Fragrant poetry translations with Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi

Fragrant poetry translations with Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi

A new music video of one of Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s most popular monsoon songs, translated from Bengali into Hindi by poet-lyricist Javed Akhtar, has been released in London.

Akhtar was joined by actor wife Shabana Azmi for the launch of ‘Megh hi Megh’ (Clouds), created by London-based not-for-profit Baithak UK at a special Rendezvous event at London’s iconic Taj St. James’ Hotel. The video brings together British Indian artists Sangeeta Datta, Shoumik Datta and Kathak dancer Shivani.

Sangeeta Datta, director of Baithak UK, said: “Javed saab’s translations of Tagore’s works are very well known around the world and this video is our homage to another such great poem, which brings the monsoons to life.

“We at Baithak offer a platform for dialogue, debate and new work and enjoy bringing great masters and younger talent together to exchange ideas, collaborate and create. We have created projects to give work to younger artists who were out of work during the long years of the Covid crisis.”

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The launch event included a special evening of poetry, read in Urdu by Akhtar and translated in English by Azmi.

“Translating poetry is like pouring perfume from one bottle into the other, some of the fragrance is bound to be lost. But at least that way it makes it accessible,” said Azmi, as she translated poems from her husband’s collection entitled ‘In Other Words’.

Some of the poems, such as ‘Woh Kamra Yaad Aata Hai’ (I remember that room) and ‘Aansu’ (Teardrop), were also read out in their French, Italian and Bengali translations.

“It’s a first for us to have all these languages come together, it reflects the universality of poetry… art can create an atmosphere of sensitivity, poetry can be an anthem for a procession,” said Akhtar, during an in-conversation segment of the event.

“Most of the time my poem is in my mind, and I keep on improvising it. When I write a poem, I see to it that this angle or thought has not been written at least in Urdu because if somebody has already said this, then what’s the point. So, the idea should be new. I believe in letting the germ of an idea grow in the mind and then one day you realise that you are ready to write,” shared the poet-writer behind film scripts such as ‘Sholay’ and chart-topping hits like ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’.

Mehrnavaz Avari, UK Area Director and General Manager of the Taj at St. James' Court in London, said the Rendezvous series is curated by the Chambers club to reflect the Tata Group’s values and ethos. The latest in a series of Rendezvous events was supported by the Prabha Khaitan Foundation in India and attended by journalist Barkha Dutt.

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