Bangalore-based poet, translator and activist Mamta Sagar’s decision to pen Naavu nodona (We’ll see) — the Kannada translation of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s iconic vow of defiance, Hum dekhenge, a piece of poetry that found significance in Iqbal Bano’s oeuvre and its epicentre in raag Bihag — was entirely need-based. It was also to do with semantics. Not everyone understood what it meant exactly. “People don’t know the poem. One needs more translations to tell them what it means,” says Sagar, curator of the community poetry event Kaavya Sanje. Her writings focus on identity and issues around linguistic and cultural diversities.
The poem was sung outside Bangalore’s Town Hall by playback singer MD Pallavi and composer Bindhu Malini along with Sagar. “Art is a very powerful tool at any point of time for answers during socio-political movements and poems that sustain and live are always written at socio-political junctures of history. They energise a movement,” says Sagar, for whom Faiz’s poetry was hard to translate because translations in general are difficult to execute and because of one particular paragraph that talks of Allah and Kaba. “If I had done it literally, people would have said that it is anti-Hindutva. The 12th century Kannada tradition of vachanas came to my rescue. So I wrote according to that and I said ‘let the gods walk out of the sanctum sanctorum and once they do, they will walk with the marginalised’. I took the so-called non-Muslim tradition and it helped me translate,” says Sagar.
Faiz’s poem, recently, also found a Bhojpuri version. It was the setting up of a committee by IIT Kanpur to launch a probe into the poem that led poet and writer Digambar to write Humhu dekhab, hum dekhbe karab. He was disturbed when he heard that the poem’s imagery was being called anti-Hindu. “I felt it was wrong. I have read and enjoyed this poem for years now. There is nothing religious about it. This poem considers the masses as the creator. There was a need to explain,” says Digambar, Head of the publishing house, Gargi Prakashan.
There is also a contemporary poem — writer and lyricist Varun Grover’s Hum kaagaz nahi dikhayenge (We will not show the papers) which is finding much resonance among many. It is also getting translated and is being sung to various tunes at the CAA protests. While 13 directors, writers and members of the Bangla film fraternity have come together with the Bengali version of the poem — Kaagoj amra dikhabo na, the song has also found a soft rock version by Rahul Ram, a melodious acoustic interpretation by the band Maram, IPTA’s school assembly song style composition by composer Sitaram Singh and a folksy tune by composer duo Mayukh-Mainak. The Bengali video, which features well-known actors like Sabyasachi Chakrabarty, Konkana Sensharma, Nandana Sen, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Chitrangada Satarupa, and Tillotama Shome. apart from filmmaker and theatre director Suman Mukhopadhyay among others, has been created pro bono by a few like-minded people and put together by Ronny Sen, who shot the artistes in Mumbai and Kolkata. “You see Feluda (Chakrabarty) say, Kaagoj amra dikhabo na, and that’s significant,” says Sen. Grover says, “ They have given it more context and energy by adding some new lines. As for the songs, I didn’t think that this poetry could be interpreted in so many ways.”
According to Mukhopadhyay, he is willing to be a part of any artistic endeavour that will spread awareness and that it is significant for the artistes to engage. “There are certain moments in history when one has to be more proactive. There are a lot of misconceptions about the issue and artistes need to play an important role in this,” says Mukhopadhyay.
Next in line — a Tamil version of Hum dekhenge, which is being translated by writer and professor A Mangai.