Spotlight on Indian Languages: Part I

The entire city was a river—impossible to find a shore.

We’re thrilled to present the first installment in a five-week spotlight on Indian languages, to compliment the Indian Poetry Special Feature in the new Winter Issue of Asymptote. For the next few Thursdays, you can discover a spectrum of new voices translated from different regional languages, which, in many cases, have never been featured on the blog or in English before. To kick things off, we have Niyati Bhat’s translation of Naseem Shafaie’s Kashmiri poem, “Tale of a City,” for you today. 

Tale of a City

Those who lived by the river Vyeth, now naked,
are drowning in their shame today.
They, who wrapped themselves in Shahtoosh and Pashmina
and wore silk brocades from head to toe everyday.
A delicate thread of that vanity
slowly came apart.
The skies, too, loosened the reins, a little.
King Nimrod would’ve fled
at the sight of this spectacle.
It took one moment, just one
to wipe out the entire city.
Those who lived by the river Vyeth, now naked,
were stupefied.
No pillar, no mud wall to hold on to,
No one lending their arms across the window sill for rescue,
No one at the doorway to quench their thirst.
They were flooded over their heads,
The entire city was a river—
impossible to find a shore.
They, with empty hands and empty pockets,
had no coins to pay the ferryman
to take them across.
Nor any murmurs to console each other.
Those who lived by the river Vyeth, now naked,
used to be rich until yesterday.
Those who lived by the river Vyeth, now naked,
lived in palaces until yesterday.

۔ حارثات

ویتھ بلکی نیتھ ننی چھ گأمتی
آب ہیو از شرمہ سیتی
کم وشنی تم توسہ تہہ
پشمینہ مخمل بییہ موللی
زربأفی ریشم جورہ آسکھ
نألی آسان کالہ کألی
تتھی گمانچہ داو أوجہ
اکھ درساہ لوگ رأسہ پأٹھی
دست قدرت اوس لاکمہ دتھ ڈیجر وچھناہ کران
أسی دم نمرودہ سندی ییتہ پوت ہیوان
دم خم وچھتھ
اکھ پہر بس اکھ پہر لوگ
گو شہر زیرو زبر
ویتھ بلکی نیتھ ننی چھ حیران
آسہ نا کانہہ مونی دوس دیوار کانہہ
آسہ نا کنہ دار کھون دتھ کانہہ اکھاہ
چاو نا اسہ تریشہ داماہ برنیہ پیٹھی
سری تمن سہلاب گو، سورے شہر بس آب گو
بٹھی لبنی دشوار چھکھ، اتھہ ننی تمن چندہ چھینی تمن
ناوہ تارس کیت نہ کینہہ ، ادہ زارہ پارس کژ نہ کتھ
ویتھ بلکی نیتھ ننی تمے یم آسی آسن وألی راتھ
نیتھہ بلکی نیتھ، یوے آسی محلہ خانن منز بسان


Translator’s Note:

I began translating from Kashmiri to English with Naseem Shafaie’s poetry. Although, as a translator, I am still an infant, her poetry allowed me to conjure up a disciplined approach to the task. Some difficulties in transferring the overall tone of the poem did arise and so did the occasional doubts about the project. The process of acquiring the original tone of the poet can be slow, but I hope it finally came through. Kashmiri language in itself presented a challenge at times, for Kashmiri words have a tonal quality attached to them, which is difficult to represent when a word is translated and replaced. This led to a conflicted relationship with the thesaurus, but I assume that it is all a part of the process.

Shafaie’s poetry is inspiring and made the task feel easier than it was. She works largely with metaphors, which are tricky because you want to avoid interpretations and you cannot let them slip into the original voice. So I treaded carefully and maintained the metaphors as they were. Focusing on literal translation felt like the right way of going about it. Overall, it has been an enthralling experience.


Naseem Shafaie is a Kashmiri language poet. She was born in Srinagar, Kashmir on December 25, 1952. Her first collection of poems, Darie-Che-Mutchrith, was published in 1999, and has since been translated into different regional languages as well as English, German, Italian, and Korean. In 2011, Shafaie became the first Kashmiri woman to win the Sahitya Akademi Award for Kashmiri Literature for her second collection, Na Thsay Na Aks (2009). The collection was also among the eight winners of the inaugural Tagore Literature Award in 2009. Now retired, Shafaie used to teach as an Assistant Professor of Kashmiri for Higher Education, Government of Jammu and Kashmir. 

Niyati Bhat is a Kashmiri writer and translator. Currently, she is pursuing research in Cinema Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. She also writes about literature and migration. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in various publications, including Scroll, Coldnoon, Mithila Review, Hindustan Times, and Al Jazeera. She works and resides in New Delhi.


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