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Shāʻirī ke Safeer—Afzal Syed in Conversation with Moeen Nizami

On February 19, 2020, the Gurmani Centre held the first session of its Halqa-e-Danish series for Spring 2020, titled Shāʻirī ke Safeer. The series aims to generate a discussion around the craft of literary translation and the unique challenges faced by translators of poetry. The guest for the first session was Afzal Ahmed Syed, a contemporary Urdu poet and translator of the Persian poetry of Abdul Qadir Bedil and Mir Taqi Mir.

Professor Moeen Nizami briefly introduced Afzal Ahmed Syed’s poetic works and then invited him to talk about his recent translation of Bedil’s Persian poetry. Syed began by giving an introduction of Bedil’s life, and then elaborated upon the significance of his poetry in terms of its strong influence on classic Urdu poets such as Mir, Ghalib and Iqbal. “The mazāmīn Bedil has rendered in his poetry cannot be encapsulated and expressed with such perfection and poetic beauty ever again,” he said.

He also discussed his technique of translation and mentioned how he had assigned a gender to certain non-gendered Persian words while translating Bedil’s poetry into Urdu. “I made this choice consciously,” he explained, “in order to resist the reductive pinning down of his poetry to tasavvuf.” He emphasized that the poet must be considered separate from the Sufi and that “this is a distinction that many readers and translators are prone to ignore.” The audience then had a chance to listen to selections of Afzal Ahmed Syed’s translations of Bedil’s verses.

Towards the end of the discussion Moeen Nizami asked Afzal Ahmed Syed to read out some of his own Urdu poetry. His reading of a ghazal and two nazms —“maiñ dartā huñ'' and “agar tum tak mērī āvāz nahī pohanch rahī hai”—was met with appreciation and applause from the audience. “It is a mark of his poetic genius,” Moeen Nizami remarked, “that Afzal Ahmed is equally well versed and skilled in both genres, the ghazal and the nazm.” At the end of the discussion Professor Zahid Hussain presented pieces of calligraphy to Afzal Ahmed Syed and Professor Nizam as a token of appreciation and gratitude. These pieces were composed by the Gurmani Centre’s resident calligrapher Sher Zaman. The discussion was followed by tea and refreshments, over which the students had a chance to continue conversing with the poet.


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