‘The Waste Land’ in translation

Updated Sep 16, 2013 12:29pm

The Urdu book recently published under the title The Waste Land reminds me of times when the literary world was under the spell of T.S. Eliot. The spell was two-fold as Eliot had been acknowledged as a great critic as well as a great poet. Perhaps he was the most potent voice of the age he lived in. As far as Urdu is concerned, no modern poet could resist Eliot’s influence and almost every critic saw wisdom in referring to his work in order to appear convincing in the arguments presented. In every controversy, Eliot was the last word on the subject under discussion.

Eliot’s critical articles have been abundantly translated into Urdu and Jameel Jalibi has surpassed all others in this field. We have a sizeable collection of translations by Jalibi but the article ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ has been translated by more than one writer. The one by Mukhtar Siddiq is more faithful to the original and is a better piece of prose.

But translating Eliot’s verse is a difficult task. Though a few attempts have been made to translate many of his poems, ‘The Waste Land’, which may be taken as his masterpiece, has attracted the most admirers. In spite of the fact that the poem, with its complicated expression, presents a challenge to the translator, many writers could not resist the temptation to translate it. So a number of ambitious souls have taken the risk and translated it in full. Well-known scholar Dr Siddiq Javaid has chosen to collect some of these translations in one volume to serve as an introduction to this world-famous poem to the Urdu readers. At the same time, the collection also can serve the purpose of a comparative study of Urdu translations of this poem.

The collection is divided into two parts. The first consists of five translated versions of the poem. The translators are Aziz Ahmad, Rafiq Khawar, Syed Sirajuddin, Anees Nagi and Dr Mohammad Khan Ashraf. Javaid has not accommodated all the translations of the poem here. For example, the translation by Mubarik Ahmad is missing from the collection.

What is also missing is an article devoted to the comparative study of these versions of the poem. That would help us know which translation is more reliable. It is a pity that out of the five only one translator has been able to translate the title of the poem correctly. He is Dr Mohammad Khan Ashraf, who has translated ‘The Waste Land’ as ‘Weerana'. The other word in Urdu for ‘The Waste Land’ is ‘Kharaba'.

Mir says:

Aziz Ahmad chose to translate it as ‘Kharababad'.

Anis Nagi has taken pains to translate the whole poem but did not translate the title. Rafiq Khawar, in his translation, has made a strange attempt to translate a few proper nouns into those borrowed from India. So Carthage has been translated as Kathiawar, Thames as Jamuna, Mylae as Chittor. But are so many proper nouns in the text have been left untranslated.

The second part of the book includes articles by different Urdu writers about Eliot. A few of them deal with the poem in particular while other articles offer an introduction to Eliot in general. Leading critics such as Mohammad Hasan Askari and Shamsur Rahman Faruqi discuss Eliot from their own point of view. Mohammad Ahsan Farooqi makes a comparative study of Iqbal and Eliot, showing us their similarities and their differences. Granting greatness to both, he prefers Eliot. And he likes to offer reasons for it.

The book has been published by Maghribi Pakistan Urdu Academy, Lahore.


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