A Journey Through Sand

Kashmir poet Ahmed Shamim’s (1927 – 1982) most famous work was the poem The Moment of Embarking on a Journey Through Sand, a free-verse ghazal (a form of poetry peculiar to Urdu and Persian literature) that was popularized by Nayyara Noor’s rendition for Pakistan Television (Teesra Kinara, 1986).

The poem reflected Ahmed Shamim’s frustration with Pakistan’s internal problems which he felt weakened Kashmir’s chances of gaining independence.  Primarily, though, it was a look at the epic journey he himself took in 1948, travelling from Srinagar to Pakistan and leaving behind all that he loved. He called his own journey a ‘journey through sand’ because footprints in the sand are ephemeral, easily erased by wind and tides. He felt that his journey, embarked upon with a promise of hope for him and his people’s future, had accomplished nothing; like footprints in the sand, it left no mark and no direction for his followers.

While the poet struggled with the futility of his quest, however, the poem itself reflects that moment when you take a leap, a crazy chance into unknown territory.

It plays a strong role in ‘Butterfly Season’, as it’s the moment Rumi first hears the call to her quest for independence. It’s the motivation behind the title of the book, and butterflies are the harbingers of change throughout the novel. I have translated it here, to the best of my abilities. Hopefully, it will suffice.

Original poem in Roman Urdu

Kabhi hum khubsurat thay
Kitabon main basi khushbu ki maanind
Saans saakin thi

Buhot se unkahe lafzon se
Tasveeren banaatay thay

Parindon ke paron par nazm likh kar
Duur ki jheelon main basnay waalay logon ko,
Sunate thay
Jo hum sai door thay laikin
Humaray paas rehtay thay

Naye din ki musafat jab kiran ke saath aangan main utarti thi
To hum kehtay thay Ammi,
Titlion ke par buhot hi khubsurat hain

Humain maathay pai bosa do
Ke hum ko titliyon ke jugnuon ke des jaana hai
Humain rangon ke jugnu
Roshni ki titliyan
Awaaz daiti hain

Naye din ki musafat rang main doobi hawa ke saath
Khirki sai bulaati hai.

Humain maathay pai bosa do

Translation

The Moment of Embarking on a Journey Through Sand

There was a time when we were beautiful,
like the fragrance buried inside books
leaving one breathless

We painted pictures with unusual, unsaid words
We wrote poems on the wings of traveling birds,
Sharing them with folk who lived near distant lakes,
Folk who were far, yet so dear to our heart

As the sun’s first ray lit up the courtyard
Our quest dawned with the day,
We cried, Mother!
The wings of the butterfly are so beautiful

Bless us with your kiss
So that we may journey
To the land of butterflies and fireflies

Fireflies doused in color
And butterflies shining bright
Are calling out to us

Another day dawns with color-drenched air,
Calling out to us from the window…

Bless this journey,
Bless us with your kiss

_________

You can hear the song itself here.

Natasha Ahmed is the author of ‘Butterfly Season‘, a romance novella about a Pakistani woman who dares to go against her culture and traditions. Butterfly Season is available on AmazonSmashwords, iTunes and on Indireads.

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4 thoughts on “A Journey Through Sand

  1. Natasha, I have no idea whether it’s accurate as a translation, but the poem is absolutely gorgeous. Thank you for sharing it with us. It is good we have archives, good we have poems, good we have men – and women – who write.

    Like

    1. Thank you, Paula. I’m not a poet and translating a poem is much tougher than I actually imagined. The words work much better in the original Urdu.

      Like

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