Transcending boundaries

February 4, 2024

Great translations demonstrate the enduring power of poetry to foster understanding across linguistic and cultural divides

Transcending boundaries

As an art form, poetry effortlessly transcends boundaries. It draws on emotions and thoughts that are universally relatable, often independent of language. Yasmeen Hameed’s latest offering, Junoobi Asia Ki Muntakhib Nazmain (Selected Poems from South Asia), is a brilliant testament to this universality. It introduces readers to poems from 16 regional languages. The anthology is a significant addition to literature in translation available to the contemporary Urdu readers, particularly Pakistani readers, who most gets to read only Western literature. As such it redirects attention to more relatable work in regional and national languages close by. Hameed’s meticulous translation of works from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal has made these diverse poetic traditions accessible to today’s readers.

Yasmeen Hameed is well-known in literary and academic circles. Her career, spanning well over 30 years, has allowed her to make a mark in several sectors including education, literature and art. Her most significant contributions have included the founding directorship at the Gurmani Centre for South Asian Languages and Literature at the Lahore University of Management Sciences and her editing and translation of numerous anthologies of poetry. Some of her books have earned her prestigious awards, including the Fatima Jinnah Medal for Literature in 2006 and the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz for literature in 2008. She has also written newspaper columns, introducing and translating over 40 contemporary Urdu poets.

The anthology, which has 104 poems by 59 poets in 16 languages, offers weaves a rich tapestry of South Asian literary expression. Hameed’s deft navigation of linguistic intricacies is noteworthy. There is a thematic cohesion in the selection of poems that delve in modernity, familial relations, self-reflection and experiences of migration and capitalism. Modernisation, different civilisations coming together and undergoing similar experiences and evolution are frequent themes. A calamity in any part of the world affects people living even in the other hemisphere. Universal challenges, such as the environment, climate change and dependence on technology, among others, are some of issues that impact people worldwide. These poems serve as a poignant reflection on the interconnectedness of humanity. Common threads of emotions and experiences that tie us together, transcend geographical boundaries.

Each of the translations in the book is preceded by a comprehensive introduction to the poet, including details about their literary achievements. Renowned names such as Kamla Das, Amrita Pritam, Nabakanta Barua, Nilmani Phookan Jr, Jayanta Mahapatra, Ramakanta Rath, Ahsan Habib, Asad Chaudhry, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Syed Ali Ahsan, Harbhajan Singh and Manglesh Dabral feature in the list. Hameed’s success in translating poems from diverse linguistic backgrounds into Urdu showcases her coherent and clear voice, resulting in a cohesive collection that celebrates the rich poetic traditions of South Asia. While maintaining her distinctive style, she ensures that the original feel and articulation of the source language are not lost.

Reading through this anthology was a captivating experience, revealing the beauty of South Asian poetry while addressing contemporary themes that resonate with readers worldwide. The familiarity of topics, ranging from Dilip Chitre’s Ambulance Ride to Raghuvir Sahay’s Cycle Rickshaw, underscores the shared aspects of routine life across cultures. Poets like Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Gayan Cothan, Ghulam Muhammad Sheikh and Manglesh Dabral explore human relations. Amrita Pritam, Syed Ali Ahsan, GB Seena Nayak, AK Ramanujan and Shrikant Verma lead readers on a journey into topics like modernisation, religion, nostalgia and solace. The feeling of finding a way back home (or to one’s roots) is a recurring theme in these poems, perhaps as now-senior poets reflect on their lives, analysing the gains and losses of their journey. While it is primarily a collection of poetry, two prose pieces stand out for me – one by Kamla Das, introducing a woman’s life, and the second by Syed Ali Ahsan, discussing the need and importance of solace and individual space. Shrikant Verma’s Method is probably the most relatable to people in Pakistan right now.

According to writer Muhammad Saleem-ur-Rehman, this translated collection may be deemed a new articulation of poetry. Junoobi Asia Ki Muntakhib Nazmain is a literary masterpiece, demonstrating the enduring power of poetry to connect people and foster understanding across linguistic and cultural divides. This anthology is not merely a collection of poems but also a testament to the shared human experience and the universal language of emotions that binds us all.

Junoobi Asia ki Muntakhib Nazmain


Yasmeen Hameed

Publisher: Book Corner

Pages: 295

Price: Rs 800

The reviewer is a digital communication expert and consultant currently working in the public sector. He is the mastermind behind the digital platforms, Sukhan, Mani’s Cricket Myths and Over The Line

Transcending boundaries