Javed Akhtar is off to Paris to release a French translation of his poems. He speaks to Subhash K Jha.
Javed Saab, you must be the first poet from the Indian film industry to have the poems translated into French?
I am not too sure of that. But yes, my book of poems in French releases on November 12 in Paris. Then on the 13th, I address students at the University Of Paris for a discussion.
It’s a matter of great pride for us. Why does so little of our poetry get international acceptance?
I’d say the tide is turning. We aren’t exactly being celebrated in world literature. But there is some acceptability. Most happily, there is a revival of interest in poetry among young people in our country. You wouldn’t believe what I went through the other day.
Please tell me?
All of my children, Farhan and Zoya’s friends assembled at our home in Khandala for a poetry session. They requested me to give a long talk on the relevance of poetry. All the youngsters were in their 30s. The fact that young people are willing to assemble and discuss poetry today is very reassuring. I couldn’t have imagined the same 20 years back.
I think the reason for this is the accessibility factor in your poetry?
Isn’t accessibility the basic premise for writing? Why do you write poetry, if not to communicate your ideas to others. Ultimately all art must connect with the public.
If the poet writes about ‘kuen main chaand’ that’s where the moon will remain?
How did the French translation of your poems happen?
There was my poetry recital at the Nehru Centre. As luck would have it, Vidya Venkatesh the head of the department of French from Mumbai University, lived across the road. All she had to do was cross the road, come to my poetry recital and propose a French translation of my poetry. She was keen that my poems be translated into French, because she felt there was a certain commonality between some French poets and me. She felt my poetry was by temperament-universal.
In Paris, I met Marcel Benabou who is some kind of sage of contemporary French poem and novels. On my insistence, Vidya Venkatesh gave the translation of my French poems to Benabou for his approval. He approved of the French translation and recommended a proper publishing house. Benabou has also been kind enough to write the preface to my French translation. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t know what kind of translation has been done. He has been very collaborative. He even came to the hotel in Paris to meet me.
I feel we have no pride in our own language. I am speaking to you in English?
That’s because unlike Europe we don’t have one language across India. So how do we communicate to people who speak in Tamil or Bengali?
But our children are taught to speak in English, if they want to be taken seriously?
There is truth in that belief. A French, Japanese or German man speaks English in his own way. But an Indian man cannot mispronounce one English word, as he will be ridiculed. But it is perfectly fine to mispronounce Hindi or Urdu words. Hum British hukumaat ke sachche ghulam hai.