A Preliminary Sketch Concerning a Language

Afzal Ahmed Syed

In your language every line begins from an opposite end. The pronunciation of its words changes from day to night and their orthography changes with the change of seasons. A new word enters it on some special day and on some days a familiar word is made obsolete. The shape of its letters changes with your change of clothes. You make no effort to put together words that are crushed under feet from your carelessness, because your language is the world's richest. The first kiss, the second kiss and any count of kisses are all identified in your language with separate words. If anything ever causes you to become tearful, all the books in the whole world written in your language become drenched.


translated from the Urdu by Musharraf Ali Farooqi



Afzal Ahmed Syed (b. 1946) holds a unique place among contemporary poets of the Urdu language as a master of both the classical and modern Urdu poetic forms. The poems in his recently published collection, Rococo and Other Worlds (Wesleyan University Press Poetry Series, 2010), explore the mythology and historical realities of South Asia and the Middle East; their bold imagery creates narratives of voluptuous perfection, which remain inseparable from the political realities that Syed witnessed as a young observer of the violent separation of East Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971 and of the Lebanese civil war in 1976. He has translated works by a number of Eastern European poets, including Miroslav Holub (Czech), Yehuda Amichai (Hebrew), Dunya Mikhail (Arabic), Tadeusz Borowski (Polish), Zbigniew Herbert (Polish), Jan Prokop (Polish), Tadeusz Rozewicz (Polish), Wisława Szymborska (Polish), Aleksander Wat (Polish), Marin Sorescu (Romanian), Osip Mandelstam (Russian), Orhan Veli (Turkish), as well as Gabriel García Márquez, Jean Genet, William Saroyan, and Jonathan Treitel. His website can be found here.

Musharraf Ali Farooqi is a critically acclaimed author, novelist and translator. His recent works include the novels Between Clay and Dust, The Story of a Widow, an illustrated book Rabbit Rap: A Fable for the 21st Century, and the translations of Indo-Islamic epics The Adventures of Amir Hamza and Hoshruba. His website can be found here.