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Encountering Urdu poetry's modern heavyweight
May 31, 2011 1:20 AM   Subscribe

Faiz for Dummies. Worth a read even if you don't know Urdu.
posted by bardophile (21 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'd never heard of Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911–1984) - a renowned Pakistani poet - so I did some searching around...

A website about him: faiz.com

Poets.org entry for Faiz Ahmed Faiz


Some of his poetry, translated into English:

Before You Came
You Tell Us What to Do
Bangladesh II
Be Near Me
Blackout
When Autumn Came

The Last Mushiarah: Video (I think he's speaking/performing in Urdu here; there's a crowd and they seem to be really into it.)

His poem, Kutte/Kuttay, which is mentioned in the article: Youtube audio
posted by dubold at 1:43 AM on May 31, 2011


I don't much care for the Faiz translations I've read. They seem to miss the essential. The writer of the essay does a better job, I think. Probably because he translates only a phrase here and there, rather than trying to translate the whole poem.

A mushaira (to comment on the video link) isn't a poetry slam in any way other than that poetry is performed at both. When my dad and his buddies had informal mushairas in Columbus in the 60s, their American friends would say "the Pakistanis are having a poetry party." Much more descriptive.

I didn't want to give too much context because the essay is about a lot more than just Faiz, although that 'just' feels like blasphemy. It's a fantastic commentary on the current relationship of Pakistanis with poetry, and the arts in general.
posted by bardophile at 1:58 AM on May 31, 2011


Main shayyar to nahin...

thanks bardophile
posted by infini at 2:02 AM on May 31, 2011


bardophile: I didn't want to give too much context because the essay is about a lot more than just Faiz, although that 'just' feels like blasphemy. It's a fantastic commentary on the current relationship of Pakistanis with poetry, and the arts in general.

It's interesting you say that the article is a great commentary on the relationship of Pakistanis to poetry; I thought it felt a lot like being into any genre as a teen; when you discover something that moves you, an artist or writer or musician seemingly ignored by your family or peers. There's definitely something universal in the feeling that, as Bilal Tanweer wrote: Five seconds after the initial shock of the poem has subsided, feel euphoric. Yes, you get it. You want to go singing it to the dogs and everyone else in the streets
posted by dubold at 2:27 AM on May 31, 2011


From the article:
It won’t go according to plan though. Another two weeks and a bit more serious browsing later, you are still stumbling. ‘Ishq minnat kash-e qarar nahi/husn majboor-e intezar nahi’, err… WHAT?! But to be honest, what’s really been stabbing you is the constant suspicion that the poet’s messing with you, that there is a meaning lurking underneath which you’re not getting to, that you won’t get to—like, ever.
You have no idea how much of a relief it is to me to realize that even you Pakistanis, native speakers of "refined" Urdu , have the exact same reaction that I have with Urdu poetry. :)

I'm conversant, if not fluent, in Urdu's Dakhni variant, just that I do better gaalis than shayris. That constant suspicion the article talks about? I've had it for as long as I remember; it's often made me feel both more curious and resentful about Urdu poetry in general. Such a relief to read that even native speakers have the same feeling.

That was an amazing piece, thanks for sharing! Enjoyed it thoroughly.

Might quote a piece of verse that someone recited to me, when he saw me struggle with Urdu shayars (and it remains to be seen if the joke carries over in text, transliterated Roman or otherwise):

chiiTi chaDi pahaaD par.
chiiiiTi chaDi pahaaD par.
Utar gayi.


(Apologies for not translating this into English, but the humour is untranslatable :) )
posted by the cydonian at 2:49 AM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Worth a read even if you don't know Urdu.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:16 AM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Faiz? Wasn't he the "foreign kid" played by Wilmer Valderama on That 70s Show? *ducks*
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:39 AM on May 31, 2011


There's definitely something universal in the feeling that, as Bilal Tanweer wrote: Five seconds after the initial shock of the poem has subsided, feel euphoric. Yes, you get it. You want to go singing it to the dogs and everyone else in the streets

Oh, of course that's true. One of the reasons why I thought it would still make a good post. I was referring much more to the fact that it's not just a specific ignored artist, but the loss of high art in general. The hack drivers of early 20th century India famously quoted Ghalib with ease. Imagine New York cabbies routinely quoting Shakespeare.

Even as late as the 60s, Bollywood lyrics were routinely penned by the top serious poets of the time. Imagine the lyrics to Broadway musicals being penned by Robert Frost. So Faiz was very much a part of popular discourse, as was poetry, in general. It's only over the last couple of decades that this has changed. Even when I was in middle and high school, capping verses was a popular pastime. So the unfamiliarity he describes is, to me, indicative of one of the great tragedies of the culture of educated Pakistanis.
posted by bardophile at 4:09 AM on May 31, 2011


Metafilter: مشاعره نہیں، مہفل ہے
(or) Metafilter: Not a mushaira, but a mehfil.
posted by the cydonian at 4:12 AM on May 31, 2011 [4 favorites]


Feels more like Close Up Antakshari to be honest ;p
posted by infini at 6:29 AM on May 31, 2011


B-but. . . I thought the riff here was, 'Faiz is a troll'.

sorry.
posted by Herodios at 7:53 AM on May 31, 2011


A lovely essay, and it sent me straight to my bookshelves to pull out the Modern Poetry of Pakistan that only arrived in the mail last week, which happily does have a number of poems by Faiz. Bardophile, as far as I can tell the translations in this anthology are all new and were commissioned especially for the book, so here's hoping they're better than the ones you've encountered. Unfortunately I speak Urdu like a three year old, so that's my only way in.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 8:11 AM on May 31, 2011


Bardophile, why don't you try your hand at a translation of one of the poems? You could post it on MetaProjects...
posted by Paquda at 8:25 AM on May 31, 2011


ooh, villanelles at dawn, two of my favourite literary people from Pakistan have edited that. Must find a copy myself.


Iftikhar Arif won his place in my heart with:

mitti ki muhabbat main hum aashufta saron ne
vo qarz utaare hain jo vaajib bhi na thai


(We, the besotted, for love of the soil,
Have repaid debts we never owed.)

Waqas Khwaja is one of the few decent Pakistani writers of poetry in English that I am aware of.
posted by bardophile at 8:26 AM on May 31, 2011


Paquda: Mostly because I suspect that Frost (IIRC) was right when he said that poetry is that which is lost in translation. It might be a fun project though, you're right.
posted by bardophile at 8:33 AM on May 31, 2011


Yes, that Frost quote definitely has something to it. But maybe you could still produce something of value by either: (a) providing an accurate, literal translation of the sense (if not the sound) of the poem, maybe presented line-by-line next to the original Urdu, thereby helping readers work toward an understanding of the original or giving non-Urdu-speakers an idea of the content at least; or (b) trying to produce your own English poem that takes its start from a reading of the original at a certain point in time, but develops as a poem does, through your personal resources of imagination and language.
posted by Paquda at 9:08 AM on May 31, 2011


Even when I was in middle and high school, capping verses was a popular pastime

Could just be a change of venue? From my twitter feed:

Lines written outside open heart surgery unit - 'Dil khol lete apna agar jo yaaron ke saath, toh aaj kholna na padta auzaaron ke saath!


Spotted outside a burial ground “Manzil toh meri yahin thi..bus umr guzar gaye yahan tak aate aate!”

posted by infini at 12:16 PM on May 31, 2011


Paquda, if you'd like literal translations of Faiz's poems, you can find them on the website of Dr. Fran Pritchett, Urdu teacher extraordinaire (also grande dame of the MEALAC department at Columbia). Her website is a treasure trove of resources for students of Urdu and Urdu poetry -- she's a devotee of Ghalib in particular but she has also translated Mir's poetry and if you poke around here, you'll see she has made available a good collection of translations of Faiz, both literal and less so.
posted by artemisia at 12:20 PM on May 31, 2011 [2 favorites]


infini: No, that's just doggerel. You'll still see that on trucks and rickshaws all over the place. That's not at all the quality of poetry I'm talking about.
posted by bardophile at 12:40 PM on May 31, 2011


Aretemisia, that looks like a great site.
posted by Paquda at 12:47 PM on May 31, 2011


*sighs into glass of sharaab*
posted by infini at 12:58 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


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