'Modern Translations of Rumi by Americans Are Trash'

Zafri Mudasser Nofil/New Delhi
'Modern Translations of Rumi by Americans Are Trash'
Many of the modern translations of Jalaluddin Rumi poems are in bad English, the metaphors don't make sense and there is no Sufi feeling in them, says Indo-British writer Farrukh Dhondy.

Marked by lyrical beauty and spiritual insight, a deep understanding of human suffering that coexists with rapturous abandon, the poems of Rumi, who was born in Wakhsh (Tajikistan) in 1207 to a family of learned theologians, continue to be relevant almost eight centuries after they were composed, with contemporary audiences finding new meanings in them.

While many recent translations have sought to give Rumi's poetry a certain hippy sensibility, robbing it of its true essence, Dhondy in his lyrical transliteration titled Rumi: A New Translation attempts to bring out the beauty and sensibility of the verses while imitating the metre of the original.

"I had, through my short and happy life, heard about Rumi and had heard Qawwali singers turning his poetry into lyrics. Then I was given a compilation of modern translations in English of Rumi and found that they were very disappointing. They were in bad English, the metaphors didn't make sense and there was no Sufi feeling in them. I thought I'd check this out and asked my uncle who reads Persian to recite and translate some Rumi of his choosing. He did and I thought it could be beautifully expressed in English. So the work began," Dhondy told

Rumi: A New Translation provides a modern idiom to the poems, carefully keeping intact their religious context. Rumi founded the Mevlevi Sufi order, a leading mystical brotherhood of Islam. He is also the author of the six-volume epic work, the Mathnawi, which has been referred to as the Koran in Persian.

"The work of the old translators Nicholson and Arberry is accurate and sometimes beautiful, but it's in Edwardian or even Victorian English and difficult to read. The modern translations done by Americans and people who live in America are trash- they mistake the Sufi philosophy for adolescent love lyrics - they haven't the skill to put the verse into rhyme and use no discernible rhythm.

"The metaphors are impossible to grasp. Some of these translations seem to treat Rumi as though he was a New Age guru. I have given examples of these bad 'translations' in the afterword to my own efforts. I think they are a commercially- motivated betrayal of the great Sufi tradition and of Rumi," says 67-year-old Dhondy.

The Pune-born writer and theatre personality asked his Persian-speaking friends to choose the extracts and stories of Rumi they remembered or could refer back to as memorable.

"Rumi's work is vast and would take a lifetime to translate. I traced the pervious Urdu and English translations of these verses if I could find them and worked on those to produce what I have. It is a random selection," he says about the verses he included in his book, published by Harper Collins.

According to Dhondy, the best way to translate poetry is to make it faithful and beautiful. "It sometimes takes a sort of linguistic plastic surgery to get the accurate meaning to take on beautiful features."
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