Translation of Zafarnama – A Book Review

A communication is a communication. Period. Right? No, wrong! In case of Zafarnama – the “Epistle of Victory”, it is not just about communication, it is all about spirit, soul and fearlessness. It is about victory in eternity. Written in Persian by Guru Gobind Singh to the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, Zafarnama is a display of immense poetic depth mapped with philosophy and  a fighting spirit with no parallels. Translating a document like this is a daunting task.

Meanings  and interpretations of some words change every 20 years, tracking back 300 years and translating a work of literature from Persian to English is not something a career diplomat is expected to do. That is what differentiates Navtej Sarna from most diplomats. Navtej, it looks like, has lived with each one of these 111 stanzas before translating them. These stanzas are fiercely independent  and at each stage wistfully integral with the intrinsic message of the communique.

With Guru Gobind Singh fearlessness was given, never shy of wisdom or valor, he took innumerable personal tragedies as part of the mission he lived and died for. In this translation, Navtej ensures a build-up to this historic document by talking not just about what immediately led to the writing of this epic, but he begins from the times of Guru Nanak and gives a flow to the narration till the writing of this document and just a bit beyond.

Here are three stanzas which tell the depth of Guru Gobind Singh’s  philosophy and poetic genius and also of Navtej’s commitment to living each stanza to ensure seamless transition from Persian to English.

85. But among those who know God

I do not count your name

For you have committed only

Acts of infamy and shame.

86. That is why the merciful God

Does not count you in his fold;

He too does not accept you

Despite all your wealth untold.

87. Even if  a hundred times

On the Quran you swore,

I would no pay any heed

Or believe you any more.

I highly recommend this translation to all lovers of poetry, philosophy, fearlessness and valor.