Thursday, September 10, 2009

Shikra Yaar

I have just had a moment of supreme revelation – I have discovered the poetry of Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi and I have this overwhelming urge to transcreate right away my favourite piece, Shikra Yaar, into English. My own audacity at trying to translate from Punjabi (a tongue I have a relationship with but it’s not my mother, more like say a grandmother-in-law) almost stops me, but not quite. I recall Coleman Barks who has done the best Rumi verses in English that I have read. He says of his translation process – “I’ll try to describe what I do. I look at one text in English and write another.” I at least understand Punjabi – not all of it, not all the time- but I understand Punjabi, though I don’t speak it. And I can truthfully claim to have heard Jagjit Singh’s mellifluous rendering of the poem so many times that it has seeped under my skin and this transcreation comes from some place within:

Hawk Lover

Mother o mother
I fell in love with a hawk
On his head was a plume
On his feet bells
He came pecking for grain
And I was lost

I don’t know whether
It was the sharp sunlight
of his presence,
Or his thirst for scents
Or that he was born
of a fair mother,
his cheeks all rosy,
But I was lost

His eyes danced
like an evening in spring
The cloud of his hair
was a darkling monsoon
His lips wore
the pink of an autumn
And I was lost

Awash with fragrances
his body was spring,
his breath a whisper
of flowers,
His arms a forest
of sandalwood
And I was lost.

His words pleasing
as the purvia breeze
His songs, borrowed from
some koel friend
His smile was fleeting,
like a white bagula
in the rice field,
gone at the merest hint
of anything
And I was lost.

I laid a bed for him
in the moonlight
and awaited his footstep
on my rooftop
Now my body
wears the stains
of our lovemaking
And I am lost.

The corners of my eyes
from the tears flooding them
All night I wept
as I thought of
how thoroughly he took me
and how completely
I was lost

Next morning
I scrubbed and scrubbed
with vatna
and bathed myself
with cooling water
Still the embers burst
from under my skin
My hands grew tired
with the effort
And I knew I was lost.

With my hands
I made choori to feed him
But in it
he showed no interest
It was my soul he wanted
Upon the flesh of my heart
he fed and flew away
never to come again.
O mother, I am lost.

Mother o mother
I took a hawk for a lover
He came looking for grain
On his head was a plume
On his feet he wore bells
Upon the flesh of my heart
he has fed and flown away
Never to return again.
Mother o mother, I am lost.

This is not a literal translation. To hear the original sung in Punjabi by Jagjit Singh:

To watch a video by Hans Raj Hans:

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