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Kaifi Azmi’s “The Circle” Posted by on Feb 20, 2018 in Uncategorized

Kaifi Azmi (کیفی اعظمی, or Sayyid Akhtar Hussein Rizvi, as he was born) is one of Urdu’s greatest poets (شاعر/shaayar) and remains legendary to this day as a poet capable of expressing the subtlest of sentiments with uncanny astuteness and daring. You may recognize his name from that of Shabana Azmi, a famous Indian actress who is also his daughter. Born in 1919 in a village in Azamgarh district, Uttar Pradesh (in what was then British India), Azmi began writing at an early age and achieved fame for his writings not long afterward. In addition to his more literary (ادبیات/adabyaat, “literature” is ادب/adab, masc. noun) work, he is well-known as a lyricist for popular Hindi-Urdu films. Due to his penchant for blending his literary background with the work he did for films, he is remembered today for bringing a refinement and subtlety to Indian films through his literary touch. Along with other famous poets of his day, he took part in numerous renowned “mushairas” (مشاعرا, masc. noun) or poetry gatherings, during his life. He passed away in 2002, leaving behind his poetic legacy for future readers to admire.

Image by Gufranazmi on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Below, I’ve translated one of his classic poems with notes at the bottom where necessary:

Kaifi Azmi’s “Daera” (“The Circle”)/”کیفی اعظمی کی “دائره

published in Awaara Sajde (Wayward Prayers) (1995)

A central aim while translating this poem was to depict the “circularity” and drudging mundanity of the poem that strikes one ever more viciously as one continues to read. Although I attempted to be as faithful as possible to the original wording and sense of the poem, occasionally I had to add English words and phrases to the original, as in “day after day I moved forward” instead of the simpler sense of “roz” as “daily, every day.” I wanted the poem to have an arduous, plodding sense about it, weighed down by life’s dullness and cyclical nature, which I tried to achieve with such turns of phrase (others include “many a time,” “time and again,” “corner after corner,” “habitually” and the repetition of “too” to mirror the writer’s repeated use of the word “bhi” in the original).

Kaifi Azmi is pictured here in the front, leftmost position; image by Bpldxb on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

English Translation

Urdu Text

Day after day I move forward

روز بڑھتا ہوں جہاں سے آگے

Only to return to the same place (world)*

پھر وہیں لوٹ کے آ جاتا ہوں

Many a time, I’ve destroyed them

بارہا توڑ چکا ہوں جن کو

The walls I collide with, time and again

انہیں دیواروں سے ٹکراتا ہوں

Day after day, a handful of cities spring up

روز بستے ہیں کئی شہرنئے

Day after day, they sink further into the earth

روز دھرتی میں سما جاتے ہیں

During the earthquakes, the slightest heat could be felt

زلزلوں میں تھی ذرا سی گرمی

Those tremblings occur every day now

وہ بھی اب روز ہی آ جاتے ہیں

From the body to the soul, everything is dust, only dust

جسم سے روح تلک ریت ہی ریت

Nowhere is there sunshine, nor shade, nor self-deception*

نہ کہیں دھوپ نہ سایہ نہ سراب

How many desires lie hidden in the wilds

کتنے ارمان ہیں کس صحرا میں

Who keeps an account of tombs

کون رکھتا ہے مزاروں کا حساب

The pulse is extinguished and ignited, too,

نبض بجھتی بھی بھڑکتی بھی ہے

The heart’s custom is unease, too,

دل کا معمول ہے گھبرانا بھی

At night, the darkness spoke to the darkness:

رات اندھیرے نے اندھیرے سے کہا

To keep living is a habit, too.

یک عادت ہے جیے جانا بھی

 

The arc of the stars is of one kind

قوس اک رنگ کی ہوتی ہے طلوع

 The goblet, too, has only one trick

یک ہی چال بھی پیمانے کی

On corner after corner, a mosque stands

گوشے گوشے میں کھڑی ہے مسجد

Then what has become of the tavern’s guise?

شکل کیا ہو گیٴ مےِخانے کی

Someone used to say, “I am the ocean,”

کویٴ کہتا تھا سمندر ہوں میں

But, in my pocket, there isn’t even a drop.

اور میری جیں میں قطرہ بھی نہیں

I write of my good fortune, habitually

خیریت اپنی لکھا کرتا ہوں

Now, there isn’t the slightest risk in my fate

اب تو تقدیر میں خطرہ بھی نہیں

I read my palms, habitually

اپنے ہاتھوں کو پڑھا کرتا ہوں

Sometimes like the Qur’an, sometimes like the Gita*

کبھی قرآں کبھی گیتا کی طرح

In just a few lines and borders

چند ریکھاوٴں میں سیماوٴں میں

Life is imprisoned, like Sita*

زندگی قید ہے سیتا کی طرح

When Ram will return, there is no word

رام کب لوٹیںگے معلوم نہیں

If only some Ravan would come

کاش راون ہی کوئی آ جاتا

*جہاں/jahaan can mean both “place” and “world,” and it is good to consider both senses of this term while reading the poem

*سراب/saraab technically means “mirage,” but I substituted it for “self-deception” to preserve the alliteration and rhythm of the line

*قرآن/Quraan, of course, refers to the Islamic holy book and گیتا/Gita refers to the “Bhagavad Gita,” a religious and philosophical text found in the Hindu epic poem Mahabharata that contains a dialogue between the god Krishna (an avatar of Lord Vishnu) and the prince and warrior Arjuna

*سیتا/Sita is the heroine of the Hindu epic poem Ramayana who is the wife of the tale’s hero, Rama. She is sought after due to her beauty by the evil King Ravana, who uses deception to abduct and imprison her on his isle of Lanka. The rest of the poem is devoted to Rama’s journey and struggles to find and free her. The “lines and borders” Azmi refers to can also be an allusion to the “Lakshman Rekha” or the magical line that Lakshman, Rama’s brother, draws around Sita at the beginning of the tale to protect her from abduction, a strategy which ultimately fails.  

 

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About the Author: Rachael

नमस्ते, मेरा नाम रेचल है/السلام علیکم، میرا نام ریچل ہے۔ Hello, my name is Rachael, but I also on occasion go by Richa––an interesting story for another time :) My two great loves are Hindi and Urdu. I first traveled to India (Jaipur, Rajasthan) in college on a Hindi study abroad program. A little over a year later, I returned to the same city to study Hindi in a yearlong program. I've also spent a summer in Kolkata, West Bengal learning Bengali, and I studied Urdu at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was a graduate student in South Asian Studies. I hope to share with you the fascinating world of Hindi and Urdu literature, society, culture and film through my blogs!