Wednesday, 20 August 2014
Kim's Review : The Taste of Words - An Introduction to Urdu Poetry
The blurb for Raza Mir's "The Taste of Words - An Introduction to Urdu Poetry" read as "Have you ever been enchanted by the spoken cadence of an Urdu Couplet but wished you could fully ubderstand its nuances? Have you wanted to engage with a ghazal more deeply, but were daunted by its mystifying conventions? Are you confused between a qataa and a rubaai, or a musaddas and a marsiya?"
This book was supposed to help me with all 3, but unfortunately it only helped me understand the answer to the last question.
Don't get me wrong, this is a book that has been researched with a lot of love and passion by Raza Mir and I do appreciate it. The first 26 pages which give an introduction to Urdu poetry and a Note on the Poetic Forms is brilliant and I wanted more of it.
However, the bulk of the book was where I was disappointed, because of my expectations.
I learned Hindi late in life (in my 20's) to be able to converse with people in college, at work and then with my inlaws, so my knowledge of Hindi is restricted to the colloquial. I do understand a fair bit of Sanskrit, because halekannada / the classical Kannada (which I learned academically until my graduation) is deeply rooted in Sanskrit (like most Dravidian languages)
So when it comes to Urdu poetry, I love the lyricism, the cadence, the beautiful descriptions, the rhythm - I love everything about it, except I only understand about 50% of it. I was hoping that this book would help take that percentage up a bit further.
However what this book did, was explain to me the technicalities of how Urdu Poetry is classified, it gave me a bit of insight into the History of Urdu as a language (and the multiple events that were portended to bring about its death), it introduced me to a multitude of Urdu poets - some of whom I had heard of, but most of them were a new discovery. The mini biographies included with each, were enlightening.
What Raza Mir has done is assembled a collection of 47 famous Urdu Poets, chosen certain couplets (around 150 poems) from some of their famed works (or his favourites) and then translated them. However, except for a few free verse translations, he has tried to maintain the rhythm and rhyming. He confesses that he internally debated a lot on this point, before choosing this route.
However, for my understanding, I would have preferred a more literal translation with a little note on the double meanings / play on words etc of individual poems.
Rather than a standard transliteration scheme, Raza Mir has chosen a vernacular format, that is easy to read for those accustomed to reading the Devnagari script in English. However, it would be a difficult read for those unfamiliar with this.
This is not a book that can be read at one sitting. There is so much Philosophy and Mysticism in these poems, that each one warrants some reflection.
I commend the author for the amount of work that he has put in, into this book, however it wasn't suitable to what I was looking for and did not help me too much with nuances, which is why I have given it a lower rating.
Rating : 3 / 5