Friday, March 23, 2007

Black out

"Ever since the lights failed,
I have been searching to see how I could see."

- Faiz Ahmed Faiz 'Black Out' (trans. by Agha Shahid Ali)
It doesn't really matter why the lights go out. There is that moment when the darkness overwhelms you, when you are afraid to move for fear of what you may stumble on. When you become aware of the tentativeness of your position, your presence like a held breath in a silent room.

Slowly, things resurface. Furniture rises from the depths of the blackness like debris from a drowned ship. Outlines reestablish themselves. A resplendence, subtler than starlight, informs the gloom.

Faced with this grey world you grow blurred yourself. A shadow among silheouttes. The ghost of your imagination scurrying in the diluted air. Faded to discernment, you learn to distinguish shade from shade, darkness from darkness, until the world seems distinct again, though you are afraid to touch it, thinking it may disappear.

It will not be long now before you come to fear the light. Before you wince at the thought of the curtain being opened, the switch being turned back on - afraid to lose this hard won clarity that you are now soothed by. Shutting your eyes against the light, and cursing it for coming back.


Shahid's translation is beautiful, but not terribly faithful to the original. The original reads:

Jab se be-noor hui hai shamaein
Khaak mein dhoondta phirta hoon na jaane kis jaa
Kho gai hain meri donon aankhen
Tum jo vaakif ho batao koi pehchaan meri.

which Shahid translates as:

Ever since the lights failed,
I have been searching to see how I could see.
Where have my eyes strayed in the dust?

You who know, give me proof.
Describe me to myself.

but which more literally is just:

Ever since the lights went out
I have been searching in the dust for I know not what.
I have lost both my eyes.
You who know, tell me how to recognise myself.


Revealed said...

Loved it :)

sb said...

wow, beautiful!

Cinamon said...

absolutely brilliant.

SWATI said...

i think Shahid's translation is not meant to be literal but it definitley conveys the same point...
except for the word " strayed" with its different connotation than just "lost". also, lines 2 and 3 shud be read together (which i think is more appropriate as line 2 is incomplete and left hanging to be read with line 3)
i think he remains faithful to the spirit of the nazam.

Falstaff said...

revealed / sb / cinamon: Thanks.

swati: no argument there. But the point is, it's as much Shahid as it's Faiz. "I have been searching to see how I could see" is a stunning line, but it's not Faiz's line, it's Shahid's. Shahid's certainly true to the spirit of the poem, and I'd go as far as to say that he's improving it, but that doesn't change the fact that the text is a significant departure from the original. And it's not just the individual words. "kho gain hai meri donon aankhen" is a simple statement of fact - while "Where have my eyes strayed in the dust" is a deeply eloquent line. There's an important difference in tone there.

Look, I love Shahid's translations, probably more than anyone you know. But I think knowing what the original literally translates to is important to understanding what and how much he's adding to the poem.