Category Archives: Poetry

When Faiz and Mahfouz walked together

Three months ago, I had a strange dream.

I am in Cairo, walking with an Egyptian man (his face wasn’t revealed to me). We are walking along a bridge that connects two buildings. The two of us discuss Faiz, and suddenly, we see a misty figure in a gray suit. I point out to my friend, ‘See, there goes Faiz”. Both of us look at him, wonder-struck. We keep walking.

I mention to my friend that Naguib Mahfouz also wrote poetry. My friend looks up at dark clouds in the sky and recites a couple of lines, implying that these are by Mahfouz:

The skies wear

A widow’s shroud

The dream returned to my memory today as I watched the surcharged demonstrations on the streets of Cairo. Not even in my dreams, though, could I have imagined the Egyptian people would be out on the streets, trying to rip apart the dark shrouds from the country’s skies. It seems Faiz and Mahfouz are really together on the streets today.

A treasure trove of poems by Paash

A treasure trove of 80 poems by Paash, rendered superbly into English by poet and translator Hari Singh Mohi is now available online. Here is one short poem from the collection.

THROUGH SELF-INSECURITY
If security of the country means only this
That conscientiousness should become
A condition for life,
The presence of any other word than ‘yes’ in the
Pupil of the eye should be obscene,
And mind should keep prostrate before evil moments,
Then the security of the country is a danger to us.

read more poems from PAASH: AN ANTHOLOGY

When falcons turned pigeons

    In your whole life will not get repaid
    Loan on sister’s marriage incurred,
    Every drop of blood
    Sprinkled in the fields
    Will not provide colour
    Enough to paint the face
    Of a serene smiling person.
    To add to it further
    All the nights of life put together
    Will not count down the stars of the sky;
    Then, friends, let us, indeed,
    In pursuit of the flying eagles proceed.

- an excerpt from Uddian Baaja Magar,a poem by Paash,  translated by Tejwant Singh Gill

(The original word in Punjabi translated above as as eagles is “baaj”. I prefer the translation as “falcon”, for various reasons, though technically eagles is correct.)

Paash would have turned 60 later this year. When the Naxalite spring thunder roared 42 years ago, he was just 18. He went on, along with others like Lal Singh Dil, Sant Ram Udassi, Harbhajan Halvarvi, Darshan Khatkar and Amarjit Chandan to found what came to be known as the era of “jhujaru” (literally “fighting” or struggle) poetry in Punjabi. This was in sharp  contrast to the romantic oeuvre of Shiv Kumar Batalvi. In Punjab, divided on language throughout the 20th century, similar poetry was evident earlier in the Urdu revolutionary poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Sahir Ludhianvi.  Paash was briefly imprisoned during the Naxalite surge, and he moved to the United States in the 1980s where his family lived and still does.

It is remarkable that Paash’s poetry caught on only after his death in 1988, when he fell victim to  Khalistani terrorism. The Left-inclined activists came in for sharp attack; indeed Jarnail Singh Bhinderawale had termed the communists in the state to be even more dangerous than the Central government, headed then by what he called the “daughter of the brahamans” (“Bamana di dhee”), Mrs. Indira Gandhi. This is not the place to go in for a discussion on the politics of the1980s. However, it does form the backdrop to Paash’s untimely and brutal death as well as the resurgence for his poetry. In contrast, Lal Singh Dil (who converted to Islam and migrated to Uttar Pradesh, unlike the Jatt Sikh Paash), came into brief prominence just before his death only a couple of years ago in the backdrop of Dalit assertion in Indian politics.
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Everything Changes

For no reason at all, I was reminded of this poem by Bertolt Brecht. After so many years.

EVERYTHING CHANGES

Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your final breath.
But what has happened has happened. And the water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again.

What has happened has happened. The water
You once poured into the wine cannot be
Drained off again, but
Everything changes. You can make
A fresh start with your final breath.

Hopefully, this blog will be activer soon. Meanwhile, read some more poems by Brecht.

Hymn to the Buddha

No faults in any way are found in him;
All virtues in every way dwell in him

Thus begins the Hymn to the Buddha (Satapancasataka), a poem by the 1st century poet Matrceta. It is considered to have played some part in the popularization of Buddhism at that time, and even now is a good introduction to the atheistic religion.  At first it looks like an eulogy for the Buddha, but as one reads the full text it becomes apparent that it is not just a blind eulogy to a person but encapsulates the message of the Buddha in verse. It speaks about the Buddha’s concerns (the noble eight fold path)- Compassion, Speech, Teaching, Guidance and Deeds, among others. An extract from ‘In Praise of Speech':

Your speech is excellent in three ways,
based on fact it is truthful
because its motive is pure it causes no confusion
and being relevant it is easily understood.
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Cloud and Water

You ride on a horse,
while I ride on a donkey.
Looks like you are better off than me!
Turning around, I see a man pushing his cart.
Some are better off than me,
But there are others less fortunate than
myself!

A poem from the collection “Cloud and Water” (pdf) by the Chinese Buddhist writer Hsing Yun. The blurb explains the title of the book:

What do we mean by cloud and water? Clouds float by water flows on. In movement there is no grasping, in Ch’an there is no settling. The cloud and water life is a life of living in the moment, always fresh and ready to experience.