In Satyajit Ray’s film Shatranj ke Khilari there is a memorable scene when Colonel Sleeman is confronted by Urdu poetry. His assistant is reciting a poem composed by Wajid Ali Shah. “Is that all?” asks Sleeman in disbelief when the poem ends after a few couplets. “Yes, Sir.” “And what does it mean?” he inquires in a broad Scots accent, tapping the end of his cigar. His assistant translates the elliptical Persianate verses. “And is that considered good poetry?” asks Sleeman, his intonation revealing that he doesn’t think it is. “It doesn’t translate well, sir,” concludes the assistant.
October 2006, volume 30, No 10