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Moniruddin Yusuf : Bengali translator of Shahnama

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13th-Feb-2015       
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M. Mizanur Rahman :
Moniruddin Yusuf (Born 13 February 1919- Death 11 February 1987) was myriad minded genius in Bengali literature. His literary knowledge knew no bound. He earned a vast experience of different languages of the world, namely English, Persian, Urdu and Hindi. Especially his mastery over Persian and Urdu literature was exceptional. Basically he was poet, essayist and translator on different themes of literature. His translated works of Iranian poet Ferdausi's 'Shahnama' in Bengali language is famous and exceptional one. Most of the critics admired it. This vast translation work of the poet was not an easy job rather it was very arduous work. From this information one can gather easily that the poet worked very hard in this poetical episode. Moreover being himself a genuine poet of the forties in Bangladesh he endeavoured to create poems in the form of Ghajals in Bangla. Thus by the side of his poetical works Moniruddin Yusuf penned on prose works too profusely.
He was devout man of Islam and as such he put his pen flourishing Islamic ideals with its culture, history and true tradition meaningfully reflecting the Islamic world. These were, however highly appreciated by the intelligential quarters at home and abroad. His valued essays reflect Islamic history as a matter of fact. Some of his Bengali books like Rumir Masnabhi, Hazrat Fatema (RA)'s family life, Hazrat Aesha (RA), Hizrat, Chhotoder Islam Parichaya (An introduction to Islam for the younger ones), Chhotoder Rasul Chorit, Islam O Muhammad (SM) etc., are mentionable episodes in this context. He was highly proficient in Urdu language and literature. We enjoy his Bengali book, 'Urdu Sahityer Itihas' (History of Urdu literature).
His research works viz., 'Bangla Sahitye Sufi Provab' (Mystic influence in Bengali Literatue) and Nobo-Mulyayone Rabindranath (Revalued Rabindranath) are excellent literary creations. He followed Rabindranath's monism in philosophy and mysticism. That carried him through the last poem 'Prothom Diner Surya' (The sun of the first day) of Tagore which the poet recited a few days before his death. He was unable to write it himself, his scribe noted it down.
The sun of the first day questioned
when its entity appeared,
"Who are you?"
There was no answer.
The sun of the last day questioned
on the western sea-shore
at the silent evening,
"Who are you?"
There was no answer.
The ailing poet recited probably his last poem, 'Tomar Sristir Poth' (The path of your creation) in his long life which was written by the scribe as follows-
You have covered
the path of your creation
by varieties of dissimulations,
O Illusion-maker!
On the false-trap of faith
You have adeptly laid the simple life!
On such deception
You heightened your greatness!
You didn't keep the secret night for him.
That's Your luminary orbit leads the path
lighting his heart in a simple faith
and that's ever shining and clear.
Outwardly he looks circuitous
but straight at heart
and that's what his excellence.
The people used to say that came late.
He earned truth bathed by own light at heart
that can never deceive by any other means.
He won the last prize and pour at his store.
He who could bear the brunt of dissimulation
He must have possessed
the eternal right to peace
from Your hand.
(Tr. M.M. Rahman)
Moniruddin Yusuf could contain the essence of Rabindranath Tagore and as such he had no need in elaborating his discussion on mysticism of this great poet. Herein lays his perfect reading of Rabindranath. Moniruddin Yusuf is thus a perfect essayist and researcher. No doubt he was famous for his Bengali translation works of the great Persian poet Ferdausi and his world-famous gallant epic 'Shahnama' ordained with highly graced prose poems appear worth-noted as one of the brilliant classics of the world, Moniruddin Yusuf ventured translating some of the greatest Urdu poets like Mirza Galib and Iqbal into Bengali version also with his ardent zeal and adroitness. It can be mentioned here that the epic 'Shahnama' is now the national epic of Islamic Republic of Iran. Some four thousand years' national historic proprietary bearing ethos of Iran are contained in this epic along with legendary tales and stories of kings and kingdoms, their rise and fall, heroic wars, folklores and folk-faiths, tales of demons, human episodes and its sorrow, happiness, love, separation and those are depicted here in poetic verbs and aphorism. A perfect mythology reigns supreme there but this sort of oriental's works made possible European civilisation catering modern thoughts and ideas on the pulpit of old orders of religion and culture. The East is its origin that the West follows. Hence the West still clings to the East. On this throb of time, probably, Edward W Said took in view of the conceptualism in his Orientals' as saying, " The orient is a integral part of European material civilization and culture…Orientalism expresses and represents that part culturally and even ideologically as a mode of discourse with supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, doctrines, even colonial bureaucracies and colonial styles." Moniruddin Yusuf had that perception to our awakening as a fore-runner for we should bend upon our original legacy 'Islam' in modern outlook overcoming all evils of modern civilization.
In Islam humanism supersedes all other faiths provided one sticks to its all aspects of humanitarian trends. Moniruddin Yusuf did that excellent job in literary arena arduously. He dared to bring 'Masnawi' of Mulana Rumi and Mirza Ghalib's 'Diwan-e-Ghalib' rendering into sublime Bengali form. The very beauties of those lyrics soothe and sweeten our Bengali mind and heart sounding high thoughts. Similarly Iqbal's translated works of Moniruddin Yusuf, Iqbal's 'Kabya Sanchayan' gives us Islamic ethos. To bring all people in one fold Iqbal sang, " Arob amar / Bharat amar / Chin o amar/ noheko Por / Muslim ami sara duniar / Prem priti chhae / Bendhechi ghor" (i.e. "None of the people of Arab, India and China is unrelated to me because I am the Muslim of the whole world to be with all that I have built my house together"-Iqbal).
Basically Moniruddin Yusuf was a Bengali poet of forties. His anthology of poems of modern Bengali trend gave tremendous pauses to ponder the relative contemporary poetic verbs of Bangladesh. Those lyrics of 'Upayan' (1941), 'Ratri noi Kolapi Moyur noi'(1976), 'Betospata Joler dhara'(1984), and 'Ek jhak paira' (1988), worth of their sincerest motives towards progressive ideals of the contemporary Bengali literature.
His other translated works of Persian and Urdu literature were also famous, some of which I have already mentioned above are 'Kabya Sanchayan' of Iqbal (1960, 4th edition 1987), 'Diwan-e-Ghalib' of Mirza Ghalib (1964, 3rd Edition1986) and 'Kalamey Raghib' (1966).
As a modern romantic poet Moniruddin Yusuf made most of his lyrics swayed on nature, beauty and love. It is very difficult to analyze the themes of huge poetry of the romantic poet Moniruddin Yusuf until and unless a vivid research work is done on him. The poet has done a tremendous and arduous job in rendering Shahnama into Bengali language from Persian language as adopted by modern Iran. The great epic poet Ferdausi took about thirty years to complete writing this epic while poet Moniruddin Yusuf took seventeen years to translate it. Two volumes were published by the Bangla Academy between 1977 and 1979. Ceremonially Shahnama Utsob was arranged by the UNESCO in Dhaka in collaboration with the local Iranian Embassy in December 1990 while the first 'Shahnama'- six volumes, publishing centenary Utsob (Ceremony) was initiated by the Dhaka University Grant Commission and celebrated internationally in 1991. However Bangla Academy reprinted it in six volumes in June 2012. The first English translation of Shahnama was done by Prof. Ruben Levy in 1967 and poet Moniruddin Yusuf translated into Bengali in 1976. Prof. Levi illustrated that Ferdausi had in his possession a prose book on the history of the Persian kings, and possibly also one in verse, but it was not until middle life that he began his own poem which, from beginning to end, took him about thirty-five years. He was not continuously employed at it and this is known from the fact that here and there he tells us what his age was at the time when he was composing some particular episode. This enables us to deduce that the various portions of the work were not done in the order in which they appear in the final form of the Shahnama. His method was to select episodes as the fancy took him and he, or a redactor, later put them in the chronological order of the reigns.
As a whole the work is a collection of episodes providing a fairly continuous story of the Iranian empire from before the creation of the world down to Iran's submergence under the Muslim Arabs. The material was of ancient origin and much of it had been stored up in the minds of Dehcans, who were able to refresh their memories  from records written in Pahlavi[Middle Persian) or in Arabic prose translations. Ferdausi indeed did not invent  the legends he put into verse form, in other words, he was not a fiction writer drawing on his imagination for the central characters or  the actual plots of his stories. They were established parts of the national tradition. But he elaborated what he found already in existence and he himself composed the innumerable speeches he put into the mouths of his heroes, as well as the many long letters written at the dictation of the kings and other principal characters". (Prologue p.xvi)
Moniruddin Yusuf translated Shahnama in prose but as poet he did not overlook his poetic tradition in rendering this epic of world fame. His prose appears to be lyrical that has attracted  huge  number of interested readers of epic. Here he got the fruition of his great works.
Moniruddin Yusuf is one of the myriad minded literary giants of Bangladesh. His name as a poet, lyricist and translator has already made the golden marks in our Bengali literary arena but at the same time he could make his fame broadly expanded as a novelist in modern realistic form. His pride of performance would never die down from the literary history of Bangladesh. His realistic attitude and natural tradition in our day to day life has been depicted in his social fiction. The description is vivid, simple and realistic portrayal which appears to be moving. His first novel is 'Jharer Rater Seshe' as if a moving social drama. The second one is 'Ponser Kanta' and third one is 'Or boyes jokhon egaro'. These last two novels are based on our great Liberation War. According to critic Akhtar Hussein, 'Moniruddin Yusuf could sketch the actual war-torn picture of the country and its dismal social conditions, communalism, communal affinity between different faiths, cruelty of the Pakistan military, poverty, sorrow, miseries of the landless people are all well-textured here.' 
During the span of his literary career from fifties to eighties he was acknowledged of literary success by bagging Governor's gold medal (1968), Habib Bank Sahitya Puroshkar (1968), Bangla Academy Sahitya Puroshkar : Onubad (1978),  Abul Monsur Ahmad Sahitya Puroshkar (1985) and,  Exushe Padak, 1993 (Lit) (Posthumous)
Poet Moniruddin Yusuf would remain ever immortal in his literary works and be remembered through his poems, songs and ghajals. Let me translate two lines from such immortal ghajals-
I do look for you always
because of my love's addiction;
I come across the far flung areas
because I look for you, where have you gone?

(The author of this article is a poet, essayist and translator)

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