Translation and Resistance Literature | Part 1

Payaambar na naseeb hua tau khoob hua

Payaam-e-gair say kya sharah-e-arzoo kartay

That the messenger was unavailable was fortunate

How could another one translate my desire?

The oft quoted couplet by Khwaja Haider Ali Aatish adequately highlights the perils of translation, which is premised in impossibility. I was reminded of this couplet when a few days ago, I ran into an old acquaintance who complained that literary production from Kashmir is still not up to the mark. One reason, we agreed on is that the influence of literatures produced outside Kashmir is rather limited as compared to outsiders, a lot of whom we read in translation. While it is indubitable that the peculiar socio-political conditions in Kashmir promote an aesthetic of confrontation, and realism, the argument that this justifies the self-enclosed nature of literary production doesn’t hold water. A counter that could be offered, however, is that the tradition of writing lived experience in Kashmir is still in infancy, a byproduct of the turmoil that Kashmir has spiraled into since 1990’s. Not that Kashmir did not have a tradition of writing, on the contrary, the poetic tradition is quite old, and quite developed. However, as with everywhere, the amalgam of identity politics and writing is a comparatively new phenomenon inaugurated by Mehjoor in the early decades of 20th century. In English, the tradition is popularly ascribed to Agha Shahid Ali, just before the onset of the new millennium. Within such a short time, it is not possible to evolve a highly stratified tradition just yet. While this counter is justified to an extent, it is not sufficient to abide by it, and give up hope and effort of diversifying the tradition. What can be done to diversify the tradition of poetry especially resistance poetry? Many things including translation! Translation represents an attempt to borrow new genres and new idioms into English. But translation itself is not a singular process.

Tejaswani Niranjana, in ‘Siting Translation’, points out that translation provides a context, “of contesting and contested stories attempting to account for, to recount, the asymmetry and inequality of relations between peoples, races and languages.” She offers a model of translation that employs English to contest unmediated representations of colonialism and make visible the writer from the (former) colony to both the west and the readership within the country. This making visible allows post-colonial translation to emerge as a radical practice, which helps to create the desired political statement that lived experiences in marginalised spaces like Kashmir demand. Another model is offered by Pramod Nayar who argues that effective narratives of human rights can be created by using translation to create narrative communities, which will harness the power of translation to transcend limitations of the language, but also bring an audience to a textual event that especially accommodates contestations of communal identity and action. In spaces constituted from violence, and suppression like Kashmir, translation then emerges as a handy tool to create narrative communities, within the world at large in general and India in particular, by converting them to recognise concrete experience of a disenfranchised people. In the spirit of Ramanujan, the Indian translator, theorist and poet, the translation aims to translate the foreign reader into a native reader i.e. a disinterested reader into one anxious and concerned about Kashmir. Translation is enacted with a specific activist zeal to transform narratives realising that ground level realities are determined by narratives e.g. the narrative of nationalism, revivalism, and Hindu majoritarianism determine the lived realities of residents of Kashmir. By extension this framing demands that counter and alternate narratives be drawn to allow the subjugated to produce more accurate representations of their condition, than presented by the subjugator.

In this column, I propose to demonstrate this model to show how a translation of two ghazals, one by Ghulam Rasool Nazki, and one by Khatir Gaznavi written in an entirely different context can be reimagined to demonstrate the lived experience of a Kashmiri on the eve of the various anniversaries of massacres, milestones in our history of disenfranchisement in general and August 5 in particular when the erstwhile state was converted into a union territory and its land rights stripped away. The translation is as follows:


On Anniversaries


Aaj phir chedi hai
Yet again today, you rake

the subject of desires of my heart:

fresh tales of salting the wounds of my heart.


I waxed eloquent with my tale, you heard me

out patiently. Else, who in the world

listens to lovers pouring out their heart?


Relic of the garden –

Flower raised in garden’s shade

In deserts too, I’ll speak of gardens

with a breeze in my heart.


You sculpted my idol, I followed

your lead. Ritual of idolatry

started right, thus, from Kabba’s heart.


The candle burnt and wept

all night. Till dawn, all conversation

revolved around the moth’s heart.


(On August 5, 2020)

Aaj phir chedi hai tumnay meray armaanon ki baat

Kaavish-e-zakhm-e-jigar kay taza afsaanon ki baat


Ik ada-e-khaas say hum nay kahee tum nay suni

Kaun sunta hai jahaan main warna deewanon ki baat


Jadaa-e-sehan-e-chaman, parwardaa-e-aagosh-e-gul

Hum bayabaan main bhi kehdenge gulistaanon ki baat


Tum nay mera aur phir main nay tarsha but tera

Is tarah kaabay say chal nikli hai butkhaano.n ki baat


Shaama jalti hi rahee aansoo.n bahatee hi rahee

Subhu tak chalti rahee mehfil main parwaanon ki baat

In the first couplet, the original employs the verb ‘chedi’ which implies ‘alluded’ to, an indirect hint of sorts. I translate it to ‘rake’ which involves a violence, a digging out as it were, which would cause agony, and hence gives full vent to the sadistic pleasure the other derives from a reminder of the subject i.e. the subject of humiliation, powerlessness and the desire to be rid of these. ‘Rake’, therefore, is an adequate reminder of the violence and heartache that follows any discussion of the abrogation. Moreover, kavish-e-zakhm-e-jigar literally translates into exacerbate the wounds of the heart. I translate the line into salting the wounds of heart to exaggerate the effect and bring out the full effect of the torment felt by the Kashmiri subject when commemorating the event.

The second couplet talks about narrating the tale with an ‘ada-e-khaas’ – a peculiar way. I translate it to ‘wax eloquent’ to indicate the full extent of the troubles that followed the abrogation, and the grandeur of mourning associated with the crises that were unleashed post August. I add patiently to the line even as the original only mentions ‘suni’ – heard. The addition of patience is simply an affirmation of the resignation that has crept into our conversations, where we repeat the same litanies of grief ad nauseam in every gathering at every instance.  It is only us, who have the patience to listen to each other’s narratives. People sharing each other’s trauma and united by a collective suffering listen to each other, and share in each other’s grief. In a word increasingly immune and impervious to the concerns of the marginalized, and having given a free pass to the subjugator to subjugate the subjugated, the aggrieved have nowhere to go but only listen to each other, to console themselves in hollow consolations and wait wistfully for some relief, some good news. Therefore, I translate ‘deewanon ki baat’- conversations of lovers to ‘lovers pouring out their heart’ to lend more poignancy to the act of listening, and expressing.

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Huzaifa Pandit

Huzaifa Pandit is the author of the recently published ‘Green is the Colour of Memory’, which won the first edition of Rhythm Divine Poets Chapbook Contest 2017. He holds a PhD on poetry of resistance from the University of Kashmir.

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