Ali Sardar Jaafri – Urdu poet

[ This poem was written by Ali Sardar Jaafri, a famous Indian Urdu poet. Jaafri has won several awards including Padma Shri, Iqbal Samman, Soviet Land Nehru Award, and most recently India’s Jnanpith Award. A recent Hindustan Times article discusses the remarkable juxtaposition of this poem with Shovana Narayanan’s Kathak dance composition. The following is an English translation by Philop Nikolayev.]

That day will come without fail:
the lamps of the eyes will go out,
the lotuses of the palms will wilt.

From the leaf of the tongue
the butterflies of speech
will flutter away forever.

Still laughing like myriad blossoms,
all faces will fall and scatter
in the depths of the darkest sea.

The strife of blood, the throb of heart
and every melody will go mute.

On the blue velvet of space
that luminous crystal of diamond,
and these my heaven and earth,
the nights and the mornings all
will shed tears of dew
on the human handful of dust.

Every cherished thing will go, plucked
from memory’s fine pagan shrine.
And then no friend will ask a friend:
“Why don’t we see Sardar today?”

Yet I will return here yet
to speak out of the mouths of babes,
to warble with the tongues of birds.

When in the earth seeds burst out laughing
and green-fingered sprouts tease the soil
I, leaf by leaf and bud by bud,
will open all my eyes,
balancing on green palms drops of dew.

I will take on the hue of henna,
the harmony of a ghazal.
And like a young bride’s virgin cheek,
I’ll glow through every bridal veil.

When chilly winds bring on their tails
the season of desolation,
under the traveler’s young feet
my laughter will resound in the dry leaves.

All the gold rivers of the earth,
all the blue lakes of heaven
will brim with my existence.

The world will see under my star
every tale become my story,
where every lover is Sardar
and every love is my Sultana.

I’m but a fleeting moment’s flop
in time’s uncanny magic-room,
I’m but a vacillating drop
on its brief trip through light and gloom,
as from the goblet of the past
into the future’s cup I flow.

I sleep and wake up as I go,
I wake and fall asleep as fast,
a centuries-old game: the breath
of immortality in death.ÂÂ

BORN in an aristocratic Muslim family of Balrampur, Uttar Pradesh in 1913, Ali Sardar Jafri plunged into politics early and joined the national movement. He went to jail several times on account of his political activities. He left for Bombay in 1942 and spent most of his life in this metropolis. A friend of revolutionary Turkish poet Nazim Hikmat and Nobel Prize winner Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, Jafri remained the leader of progressive Urdu writers till the end. He began his literary career with a coll ection of short stories Manzil (Destination) in 1938 and made a mark as a poet with Parvaz (Strength to Fly) in 1943. His Nai Duniya ko Salam (Salute to the New World) and Asia Jaag Utha (Asia has awakened) were translated int o many Indian as well as foreign languages.

While Marxism permeated his whole being and writing, it never became an ideological cage for him. Jafri encompassed the great humanistic traditions and compassion of the Sufi and Bhakti movements, the love of nature found in the works of Kalidas, and an assimilative vision of India’s composite culture. In no other Urdu poet – perhaps with the sole exception of Nazir Akbarabadi who lived in the 18th century – would one find quite the same kind of effusive celebration of Krishna with his Gokul, Gautam Bud dha with his disciple Anand and Chandalika, glory of the Vedas, the Radha of Vidyapati’s poetry, and so on. True to his commitment, he penned beautiful poems on Karl Marx and Paul Robeson too.

Such was the force of his personality and the power of his pen that even Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, a life-long member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), had to concede in his speech while giving away the Jnanpith award that one could di ffer with Jafri’s views but not with his vision. When Vajpayee made his bus trip to Lahore last year, Jafri went along as a special invitee, chosen since he best symbolised the essential unity of mankind. Among the Indian Prime Minister’s main gifts to h is Pakistan counterpart was a collection of Jafri’s poems entitled Sarhad (Border).

Ali Sardar Jafri was steeped in the best traditions of secularism. He fought against imperialism all through his life while remaining aware that imperialism had a great capacity to take on newer forms. His Marxist convictions gave him a strong sense of s ocial justice and equality between classes, castes, religions, languages, and sexes. With his demise at the age of 86, Urdu literature has lost a man who broadened its horizons and deepened its perceptions. Truly he was the Sardar of Urdu literature.

related links:–With-English-Translation–wbr-


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