South Asian Literature in Translation: Defiance of the Rose

Defiance of the Rose by Perveen Shakir; translated from Urdu into English by Naima Rashid

Publication date: 01 October 2019
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN-13: 9780190700430

1) Tell us about this book and its original author.

NR: Defiance of the Rose is not a translation of any one complete book but of a selection of a hundred poems from different books by Perveen Shakir, excluding her first one, Khushboo (Fragrance), and the posthumously published volume, Qaf-e-Aina (Mirror’s Rim).   

2) Why were you drawn to choose the book for translation?

NR: My own reading of Perveen Shakir’s works did not correspond to the popularly held image of her as a poet, which was focused, for the most part, on her earlier work and portrayed her as a romantic poet. This meant that, often, her complex later works were glossed over. A round of surveys and interviews confirmed, for me, how this perception was persistently and widely held. Having understood the range of her work and seeing how complex and multi-faceted it was, I felt an urgency to share it with others. 

3) What were the key challenges and surprises for you during the translation process/journey?

NR: The biggest challenge with this project was choosing the angle and the architecture of the premise.  I couldn’t simply pick, say, ten poems from each book. I had to spend time conducting surveys, then select works that filled gaps in the popular understanding of her as a poet.

The surprise was discovering how deep the connection was between the translation and my own writing. There is (almost) no money in translation but this is just recompense, I think. After translating Perveen Shakir’s poetry, I finished the first collection of my own poetry because, unknowingly, the drill of translating poetry and the recesses to which one has to penetrate in the original work forced me to go deeper into my own poetic practice. The momentum of the translation yielded a finished volume at my end! And now, while translating Natiq’s work, I’m working on my own novel in parallel. Both streams feed into and sharpen each other. 

4) What’s one thing you wish readers knew or appreciated more about this book?

NR: About Perveen Shakir in general, I wish people would appreciate the diversity of her oeuvre and the arc she traversed in her evolution as a poet. About the process of translation, I wish people would understand the difficulty of the labor involved and receive translation works with more care, curiosity, and responsible criticality in general. There isn’t a bigger turn-off than people playing ‘gotcha’ with translators, checking for a literal tally of words between the original and the translation. The expectation of intelligent and sophisticated readers who can hold a translator to the highest standards is the best motivation. 

5) What’s your next translation project that we can look forward to?

NR: The next translation project is Naulakhi Kothi by Ali Akbar Natiq, scheduled to be published by Penguin India in 2022. It is a novel set in the Punjab. It begins in the time of the British Raj and goes straight up to the eighties in Pakistan. After that, there is another novel I’m keen to translate but the rights are not available for reasons of bureaucracy. For some reason, I keep (obstinately) hoping for a miracle there. I have this feeling in my bones that the project has my name on it and that I’ll be the one bringing the English version to the world when the time is right.

Author Bio: Perveen Shakir (1952-1994), was a Pakistani poet, civil servant, and educator. She is highly revered in literary and popular circles in the Urdu-speaking world and its diaspora. To this day, ‘Maah-e-Tamaam’ (‘Full Moon’), a compilation of her works published during her lifetime, is a staple on Urdu bookshelves in stores and homes. One volume of her verse, Qaf-e-Aaina (Mirror’s Rim) was published posthumously. For her poetic works, she received the most coveted literary honors in South Asia, including the Faiz Ahmed Faiz International  Award for Poetry in India and the President’s Award for Pride of Performance for Literature in Pakistan, among many others.  [Image Source: Naima Rashid]

Translator Bio: Naima Rashid is a writer, poet, and translator. Her first book, an Urdu to English translation, is ‘Defiance of the Rose’ (Oxford University Press, 2019). Her forthcoming works include a translation of the Urdu novel, Naulakhi Kothi, by Ali Akbar Natiq and her own fiction and poetry. Her writings have appeared in The Scores, Asymptote, Wild Court, and other places. She was longlisted for the National Poetry Competition UK (2019) and is a collaborator with the UK-based translation collective, Shadow Heroes.  (Image Source: Naima Rashid)

Jenny Bhatt is a writer, literary translator, and book critic. She is the host of the Desi Books podcast. Her story collection, Each of Us Killers, and her literary translation, Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu, were out in 2020. Her writing has appeared in various venues in the US, UK, and India, including The Atlantic, The Washington Post, NPR, BBC Culture, Literary Hub, Longreads, Poets & Writers, and others. Having worked her way around India, England, Germany, Scotland, and various parts of the US, she now lives in a suburb of Dallas, Texas.

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