Translation Tuesday: “Verdict” by Perveen Shakir

What to say to the ASI? / He who has outsourced the whole working of his mind / what would he know of the perfume of the soil?

Towards the last decade of her life, Shakir worked in different departments in bureaucracy, including the department of Customs and Central Excise. The natural vibrancy and inquisitiveness of her temperament was, understandably, at odds with the drudgery and apathy of mindsets prevalent in these circles. Her writings, provocative on many counts, often got her into trouble with authorities, but she remained steadfast in her poetic verve.

Her encounters with authority figures from the world of bureaucracy form the subject of some of her most interesting poems, ranging in character from light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek encounters, to verse that reads like an open indictment and battle cry.

“Verdict” is part of a selection of one hundred poems published in Defiance of the Rose (Oxford University Press, 2019). This first translation of her work with an international publisher makes her work accessible to the English-speaking world.

—Translator Naima Rashid


All agents of the ruler of the land
have knocked on my door
in the dead of the night
and issued a decree

“All roads leading out of the country
are closed for you now.
You have penned some very wrong verses.”
What to say to the ASI*?
He who has outsourced the whole working of his mind,
what would he know of the perfume of the soil?
What would he know that for the eyes,
there is no greater bliss
than the motherland’s sight.

I don’t care if my loyalty is suspect
in the eyes of the rulers of the land.
The land that gave birth to me,
that planted the germ of poetry in my soul,
that land knows the smell.
It knows that it’s not treason
to call an autumnal harvest by its name
and if it be so,
may these hired men
indict me.

Let the soil itself decide

Translated from the Urdu by Naima Rashid

Reproduced with permission from Oxford University Press.

*ASI = Assistant Sub-Inspector

Perveen Shakir (1952–1994) was a Pakistani poet who 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 shops 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 honours 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.

Naima Rashid is an author, poet, and literary translator. Her first book, Defiance of the Rose, a verse translation from Urdu into English of selected works by Pakistani poet Perveen Shakir, was published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. Her forthcoming works include her own poetry and fiction, as well as a series of literary translations (after 2020). She has a background in linguistics, education, and writing, and has taught French language and literature at the French Consulate of Jeddah, the Alliance Française de Lahore, and Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore. Her writings on visual arts and other subjects have appeared in Newsline magazine and other publications.


Read more translations on the Asymptote blog: