Nizami’s works and the voices of the lesser cast of characters of the Mughal empire come to light for a wider English-speaking readership
Srimoyee Bagchi Published 28.10.22
At the hands of Rana Safvi — she has translated Begumat ke Aansoo from Urdu — Nizami’s works and the voices of the lesser cast of characters of the Mughal empire come to light for a wider English-speaking readership for the first time. Safvi juggles the roles of a historian, a storyteller and a translator with flair — stepping in with invaluable footnotes and filling in gaps that invariably arise while translating a text, but never taking over the voice of Nizami. In a precise but informative translator’s note, Safvi introduces Nizami and 19th-century Delhi to the lay reader. Translating a text from Urdu to English is no mean feat — the artistry, hyperbolic temper and figurative lushness of Urdu can often be lost when translated to English. Moreover, it usually requires more than one English word to communicate the sense of one in Urdu. For instance, Yusuf Hussain, one of the most authoritative translators of Mirza Ghalib, uses 28 words in English to the poet’s 14. Safvi cleverly bypasses this trap by keeping her prose simple and letting the pathos of the stories shine. Whatever poignancy may have been lost in translating the words is more than compensated through the plots themselves.
Each story is overwhelmingly tinged with sadness — be it that of the beggar princess on the steps of the Jama Masjid, which was built by her grandfather, Shah Jahan, or of Gul Bano, the favourite granddaughter of Bahadur Shah Zafar, who had wanted for nothing growing up and was reduced to a heap of bones, dying alone in the Dargah of Hazrat Chiragh-e Delhi. The sense of sorrow is heightened because the defeated royals are always aware of and honest about the disproportionate privileges they had enjoyed.