Ralph Russell is no more

Ralph Russell, the British Urdu scholar in the tradition of VG Kiernan and who is well known, among other things, for his perceptive writings on Mirza Ghalib, has moved on (source).

A self- description from his website:

I was born in 1918. I became a communist at the age of 16 and am still content to call myself one despite the traumatic experiences from 1946 onwards of the corruption and eventual collapse of the communist movement and the Soviet Union, because I still hold to the humanist values which made me a communist. I believe that true communism is not only consistent with these values but is a logical development from them.
Continue reading

Ghalib in the 21st Century and other links

Amit Basole has a fascinating series of posts analyzing Mirza Ghalib’s couplets where he not so much dissects them as use them as a starting point to pose contemporary questions, on the question of faith, for example, and what it means to be human.

One thing sometimes does lead to another. Our post on Milton and Ghalib has culminated in a partnership with the blog Mehr-i-Niimroz (the noonday sun). Every week or so we will together select a couplet from Ghalib: Mehr-i-Niimroz will provide a translation and commentary; The South Asian Idea will use the couplet to pose questions and start a discussion. The objective will be to explore how much we can learn from Ghalib about the world we live in.

Justice Markanday Katju of the Supreme Court of India explains why Urdu is part of his ancestry and offers a number of insights into the state and fate of the Urdu language in India today.
Continue reading

Much Before Ghalib: A documentary on Sahir

This documentary brings out some very interesting facts about the umero uno of Indian lyricists, the great Sahir Ludhianvi. One fact that I was not aware of till this short film was that Sahir was named after one of his father’s bitter rivals- a neighbour named Abdul Hayee with whom he was engaged in a legal wrangle and and used to call him by expletives when Abdul Hayee, the son, was a child. I will write sometime on how Sahir’s lyrics were my inspiration for diving deeper into Urdu poetry and how, much before Ghalib and Faiz, it was Sahir’s lyrics for Hamraaz and Gumrah that seduced me towards Urdu poetry.

YouTube – Sahir Ludhianvi

Now, will someone take the hint and get started on a documentary on The Other Ludhianvi? :-)

An Interview with Alys Faiz

(Reproduced from The Dawn)

Alys Faiz’s story is the story of a lifetime of commitment. From being a young woman who wanted to fight alongside the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, she became the woman behind revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz; Alys now finds herself still angry at the social injustice in the world, still fighting on behalf of the oppressed in her regular columns for Viewpoint and She, as well as in her work with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and other organisations.

Alys campaigned for the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance in 1961 and for peace in the Gulf thirty years later, in 1991; Alys collected signatures for peace in 1952 and again for peace in Afghanistan in 1988.

A single interview cannot possibly do justice to her extraordinary, varied and active life. Hers has above all been a challenging life, involving adaptation to an alien culture and society; living with a man whose greatness and political commitment led her to make huge personal sacrifices; carrying on his work in the loneliness of bereavement.

Yet Alys Faiz has no regrets and prefers to tell of the difficult times via hilarious anecdotes, using her acting training to further liven up the store with mime and mimickery. The white hair and Alys’ claims that she is now ‘tired’ are deceptive: there is a quickness of eye and hand that betrays a wicked sense of humour, an eternally youthful streak and an obvious powerful personality. Undoubtedly, these were the characteristics, which have made her a survivor.

Q. You’ve always been politically active. Was your family interested in politics?
A. They were Conservatives.

Q. So how did you end up a Communist?
A. I didn’t end up; I began! I was always a bit of a loner. I used to like to go out for walks on my own on the weekends. And one fine day I found myself in Clerkenwell, where I saw Marx’s house. I went in and John Stratchey was lecturing on socialism or something. I sat down and listened. That was the beginning.

Q. How old were you at the time?
A. About 18. And then I joined the Party.
Continue reading

Sudarshan Faakir

Sudarshan Faakir, poet and lyricist whose ghazals and some nazms were sung by Begum Akhtar in her last phase and Jagjit Singh in his early phase in the 1970s and 1980s died on 19 Feb in Jalandhar. He will be remembered as one of the significant though minor poets of the language. In context of the language issue, it needs to be remarked that he belonged to the small and diminishing tribe of non- Muslim Urdu poets from East Punjab. Krishna Adeeb, who passed away couple of years back and Joginder Lal (known by his nome de plume Naqsh Lyallpuri) are others that come to mind. His compositions may not have been prolific, but each is remarkable for its profundity and perfection.

Pretty much a recluse, this is one of the very few interviews that one can find on the internet. I have heard that he was associated with the left- progressive circle around NK Joshi in the early 1970s in Jalandhar.
Newsreport about his passing away
One of my own favourites is a film song by Faakir
Zindagi main jab tumhare gham nahin the.  Another is the one by Begum Akhtar below.

Another ghazal sung by Mohammad Rafi:

This is a popular Jagjit Singh item Kagaz ki Kashti:

You can listen to a good collection here too.

Romanized text of some of Faakir’s poetry at Urdupoetry.

Nisar Main Teri Galiyon Ke- A Translation

I could not find a translation of the complete nazm Nisar main teri galiyon ke on the internet while writing the previous post and have attempted my own translation of Faiz’s popular and, in present circumstances in Pakistan, a particularly apt nazm. The original nazm is reproduced below the translation. I have taken quite a few liberties in this humble attempt at translating this highly idiomatic  poem.

***

My salutations to thy sacred streets, O beloved nation!
Where a tradition has been invented- that none shall walk with his head held high
If at all one takes a walk, a pilgrimage
One must walk, eyes lowered, the body crouched in fear

The heart in a tumultuous wrench at the sight
Of stones and bricks locked away and mongrels breathing free

In this tyranny that has many an excuse to perpetuate itself
Those crazy few that have nothing but thy name on their lips
Facing those power crazed that both prosecute and judge, wonder
To whom does one turn for defence, from whom does one expect justice?

But those whose fate it is to live through these times
Spend their days in thy mournful memories

When hope begins to dim, my heart has often conjured
Your forehead sprinkled with stars
And when my chains have glittered
I have imagined that dawn must have burst upon thy face

Thus one lives in the memories of thy dawns and dusks
Imprisoned in the shadows of the high prison walls

Thus always has the world grappled with tyranny
Neither their rituals nor our rebellion is new
Thus have we always grown flowers in fire
Neither their defeat, nor our final victory, is new!

Thus we do not blame the heavens
Nor let bitterness seed in our hearts

We are separated today, but one day shall be re- united
This separation that will not last beyond tonight, bears lightly on us
Today the power of our exalted rivals may touch the zenith
But these four days of omniscience too shall pass

Those that love thee keep, beside them
The cure of the pains of a million heart- breaks

***

The original (source)

nisaar mai.n terii galiyo.n ke ae watan, ki jahaa.N
chalii hai rasm ki koii na sar uThaa ke chale
jo koii chaahanewaalaa tawaaf ko nikale
nazar churaa ke chale, jism-o-jaa.N bachaa ke chale

hai ahl-e-dil ke liye ab ye nazm-e-bast-o-kushaad
ki sang-o-Khisht muqayyad hai.n aur sag aazaad

bahot hai.n zulm ke dast-e-bahaanaa-juu ke liye
jo cha.nd ahl-e-junuu.N tere naam levaa hai.n
bane hai.n ahl-e-hawas muddaii bhii, mu.nsif bhii
kise wakiil kare.n, kis se mu.nsifii chaahe.n

magar guzaranewaalo.n ke din guzarate hai.n
tere firaaq me.n yuu.N subh-o-shaam karate hai.n

bujhaa jo rauzan-e-zi.ndaa.N to dil ye samajhaa hai
ki terii maa.ng sitaaro.n se bhar gaii hogii
chamak uThe hai.n salaasil to hamane jaanaa hai
ki ab sahar tere ruKh par bikhar gaii hogii

Garaz tasavvur-e-shaam-o-sahar me.n jiite hai.n
giraft-e-saayaa-e-diwaar-o-dar me.n jiite hai.n

yuu.N hii hameshaa ulajhatii rahii hai zulm se Khalq
na unakii rasm naii hai, na apanii riit naii
yuu.N hii hameshaa khilaaye hai.n hamane aag me.n phuul
na unakii haar naii hai na apanii jiit naii

isii sabab se falak kaa gilaa nahii.n karate
tere firaaq men ham dil buraa nahii.n karate

Gar aaj tujhase judaa hai.n to kal baham ho.nge
ye raat bhar kii judaaii to koii baat nahii.n
Gar aaj auj pe hai taala-e-raqiib to kyaa
ye chaar din kii Khudaaii to koii baat nahii.n

jo tujhase ahd-e-wafaa ustavaar rakhate hai.n
ilaaj-e-gardish-e-lail-o-nihaar rakhate hai.n

Technorati Tags: , , ,

‘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

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

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.

Related posts

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

‘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).

Technorati Tags: ,

Urdu in the time of Plagues

Museindia’s July- Aug issue has a focus on contemporary Indian Urdu literature. The selection of the poetry is lackadaisical, certainly, I believe, because of the laboured translation into English. Some of the short stories are good, like this one by Joginder Paul:
Hero

What could I really do?

We need a few new faces for our latest feature film, and our producer Appa sahib had said, “You can cast any one for any role, but the hero will be my man.”

The man Appa sahib had chosen to be the hero, was by nature a villain. Perhaps I was still in search of a hero or who knows what, I cast someone as the villain, who actually appeared to me as sensitive, innocent, and well-intentioned, just like my hero.

“But …. I …..” the young man said hesitantly.

“What do you mean by that? Who is going to accept you as a hero unless you have made a complete villain of yourself.”

The essay “The Situation of the Urdu Writer” by CM Naim, written in 1994 is still as relevant as it is scathing. Reading it, I recalled my own sisyphean endeavours at learning Urdu via a distance education program of the Jamia Milia Islamia University. I used to receive lessons by post and was supposed to complete exercises within a fortnight. The initial ones were duly examined and marked by an anonymous mentor. After the third or fourth instalment, the mentor apparently lost interest and I stopped getting the responses back. When I told this to a friend, a writer and playwright who had himself switched from writing in Urdu to Hindi, he commented wryly “Your mentor must be thinking why lead this young enthusiast astray? What has he himself achieved by learning Urdu?”

Naim echoes the frustrations, like that of my friend’s, of writing in Urdu today, and yet, why it needs to be written.

If, however, you are not in with the ignorant bureaucrats or their imbecilic advisors from academia, you have no choice but to publish the book yourself. Average first edition: 400 to 1,000 copies.

Congratulations!  You now have a book out, but will it sell?  A lucky first edition sells in two or four yeas. That is the end of your book, unless someone brings out a pirated edition in Pakistan. In fact, you secretly long that someone will. How else will you reach that other audience of yours?

Of course, while all this was going on, you were also trying to find and hold a job, to raise a family. Then one day your daughter comes home from school and tearfully shows you her Hindi or history textbook.  It says that the Muslims were aliens in India, that they only destroyed temples and persecuted the Hindus and made no positive contribution; that they must be ‘brought back into the main stream of Indian life’. Or your son tells you how he was taunted by some boys who called him a ‘Babur’s son.’ (Babur was the Central Asian prince who conquered parts of northern India in 1526 and laid the foundation for what later came to be known as Mughal dynasty.)  What do you say to them?  Or perhaps you have the experience yourself when you go to the corner store and find written on its wall in crude letters: ‘Babur’s  children / Go to your graves or to Pakistan!’. Should you then not find it amusing that even the ugly slogan aimed at you was written in Hindi while, conversely, it used a jingle form that imitated Urdu?  Perhaps not.  Hashimpura, Maliana, Bhagalpur, Meerut, Bhiwandi, Baroda, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bombay, Surat, Bhopal – what happened in these and many other places was far from amusing.

So, you return home and write a story, in Urdu. For writing in Urdu in India is now definitely a political act. It may not empower you much, but it still lets you assert the fact of your existence. You authorise yourself. In a time of plagues, that is enough.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Urdu has a Future

According to experts deliberating on the Urdu language, it has a ‘golden future’ and its ‘use is expanding across the globe’.

National Language Authority chairman Fateh Malik said Pakistan’s print and electronic media used non-standard Urdu. He said Pakistan’s literary tradition was affected by the dictatorships. He said the Indian tradition was marked by an emphasis on prosody and other aspects than the purpose and message of a literary work. He said the tendency in the contemporary Pakistani literary circles to turn to India as a source of inspiration was misplaced.

I wonder who suggested looking towards India for inspiration in the first place, after the language has been pushed to the ghettos over the past half a century.

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.

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