Time, translated by Sarah Jilani

Time: what is it?
What is this that is passes continuously?
When it didn’t pass
Then where was it?
It must have been somewhere.
It has passed
So where is it now?
It must be somewhere
Where did it come from?
And where did it go?
This chain extends from when till when
These incidents
Each and every sorrow
And Each and every joy
Each and every agony
Each and every pleasure
Each and every smile
Each and every tear
Each and every song
Each and every perfume
That is the pain of a wound
Or the magic of someone’s touch
Whether it is our own voice
Or the reverberance of the heavens
These ever-changing atmospheres in my mind
The tremors of my thoughts
Leads to the turbulence of my heart
All feelings
All emotions
Like the leaves
On the surface of running water
They are floating
Now they are here
Now they are there
And now they have disappeared
We can’t see them
But this is definitely something
That is flowing
What kind of river is this?
From which mountain does it come from
Into which ocean will it flow
Time: what is it?


One difficulty I came up against when translating this poem was finding an apt translation for the lines, ‘یہ ذہن میں (…) دل کی ہلچل’. The phrase ‘بنتی اور بگڑتی’ means ‘ forming and breaking’, and ‘زلزلے’ means earthquakes. Inserting the literal translations of these words did not at all sound correct. Often, literal translations into another language causes a loss of poetic beauty, as was the case here. After much deliberation and searching for synonyms, I was able to come up with a translation (see poem). In the end, I was pleased with it, as the ‘tremors’ and ‘turbulence’ have a similar semantic field. Also, the alliteration of ‘t’ created a rather nice flow and feel to the line, which is present throughout the poem in Urdu. Another aspect that required much consideration during the translation was the line ‘یہ وقت کیا ہے’. Repeated 4 times throughout the entire poem, including at the beginning and end (creating a cyclical structure), this line is pivotal in the poem. I struggled with the word ‘یہ’, which translates to ‘this’. However ‘what is this time?’ sounded incorrect, as if asking about current times, or what is happening right now. Whereas in the poem, ‘یہ’ refers more to this phenomenon of time, although this did not come across in translation. Therefore use of the word ‘this’ was unsuitable, and so it was omitted. Consequently, a change in word order was required. When deciding how to translate this line, I not only had to consider the meaning of ‘یہ’, but also its function. ‘یہ’ draws emphasis to the concept of ‘time’, encouraging us to reflect on it. Therefore, when translating, I opted to use a colon. This caesural pause allows readers a moment to reflect on what time is, which is arguably the essence of the poem.


Original poem by Javed Akhtar