Shifting Sands: Poems of Love and other Verses

Introduction and Selection by Baidar Bakht Translation from Urdu by Baidar Bakht and Marie-Anne Erki Publisher: Packages Ltd, Lahore, 2010. Pages 604. Price: Rs 750/US $ 25/GB P 20. Reviewed by Toheed Ahmad

Poets, it is said, produce national literature, while translators produce world literature. This beautiful book is a brilliant illustration of this adage. Urdu literature has yet to create its deserved space in world literature, and this book can be cited as an example of where this sweet language can stand in the world – at the top level. I will cite two reasons for this. One, because our society gives a very low status to translation. It remains a low paying profession whose wages are below those of domestic servants and garbage collectors. Nowhere in the country do we teach the subject of Translation Studies. Foreign language learning has fallen out of fashion at our universities. Nobody in our academia or the literati is familiar with the discipline of Comparative Literature. So who will talk about world literature?

The second reason is the lack of national literary discourse of corpus and canon. While Chinese or Persian Literature is clearly identifiable and marketed as such, Pakistani literature has not come of age 64 years after the birth of the country. By contrast the history of Urdu literature is spread over five centuries, and the vocabulary list of the language exceeds the number of words available to the English language.

‘Shifting Sands’ is a book that demands attention as a world class product of translation. Beautifully produced in a coffee-table format, the volume presents the parallel Urdu-English text of 170 poems – Nazms and Ghazals – selected from the 12 volumes of Amjad’s Urdu poetry translated so effectively by the Canadian team of Baidar Bakht and Anne-Marie Erki. I have not seen nor heard of such a massive parallel texting of another Pakistani poet being available in a major world language, not even of our dear national poet Allama lqbal. Baidar Bakht had earlier produced a selection of Amjad’s poems in English translation in 1991 titled ‘In the last days of autumn’. The translators deserve special thanks of us Urdu lovers.

Amjad is generally accepted as the most popular living Urdu poet. He has a prolific pen. Besides the 12 collections of poetry, he has written two travelogues, one book on critical appreciation of classical Urdu poetry and many books containing his dramas for both TV and stage. He has produced two volumes of translations in Urdu language – one, Aks (reflections) comprising of protest poems of Palestinian poets, and Kale logoan ki roshan nazmain (Bright poems of black people) containing poems of African and Afro­American poets. He contributes a regular column to the national Urdu daily Express and is a frequent participant in TV talk shows on culture and society. Before the ‘Shifting Sands’ two volumes of his Urdu verse had been translated into English.

Amjad’s competence in a variety of literary genres is amazing, and perhaps unparalleled in our tradition.

The ‘Shifting Sands’ carries a powerful dedication: ‘To the dream of a peaceful and equality-based neighbourhood for every human being in the global village of the 21st century’. In this Age of Globalization, the Information and Communication Technologies have sounded the death knell for geography. Distance is dead. The planet is becoming one neighbourhood where the role of the translator/interpreter in making cross-cultural communication possible is critical. The dedication of ‘Shifting Sands’ therefore carries a deeper meaning as it is a proclamation of our desire, and ability, to take Urdu to the world.

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