With fifty poems acompanied by their insightful English translations along with pictures, this book encapsulates the poetic brilliance of Kaifi Azmi; writes Gopal Lahiri

Price:   499 |  24 Aug 2019 1:46 PM GMT  |  Gopal Lahiri


Poetry can provide genuine solace, pleasure and a sense of connection. But it is the language, subtle and ingenious, that lies beneath your thoughts and delivers the results. There can be no better example than Kaifi Azmi, an eminent Urdu poet and song-lyricist. The solace he offers in his poems is uplifting, relatable and nostalgic. He has a kind of great sweeping vision and still expresses so directly as one human being to another. His inventive lyricism highlights the intersectional nature of poetry with music, cadence and footprints of life.

Seamus Heaney, once remarked, ‘If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find a way’. Like, most of the Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi has started writing Gazals in his early life but after his association with Progressive Writers Movement’, he found his way to write socially conscious poetry where the lives of the downtrodden people were told in a calm and nuanced tone.

In spite of his concern for the underprivileged, Kaifi’s language is never high-pitched and always reverberates with tenderness and reverence It’s quintessentially Indian voice and a beautiful one. He finds a measure of freedom in his writing. The poems undulate, shifting between love and anguish. as if an original, intricate work of art. Kaifi Azmi believes that poetry is a way to bridge one person to another.

Shabana Azmi, the celebrated actor, has recalled her father’s writing, ‘I find his poetry striking for its strong imagery, its sheer power and its broadness of vision. His most personal problem transcends itself in a much larger vision so that his struggle no longer remains his own, but becomes the struggle of all human beings.’ 

Recently ‘Kaifi Azmi, Poems/ Nazms: New and Selected Translations’, a beautiful bilingual English-Hindi collection, has been published by Bloomsbury to pay homage to the poets birth centenary celebrations. This centenary volume contains fifty poems, selected, introduced, edited and co-translated by Sudeep Sen. The finely crafted poems are translated by Professor Husain Mir Ali, Engineer and academic Baidar Bakht, Filmmaker Sumantra Ghosal, Poet and translator Pritish Nandy and the Poet-editor Sudeep Sen.

In his introduction, Sudeep Sen has clearly brought out, ‘All of us who have translated Azmi’s poems, bring to this book, a wide variety of approaches, politics and aesthetic sensibilities. Despite the translators sharing a similar linguistic background- Indian/South Asian-the translations themselves are beautifully diverse, centrifugal and manifold.’

It’s a matter of pride that Kaifi Azmi’s voice- and the elegance it carries in it- has been shining in most of the translations. In fact, it says something about the liveliness of the poet’s voice that he manages himself heard through various translations. Frankly, it’s not translating a translation and the poet never have been stifled into silence. Thus, Kaifi’s poems have never been totally distorted by poor renderings.

All the translators have added some flowery touches of their own in order to find the lilting of the language, the wordplay and the cadence. Each poem hits its marks.

Sumantra Ghosal has pointed out in his forward note, ‘the best translations must strike a balance between the mores and customs of the land the poem was born in and those of the country it must now make its home. It is a recurring nightmare of the displaced.’ In order to retain the voice of the poet, he has broken stanzas and changed lines, even additions, transportations, etc. There is always the presence of rippling terrain in translation. By the end readers will see how appropriate it is.

Pritish Nandy has written earlier a small book of Kaifi’s poetry in English translation- The Poetry of Kaifi Azmi. In his words, ‘It is this virile diction, the simplicity and sensitivity of a language that has been shorn of all the traditional trappings of its literary heritage and fashioned to meet the demands of a new, contemporary consciousness that I attempted to show in my translations.’

Corpses and biers lie everywhere:

They cannot hear nor endorse what you say

Let peace survive; and its flagbearers. (The Night of Apocalypse)

Jism hi jism hai, kaphon hi kaphon hi kafan

Baat sunte na sar jhukate hai

Aman ki kher, kotwal ki kher (Aakhiri Raat)

Kaifi Azmi’s poems are emotive, adroitly balanced and unwavering in their search of truth. He speaks from the bottom of the heart, stitching together the words with assurances that room for reclamation still exists.

This worthy book is quite exhaustive and contains anecdotal details, archival photo album, bibliography and biography. The best part is the Hindi and English translations are placed side by side and can be read alongside to feel the warmth of both the poems and the book gains the real momentum once for all.

In fact, this is a book that has so much sense of itself that it is quite possible to imagine it as an original English poem instead of translations. Perhaps, this book holds up the prism of choice and let the light shine through from every corner. What it also has a fine poet editor who has done such a brilliant job in translation. Here are a few such prominent examples:

The moment I kiss these beautiful eyes-

A hundred lamps in the darkness-glow, glitter (one kiss)

Or job bhi chum leta hun in hasin aankho ko

So chirag andhere me jhilmilane lagte hai (ek bosa)


As yet- love hasn’t conceded defeat

As yet-don’t give up on love (Courage)

Abhi ishq ne haar mani nehi

Abhi ishq ko aajmana na chor’ (Hosla)

Sudeep Sen deserves praise for delving deep into the poetic landscape of Kaifi Azmi and in turn meticulously solidifies a vibrant bilingual English-Hindi collection of his nuanced poems amassed through new and selected translations written over the years.

This handsome centenary Bloomsbury edition, which comes hardbound with a flap and the elegant cover design, is undoubtedly a treasure and a collector’s item for sure.

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