Poetry in Translation: Six iconic poems of Faiz Ahmad Faiz translated beautifully by Vinita Agrawal

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Poetry in Translation: Six iconic poems of Faiz Ahmad Faiz translated beautifully by Vinita Agrawal

Translations for the contemporary reader of Faiz Ahmad Faiz's poems from the Urdu into English

Faiz, The Man - A Translator's Note

Born in Sialkot in 1911, Faiz Ahmed Faiz is a renowned Pakistani poet who wrote primarily in Urdu. His poetry has been acknowledged by critics and readers as embracing a spectrum of emotions - from patriotic fervour to social injustice to intense romantic love to gut-wrenching loneliness. He was unapologetically Marxist and therefore labelled as a revolutionary and a rebel in his country and accused of fanning a 'Culture of Resistance'.The luminous arc of his writings is a reflection of his own restless life. Faiz was sent to jail twice because of his political leanings and was subjected to third-degree methods of interrogation. Later, Faiz thought it proper to leave the country and he remained in exile till late 1983.

Faiz’s political leanings were no secret, yet, he was no revolutionary. If anything, his politics were fiercely unpredictable—seemingly guided only by his personal convictions. He had tested his poetry readers in undivided India in by openly criticizing Gandhi in the poem “To a Political Leader,” but when Gandhi was assassinated in 1947, Faiz risked the scrutiny of the Pakistani government by traveling to India to attend the funeral. He consistently supported leftist causes but refused to join the Communist Party. He took high-profile positions as the vice president of the Trade Union Federation of Pakistan and as secretary of the Pakistan Peace Committee but remained close with many of the country’s top military leaders, with whom he had become friends when he served in the Moral Welfare Directorate of the Indian army during World War II.

Faiz is often seen playing with complex metaphors in whatever he writes. He is a master of double entendre. Lines loaded with meanings that go far deeper than the obvious. For example, in the relatively simpler but extremely popular ghazal, raaz-e-ulfat, he writes:

aas us dar se TuuTatii hii nahii.n
jaa ke dekhaa, na jaa ke dekh liyaa

My hopes are perpetually anchored to that threshold
Irrespective of my surrender or abstinence

One may interpret the threshold as representing the lover's door or the divine doorway leading to God, in both cases, hopes stay alive refusing to perish.

Fascinated by the poetry of Faiz, I embarked upon translating his choicest fifty creations with the intention of invoking his artistry for the contemporary readers, a couple of years ago. Working on Faiz's poetry was an absolute labor of love. Any translator will empathize that it is a challenge to reproduce the alluring qualities in a poet's work. The nuances of a particular language often cannot be replicated in English. More so in Faiz's lyrics—the bold lines, the taut narratives, and the carefully chosen rhetoric. Keeping this in mind, it would be more appropriate to call my work on Faiz as trans creations rather than translations.

Also, it is nearly impossible to translate gazals because of their unique form. But that does not mean that the contemporary English reader should be denied the pleasure of enjoying Faiz's poetry. In the current socio-political scenario, where Faiz’s poetry is being brandished like anthems and even being researched for its hidden meanings, it’s essential that we bring Faiz alive for the readers and allow them a glimpse into the luminous arc of his writings which is a reflection of his own restless life, for Faiz was sent to jail twice because of his political leanings.

The poetry of Faiz mulls over the struggles of progressive people who together with Faiz had dreamt of an egalitarian future for his country. It seeks to balance dreams against the unachievable in life often remembering in his verses that when they had embarked upon this journey they were young and ready to reach for the stars. They had thought that achieving their goal would be an easy task. But it did not happen as they had envisaged. Myriad unforeseen counter forces impeded the struggle.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that although Faiz was an Urdu poet from Pakistan yet his sensibilities embraced the Indian subcontinent as a whole. He is as popular in Indian literary circles as he is in on the other side of the border. Faiz gave a bit of himself to every reader. He held back nothing.



ye daaG daaG ujaalaa, ye shab_gaziidaa sahar
wo intazaar thaa jis kaa, ye wo sahar to nahii.n

A blemished dawn, a morning bitten by the night.
This can't be the daybreak that we'd been waiting for.
This can't be the dawn whose desire we cherished
in whose search our friends set out
hoping to find it someday.

The ultimate destination of stars
lies in the desert of the skies;
these dreary waves of nights too
must have their shores somewhere.

Somewhere the sorrowed boat of the heart
must dock.
When friends set out on the mysterious highways
of young fiery blood,
they were pulled back by countless hands
arms beckoned from thresholds of restless bedrooms
lissome shapes enticed
but the yearning to see the face of a new dawn
was more intense, even though the graceful bodies
were well within reach
the desire was buoyant and slight weariness.
I've heard that the distinction between darkness and light
has been made.
I've heard that destinations have been united
with footsteps and the definition of tormented lovers
has altered drastically.
Delightful nights of unions have been sanctioned for slaughter
the agony of separation rendered unlawful.
The passions of the mind, the excitement of exchanging glances,
the fire of hearts is not the solution of separation for anyone anymore.
From where did the morning breeze blow, where did it go?
The lamps lining the path do not know as yet.
The heaviness of the night has not lessened by any means.
The moment that will liberate the eyes and the heart is not here yet -
keep walking, the destination is not in sight, yet


Aaj bazaar main pa ba jolan chalo

March around the streets today with your feet in shackles

moist eyes, a restless soul are not enough.
Accusations of clandestine love are not enough.
March around the streets today with your feet in shackles.

March swinging your hands, March with carefree abandon.
March with dust over your head, blood stains on your garb.
The entire town of the beloved awaits you, let's go!

The rulers of the city, the mob of commoners
arrows of accusations, stones of insults
unhappy mornings, unsuccessful days

Who else concerns themselves with these but us?
Who remains pure in the beloved's town now?
Who is worthy of being executed by the killer now?

Pack the belongings of your heart, March, all you broken-hearted.
Let’s go get ourselves killed once again, March!



bol ki lab aazaad hai.n tere
bol zabaa.N ab tak terii hai

Speak up! Your lips are free!
Your tongue your own
Upright your body
Your life, your own
Fierce is the blaze at the ironsmiths
Red hot the burning iron
The mouths of locks are beginning to open
The ensnaring chains beginning to spread far and wide
So Speak! This brief time before you is enough
Before your tongue and body are silenced forever
Speak! For the truth is still alive
Say whatever you have to say.


Ab vahii harf-e-junuu.N sab kii zubaa.N Thaharii hai
jo bhii chal nikalii hai vo baat kahaa.N Thaharii hai

Now the same words of passion and madness are on everyone's tongue
No one can stop pivotal topics from being discussed far and wide.
The wine that was prohibited and dishonourable for the venerable preachers
the same forbidden wine is a source of relief and respite now
The burning news is that advisors are stalking those very roads from which they claimed to abstain
That's what I heard in my beloved’s lanes today
He sees the same Laila’s cheek, the same Shiriin’s lips
whenever he beholds his beloved with a loving gaze even for an instant
How delicately, how lightly passes a night of togetherness
How callous a night of separation!
Once scattered, who can gather the waves of fragrance?
Once wrenched from the heart, pain’s cry cannot be prevented from escaping the lips
The hunter's hand is as helpless as the florist's palm
The latter has not been able to prevent the fragrance of flowers from spreading
nor the former from arresting the bulbul's voice
Perhaps spring, in its advent, halted here only briefly
just as autumn lingered only for a moment longer on its way out
The style I invented to express my pain when I was imprisoned, Faiz
That same style has been adopted by all in open parks now


ham paravarish-e-lauh-o-qalam karate rahe.nge
jo dil pe guzaratii hai raqam karate rahe.nge

We will keep nurturing our writing tablets and pens
keep notarising all that the heart has to endure
continue gathering the reasons behind love’s angst
and thereby continue to grace the spells of loneliness
Yes, the days of bitterness will grow in number
Yes we will keep bearing the tyranny of torture, the praxis of cruelty
We accept all the anguish and the agony
So long as we have the strength, we will find ways to heal ourselves
So long as the bar taverns exist, we will keep adorning the doors and terraces of mosques
with the red hues of wine
So long as there is even a single drop of blood left in the heart,
we will bring it into our tears
and colour the lips and cheeks of the beloved crimson red
Let the beloved continue her indifference and neglectfulness
We will forever express our ardent desires


terii ummiid teraa i.ntazaar jab se hai
na shab ko din se shikaayat na din ko shab se hai

Ever since I've been hoping and waiting to see you
Nights have run into days and days into nights, seamlessly
Whatever be the source of pain, I attribute it to you
Whatever I hold against anyone is all because of you
Ever since I have lost control over my impatient heart
I've dedicated all my writings to you with great respect
If they are embers, then let them blaze, if flowers,
then let them bloom; myriad are my desires when I see the colour of your lips
Where are those sleepless ones, awake on nights of separation?
The morning star has been ready for a conversation a long time now.


Author of four books of poetry, Two Full Moons (Bombaykala Books), Words Not Spoken (Brown Critique), The Longest Pleasure (Finishing Line Press), and The Silk Of Hunger (AuthorsPress), Vinita is a Mumbai based, award winning poet and writer. She was Senior Editor with Womaninc.com for three years. Recipient of the Gayatri GaMarsh Memorial Award for Literary Excellence, USA, 2015, her poems have appeared in Asiancha, Constellations, The Fox Chase Review, Pea River Journal, Lumen, Cyclamen And Swords, Open Road Review, Stockholm Literary Review, Poetry Pacific, Mithila Review, Chandrabhaga, Blue Fifth Review, The Bombay Review and other journals and in anthologies from Australia, Ireland and Israel. She was nominated for the Best of the Net Awards in 2011. Her poem won a prize for the Moon Anthology on the Moon by TallGrass Writers Guild 2017. she was awarded first prize in the Wordweavers Contest 2014, commendation prize in the All India Poetry Competition 2014. She contributed a monthly column on Asian Poets on the literary blog of the Hamline university, Saint Paul, USA in 2016-17. She judged the RLFPA poetry contest (International Prize) in 2016 and co judged the Asian Cha’s poetry contest on The Other Side ‘ in 2015. She has read at the FILEY Book Fair, Merida, Mexico, Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, Lucknow Literary festival, Cappuccino Readings, and Women Empowerment events. She is on the Advisory Board of the Tagore Literary Prize. She co-curates events for PEN Mumbai and sub curates for the Kala Ghoda Literary Festival. She can be reached at www.vinitawords.com.

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