Passages from Shigarfnamah (also spelled as Shigurfnamah) that will be included in all the upcoming posts are my own translations based on the Farsi original, a draft of which was kindly sent to me by Professor Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi. The Farsi version is soon to be published by University of Toronto’s Iranian Studies Initiative. This is a very important contribution. The existing English translations, both the 19th century version by James Alexander and Kaiser Haq’s which was based on a Bengali translation of the Farsi text, are highly deficient. Alexander’s version is censored and Anglicized, and parts of it seem to be coming from the colonial officer’s own imagination of what an Indian man might have written.
Kaiser Haq’s is much better but is also limited by the Bengali translation it was based on which had also eliminated parts of the text. Haq also admits to having adhered to certain structural decisions and eliminations made by Alexander in the earlier translation. Haq’s translation also intervenes in the original by making its language contemporary. Usually I have no problem with such interventions. In this case I find that highly problematic because Haq is not directly reading the original Farsi and making decisions based on a good understanding of the emotional layers of the text. Rather, he’s looking at the Bengali translation – already one step removed – and only looking at the rhetorical aspects of the language. In a few places, Haq’s translation is actually erroneous and contrary to the meaning of the original. He might have inherited that form the Bengali base version. Comparing the original Farsi to Haq’a English translation, I often cringe at the losses and the new silencing that happens.
I will use parts of it that I find closely resembling the original’s emotional colouring even when the rhetorical layers are removed. In some passages, I take Haq’s sentence structures and infuse them with my own wordings to bring them close to the original. Translating any text is a long and laborious process. This text is particularly difficult because its phraseology, although using words that are mostly in contemporary use, is over two hundred years old and thus remote to my imagination. Initially I read the first forty pages a few times and found myself depressed and paralyze because even though I could understand it, I couldn’t master it enough to translate it at the level I wanted it to be.
I’m now more familiar with I’tisam al-Din’s language. I use Haq’s version as a guide – particularly for names of people and places – but base my translation on the Farsi original.