Romancing Tagore: A Collection of over 100 Tagore Poems in Urdu Nazm, Transcreated by Indira Varma and Rehman Musawwir, published by Visva Bharati and Basu Media, pp. 272.
For far too long the poetry of RabindranathTagore has been treated like a shibboleth, as a test to distinguish the true-blue Rabindra-sangeet-loving Bengali from the non-Bangla-speaking ‘other’. What is more, it is like a sacred space where non-Bengalis fear to tread. A new book corrects an old wrong. Appropriately enough, it is called Romancing Tagore; for, instead of the awe and veneration usually reserved for the Bard’s immortal verses, here we find a refreshing mix of pleasure and passion. Transcreated into Urdu by Indira Varma and Rehman Musawwir, this collection infuses a new zest into these ageless poems of love and longing.
Indira Varma, a connoisseur of the Urdu ghazal and an established poet with two published volumes of poetry behind her, has been in love with Tagore for decades. As she writes in her Preface: ‘...Tagore has left us with one of the best repositories of love to be found anywhere in any language. This love has multiple forms – it is divine, it is patriotic, and it is romantic ... Tagore sees romance exuding from the mundane, from the rites and rituals of everyday life.’ Varma has culled poems from Tagore’s vast repertory with painstaking exactitude, poems that speak of small joys and sorrows, of the Monsoon cloud heavy with rain, a glimmer of love in the beloved’s eye. And she has clothed them in the many-splendoured robes that only a language as seductively sweet as Urdu can provide. For instance, a poem such as Aami chini go chini tomare that is brimful with an aching love for a distant beloved has been translated as:
Tum se shanasa dil hua, us paar ke sanam
Sagar ke paar rehte ho us paar ke sanam
(I know you, know you, O lady from foreign land
You live across the ocean, O lady from foreign land)
Apne qadmon tale
Mujh ko bijh jaane do
Ik mukammal khushi ke liye
Apne paon ki dhool se
Surkh ho jaane do
Meri poshak ko.
And, my personal favourite:
Agar mere gham ke ghanere andhere
Teri rehmaton ke ujalon se chamkein
Chamakne de unko,
Chamakne de maula
Tumhari muhabbat bhari ye nigahein
Agar chashm-e-tar par meri tik rahi hain
To ankhon mein aansu hi rehne de maula.
Tagore has been translated into Urdu before, most notably by Firaq Gorakhpuri under the title Ek Sau ek Nazmein. Niaz Fatehpuri translated fragments from Gitanjali and Qamar Jalalabadi published a selection titled Tagore ki Nazmein. These, however, have been lost in the mists of time and only stray references to the translations survive.
Being twice removed from the Bangla originals (the transcreations were done from English translations), Indira Varma and Rehman Musawwir’s efforts went through a rigorous scrutiny. Noted Tagore scholar, Supriya Roy, examined each version, explained the intricacies and subtleties of both the original and the English versions ensuring that meaning was not lost through the gaps in languages. A stamp of approval, as it were, was given by Visva Bharati, the university founded by the Bard, a university that has hitherto guarded Tagore’s works with zealous protectiveness. Once the world met at the unique melting pot that Tagore had created among the sylvan surroundings of Shanti Niketan; now, with this book, Visva Bharati is reaching out to the world.
Designed by Suneet Varma, the immensely talented fashion designer and son of Mrs Indira Varma, this handsomely produced book is a series of minutely etched cameos that combine to make it a collector’s edition. Exquisite Jaamdaani patterns from antique saris, fragments of Kantha embroidery, intricate motifs and borders make the reader linger over every page. Each set of facing pages carries an English translation, the transcreated Urdu version in Urdu script as well as Devnagari and in Roman English, thus making these translations available to a wider audience. Interspersed with the Urdu transcreations are Tagore’s paintings, opening yet another dimension to the immense creativity of our national poet.
Accompanying the book, is a cd containing ten of these Urdu nazms set to music by Debajyoti Misra. Just as the book has crossed the barriers of language chauvinism, the music attempts to do so with nationalities making this something of a pan-South Asian tribute to Gurudev, the bard of Shanti Niketan. While four are recitations by Indira Varma, the rest are sung by the Pakistani singer Najam Sheraz and Shubha Mudgal and Kamalini Mukherji. Reminiscent of Tagore’s own compositions, Debajyoti Misra’s music shows how poetry travels across the barriers of language. In its Urdu version, it has all the sweet melodiousness that my Bengali friends swear by.
Coming at the close of the 150th-year celebrations of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, Romancing Tagore is a loving tribute and an apt one too; for, it tells its readers and listeners how and why Tagore’s songs have echoed the heartbeats of countless Bengalis.