WAHAB KHAR: Kashmir’s ironman of poetry

Again the translation is faithful on a literal level but how far is the ambiguity and word play of original carried over into translation?
WAHAB KHAR: Kashmir’s ironman of poetry
File Photo

Book: Verses of Wahab Khar (Translation)

Translator: Mushtaque B. Barq

Publisher: Jay Kay Books(Kashmir)

Year of Publishing: 2017

Art, says Plato, is twice removed from reality. This includes poetry as well. But what about the translation of poetry?- to how many degrees is a translation far removed? Is it so far removed that like the Ship of Theseus it becomes arguable whether it remains the original or something totally new! Any translation, thus, is a paradox; any attempt at translation an audacity.

But once carried out, translation, becomes a work of marvel.

Verses of Wahab Khar- translation of Wahab Khar's Kashmiri poetry into English by Mushtaque B Barq swerves between audacity and a marvel. At the very onset let us make it clear the task that Mushtaq Barq has taken upon himself is not an easy one. First, he has to face the peculiar problem of translation- the resistance of language. His problem is compounded by the choice of his genre-poetry which, even in simplest of cases, never lends itself sympathetically to translation. And lastly his problem is raised to unsurmountable heights due to his choice of subject for translation- mystic poetry. Mystics, by default, speak in a cryptic language; there is no other way to put into language what otherwise is incommunicable in words. Add to this the additional problem that Islamic mystics have had to face. Their language if not understood properly, is always liable to be convicted as blasphemy. Thus they choose poetry as their language and poetry of such a kind that refuses to yield meaning in a single dimension. And then to translate such poetry is to ask a Sisyphus to roll up his stone. For instance, take these verses of Wahab Khar and their translation by Mushtaq Barq:

"Buji aki loie naado ati thie roaz farhado

Mai-e-shireen mas chaeth tamath gulzar fuelmao ashqo."

An elderly woman called on, stay there O Farhad!

The divine drink is all charming. Came into bloom my gardens then oh! Love.

The verses obviously are alluding to the classic love story of Shirin Farhad. The scene is one where Farhad is carving koh e behistan as a condition to earn the hand of his ladylove- Shirin. And on directions of Khusrow, Farhad's rival, an old hag calls on Farhad in order to lie to him about Shirin's death. But that is not all there is to these verses. True to the mystic tradition, both Shirin and Farhad have been used as metaphors for the devotee and the deity and their carnal love as metaphor for the divine love. The deceptions and illusions of this world are represented by the old hag as they(she) try to deceive the true lover and dissuade him from his quest. But the true lover is drunk upon the divine love's nectar (=mai e shireen) and he will see nothing but his love all around like flowers blooming. Now the translation has faithfully reproduced the first aspect (of literary allusion) but it remains debatable how far the second metaphorical aspect of these verses has been carried over. In fact, the second aspect is by and large untranslatable because of the craftsmanship that Wahab Khar uses in creating a complex imagery and narration. He uses mai-e-shireen which literary translates into sweet wine and in the given context refers to the divine drink of love as duly translated by Mushtaq Barq. But mai-e-shireen also means wine of Shirin, ostensibly a figure of speech about the love of Farhad for Shirin. Wahab Khar plays on the dual meaning of this phrase. He has used it to delineate his metaphors emphatically; Shireen is the love of Farhad as well as the sweetness of wine besides also being the ecstasy of the divine drink- all in one; thus merging the banal with the divine. The translated phrase "divine drink" fails to bring out such a complexity.

Similarly, consider these verses;

"Jannat chu shariat    Baagh chu tareeqat

Kul haqeeqat basaw Praznaav lo lo."

Translated by Mushtaq Barq as:

Paradise is sharia Garden is tareeqat

All in attendance, haqeqat. Ascertain lo lo.

Again the translation is faithful on a literal level but how far is the ambiguity and word play of original carried over into translation?

Another aspect to be considered is the difference in the sensibility of the two languages- English and Kashmiri- and how far the differences skew each other in translation. One of the ghazals of Wahab Khar has the refrain, "Lookchar yeti roz tam" and has been translated has "O! infancy abide here." Native speakers of Kashmiri would point out that the proper English word for lookchar is childhood instead of infancy but the translator here faces a distinct problem in choosing one word over the other. Lookchar as used in this ghazal is in the context of a prelapsarian existence where sin is yet to take birth. A state of existence that is innocent and unspoilt. Lukchar of Kashmiri carries these sensibilities but its English equivalent childhood, does not. The translator is forced to chose infancy to bring out the contextual meaning and sacrifice the depth of the original and subsequent organic imagery that builds up on lukchaar as metaphoric substituent of prelapsarian existence.

The logical and lexical semantics are not the only issues here, there is also the question of different traditions and critical conditioning of the two languages. And how effectively the translator has dealt with them. Take for instance these verses of one of the wahab Khar's ghazal:

"Andri tundras gandie yelli josh Naar ki josha fhaelnai posh

Goud kar panas saet salla Har  dum paraan gaz Ho Allah."

Translated as:

"When thy oven within shall be set to fire The warmth shall set blossom

Counsel thyself the earliest do recite Allah Ho every moment."

Now let us leave the technicalities aside- the behr, the radeef, the kaafiya- instead let us focus on the typical structural arrangement of the verses of each misra of a ghazal. In the persio-arabic tradition of ghazal (which Kashmiri ghazal has inherited) the misra-e-oola and misra-e-saani are intricately linked. The misra-e-saani (second hemistitch) of each couplet/misra is not simply an extension of misr-e-oola(first hemistitch) but it is rather its sequitur. Thus while a misr-e-oola may raise a question, misr-e-saani answers it; misra-e-oola may make a statement, misr-e-saani elaborates it; misr-e-oola may put forward an image, misr-e-saani shows us the relevance of that image. Hence misr-e-oola and misr-e-saani are not just two hemistiches bound by behr but are rather two halves of a puzzle that complete each other and thus each misra/couplet of a ghazal is complete in itself while at the same time being part of the whole ghazal. In the above quoted misra/couplet of Wahab Khar this tradition of ghazal easily shines forth. In the misr-e-oola Wahab Khar invokes a strange imagery of the oven bellowed to great fire and out of this fire flowers shall bloom. Reading only this misra, one cannot make much of it except for the abstractness of the images. But when read with misr-e-saani these abstract images take on a vivid meaning which is that once an individual accepts the true purpose of his existence (which is the obedience of Almighty) and subsequently dedicate himself to a life time of glorification of Lord Almighty (har dum paraan Ho Allah) only then from the fire within his oven(ego) flowers shall bloom. The misr-e-oola sets up a puzzle (flowers blooming in an oven) and misr-e-saani resolves the puzzle. But in English poetry there is no such tradition. And once Mushtaq Barq translates a ghazal into english, he adheres to the sensibilities and aesthetics as conditioned by english tradition and not persio-arabic one and in the process loses this intricate co-dependence of hemstitches of a ghazal. This can be seen from the translation of Wahab Khar's misra as quoted above. The translator has duly translated both the misr-eoola and misr-e-saani but has not translated the dependence of the two.

In conclusion, it can be said that in, "Verses of Wahab Khar" one can read Mushtaque Barq's Wahab Khar but not Wahab Khar. This is not something wrong per se because for native kashmiris Mushtaque Barq's Wahab Khar will act as a supplement and complement to the reading of original Wahab Khar. And as for non-natives, something is better than nothing.

Besides, as already said in the beginning, to complete a translation is a work of marvel and to even attempt translating Wahab Khar whose legendary acumen has passed into the realms of maxims and adages- Ati cho Wahab Khar ti la jawaab.


Related Stories

No stories found.
Greater Kashmir