Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Ghalib 20

Okay, so after Sunday's post and equivocal's response, I thought I may as well try a translation of my own. It's just a first draft really, just a few hours work, but well:

It was not my fate

It was not my fate that my love be returned.
If I'd lived longer I would still be waiting.

If I lived by your vows my life would be a lie.
I would gladly die if I could only believe.

Your weakness taught me that our bond was weak.
Could you have broken it if it had been strong?

Question my heart about your half-hearted arrow:
Would it hurt this much if the shaft had gone through?

What friends are these, who tell me what to do?
Will no one heal me, no one share my pain?

If this thing I call my sorrow had even a spark
The stones would drip blood, would open their veins.

Pain spends our lives away - why save the heart?
If it isn't spent on love, it's spent in making do.

To whom shall I complain that the night is dark?
Death wouldn't be so bad, if it only happened once.

Better a swift drowning, than death's endless disgrace.
No procession of mourners, no grave to return to.

All these riddles, Ghalib, this testimony of yours -
We'd think you a prophet, if you weren't always drunk.

- Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib

The original here and other recent translations here.

P.S. Going over the Seshadri translation again, the one phrase from it I really love (and envy) is "this grave anyone can visit". I'm not sure that's what Ghalib meant, but it's a brilliant line anyway.


Space Bar said...

aren't you missing a couplet?

Falstaff said...

SB: Yes, the same one that Seshadri skips as well.

I'm afraid that particular couplet has never made much sense to me, so I decided to let it be.

equivocal said...

Thanks for this. I like what you're doing with the metrical / rhythmic parallelism-- ie. in the second half of the second line of each couplet.

I think I like your "death wouldn't be so bad" couplet more than Seshadri's because you turn down the volume and he turns it up. Also, probably, "no procession of mourners" because it's more clear-- "this grave anyone can visit" is very nice of course, but I misunderstood it at first.

I also maybe like some things about your half-hearted arrow line more than his, though there, it's hard to say. Your translation feels, tonally, closer to the (cliched?) image of Urdu poetry I have in my mind, that is, romantic, longing, serious, mourning. His is more sardonic, self-deprecating, bitter, darkly witty--to me. Which is closer to Ghalib's own tone, I don't know, and I don't even know whether that could be discerned or decided or settled. In a translation, something is lost, something is gained. What exactly should be lost and what gained is a matter of dispute.

Let's say, as you are saying, that Seshadri has completely distorted both Ghalib's literal sense and his tone, that he has used the occassion of the translation to write a Seshadri poem. In the world of postcolonial translation theory, that's a felony for sure and probably a life sentence. In the world of poetry--especially since the end result is enjoyable-- it's definitely just a misdemeanor. Seshadri has created a fresh and arresting voice that I can relate to (admittedly, a bit like "Emotional Atyachaar" -- "bol bol why did you kill me whore?")-- and it makes me wish it were Ghalib even if it isn't.

In any case, I look forward to seeing more of these from both you and Seshadri. Isn't it disgusting that there isn't yet a full-length Ghalib book in English that really works as poetry?

Anonymous said...

I understand the original language a little, though not in all its depth and shades. Hence, for me, there are always these big 'holes' in the gazals, because I don't know some of the words used. But your translations help me understand the poems more completely. So I appreciate these. Thanks.