Kaifi Azmi-Poems/Nazms Book Review: The book just passes muster

07:00 AM Sep 29, 2019 |

Translation is a pursuit of failure,” whoever said this, must have been an honest writer/translator who faced the daunting challenges and insurmountable obstacles while translating. Translation is certainly no baazeech-e-atfaal (children’s play) and it becomes all the more difficult when a translator has to translate poetry.

Sudeep Sen’s Kaifi Azmi is one such book containing rather humdrum renditions of Kaifi’s very fine poetry in Urdu. As a seasoned reviewer of books, I have two beefs against the book: It’s been mentioned on the cover that it's a centenary bilingual English-Hindi edition. Why didn’t the editor-author include the Urdu script as well because Kaifi was a poet who wrote only in Urdu with its Persian script? Assuming that readers are not acquainted with the Urdu script is an erroneous belief.


There are still many readers alive who are at home with Urdu script like yours truly. Agreed, it would have taken more space, but then it'd have been an apt tribute to the man who loved to write in Urdu with a cursive style and occasionally corresponded with the reviewer in Urdu.

My second gripe is about the imperfect transliteration of many a line in the book. The Urdu-English knowing readers tend to read any book, regardless of its language, from the last page, known as ‘reverse reading’. There is a word ummeed (hope) on the last page that has been transliterated as umeed. This is nettlesome. There are a few such errors in the book that need to be corrected in the second edition.

Five translators have contributed. They are Husain Mir Ali, Baidar Bakht, Sumantra Ghoshal, Pritish Nandy and Sudeep Sen. The first two translators are accomplished scholars of Urdu. They have translated the nazms quite admirably, retaining their essence. I am afraid, Sumantra Ghoshal, Pritish Nandy and Sudeep Sen lack the sensibilities of Urdu language and its poetry.

Their renditions are plain and placid. This much-hyped book needed professional Urdu-knowing translators with poetry as their metier. Ghoshal translated Kaifi’s celebrated nazm Aurat (Woman) in a rather prosaic manner. It must be mentioned that when Shaukat Kaifi listened to it for the first time, she had a sapiosexual crush on Kaifi who later became her shareek-e-hayaat (life-partner). In fine, the book is just a passable collection for the general readers and is no great shakes.

Book: Kaifi Azmi-Poems/Nazms

Author Editor: Sudeep Sen

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Pages: 222; Price: Rs 499

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