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“THE only tribute a French translator can pay to Shakespeare is not to translate him,” said Henry Max Beerbohm, the English humorist.

But we have to take with a pinch of salt what Beerbohm said because all he wanted to say was that the intricacies and beauties of Shakespeare’s writings cannot be translated fully, but then it goes without saying. Translation is a tricky business and good, faithful translations are rarity. Translations are often equated with women who, as the famous quote goes, cannot be beautiful and faithful at the same time. But as exceptions are always there, some translations are faithful as well as beautiful. Iftikhar Arif’s select Urdu poetry translated into Persian by Dr Ali Bayat is a case in point: he has beautifully translated Arif’s verses into Persian and it is as faithful as it gets.

Ali Bayat in his translation, published from Tehran under the title Panjereh ee be samt-i-baagh-i-gumshudeh (The window on the lost garden) has been ever so careful not to misinterpret or misquote Iftikhar Arif. The reason is Bayat has done his MA and PhD in Urdu from Punjab University and has stayed in Pakistan for years, which has given him, along with the academic knowledge, a native-like command over Urdu. He contributes to Urdu research journals, too. Secondly, as this writer personally knows Bayat, he has a penchant for mastering words and their usage. Every time we meet in some international conference, Bayat has some anecdotes to tell about the Urdu usage and how foreign students mishandle it. So when he translates any verses into his native Persian, he knows what the Urdu expressions really mean and how a slight change in the idiom might render it ridiculous.

Another reason for a surprisingly good translation is that Urdu has drawn heavily upon Persian, especially for poetic vocabulary and hence sometimes you do not really have to translate something from Urdu into Persian or Persian into Urdu as the same word/s will suffice. In fact the overall impact of the Persian language on Urdu language and literature has been greater than what Urdu got from other languages, and Bayat has got it right when he says in his preface to the book that “Urdu literature during its development was influenced by the Persian language more than any other language. I have courage to even say that the influence of Persian on Urdu in its classical period was even greater than the influence of Arabic literature and language”.

Ali Bayat in his preface has given a brief biographical sketch of Iftikhar Arif. He says that Iftikhar Hussain Arif was born on March 21, 1944, in Lucknow. At Lucknow University he studied Urdu, English and Sanskrit from where he did his MA in 1965. He also did a course in journalism from Columbia University, New York. At the age of 21 he migrated to Pakistan and worked for Radio Pakistan. From Pakistan Television (PTV) he broadcast, along with Ubaidullah Baig and Qureshpur, ‘Kasauti’, a quiz programme that became immensely popular. He joined PTV but quit to work for the BCCI and left for London. There, till 1990, he managed the affairs at Urdu Markaz, too. He has headed literary institutions of national importance such as National Language Authority and Pakistan Academy of Letters and is recognised as an intellectual in his own right. Iftikhar Arif is a veteran poet and has published three collections of poetry: Mehr-i-do neem (1984), Harf-i-baryab (1994) and Jahan-i-maaloom (2005). His collected works, Kitab-i-dil-o-dunya, was published in 2009. A number of selections of Iftikhar Arif’s poetry have also been published.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, Arif’s poetry laments the loss of moral values and speaks contemptuously of greed, hypocrisy and callousness that mar our society today. But he sees the social and political milieu in a wider historical perspective. ‘Karbala’, as put by Gopi Chand Narang, has become a poetic metaphor in Iftikhar Arif’s poetry signifying humankind’s endeavour against atrocities and injustices. The beauty of Ali Bayat’s translation is that it not only captures the linguistic traits of Arif’s poetry but it is also mindful of Arif’s true colours and his views. The translation includes poems and ghazals.

Translating Iftikhar Arif into Persian perfectly is the perfect tribute an Iranian can pay to him. Dr Ali Bayat has just done that.

Published in Dawn, December 6th, 2016