Armghan Ahmad on translating Noon Meem Rashid

Armghan Ahmad

on translating Noon Meem Rashid

The translator’s dilemma is truly a world apart. On one hand, you feel the purest form of joy, sharing something so powerful and evocative to a whole new class of readers; on the other, you feel immeasurable loss for all the nuance and connotation that you somehow could not put on paper. There are questions every translator wrestles with: How true should one remain to source material versus the understood meaning of the work? Should line breaks happen as they are, or reflect the thoughts in the translated tongue? Is punctuation to be adjusted depending on the end language?

In translating Noon Meem Rashid’s اندھا کباڑی (“Blind Scrap-Dealer”), I quickly came to realize that Rashid’s sonic mastery was something I would never be able to capture in my end product — I thus opted to keep the line breaks exactly where they were, to at least preserve the original form. Surveying the analogies and abstractions Rashid uses (likening his heart to a forge, to the sparkling dreams of a groom), I attempted to capture, more artfully, the larger metaphors he constructs.

Choosing the tenses of the verbs in the first stanza was an active choice to highlight the narrative Rashid composes of the speaker himself reinvigorating the dreams. Additionally, the notion of “the second face” was difficult to explain. Simply put, “the second face” implies an external representation or symbol. Essentially, the speaker is asserting that he simply burnishes and presents these dreams, giving them an external appearance, but is not responsible for the content, the essence of the dream itself. I thought it more appropriate to footnote this explanation than to change the expression that Rashidr uses.

Without a doubt, the most difficult part of translation was the title and the subject of the poem. کباڑ, in Urdu, roughly translates to “scraps” or “rubbish,” and one who collects said scraps and sells them is a کباڑی. In Pakistan, such individuals wheel around their goods, hawking their wares to people. Thus follows the plot of the poem: this scrap-dealer, whose call for dreams exists in the same form of a milkman, fruit-seller, or any other street merchant who might be passing through. It was not even that the equivalent word did not exist, but that the very concept did not exist in the English language or Western culture. Rather than alter the fabric of the work, I chose to include this explanation instead.

about the author

Noon Meem Rashid (نذر مُحَمَّد راشِد, 1910–1975) was a Pakistani poet and writer noted for his progressiveness and rich, adventurous use of language. He served in the Royal Indian Army, and, after Independence, worked with Radio Pakistan before going on to work for the UN for the remainder of his career. Writing at a time when much of Pakistan’s literary community was harkening back to the Arab roots of Urdu, Rashid chose to highlight the Persian influence on Pakistan and Urdu. His language is layered with modern Persian verbiage and displays a mastery of sound that defies simple explanation. This very poem has a rhythmic rise and fall, a natural flow of language that rolls like honey off the tongue. Coupled with the abstractness with which Rashid examined the topics of free will, oppression, love, and beauty, his work emerged as the first marker of “modernist” Urdu poetry. Rashid also became the first prominent user of free verse in Urdu poetry, rebelling against the traditional ghazal format in Urdu poetry. He passed away in 1975, at the age of sixty-five, and asked to be cremated after his death (as opposed to the traditional Muslim burial), a hard-line individualist till the end.

about the translator

Armghan Ahmad is a senior in Wharton studying finance and marketing. An avid lover of all things written, he can trace his passion for poetry to his family: to his grandmother, who would put him in her lap and regale him with stories and poems from her hometown of Agra, and to his parents, who would often quote poetry to each other at the dinner table and give him endless books to read. In his free time, Armghan enjoys taking photos, running along the Schuylkill trail, and waxing on about the cinematic masterpiece that is Manchester by the Sea.