Category Archives: Poetry

‘Keh sang-o-khisht muqayyad hain aur sag aazad’

Imran Khan, arrested last week under the anti- terrorism act after Islamist students handed him over to the police, is now lodged in a jail with hardened criminals.

Niazi (said) that Imran was being kept in a cell with common criminals, some of them suspected of murder and other violent crimes.

Imran was taken to Dera Ghazi Khan from Lahore where he was held by radical Islamist students during a protest on Wednesday and handed over to the police, who charged him under the anti-terrorism act. (link)

Yet, Musharaff would have the world believe that the so called emergency is against the Islamists and that Pakistan is on the road to democracy! This is what he said on Nov 3:

“Pakistan is at a critical point. Terror has also taken roots even in Islamabad. Hardliners are spreading fundamentalist ideas about Islam across the country,” he said.

These are the lines by Faiz that immediately come to mind.

Keh sang-o-khisht muqayyad hain aur sag aazad

(That stones and bricks are locked up, and dogs free). (translation by via sankarshan)

The full nazm, the famous nisar main teri galiyon pe ai watan ….here

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Is there a Dalit Sensibility?

Rama Rao VVB explains why a Dalit sensibility is different, in this issue of Muse India that focusses on Manipuri poetry and Dalit poetry in Telugu.
Is Dalit sensibility different? Isn’t all sensibility the same?

My answer is ‘yes’ for the first question and ‘no’ for the second. Sensibility, among other things, is a product basically of upbringing – dependent on environment and capacity to feel – dependent on exposure and social intercourse. Having answered the basic questions, I come to my own exposure to the genre – yes, genre for it is rightly claimed and rightly acceded, thanks to democratization of at least freedom of poetic expression – of dalit poetry in Telugu with authentic dalit sensibility. Though I cannot write dalit poetry authentically, I can certainly empathize with that as one of the many kinds of poetry and write about it too.

The point worth noting is that dalit poetry or dalit literature does not remain only as the expression of a community or a section for long. With their aspirations and their imaginative fervour and sensibility, they show the tendency of merging into the main stream enriching poetry in a sublime sense.

Purushotham K provides a comprehensive overview of contemporary Telugu Dalit poetry and the diversity within it.

One of the problems of the Dalit thought has been to fight the enemy within resolving the conflict between the caste and class. When it comes to the question of Dalit liberation, certain poets believe in class. For instance, balladeer Gaddar, whose songs and ballets inspired thousands of Dalits, is uncompromising about the class based solution: ‘Having been scorched again and again / Turned into an atom bomb / Having become an atom bomb, / We detonate to reform society in exploitation / We will build another world that would / Treat humans as the humans.’ Another revolutionary poet, Salandhra puts it: ‘What if I am called by whatever name / When I become a drop of tear / Blossomed in the eye of a comrade / When I imagine the goals of the martyrs in my wounds.’

The revolutionary Dalit poets valorize the fighting spirit, sacrifices and immortality of Dalit activists who lose their lives working in the cadre of the underground Left. Contrarily, the Dalit activists question the class based violent struggles in which it is the Dalits who are used as the pawns. U Sambasivarao, a noted activist/writer would question: ‘Those that hack my throat haunting us / Are certainly my tormentors / They keep professing us to / Join the class war / As all the labourers are of one class / They give up Dalitism of uprisings / We may be poor devoid of food / But we are rich by caste.’ Several other Dalit poets denounce that revolution is not a panacea of solution to the Dalit problems. Thinkers like Sivasagar, intellectuals like Kancha Ilaiah and Chandrabhan Prasad would argue that the Dalit problem need Dalit solutions as Shikhamani would satirize the class poetically: ‘I who sang heartfully / The heroic death of revolutionary warriors / Couldn’t be moved by / The mercilessly chopped bodies inflated / Having been stuffed into gunny bags and / Trampled into marshland.’ J. Goutam would critique the class based solution: ‘Sacrifices! Heroic march-pasts! The prisons of the State / Glue them all on the face of this fellow / Let’s surge ahead / ‘Let hundred flowers blossom, and / A thousand thoughts contend’ / Hail Marx, hail Mao and Lenin / Beware of Maoism’.

There is a good selection of translations of poems in the same issue.

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“Scent of Chile at Daybreak”

“Scent of Chile at Daybreak” by Marjorie Agosín

this daybreak
here on a foreign
shore
on the other half
of the world,
and on another ocean
I felt that the sea
smelled like Chile
after the ruthless
rains,
or the days of fog
when ghosts
and those blessed by miracles come out
to haunt among the hills

and I smelled my little homeland
with its fissures like stories
and I sensed the old women of the town
returning in the afternoons to gaze at the sea

little by little
my homeland
opened up for me
like a diaphanous
bouquet
like a path
to travel
in the delight of the air

and this sea that smelled like Chile
brought back childhood and fear
the violence of the flight
the violence of the return . . .
but also this
intangible thing called
home
kitchen
precious scents
intangible memories

here on the coasts of Maine
I returned to Isla Negra
to those encounters with poetry and
his words rocking gently between the waves
the sea smelled like Chile
I write it now in order to speak

[Marjorie Agosín's family migrated to the US to escape the military coup that toppled Salvador Allende's Socialist government and inaugurated the long dark years of Augusto Pinochet]

(Translated by Roberta Gordenstein)

The Virginia Quarterly Review’s Fall issue is on the theme Latin America in the 21st Century. Among other writings is an excerpt from Roberto Bolano’s Nazi Literature in the Americas

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“Perhaps This was not Barbarity”

Santokh Singh Dhir, now 88, is one of the veterans of progressive Punjabi literature and the only one of his generation to have earned a living solely from his writings. Best known for his short stories, he has nevertheless published a number of collections of poetry.

While it is too early to speak of a current of Dalit literature in Punjabi- it remains on the margins of Dalit literature in India, the writers of the progressive movement like Dhir and others have articulated similar concerns in their writings over the years.

This is what Ashwini Kumar Mishra, author of the paper Voice of the Dalit in South Asian Literature (pdf!) has to say on the subject:

(the violence during the partition of the Punjab in 1947) was bound to have its impact on Punjabi literature for rooting to the cause of dalits. Kulwant Singh Virk had no time to depict lalit (beauty) in the face of a tortured life experienced by a sikh lady who like a dalit had to stay back in Pakistan thus embracing Islamism (sic). She was cut off from her relatives including family members and all that she could dream of was to unite with her sister in India. Amrita Pritam characteristically delineated such pathos in her story “Pinjar (The Skeleton) and novel ‘Dr. Dev’. Prof. Mohan Singh mirrored oppression in his poems and other poets like Bawa Balwant, Piara Singh Sehrai, Santokh Singh Dhir fell into the line to borrow their poetry themes from the sufferings of dalit community… In later years Amarjit Chandan, Amitoj came forward to sing the glory of peasants and workers in their poster poems. In fiction, Gurdial Singh celebrated the cause of the socially oppressed. His novel Paras hardly bothers for any kind of off beat utterances through magic realism but goes down to smell the earth and its subtle collective foundations.

S.L Virdi has rightfully emphasised on this form in a special issue of Punjab Dalit Literature “Yudharat Aam Admi”. Gyana Singh Bal has questioned the veracity of Adi Shankaracharya’s ‘Adwaitbad and denounces the same blatantly as an unrealistic contrivances of human mood.

I had the privilege of translating some of Dhir’s poems in my first year in college, and  even having some of them published in the Chandigarh edition of Indian Express and The Tribune. Despairing at the remote possibility of seeing the English translations of his poems published in his lifetime, Dhir gave me the manuscript a few years ago when I last met him. This poem, and few others that this blog will occasionally carry in future, are from that manuscript.

Perhaps This was not Barbarity

(A Harijan woman, Pritam Kaur, who was murdered by pushing a 22 inch stick into her private part. She was a volunteer (sewadarni) in a gurudwara in Hoshiarpur district)

Perhaps this was not barbarity
Only a common place affair

Had it been barbarity
Some Rama’s fire- arrow
Would have pierced and killed
The demon king
The city of Lanka would have burnt
And tethered
In the flowery flames of fire

Had it been barbarity
The Kurukshetra of Mahabharata would have danced
For ages the soil would have been crimson
And scarlet flames would have engulfed the skies

Perhaps this was not barbarity
Only a common place affair

(July 25, 1978)
[translated by readerswords]

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Gulzar as a Poet and Lyricist

“Tum shayar nahin hotey, toh bahut hi ordinary aadmi hotey”(Had you not been a poet, you would have been a very ordinary man”

These are the words of Aarti Devi, the ambitious, Indira Gandhi- like character in the movie Aandhi, directed towards her husband. The dialogues for this movie were written by Gulzar, and apparently this dialogue is inspired from the actual words that his wife once made in real life to him.

I personally do not have a very high opinion of Gulzar as a poet. In my opinion, Gulzar is far better as a dialogue writer than as a poet. As a poet, he is awkward, plays around with words that sound very well but have little or no poetic embellishment, sometimes making simple things sound more complex.

It still makes him a very fine lyricist, though, because music works as a distraction from the words, and then there are those flashes of brilliance. Take for example, one of the otherwise very fine songs: Humne dekhi hain in aankhon se mehakti khushboo”- eyes that smell like flowers? I find this one difficult to swallow. One can pull out many other examples, and probably this will be the subject of another post.

This post, however, brings out some discussions on his lyrics from deep down the internet archives- I first read them in the mid- 1990s, and this thread pertained to comparisons between Sahir Ludhianvi and Gulzar. The internet browsing community then was dominated by the fans of Sahir, I have a feeling that the tables have now turned and Sahir is less popular than Gulzar. A whole generation has grown up without listening to Sahir as much as it has  listened to Gulzar. The fact that Sahir died nearly three decades ago, and his best work was in the 1950s and 60s, makes sound him far less contemporary than Gulzar.

Sami Mohammad satirized Gulzar’s style in this interesting re- write of some of Sahir’s popular lyrics in the style of Gulzar. The thread was called “Gulzar becomes Sahir”. The style that Sami has chosen is more like the Gulzar of the 1970s and 1980s, I’d wager that the Gulzar post 1990s is more mature as a lyricist.

Enjoy!

PART I: Gulzar’s extraordinary vocabulary! (Words such as bartan, chappal, taxi,
bus, train, etc)

S. Sahir
G. Gulzar

1S. Haseen champaee pairon ko jabse dekha hai
Nadi ki mast sadaen bula rahi hain tumhe

1G. Haseen champaee pairon ko jabse dekha hai
Bata ki Hawaai chappal bula rahi hai tumhe

2S. Dil ki bechaen umangon pe karam farmaao
Itna ruk ruk ke chalogi to quayaamat hogi

2G. Tum aaoge to noor aa jaega
Itna ruk ruk ke chalogi to local train chooT jaegi

4S. Aap jo phool bichae unhe hum THukraaen
Humko Dar hai ke ye tauheen-e-mohabbat hogi

4G. Tumne to aakaash bichaaya
Mere nange paaon me zamin ki gard hai
Mohabbat maili ho jaegi

5S. Pyaar par bas to nahin hai mera lekin phir bhi
Tu bataade main tujhe pyaar karun ya na karun

5G. In pyaar ki lambi sadkon par, public bus to chalti nahin phir bhi
Jo ghoomti phirti rehti hain, main woh taxi hire karun ya na karun

PART II: The complex Gulzar. Simple things expressed in an unnecessarily
complex manner. “Ghoomake dena” !

6S. Lo aaj humne toR diya rishta-e-ummeed
Lo ab gila karenge na kisi se hum

6G. Neele aakaash ke ghoonsle par jo ummeed ke boodhe baba thhe unhe humne
alvida keh diya
Duniya ke samandar ko gile-shikwon ki boondh se na chheRenge hum

7S. Tum mujhe bhool bhi jaao to ye haq hai tumko
Meri baat aur hai maine to mohabbat ki hai

7G. Sust raste aur tez quadam raahen tumhe meri yaad nahin dilaae to kya
Pathhar ki haweli se sheeshe ke gharondon tak meri rooh tumhaare ehsaas ko
mehsoos karegi

8S. GHam aur KHushi me farq na mehsoos ho jahan
Main dil ko us muquaam pe laata chala gaya

8G. GHam ka kinara jahan KHushi ke kinare se bachkar kinare se milta hai
Usi kinare par maine apne dil ke kinare ko kinare laga diya

9S. Tum agar mujhko na chaaho to koi baat nahin
Tum kisi aur ko chahogi to mushkil hogi

9G. Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa to nahin lekin
Barfili sardion me kisi bhi pahaad par
Bhool bhulayyan galion me kisi ajnabi ke saath
Tumhe uRte hue dekhunga to mushkil hogi

10S. M: Hum aapko KHwaabon me la la ke sataenge
F: Hum aapki aankhon se neenden hi uRaden to ?

10G. M: Hum aapko KHwaabon me la la ke sataenge

F: Aankhon me neend na hogi, aansu hi tairte honge
Aansu ke samandar me neend ki naaov (boat) nahin aa paaegi

PART III: The ultra-complex Gulzar. Jab kuchh samajhme na aae, then use
contradictory lines to make things look profound.

11S. Hum intezaar karenge tera quayamat tak
KHuda kare ke quayamat ho aur tu aae

11G. Koi waada nahin kiya lekin, kyun tera intezaar rehta hai
Tere aa jaane ke baad bhi, hume tera intezaar rehta hai

12S. Main pal do pal ka shaer hun
Pal do pal meri kahani hai
Pal do pal meri hasti hai
Pal do pal meri jawani hai

13G. Main pal do pal ka shaer hun
Woh pal, jo aanewaala thha, lekin jaanewaala bhi hai
Jab main isme zindagi bitane ki sonchta hun
To duniya mujhpe hansti hai

More on the Sahir vs Gulzar discussions.

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‘Tum Vahin ho’

You’re Where You’ve Always Been

Cigarette
earlier touching my lips
now floats in the Thames
Does the river know
the feel of such a touch?
Touches are never forgotten.

In the midst of chilly, gusting winds
standing before a poster of Marilyn Monroe
Unbidden I salute her beauty.
Beauty mustn’t die.
Beauty must abide for all time.

But no–
I see the young man coming along
Eyes slip away from the poster
to behold beauty in motion.

If
Time hadn’t propelled me so far forward
I would have kissed you.

I light a cigarette
and drop it in the Thames
so the river might extinguish it.

The last of the cigarette-gone-dead bobs
as though smiling at me saying:
You’re where you’ve always been.
 
Time–
Look! it stands behind you.

***

By Azra Abbas, from Hairat Ke Us Paar. Translated from the original in Urdu by Muhammad Umar Memon
Source: the annual of Urdu Studies (pdf format).

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‘You either listen or you don’t, and I listened’

Roberto Bolaño has in recent years won posthumous fame as a novelist. However he considered himself to be above all a poet, and poetry to be a higher form of literature as compared to the novel. This poem is an illustration of his breathtaking repertoire.

‘Self Portrait at Twenty Years’ by Roberto Bola
ño

I set off, I took up the march and never knew
where it might take me. I went full of fear,
my stomach dropped, my head was buzzing:
I think it was the icy wind of the dead.
I don’t know. I set off, I thought it was a shame
to leave so soon, but at the same time
I heard that mysterious and convincing call.
You either listen or you don’t, and I listened
and almost burst out crying: a terrible sound,
born on the air and in the sea.
A sword and shield. And then,
despite the fear, I set off, I put my cheek
against death’s cheek.
And it was impossible to close my eyes and miss seeing
that strange spectacle, slow and strange,
though fixed in such a swift reality:
thousands of guys like me, baby-faced
or bearded, but Latin American, all of us,
brushing cheeks with death.

—Roberto Bolaño (translated by Laura Healy, The Romantic Dogs, his first collection of poetry to be translated into English)

Source: The Threepenny Review  via Literary Saloon

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In New York’s Counterfeit Dawn

I visited New York City last week after exactly ten years and while the city still charms one with it’s frantic pace and liveliness, I could not but also recollect Federico García Lorca‘s poem New York (Office and Denunciation). It appears in the book Poet in New York, a collection of poems that Lorca wrote as a student in NY between 1929-30. Particularly imaginative are his description of the city as: ‘it’s money, cement or wind  in New York’s counterfeit dawn’ and ‘where the Hudson gets drunk on oil.’

The goriness of “they slaughter four million ducks… and two million roosters that smash the skies to pieces” brings home the truth of the underbelly of the razzmatazz that “the city of the yellow devil” offers from the outside.

New York (Office and Denunciation)

Under the multiplications,
a drop of duck’s blood;
under the divisions,
a drop of a sailor’s blood;
under the additions, a river of tender blood.
A river that sings and flows
past bedrooms in the boroughs-
and it’s money, cement or wind
in New York’s counterfeit dawn.
I know the mountains do exist.
And without wisdom’s eyeglasses,
too. But I didn’t come to see the sky.
I’m here to see the clouded blood,
the blood that sweeps machines over waterfalls
and the soul toward the cobra’s tongue.
Every day in New York, they slaughter,
four million ducks,
five million hogs,
two thousand pigeons to accommodate the tastes of the dying,
one million cows,
one million roosters
that smash the skies into pieces.

It’s better to sob while honing the blade
or kill dogs on the delirious hunts
than to resist at dawn
the endless milk trains,
the endless blood trains
and the trains of roses, manacled
by the dealers in perfume.
The ducks and the pigeons,
and the hogs and the lambs
lay their drops of blood
under the multiplications,
and the terrified bellowing of the cows wrung dry
fills the valley with sorrow
where the Hudson gets drunk on oil.

I denounce all those
who never think of the other half,
the irredeemable half,
who raise their mountains of concrete
where the hearts of little
forgotten animals beat
and where all of us will fall
in the final fiesta of jackhammers.
I spit in your faces.
That other half hears me,
eating, pissing, flying in their purity,
like the supers’ children
who take their flimsy palettes
to the holes in spaces where
insects’ antennas are rusting.
This is not hell, this is the street.
That is not death. That is the fruit stand.
There are broken rivers and distances just out of reach
in the cat’s paw smashed by a car,
and I hear the song of the worm
in the hearts of many young girls.
Rust, fermentation, earth tremors.
You yourself are earth drifting among numbers in the office
What am I going to do, put the landscapes in their right
places?
Put in good order the loves that soon turn into photographs,
that soon become pieces of wood and mouthfuls of blood?
No, no: I denounce,
I denounce the conspiracy of these deserted offices
which erase the plans of the forest,
and I offer myself as food for the cows milked empty
when their bellowings fill the valley
where the Hudson becomes drunk with oil.

Federico García Lorca, 1929-1930

(translation of the first half of the poem by Greg Simon and Steven F. White)

(translation of the second half of the poem by Galway Kinnell)

The second half of the poem above (“I denounce all those…”)is from the blog Noctuary. I could not find the text of the first half (“Under the multiplications,… where the Hudson gets drunk on oil”) and have transcribed it myself from Lorca’s  Poet in New York (Penguin)  translated by Greg Simon and Steven F. White.

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“Motherland” by Lal Singh Dil

In Memory of the poet Lal Singh Dil

Lal Singh Dil died earlier this week on 14th August.

LalSinghDil

Motherland

Does love have any reason to be?
Does the fragrance of flowers have any roots?
Truth may, or may not have an intent
But falsity is not without one

It is not because of your azure skies
Nor because of the blue waters
Even if these were deep gray
Like the color of my old mom’s hair
Even then I would have loved you

These treasure trove of riches
Are not meant for me
Surely not.

Love has no reason to be
Falsity is not without intent

The snakes that slither
Around the treasure trove of your riches
Sing paeans
And proclaim you
“The Golden Bird”*

* The reference is to ancient India termed as a “Golden Bird” because of its perceived riches.

A previous post on the Dalit Marxist poet.

Source of the poem in Panjabi. Translation into English by readerswords.

An essay on Dil by Amarjit Chandan (in Punjabi, pdf file). Thanks to HD for sending the essay. Picture at the top of this post is taken from this essay, and is credited to Amarjit Chandan.

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Buddha in Glory

Center of all centers, core of cores,
almond self-enclosed, and growing sweet–
all this universe, to the furthest stars
all beyond them, is your flesh, your fruit.

Now you feel how nothing clings to you;
your vast shell reaches into endless space,
and there the rich, thick fluids rise and flow.
Illuminated in your infinite peace,

a billion stars go spinning through the night,
blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that
will be, when all the stars are dead.

- by Rainer Maria Rilke
Source

“Barfi Hindu Hai?”

A reader of the Diwan-e-Ghalib can hardly discern the humor that Ghalib was known for. These excerpts from the television serial Mirza Ghalib that introduced the master to a new generation bring out some of his quips.

There is also a great selection of Mirza Ghalib’s Letters: Mirza ke khutoot.

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Heer Waris Shah by Taimur Afghani

A chance search on youtube led to this superb rendition of the Heer Waris Shah by Taimur Afghani, a name I never heard before and don’t find any more information on google except what appears in the accompanying text at youtube:

Taimur Afghani, a budding singer, makes a very special rendition of singing Heer Waris Shah at the historical Hirn Minar, Shaikhupura, Pakistan.

Taimurji is resident of Jandiala Sher Khan. Jandiala Sher was probably settled by Pir Waris Shah’s father, Syed Sher Gul Khan, a migrant from afghanistan. Taimur is working very hard on establishing Pir Waris Shah academy in Jandiala. He is also an organizer and coordinator for Heer singing gathering at the Darbar on 14th moon night of each month. He is happily married and is a father of a beautiful young son.

Part 2, Part 3 (distracting conversations in the latter half somewhat mar the last one)

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‘Main Shabdan da Jadugar haan’- Surjit Pattar

Surjit Pattar is certainly the finest contemporary Punjabi poet on the eastern part of the border. The video has a recording by his son, Manraj Pattar, of the poem “Aaj Mere Kolon Kach Da Galas tuteya” (“When I happened to break a glass tumbler today”)

And here is Surjit Pattar with a poem- titled “In the City of Medellín” but I’d rather call “Main shabdan da jadugar haan”- “I am a magician of words”

I had the honour to meet him once at the wedding of a friend. His beard had not yet greyed, and I had commented: “You are too young! Given the maturity of your poetry, I had imagined you to be much older.” He had replied, modestly: “I am old, I am 44 years this year.”

The video above is what I had imagined him to be then, though a few more grey in his beard would have been closer. Surjit Pattar was born in 1944, his poetry, a few years earlier.

More in his own voice at apnaorg

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Ibn e Insha

A Hamid recalls the time spent with the Jalandhar born poet Ibne Insha when both lived in Lahore in the late forties. Ibne Insha is the writer of that magnificient little book urdu ki aakhri kitaab and numerous nazms, ghazals and geets often written in the easy flowing sing song purabia style. A humourist par excellence.

Of the many battles that have been fought throughout history on the fields of Panipat, Ibne Insha wrote, “Till that time of which we write, only one battle had been fought at Panipat. No second battle had taken place. The people of Panipat waited long but when no second battle looked like taking place, leading citizens of the town went in a delegation to the court of the Emperor Akbar and submitted that a second battle of Panipat must take place so as to ensure that hose who supply fresh produce to the army, sharpen swords and bury the dead remain in business.”

Link via Huma Imtiaz

Listen to Insha’s nazm yeh bachcha kiska bachcha hai

Or better still, watch this touching video

link to Video via All things Pakistan

His well known ghazal sung by Jagjit Singh: kalchaudhvin ki raat thi

Some of his poetry at Urdu Poetry

One of my own favourites, among many others is sab maya hai

sab maya hai , sab dhaltee phirtee chaya hai
iss ishq mein hum nay jo khooya jo paya hai
jo tum nay kaha hai, faiz nay jo farmaya hai
sab maya hai

Some more poems at Ibn-e-Insha blog

The Secret of Mirza Ghalib’s Poetry

We now know the secret of the bard’s poetry, well, it was the …mangoes
…with his stunning memory and deep study of Ghalib’s life, Hali was the winner in proving that Ghalib had in fact tasted most of the 4,000 varieties of mangoes grown in India. This might be a funny incident but the truth is that Ghalib was the one who loved eating mangoes in sweltering summers more than composing his couplets.

The varieties of mangoes that Ghalib mentioned in 63 letters written to his friends are – Malda, Fasli, Chausa, Zard Aaloo, Jahangir, Dasehri, Rehmat-e-Khas, Sarauli, Malghoba, Aziz Pasand, Mahmood Samar, Sultan-us-Samar, Ram Kela, Bombay Green, Ratol, Safeda Mallihabadi, Dil Pasand, Husan Aara, Nazuk Pasand, Kishan Bhog, Neelam, Khudadad, Hamlet, Tota Pari, Nishati, Zafrani, Sinduri, Khatta Meetha, Barah Masi, Langra, Alfonso, Fajri Samar Bahisht, Gulabakhsh, Bishop, Xavier, Rumani and Badami. Ghalib had tasted all these.

Happy Birthday, Mirza Ghalib

(On the 209th birth anniversary of Mirza Assadullah Khan Ghalib- 27 Dec)

Over the last fifteen years, there is only one book that has always accompanied me. I had bought it in 1991 for rupees twenty, a pretty neat sum considering my first job paid me a microscopic amount. The cover has seen more than one adhesive tape ‘bandages’ on the sides, many pages have threatened to tear out and have been supplicated to be in their place with glue and tape. The pages of my copy of Diwan e Ghalib have, over these years, turned yellow, even brown.

My attempts to learn Urdu have been erratic in a persistent sort of way.

But the magic of the words has never changed over the years.

I have often wondered what is it about Ghalib that makes him so eternal? His language is certainly more difficult than of many others, he belongs to the “high” tradition that used a very Persianized form of Urdu, unlike Mir his sheyrs in the short behr (length) are few, his concerns, again unlike Mir, are often didactic and even his collection of ghazals and sheyrs is much smaller than that of many others.

So why is it that Ghalib appeals not only to such great poets like Allama Iqbal (who, like me, or me, like him, always carried a copy of the Diwan e Ghalib with him) and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, whose first book of verse bore a title after Ghalib’s ibtidayi sheyr of the Diwan, as well as the commoner folk?

I think one of the reasons is that Ghalib roars over and above his predecessors as well as successors. He rarely whimpers. He is a lively, even a gregarious character. For a long time and especially till the age of twentyfive, Ghalib refused to consider any criticism of his poetry. Consider the following sheyr:

Bandagi men bhi vuh azada o khud-bin hain ki ham
Ulte phir ae dar I kaba agar va na hua.

(We serve You, yet our independent self regard is such
We shall at once turn back if we would find the Kaba closed)

Another is his irreverence. Ghalib was hardly a ‘good’ Muslim. For one, he drank wine, as is famously known (French wine, in case you were wondering). He did not keep fasts or say his prayers or go on pilgrimage. In this he follows other Urdu poets who stand on the verge of transgression or beyond. For instance, Mir had said:

Mir ke deen-o-mazhab ko, ab poochtey kya ho, unney toh
Kashka khaincha, dair main baitha, kab ka tark islam kiya

(Do not ask what Mir’s religion is, he has
Put on the sacred mark on the forehead (tilak), sits in the idol house, and has given up Islam)

Ghalib wrote much that ridiculed and often put to serious cross-examination many of the religious and Islamic concepts. One of his somewhat cryptic posers is:

na tha kuch, toh khuda tha, na hoga kuch toh khuda hoga
Na thaa kuch to khuda thaa, kuch na hota to khuda hota

duboya mujhko hooney ney, na hota main, toh kya hota?

(When nothing was, then God was there; had nothing been, God would have been,
My being has defeated me, had I not been what would have been? )

This irreverence was driven by a spirit of transgression, of crossing the accepted norms of society that excited Ghalib. He echoed in his poetry a popular Punjabi saying:

Jo had tapey so auliya, behad tapey so pir
Jo had, behad dono tapey, us noon aakhan fakir

(The one who crosses all boundaries attains the exalted title Auliya, the one who crosses non- boundaries becomes the Pir,
The one who crosses both boundaries as well as non- boundaries, becomes a Fakir)

And Ghalib, of course, prided himself on being a fakir. He remarked:

Banakar fakeeron ka hum bheys ghalib,
Tamasha-e-ahl-e-karam dekhtey hain

(Taking on the garb of a fakir, Ghalib
I watch the goings on of the world with a detached air)

That is why Ghalib continues to surprise- there are frontiers that we become aware of only when we cross them with his poetry.

Even as I browse his diwan umpteenth time, I find myself marking sheyrs that had escaped my attention earlier.

Here is a selection of some that have been marked in my copy over the years, a handful of selection, of course:

Naqsh fariyaadee hai kiskee shokhee-e-tehreer ka
Kaaghazee hai pairhan har paikar-e-tasveer ka

Ghalib zamanaa mujh ko mitaataa hey kiss liyay,
Loh-e-jahaan peh herf-e-mukerrer naheen hoon main

(Ghalib the world should not erase or displace me, since I am the ‘word’ not to be written twice on the Eternal Slate)

Bas ke hun Ghalib, asiri main bhi aatash zer e pa
moo e atash deeda, hai halka meri zanjeer ka

Ishk taasir se naumeed nahin
Jaan supari shajar e bed nahin

Bhaagey the hum bahut, so usi ki saza hai yeh
hokar aseer daabtey hain, rahzan ke paon

Ishk ne pakda na tha abhi vehshat ka rang
rah gaya tha dil main jo kuch, zauk e khawari hai hai

Saaya mera mujh se misl e dood bhaagey hai, Asad
paas mujh aatash bazan ke, kis se thehra jaaye hai

A related post.

Source of Mirza Ghalib’s image

‘Il Postino’, Pablo Neruda and Makhdoom


“And it was at that age…Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.”
- Pablo Neruda

‘Il Postino‘ (The Postman) is a movie about a fumbling postman whose job is to deliver mail to Pablo Neruda while the latter is in exile on an island in Italy. This is partly fictitious. I don’t have his autobiography with me so I cannot verify about this incident if at all it is mentioned in the book, I don’t remember reading about it.

Mario watches a documentary news item in a cinema recounting the journey of Neruda to Italy. When he is asked to deliver mail to him, he gets interested in Neruda’s poetry so that he too, like Neruda, can “impress the girls”.

Starting with this rather innocuous motive, he begins to understand the art of writing poetry and imbibes ideas from Neruda himself. The dialogues are wonderful and the interactions between the postman and the Poet are a delight every time Mario goes to deliver mail to Neruda. The rustic intelligence of Mario is pitted against the wisdom of the Neruda and the brilliance comes through despite the translation.

There area couple of sentences that I particularly liked. Mario takes a poem from Neruda to impress a girl he likes (called Beatrice). When Neruda castigates him for doing so, he responds with the following, leaving the poet speechless:

Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it, it belongs to those who need it

Later, his friendship with Neruda evolves and he starts understanding “complex” words like “metaphors” and starts writing poetry himself. Neruda also helps him in convincing Beatrice to marry him. When the priest discovers that Mario wants Neruda, a well known communist, as his best man, he is outraged:

Priest: Find yourself a person who isn’t a communist. If Neruda doesn’t believe in God, why should God believe in Neruda. What sort of a witness would he be?

Mario: God never said a communist can’t witness at a wedding

The movie is peppered with snippets from Neruda’s poetry. Here is a short (abou 9 minutes) clip available at youtube where Neruda composes a poem, and Mario begins to interpret it. At the end he makes a powerful comment:

Is it that the whole world is a metaphor for something else?

The clip:

A spoiler here, so don’t proceed if you intend to watch the movie yourself), Mario is invited to attend a communist demonstration and dies there. At the end of the movie, Pablo Neruda returns and finds that Mario’s son, born after he has died, is named Pablito.

Mario also records the sounds of his islands to send them on tape to Neruda. This clip captures that recording.

Needless to say, it has been one of the best movies that I have seen for a long time (not that I watch much), it is perhaps also the only movie I was able to watch without any break- and it was twice in two days.

Incidentally, the role of Mario was played by the actor- writer Massimo Troisi who died one day before the movie was released. He had deferred his heart treatment so that he could complete the movie (from Wikipedia)

‘Il Postino’ reminded me of a similar episode in the life of Makhdoom Mohiuddin, the communist poet from Hyderabad. It was recounted in the TV serial Kahkashan, and what I recollect is recounted here.

When the CPI was banned in 1948, Makhdoom was incarcerated in a jail where his cellmate was a young man who had been jailed in trumped up charges by the family of a girl he was in love with. Makhdoom leads him via his poetry to become politically educated. The young man is somehow released and Makhdoom as well, after a gap. Years later, while passing by a town he is informed of the sacrifice of a young man and a woman during the Telengana struggle. Makkhdoom finds the graves of the young man who had been his cellmate and beside his grave, that of that of the girl he had loved.

Makhdoom wrote a very moving nazm when he saw this.

The Kahkashan version is here, it has also been used in a Bollywood film Cha Cha Cha.

Thanks to HD for recommending the movie.

Wadali Brothers: Sufism as Emancipation


Noted Sufi singer brothers Puran Chand Wadali and Pyare Lal Wadali and three members of their troupe were injured when their Tavera vehicle collided with a stationary truck on the Amritsar- Jalandhar road in the wee hours today.

While Puran Chand Wadali got internal injuries, his younger brother Pyare Lal was stated to be serious.

As I read this chilling piece of belated news (via Sufinews), I was reminded of the many performances by the Wadali brothers that I have had the privilege to attend.

The Wadali Brothers are a 5th generation Sufi singers from the village called Guru ki Wadali in Amritsar district.

I first heard them sometime in the early nineties. We sat on rugs on the floor in a DAV college auditorium, as mists swirled in the wintry evening outside. The auditorium was not exactly overflowing with students.

This was to change later, when I heard them next, the show was in the city’s biggest theater and it was packed to capacity.

But in both cases, one was struck by the electrifying quality of their singing. It was not just the sheer quality of their deep throated rendition, but also the selection of the qalam. They sang not only much from the doyen of the Punjabi Sufi poets, Baba Bulle Shah but also one could not but help noticing that their compositions combined poetry from various Sufi poets.

Some of the most radical snippets were taken from various sources to deliver a performance that not only mesmerized with its musicality but also delivered a strong message of emancipation. The verses were from Bulle Shah, Baba Farid, Amir Khusro and Sant Kabir as well as Shah Hussain, Ghulam Farid and other Punjabi Sufi poets.

This is one aspect of their singing that renditions available in cassettes, CDs and also online do not seem to contain.

Only in this rendition of the Jugni does this aspect come forth to some extent. The Jugni had been, for many years, trivialized to some extent. The Wadali Brothers’ version of Jugni that I heard in a live performance had elegantly combined some very powerful snippets from Kabir and Bulle Shah, both of whom have written very critically about institutionalized religion. Bulle Shah, for example says:

dharamsal vich dharvi rahinde, thakur dware thug
vich maseet kusatti rahinde, aashik rahin alag

(In temples reside the ruffians, in gurudwaras, the thugs
In mosques reside the liars, the true lovers (of the Divine), stay aloof from all these.)

If I am not mistaken, the Wadali brothers come from among the Dalits for whom Sufism has a strong appeal with its message of emancipation.

The elder of the two, Puran Chand Wadali spent 25 years wrestling in an akhara before becoming a full time musician. They describe their initial experience in performing at the Harballah Sangeet Sammelan thus:

Our admirers in the village told us of the Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan in Jalandhar. Ready to perform, we headed for the concert, where we were disallowed entry due to our appearance. We did not even remotely look like musicians, what with my handlebar moustache and all. We were attired in chadar kurta and had no airs around us.

Incidentally, though they had been singing for a quarter of a century, their first cassette was released only in 2000. Their popularity was to soar quickly, as CDs by TIMES and others were released subsequently.

They went on to sing Amrita Pritam’s poem Aj aakhan Waris Shah nu in the film Pinjar.

A very comprehensive collection at Musicindiaonline.
The Apnaorg site also has a good selection of some of their recordings.

Image Acknowledgment

Remembering 06 December 1992: "Doosra Banwas "

Kaifi Azmi’s poem written in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition revealed the contradictions in the movement that led the demolition.

Ram banwaas se jab laut ke ghar mein aaye,
Yaad jangal bahut aaya jo nagar mein aaye,
Raqsse deewangee aangan mein jo dekha hoga,
6 december ko Shri Ram ne socha hoga,
Itne deewane kahan se mere ghar mein aaye?

Jagmagate thhe jahan Ram key qadmon ke nishaan,
Piyaar kee kahkashan leti thi angdayee jahan,
Mod nafrat ke usee rah guzar mein aaye,
Dharam kya unka hae, kya zaat hae, yeh janta kaun?
Ghar na jalta tau unhe raat mein pehchanta kaun,
Ghar jalane ko mera, log jo ghar mein aaye,
Shakahari hae mere dost tumahara khanjar.

Tumne Babar kee taraf pheke thhe saare patthar
Hae mere sar ki khata zakhm jo sar mein aaye,
Paun Sarjoo mein aabhi Ram ne dhoye bhee na thhe
Ke nazar aaye wahan khoon ke gehre dhabbe,
Paun dhoye bina Sarjoo ke kinare se uthe,
Ram yeh kehte hue aapne dwaare se uthe,
Rajdhani kee fiza aayee nahin raas mujhe,
6 December ko mila doosra banwaas mujhe.

(Acknowledgement: Zafar Iqbal)

A rough translation:

“The Second Exile”

That evening when Lord Ram returned to his home
He remembered the jungles where he had spent his years of exile
When he must have seen the dance of madness that December 6
It must have crossed his mind
From where have so many demented ones landed on my home

Wherever he had stepped and his footprints had shone
The river waters where thousands of stars of love meandered
Instead now took turns of violence and hatred
What is their religion, what is their caste, who knows?
Had the house not burnt, who would have known the faces
Of those who came to burn my house
Your sword, my friend, is vegetarian.

You threw towards Babar all the stones
It is my head’s fault that, instead, it bleeds
Lord Ram had not even washed his feet in the Saryu waters
When he saw deep blots of blood.
Getting up without washing his feet in the waters
Lord Ram left the precincts of his own residence, bemoaning,
The state of my own capital city no longer suits me
This December 6, I have been condemned to a second exile

Related link: Review of PV Narasimha Rao’s book 06 December 1992

Kaifi Azmi: The Poet who would die in Socialist India

(The play Kaifi aur Main based on the memoir written by Shaukat Azmi, and played by Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar is currently on tour in India)

Kaifi Azmi was part of the fiery triumvirate of the Urdu poets in post independent India. Along with Sahir Ludhianvi and Ali Sardar Jafri, Kaifi Azmi wrote “red poetry” when the appeal of socialism among the intelligentsia in India and the world at large was substantial.

Two names that should belong to the list are Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Makhdoom Mohiuddin.

Makhdoom gave priority to politics over his poetry- representing the Communist Party of India as an MLA in Andhra Pradesh while Faiz Ahmed Faiz in a metaphorical sense, and in a reversal of roles, substituted the lack of the political Left in Pakistan with his poetry. Sahir Ludhianvi wove magic with his uncanny, and unsurpassed ability to lyricize complex ideas, including ideological, into a brilliant tapestry of words making films his terra firma.

Kaifi Azmi and Ali Sardar Jafri together tread the path of literary activism, practically being the official poets of the Communist Party of India.

It would be futile to look for Kaifi Azmi, the man, in his film lyrics. They represent him only partially and those that do, bring out only the personally romantic side of him, specially in those sung by Mohammad Rafi in his mellow, bass elegance. Kaifi lacked the lyricism of Sahir that appealed to Bollywood movies and also the great literary sweep of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

What Kaifi excelled at was the nazm, marking as he did, the break from the classicism of the ghazal form. As one of the angry young men thrown up in the aftermath of the Civil Disobedience Movement, at the time when it was very heaven to be young- the time of Jawaharlal Nehru’s youthful swerve to socialist ideas, the formation of the Congress Socialist Party and the radical appeal of the Communist Party of India under P.C. Joshi who made culture as one of the ‘fronts’ on which the party had to fight in its struggle for socialism- much before Antonio Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony came to be known and gain credence.

Kaifi was one of the major activists of the Indian People’s Theater Association in his younger days and in 1986 made a valiant effort to revive the movement as its president. He was known for his closeness to the CPI, and even once had a spat with Sahir when he accused the latter of compromising his lifestyle while proclaiming his leftist political commitment.

I remember Kaifi Azmi, Comrade Kaifi to us youngsters, reciting his famous nazm Naujawan, after a spate of street dramas enacted by various groups in the IPTA troupe. His recitation was the last one as night crawled around us and a mild March breeze began to blow. His voice boomed in the pin drop silence, what a voice he had !

Raah agyaar ki dekhain yeh bhale taur nahin
Hum Bhagat Singh ke saathi hain, koi aur nahin.

Zindagi humse sada shola e jawaani maange
Ilm o hikmat ka khazana humdaani maange
aisi lalkaar ke talwaar bhi paani maange
aisi raftaar ke dariya bhi rawaani maange

(That we would wait for others to take lead, does not suit us,
We are the comrades of Bhagat Singh, and none else

Life beseeches us our burning youth
The treasures of knowledge and courage
A cry so sharp that the swords may cry out
Such an electric flow that the oceans may look to us for inspiration)

At its most sensitive turns, Kaifi Azmi’s poetry was meant to highlight the life of the poor and the suppressed, and at its most inspired movements, meant to inspire the young cadre of the communist movement to go out and work for upliftment of the “insulted and the humiliated”. Kaifi Azmi had once proudly declared: I was born in colonial India, I have lived in an independent India, and will die in a socialist India.

Kaifi lived to see the dreams of his youth smothered as fort after fort of existing socialism collapsed in East Europe and its citadel, the Soviet Union. He was shell shocked.

And even in his silences he spoke for the grim silence of all those who had been inspired by the message of the October Revolution. After the fall of the Soviet Union, he did not speak for many months, and neither did he write.

It was the attack on Indian secularism on 06 December 1992 that awoke the activist poet in him and he wrote the nazm invoking Lord Rama.

Towards the end of his life, he returned to his roots, the small mofussial town of Azamgarh, building a high school for girls and a hospital. He had written:
Woh mera gaanv hai, woh mere gaanv ke chooleh
Ke jinme shole to shole, dhooan nahin milata

(That indeed is my village, and those indeed are the ovens of my village
In which, not to speak of the fires, even the smoke is not seen)

In the more famous matla of this ghazal, he had expressed the restlessness that inspired him:

Main dhoondta hoon jise woh jahan nahin milta
Nai zameen, naya aasmaan nahin milta

(The world that I search for, I do not find,
The New World, the New Heavens I do not find)

To look for Kaifi, is to keep on searching the for new, better, more egalitarian worlds. And heavens that are more just. To remove this search from his poetry would be to take away its soul.

On a personal note, I had the opportunity to meet with “Comrade Kaifi” at Ajoy Bhawan in New Delhi in 1986. On seeing a bunch of youngsters from the Punjab, he gave me a pointed look, the tuft of hair on his forehead falling over his eyes, and asked me, referring to the Khalistanis: Why are these young men angry?

I did not have an instant answer. And perhaps the question in that context has become irrelevant. But then, perhaps Kaifi was also referring to his own younger days, and asking: What is it that makes young men (and women) angry?

He had spent a lifetime in poetry trying to answer this question.

***

Thanks to Alok for having revived memories of Kaifi and for the link to the “Kaifi aur Main” site.

Image Source