter-relation of translations and ever new interpretations, births life and rebirths, I would quote Cole once more:
That abstract revelation
and slippery duration
to which, it seems, I’m given
and because of which I’m never
finished with anything, as though living
itself were an endless translation

Transom:
The English translation of this poem is intriguing for its convoluted syntax and strangely archaic diction. What elements of Mirza Gualib’s style were you trying to capture here?

bin Mohammad:
During his times Gualib was notorious for the complexity of his couplets. As we look now these very complex couplets appear to be inviting to deep and prolonged brooding, but it is said that his contemporaries often insisted Gualib to say a bit easier poetry. His poetry is quite difficult to understand, most Urdu readers and even many Gualib fans would readily accept that it is hard to find a single couplet in his ‘deewaan’ that could be relished without the help of an elaborate Urdu dictionary.

The complex sentence syntax, which is typical of Gualib, is often compounded with sophisticated symbolism with some very deep allusions in the dimension of time. For example the very first couplet of his Urdu Deewaan holds an allusion to the justice system of ancient Sasinid Empire. The convoluted syntax and archaic diction employed in this translation is actually an attempt to capture a bit of the essence of Gualib’s poetry into English.