Yusuf’s Fragrance

Mufti Mudasir’s translation of Mahmud Gami opens up vistas for a wide readership
"Trying to render accurately the meaning of the original in the target language and ensuring, simultaneously, that the translation is not dull or awkward or just readable but enjoyable too, is to negotiate a difficult terrain."
"Trying to render accurately the meaning of the original in the target language and ensuring, simultaneously, that the translation is not dull or awkward or just readable but enjoyable too, is to negotiate a difficult terrain."Special arrangement

It is a matter of great joy and pride for all poetry lovers that a major poet of Kashmiri is now introduced to a global readership by no less than Penguin Random House in its Classics series.

Yusuf’s Fragrance: Poems of Mahmud Gami, a recent publication from Penguin, is yet another testimony to the fact that Kashmiri literature, if translated exceptionally well, can match great literature of any other language.

The book offers to the English readers, for the first time, a huge corpus of Mahmud Gami’s poetry (around 2750 couplets) and is hence a singular contribution bound to make a mark. Written by Mufti Mudasir (Professor in the Department of English, University of Kashmir), the book is one of its kind due to several reasons:

a) it has a detailed and comprehensive introduction covering many themes---Mahmud Gami’s critical reception, the impact of Persian on Kashmiri poetry, a critical analysis of vatsun, an indigenous poetic genre, discussions on the philosophy of love in Sufism, major concerns in Kashmiri Sufi poetry and a critical estimate of Gami’s contribution;

b) it offers lucent translations of several of Gami’s vatsuns, nazms and six of his major masnavis;

c) it includes explanatory notes wherever needed.

In addition to the introduction which is remarkable for its scope and scholarly treatment of the subject and which no scholar interested in Kashmiri literary tradition can afford to miss, the translations are a real treat to read.

Mufti Mudasir manages to remain faithful to the original text and yet produce versions which are thoroughly enjoyable. In his Acknowledgement he sums up the challenge of translating poetry and how he dealt with it in these words: “The translator’s task, needless to say, is a difficult one.

Trying to render accurately the meaning of the original in the target language and ensuring, simultaneously, that the translation is not dull or awkward or just readable but enjoyable too, is to negotiate a difficult terrain. I have tried my best to remain faithful to the original, conveying as much as possible its richness, complexity and mood into a modern English idiom” (p. 317)

Mahmud Gami (1765-1855) is one of the pioneers and a founding figure of Kashmiri poetry who contributed significantly to its growth. Gami, talking about himself, says: ‘Nizāmi was favoured by God’s blessings/ I, Mahmud Gāmi, too, partake in them./ Think of composing verse as piercing a pearl/ Or rending your heart-soul from your body.’ Professor Shafi Shauq, who has written the Foreword to the book, calls Gami ‘the maker of modern Kashmiri poetry, introduced various literary forms, variety of lexis, and multifarious, delightful aspects of the world around, and at the same time developed suitable lexis enriched by appropriate Persian and Arabic borrowings” (p. x).

Mufti Mudasir shows how Gami is a trend setter and one of the first to introduce Persian genres of masnavi, ghazal, naat etc., into Kashmiri. The book presents a large portion of his poetic oeuvre covering genres like nazm, vastun, and masnavi. Some of the major themes prevalent in Gami’s poetry like love, both physical as well as metaphysical, death, sorrow, ecstasy, fear etc., are dealt with in the book.

On Gami’s choosing Kashmiri rather than Persian to write his poetry, Mufti Mudasir notes that “Gami’s decision to choose Kashmiri instead of Persian for his poetic expression proved to be a momentous one as it served as a model and inspiration for future poets” (p. xv). He also explains how Gami should be seen as the originator of a new genre translation-adaptation, whereby classics written by the great Persian masters such as Attar, Nizami, Rumi and Jami were rewritten in Kashmiri. Gami’s major masnavis have been taken from the Persian tradition but adapted in such a way that they allow us to see how a local language grows by appropriating the great texts of a cosmopolitan language.

Of special interest is Mufti Mudasir’s taking issue with writers like Abdul Ahad Azad, who in their zeal of championing a ‘pure’ Kashmiri, regretted the alleged ‘stifling influence of Persian on Kashmiri’. He shows how “far from being a constricting and thus a baneful influence, Persian enormously enriched Kashmiri in more ways than one. Not only did Persian provide Kashmiri with a hitherto unavailable repertoire of symbols, metaphors and similes, but also made it thematically more versatile and richer” (p.xxiii)

Apart from the Introduction, the translations themselves are no less charming. Take a look at these lines from a nazm ‘The Moth’s Tale’:

The moth has great fame/as the lover with a fiery soul./ Glimpsing the candle, his heart-kindler, /he sets himself aflame. /One day, some flies pestered him./‘Tell us your love’s secret. /Give us a name or a clue, at least. /Who has stolen your heart? /What have your eyes seen?’/ The moth wailed, raised lamentation and gave a loud shriek./ ‘I am a moth driven crazy by love. /My anguish defies description./He only knows who suffers love’s seething pain.’ (p.43)

Another example, taken from masnavi ‘Yusuf Zulaykha’, which illustrates the beauty of young Yusuf, is a fitting illustration of what the translation has achieved:

Yusuf was Yaqub’s dearest son/ His radiant face lit up the world/The moon of Canaan was a king of beauties/A calamity for hearts, a plunderer of souls/ His ruddy cheeks had a moon-like lustre/ He titillated hearts with his sprightly gait/ Long-necked, as lithe as a cypress/ Tossing his serpentine tresses around/ Curls clustered around his lovely face/ Like a black viper on a rosebush/His dishevelled tresses were snares of love/ A calamity for faith and piety/ The black mole was a negro boy/ Seated on display at the port of Surat/ The mole enmeshed by the curly locks/ A fawn entangled in a hunter’s net/ His hair flowed straight like hyacinths/Tumbling down from top to toe/ (p. 130).

Yet another fascinating poem is ‘Sheikh San’aan’ which treats the theme of earthly love transmuting into divine love. Sheikh San’aan, a savant with a large following, falls miserably in love with a Hindu girl who jilts him at first but finally finds herself transfixed with his love. Here is how the author explains the idea with the help of a relevant passage:“But now the Sheikh has passed beyond the allurements of the physical realm. He admonishes her to give up self-love and embrace the love of God. In a moving passage towards the end of the poem, the girl breathes her last, having experienced an identical spiritual awakening as that of the Sheikh.” (p lxii)

‘O Hindu girl, what do you desire?/ The love you ask for is alien to me/

What for are your blandishments?/ Your beguilement is in vain/

Why do you deck your locks?/ Appearance no longer lures me /

Don’t exult in glamour and riches/ Don’t flaunt your mole and tresses/

Lay off pride and envy/ Cleanse your heart of rust/

Abjure your ego and self-love/You will realize your essence (p. lxii)

Poetry lovers can immediately discern a master craftsman at work here. Translating such a rich corpus of poetry with a scholarly introduction is no less than a great feat and deserves immediate critical attention.

The fact that the book is a Penguin Classic will ensure that it will remain in circulation for a very long time and be available to a global readership. A homage to and celebration of Gami’s poetic oeuvre, Yusuf’s Fragrance will certainly be the book that lovers of Kashmiri poetry, students and scholars will consult.

One can’t agree more with Professor Shafi Shauq who makes a brief but useful remark about the book: ‘The translation has many more merits that demand greater length for appreciation than this brief note’ (p. xv).

Books have been written on Kashmiri poets and will be written in future too, however this book by Mufti Mudasir attempts, and achieves to a large extent, something that has rarely been tried before. I am sure this English rendition of Gami will pave way for appreciation of his multidimensional work and make a place on the bookshelf of every Kashmiri.

A must read.

Author teaches English, Language and Literature at GDC Dangiwacha.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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