Translated from Urdu to English by Umair Kazi
It seems a fair assumption that preparation and prior study, or at the very least, a strong familiarity with an author’s work almost always precede the act of translation. These translations of Sarmad Sehbai’s poems, however, underwent a very different sort of parturition. They were indeliberate and immediate, occasioned simultaneously while reading Sarmad’s work for the first time over the course of a spirited weekend. Their immediacy perhaps speaks more to Sarmad’s ars poetica than my ars translatica: Sarmad’s verse is unornate and simple, built upon a set of figures, colours and images that are reconfigured to communicate secret revelries and mysterious feelings. I translated these poems to satisfy the urge to read them more intimately, to get closer to them (William Gass describes translation as a way of reading: ‘reading of the best, most essential kind’), and I was fortunate enough to have received a warm and generous welcome.
To an Abstract Girl at the National College of Arts
By what stark, colourful
Threats do you claw your lustful
Riddles into the half-dream
Ecstasies of boys with downy mustaches—
Rend their sleep?
The compact inside your purse
Hides your secret face.
Laced with the gossamer of
Late afternoon light,
Warrior myth in your pockets,
Smoky halation across your face.
Your eyes are sketching out what
Your lips have parted for whose
Come, let me colour you
In this season of abandon.
Rest your face on the easel
Of my arms, let me draw
Your portrait with my lips.
There are some green and guileless days—
Whose pockets aren’t stuffed with newspapers
Or watches piping useless alarms
Or with the market’s highs and lows;
They bring nothing of the sort.
There are some days
Whose mouths don’t froth with gossip,
Whose faces are not haunted by terrifying
On these days, loudspeakers leave the city,
Shops vanish without a trace.
All protests and rallies disband.
The wide-open window of these days
Doesn’t bring cold, polluted air.
Their verandas are not fiery infernos.
Days like these have their own climate.
They wear flower mufflers and bouncy
Earrings. They come swaying heedlessly—
These days, these days, stealing
Fresh apples from season less trees,
Rouse a mythic warrior will
In the crowded pit of bodies.
They come through unknown doors,
A whisper of eternities, taking over.
Illustration by Isma Hasan
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