Thursday, December 27, 2012

Ghalib and the Stars

चर्ख-ए-सुखन जिस से मुनव्वर है ये वो नज्म-ए-शिमाल
तालिब जो हैं उर्दू ‘अदब के उन का मुर्शिद भी वही

(चर्ख-ए-सुखन = firmament of language; मुनव्वर = illuminated; नज्म-ए-शिमाल = North Star; तालिब = seekers, students; मुर्शिद = guide)

Mirza Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’ – the North Star illuminating the firmament of language, the spiritual guide to the students of Urdu language, the brightest star among the constellation of poets. On his birth anniversary today, I didn’t find a better way than to write an ode to his greatness in the form of a couplet.

Talking of stars, almost every Urdu poet of renown has written about stars. Ghalib is no exception. As one would expect, he hardly uses stars in conventional metaphors and descriptions. There aren’t many ‘starry’ couplets in his deewan (collection), but whenever they make an appearance it is in a very unique fashion. Not many poets would refer to stars in the manner Ghalib has done in his poetry. Though the couplets themselves are very unidirectional and straightforward, the beauty lies either in the visual nature of the imagery, the usage of unprecedented words, or a subtle twist to a conventional metaphor.

I am taking three couplets from his deewan to demonstrate my point.

First of all, let’s look at a conventional metaphor i.e. counting of stars, a pet pastime of someone who cannot sleep at night for some reason.

किस तरह काटे कोई शबहा-ए-तार-ए-बरशकाल
है नज़र ख़ू-करदह-ए-अख़तरशुमारी हाए हाए

(शबहा-ए-तार-ए-बरशकाल = dark nights of the rainy season; ख़ू-करदह-ए-अख़तरशुमारी = habituated to counting stars)

Let’s look at the language first. The usage of Persianized plural (शबहा) for nights is very Ghalibian. Not that other poets have not used it, but Ghalib has used this more often than others. Even the usage of relatively rare words like बरशकाल and ख़ू-करदह is very true to Ghalib.

Let’s turn our attention to the meaning now. When one is unable to sleep, the best way to pass the night is to lie down facing the sky and count the stars. One will either fall asleep during the exercise, or at least the night will pass. But what does a habitual star-counter do when there is an impediment to this exercise? Nothing, but lament (हाए हाए). How this impediment appears is the crux of this she’r. At the very literal level, the impediment is external i.e. the rainy season itself play spoil sport. The sky is covered with clouds, so the stars are not visible and the night is completely dark. What does one count? But there is a very subtle alternate interpretation as well. The impediment is internal, where the ‘rainy season’ is a metaphor of incessant crying. One’s vision is impaired because of being misty eyed, no stars can be seen, so how does one accustomed to counting stars spend the night?

Now for the second couplet, where stars are indeed the protagonist but not in the usual way one would expect. The words used are rare and unique.

थीं बनात-उल-न`श-ए-गरदूँ दिन को परदे में निहाँ
शब को उन के जी में क्या आई कि `उरयाँ हो गईं

(बनात-उल-न`श-ए-गरदूँ = Daughters of the Bier of the Sky, a name for the Ursa Major constellation; निहाँ = hidden;`उरयाँ = naked)

Now this is truly unique! Bringing an entire constellation to the fore, instead of a mere star. The Great Bear is called the Daughter of the Bier because it looks like a rhomboidal bier with the three stars forming the ‘tail’ appearing like pall bearers. The uniqueness of this couplet is just in the usage of the words. The meaning is pretty straightforward. The poet is simply stating a natural fact in the form of a rhetorical question. Stars are only visible at night, and since we’re referring to ‘daughters’ here it is an interesting analogy to equate hidden with the purdah and visibility with nakedness. Apart from this, there isn’t much layering in this couplet (at least not that I could fathom).

Finally, a couplet that can be considered a fine example of visual poetry

शब हुई फिर अन्जुम-ए-रख़्शिन्दः का मंज़र खुला
इस तकल्लुफ़ से कि गोया बुत-कदे का दर खुला

(अन्जुम-ए-रख़्शिन्दः = shining stars; मंज़र = scene; तकल्लुफ़ = ceremony; गोया = as if; बुत-कदा = an idol-temple)

I do not count Ghalib as a ‘visual poet’. His poetry is idiosyncratically nuanced, philosophical, multi-layered, and what not, but examples of couplets that paint a visual picture are very few. This is one couplet that draws strength only from the visual similitude it creates. Imagine the ceremony of opening the gates of a temple. Imagine the countless lamps illuminating the temple precincts in and around the idol. Aren’t they like the stars that illuminate the night sky? Again, a very straightforward couplet relying primarily on visual poetry. One could stretch it a bit and equate the idol in a temple to a beloved and assign the stars the role of lamps illuminating the thoughts of the beloved at night. But still, it lacks depth in meaning. This is totally compensated by the beauty of imagination of the poet.

Before I end, I must reiterate that Ghalib’s poetry is like a bottomless ocean. Each reading can reveal a new dimension. So, it is very possible that when I revisit the above couplets I might have a different way of looking at them.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Paradox of Heat and Cold

घर आतिशों के बीच भी क़ा’इम था और सबात
शबनम बरसने जब लगी ये कैसे जल गया

(Amidst all the fires, the house stood intact on its own
How could then only a few drops of dew burn it down)

Juxtaposition of heat and cold (in all its variants) is a common device used by poets to establish a paradox or oxymoron. Jigar Moradabadi put dewdrops and fire side by side in this couplet:

ओस पड़े बहार पर आग लगे कनार में
तुम जो नहीं कनार में लुत्फ़ ही क्या बहार में

(Dew drops on bounty of spring light a fire in my embrace
A spring without you in my arms is bereft of all grace)

Allama Iqbal, in his nazm Sair-e-Falak, turned a commonly held belief/concept on its head to create a contradiction. Though not strictly a paradox, he established hell, which is conventionally believed to be burning and hot, as a freezing cold place that would embarrass even the coldest of places. (I call it “not strictly a paradox”, because in Islam, one of the pits of hell – Zamhareer - is indeed known for its freezing character).

खुन्क ऐसा कि जिस से शर्मा कर
कुर्रा-ए-ज़म्हरीर हो रू-पोश

(It was so cold that being embarrassed by it
The coldest of places was concealing its face)

ये मक़ाम-ए-खुन्क जहन्नुम है
नार से, नूर से तेही आगोश

(This cold place is called Hell
It is deprived of fire and light)

When it comes to lyrics of Hindi film songs there is no dearth of this paradox of heat and cold. In fact it can almost be a called a cliché when it comes to usage of paradoxes and oxymorons in lyrics, next only to probably ‘sounds of silence’. 

Let’s explore how various lyricists have used this in Hindi films…

In this song from Brandy Ki Botal (1939), the lyricist talks about fire trapped in the water inside a bottle (भरी है आग मतवाले तेरी बोतल के पानी में…).

Bhari Hai Aag Matwale Teri Botal Ke Paani Mein - Film: Brandy Ki Botal (1939) - Singer: Unknown - Music: Dada Chandekar–Lyrics: Unknown

In this song from Jhoola (1962), Rajinder Krishna is curious how the water has caught fire (आग पानी में लगी कैसे…).

Aag Paani Mein Lagi Kaise - Film: Jhoola (1962) - Singers: Mohd. Rafi & Lata Mangeshkar - Music: Salil Chaowdhury - Lyrics: Rajinder Krishan

Hasrat Jaipuri talks about cold sighs causing heartburn in this song from Tere Ghar Ke Saamne (दिल जलाने के लिए ठंडी आहें न भरो…).

Dekho Rootha Na Karo - Film: Tere Ghar Ke Saamne (1963) - Singers: Lata Mangeshkar & Mohd. Rafi - Music: Sachin Dev Burman - Lyrics: Hasrat Jaipuri

Majrooh laments the ‘burning’ of solitude in the cold weather in Teen Deviyan (उफ्फ कितनी ठंडी है ये रुत, सुलगे है तन्हाई मेरी…)

Uff Kitni Thandi Hai Ye Rut - Film: Teen Deviyan (1965) - Singers: Lata Mangeshkar & Kishore Kumar - Music: Sachin Dev Burman - Lyrics: Majrooh Sultanpuri

Shakeel Badayuni used this too as an oxymoron - ठंडी आग

Baalam Tere Pyar Ki Thandi Aag Mein - Film: Ram Aur Shyam - Singers: Mohd. Rafi & Asha Bhosle - Music: Naushad - Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni

Another common variant of this paradox is where moon or moonlight, conventionally accepted as ‘cold’ is seen causing a burn. For example, Prem Dhawan in this song from Private Secretary talks about moonlight causing heartburn (जा जा रे चंदा जा रे, तेरी चाँदनी भी मेरा जियरा जलाये…).

Ja Ja Re Chanda Ja Re - Film: Private Secretary (1962) - Singer: Lata Mangeshkar - Music: Dilip Dholakia - Lyrics: Prem Dhawan

In Stree, Bhart Vyas went a step ahead and even made this more explicit by specifying that although the moon is cold, it burns the body (ये चन्दा शीतल कहलाता फिर क्यों मेरे अंग जलाता…). He goes further and talks about full moon night turning to fire (… आग बनी पूनम)

O Nirdayi Preetam - Film: Stree (1962) - Singer: Lata Mangeshkar - Music: C. Ramchandra–Lyrics: Bharat Vyas

Another very common usage in Hindi film songs has been of the relation between monsoon/rains (सावन) and fire (आग). Although it had been used before by other lyricists, going by the sheer number of times he used it, one could say that this imagery was almost patented by Anand Bakshi. Here’s one example from Amar Prem (1971) (सावन जो अगन लगाये उसे कौन बुझाये)

Chingari Koi Bhadke - Film: Amar Prem (1971) - Singer: Kishore Kumar - Music: Rahul Dev Burman - Lyrics: Anand Bakshi

Among all the lyricists who have written songs for Hindi films, if there is one name that is almost synonymous with the usage of paradox/oxymoron, it has to be Gulzar. If you pick up any song of his at random, chances are that you will find at least one instance of a paradox. So it is only natural that this paradox of heat and cold is amply visible in his oeuvre as well. In this song from Aastha (1996), he finds ‘drops of fire’ to be colder than ice (बर्फ से ठंडी आग की बूँदें…).

Tan Pe Lagti Kaanch Ki Boondein - Film: Asstha (1996) - Singer: Sriradha Banerjee - Music: Sharang Dev - Lyrics: Gulzar

This was just a random sampling of a few songs written by different lyricists. There are surely countless other examples of this paradox in Hindi film songs.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Interpreting My Poem - V

And now one of my personal favourites. I had started writing this one as a self-imposed challenge to write something in the same tarah (combination of meter, rhyme and refrain) as a she’r written by a friend, that had completely blown me off. You can read more about that inspiration in this previous post.

As earlier, the English verses and interpretations are penned by Archana Gupta.

गरचिह हम वादाशिकन के नाम से जाने गये

बाइस-ए-ग़फ़्लतशियारी उनको समझाने गये
Although I was declared disloyal and promise-breaker in essence
All I tried to do was explain the reasons for my habitual negligence

गरचिह = Although, though, If; वादाशिकन = promise-breaker; बाइस = reason;
ग़फ़्लतशियारी = carelessness, negligence

I tried to explain things to her/them but on the basis of my (past record of) habitual negligence, I was declared disloyal/unfaithful.

ऐश-ओ-इशरत की तलब उस पर फ़ना होने की चाह

महफ़िल-ए-रक्स-ए-शरर की ओर परवाने गये
Craving for pleasure and glitter, the desire to obliterate self in her affection
Drove the moth towards the flame dancing in the congregation

ऐश = pleasure; इशरत = delight; तलब = desire; फ़ना = destruction, death; रक्स = dance; शरर = flame

The moth approached the dancing flame attracted by the glitter in pursuit of  simple pleasure & happiness unabashed by /unmindful of its inevitable destruction.  Possibly an indirect reference to people getting attracted to a glittery life instead of taking the high road, despite knowing the trade-off.

ज़ुल्म ख़ुद पर करने का हम को अजब ये शौक़ है

बज़्म-ए-ख़ूबाँ में हम अपने दिल को बहलाने गये
Torturing self must be a strange hobby of mine
Merely to be entertained, to her gathering I made a beeline

बज़्म = gathering; ख़ूबाँ = beautiful ones
I must have masochistic tendencies, I went to her/their gathering just for entertainment (knowing I'll likely be hurt by what I will see and the treatment that will be meted out to me).

ये हमारी ख़ू थी जो भेजा किये उनको ख़तूत

वो मगर क्यूँ ग़ैर से तहरीर पढ़वाने गये
Out of sheer force of habit, I wrote letters to her
But did she really have to get them read by a complete stranger

ख़ू = habit; ख़तूत = letters; तहरीर = writing
I wrote to her out of habit (knowing fully well that she will not comprehend), but why did she ask a stranger to interpret?
(Basic complain is against the lover letting a third party get an insider view of the relationship)

दोपहर की रौशनी में लगते हैं शफ़्फ़ाफ़ सब

रात जो आयी बदन के दाग़ पहचाने गये
In the light of the day, all the people seem transparent, sheer
It’s the night that makes all the blights clear

शफ़्फ़ाफ़ = transparent, clear

Looking at the the face people reveal (day or what is evident), everyone appears transparent (clear of heart and intent).  On getting to know people and understanding the nature they mask (night or what is hidden), we see the flaws.

है नहीं उम्मीद कोई उनसे शफ़क़त की हमें

चाक-ए-दिल ख़ून-ए-जिगर दुनिया को दिखलाने गये
From her I expect no understanding, no consideration
She who shared with strangers our affliction and tribulation

शफ़क़त = kindness, favour
Two very conflicting meanings emerge based on "who" the subject is in the second line.  I completely missed the second one till Aditya pointed it out...

  • I have no hope of understanding (of my need of privacy) from her, who went on to share our sorrows with strangers.
    and then there is…
  • Having lost all hope in her/dear ones, I shared my sorrows/wounds with complete strangers and started approaching all and sundry for a possible cure. 

I distinctly favor the first one as I do think that was the original intent and is more in line with the sentiments expressed in some of the other ash'aar of this ghazal as well as this poet's work elsewhere.

क़ैस-ओ-लैला शीरीं और फ़रहाद फिर हम और तुम

दास्तान-ए-इश्क़ में बस जुड़ते अफ़साने गये
Qais and Laila, Shirin and Farhad, and alas, now you and I too
Just some tales of romance for the world to gossip about and make much ado

क़ैस = Real name of legendary lover Majnoon;
We have also become yet another tale (talk of the town) for the world to talk about and discuss and interpret  -  another lament on the fact that details of our private relationship are open to world to interpret and comment on.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Interpreting My Poem - IV

Here is the fourth installment of interpretation of my poems by Archana Gupta. The Urdu verses are of course mine, but the English verses and the interpretation are Archana’s

क्यूँ बादा-ए-गुनाह से मख़्मूर होते हैं

क़त्ल-ए-ख़ुलूस कर के भी मशहूर होते हैं
Why on the wine of crime, are people intoxicated
Despite smothering all sincerity and purity, celebrated?

बादा = wine; गुनाह = crime; मख़्मूर = intoxicated; ख़ुलूस = purity, sincerity;
मशहूर = famous

Why are people so very drunk on their success via a life of crime or wrong-doing?   They completely kill all the goodness and sincerity in them and around them, yet rejoice in the success they achieve by wrong means.  Definite social comment on today's state of affairs and absolutely unabashed culture of success at any cost.

जो हों न उनकी बज़्म में मौजूद हम कभी

क़िस्से हमारे मौज़ू-ए-मज़्कूर होते हैं
Even when I am not present in her gathering
Tales of my exploits set the tongues wagging

बज़्म = gathering; मौज़ू = topic, theme; मज़्कूर = what is mentioned

I am so much a part of her/his life that even when I am not there, my deeds and I are talked about.   Now part of life could be interpreted as positive or negative -  could be so dear or could be the worst enemy / so hated -  in either case, the speaker is not ignored.  Another slightly different way to express the same meaning is that I am well talked about by both friends and foes alike.

रन्जीदगी थी उनको जो मैं पास था नहीं

आया हूँ अब क़रीब तो वो दूर होते हैं
When I stayed away, she always complained of my absence
Now that I try to bridge the gap, she maintains the distance

रन्जीदगी = displeasure

First look suggests that it the poet's lament that the lover used to object that he/she makes no effort to come close (likely emotionally or even simply time wise, he is just not spending enough time with her) but now that he is making an effort, there is not enough reciprocation.  A second thought reveals that it is not clear why is the partner no longer responsive - could be on account of the partner having given up or could be on account of familiarity breeding contempt. And this last thought actually diverges into two -  second one leading to viewing the second line of the she’r as a paradox. 
View it as a statement that as the speaker bridges the distance by being present more often physically, some keeps getting created simultaneously, perhaps at the emotional level -  more in the nature of "more time I spend with her, the more I realize we have so little in common and thus the physical decrease of the distance is increasing the emotional divide and taking her further away from me".  So here, they come close to drift apart -  a paradox as good as any....

क्या पत्थरों से होगा मेरे सर पे कोई ज़ख़्म

फूलों से खाई चोट तो मख़्सूर होते हैं
Stones hurled at my head cause it no laceration
But the flowers thrown my way bring most destruction

मख़्सूर = wounded, injured

Obvious slights or perhaps physical attack will cause me no harm (I am immune to that or I consider it insignificant), its the harshness of attitude, perhaps verbal slights or reprimands that cause me most damage (damage to the spirit, wound to heart that is harder to heal).

क्यूँ साकिनान-ए-क़स्र की तारीफ़ करते हो

हक़दार इत्तिसाफ़ के मज़दूर होते हैं
Why are the residents of the palaces showered with ovation
While the men who toil to build them are the ones worthy of recognition?

साकिनान = residents; क़स्र = palace; हक़दार = worthy; इत्तिसाफ़ = praise

Why do the residents of beautiful palaces get the praise?  It truly belongs to the masons that build it.  for example, Taj Mahal is credited to Shah Jahan (& Mumtaz)  with not much thought spared to those who toiled to build it.   Generically and universally applied, its the poet's comment on the world associating credit of a task with the face or the task without assigning due credit to forces behind the actual effort.

है ऐतिमाद जिनको न ताले’अ शिनास पर

जेहाद-ए-ज़िन्दगी में वो मन्सूर होते हैं
Those who less on luck and fortune-tellers lean
More in battles of life they succeed and glean

ऐतिमाद = dependence; ताले’अ शिनास = fortune teller, astrologer; जेहाद = war;
मन्सूर = victorious

I would chalk this one up to a "Karam Pradhan" attitude on the part of the poet. His claim is that those who do not believe in luck or fortune-tellers (but believe in their effort perhaps) are the ones that prevail in the battle of life and become successful. 

अख़्लाक़ का न इल्म किसी काम आयेगा

मिट जाते हैं जो नेकी से मजबूर होते हैं
Sincerity and virtue serve no purpose in this world today
Those who practice these are quickly obliterated away

अख़्लाक़ = virtues; इल्म = knowledge

The knowledge or practice of sincere, virtuous, righteous behavior is of no use in today's world.   Those who are bound by these "virtues" are overcome, defeated, and annihilated.  Yet another comment on the current state of our society.

साये जो हैं लिखे मेरी क़िस्मत में वो कहाँ

फ़ज़्ल-ए-शुआ-ए-शम्स से काफ़ूर होते हैं
The shadows and dark that are to my destiny bound
Are not overcome even by the bright sunshine around

फ़ज़्ल = grace; शुआ = ray; शम्स = sun; काफ़ूर = disappear

Now this is an interesting one based on how you interpret "साये".   If you mean darkness by it, the meaning is straightforward, the darkness that is associated with my life (in form of bad luck), does not get removed even by virtue of bright rays of sun shining upon me.  However if you consider "साये" to be shadows, the shadows are actually only formed when there is light.  Then the nuance is just a little different, the brightness of the world or happiness around me, accentuates or makes more visible, the shadows cast on my own life, rather my unhappiness.

उम्र-ए-शब-ए-फ़िराक़ अगर इतनी हो दराज़

उश्शाक़ वक़्त-ए-वस्ल भी रन्जूर होते हैं
When so long is each night of separation

The days of togetherness are also filled with apprehension

शब = night; फ़िराक़ = separation; दराज़ = long; उश्शाक़ = lovers; वस्ल = union;
रन्जूर = distressed

Literal meaning is that if the duration of the night of separation is so long, the lovers are sad even when they are together (with the thought of impending long separation).  It has a parallel universal application.  When the troubled periods in a life are so intense and long, even when the untroubled times come, a person is so used to staying sad that he/she is unable to enjoy the good times.

मग़रिब को देखता हूँ कि इशराक़ हो वहाँ

क्यूँ काम इस जहाँ के ब-दस्तूर होते हैं
After sunset, I search for light in the west but in vain
Why are the ways of this world so rigid again?

मग़रिब = west; इशराक़ = dawn, day break; ब-दस्तूर = as per norms

Literally speaking, the meaning is, I look at the point where sun has set so find a ray of light, knowing its against the law of nature and expectedly, find none.  I think the under the surface comment is on the inflexibility of the "systems" in this world and the way the world works and how its not willing to change even when the little changes would lead to much betterment.  Sounds like a socio-political comment.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Interpreting My Poem - III

Here is another of my ghazals translated/interpreted by Archana Gupta. This time she has gone a step ahead and created verses of her own in English, corresponding to each of my Urdu verses. Absolutely brilliant!

कैसे कटेगी रात ये अख़्तरशुमारी की

हालत न देखी जाये है अब बेक़रारी की
How shall I pass this night counting stars in sleeplessness
When I can't at all now stand this restlessness?

अख़्तरशुमारी = counting stars

Likely a hard night spent without the lover missing him/her, perhaps in anticipation of meeting the next day.

Universal application would be that its about a night before any "significant event" that may have nothing to do with romance but one lies sleepless, waiting in anticipation or even dread for the next day to dawn.

हालत पे मेरी आँख तेरी हो सकी न नम

उम्मीद फिर हो ग़ैर से क्या ग़मगुसारी की
My condition could not make even your eye wet
From strangers then what empathy may I expect?

ग़मगुसारी = to console or comfort

This seems like a straightforward complaint to one' lover or partner for not showing enough understanding.  Certainly, the speaker believes himself to be the wronged party.

नाम-ओ-निशाँ लहु का रगों तक से मिट चला

जिस्म-ए-नज़ार माँगे दुआ इस्तेवारी की
Not one can find signs of blood in my veins any longer
This weak and frail body prays to get stronger

नाम-ओ-निशाँ = signs; रग = vein; जिस्म-ए-नज़ार = weak body; इस्तेवारी = strength
Indicates fatigue fighting off adversity and sets the stage for some of the following ash'aar though is in no way necessary for their understanding or interpretation.

नासिर ये हम ने तेरी रिफ़ाक़त भी देख ली

यूँ चल दिये जो बात चली जाँनिसारी की
O my supposed well-wisher, testing your friendship is done
At the first sign of trouble, you were all but gone

नासिर = friend, ally; रिफ़ाक़त = companionship; जाँनिसारी = sacrificing one’s life

I have tested your friendship (and found it lacking), you who pretend to be my well-wisher.  As soon as it was mentioned that you may have to actually go to some bother for me, you got up and walked off.  Basically, a complaint against fair-weather friends.

नादाँ तू क्यूँ है ढूँढता तक़दीस और वफ़ा

तुझ को नहीं मिलेगी दवा दिलफ़िगारी की
O foolish one, why do you look for piety and fidelity here
For your broken heart, no medicine, no cure is there

तक़दीस = purity; दिलफ़िगारी = wounding of the heart

This seems to be an address to self in self-pitying tone.  This strongly reflects the poet's extreme disillusionment from his relationship(s) of past, likely romantic but not necessarily so.  Yet there is reference to a hope in him as well as that is precisely what he is trying to quell in himself.

हैं ज़ेर-ए-गर्द-ओ-ख़ाक चमन के तमाम गुल

देखा करेंगे राह ये बाद-ए-बहारी की
All the flowers of the garden are reduced to dirt, they lie in gloom
And shall await the winds of spring to yet again bloom

ज़ेर-ए-गर्द-ओ-ख़ाक = under the dust; बाद-ए-बहारी = breeze of spring

Literal meaning is "All the flowers of the garden are ruined -  defeated and destroyed, reduced to dirt.  They will now await for the signs (winds) of next spring to revive them".  The obvious indication is towards the poet's weakened state.  His current struggles have reduced his strength and stature and he is perhaps indicating that he awaits better times in life.  There is an element of reliance on luck/destined time in this she’r.

तौबा तमाम अब हों जफ़ाएँ भी आपकी

है आप से तवक़्क़ो’ हमें ऐतिज़ारी की
Oh stop it now! This torture must at once end
Apologise and your ways you must mend!

जफ़ाएँ = opression, torture; तवक़्क़ो’ = expectation; ऐतिज़ारी = regret, repentance

This she’r seems to be in a fairly fed up tone -  the poet has reached the end of his rope, has taken enough non-sense from perhaps a lover and is prepared to take no more!  Literal translation is "Your torture must end and you had better apologise for your behaviour...".  Underlying sentiment simply seems to be enough said and done, now atone or else...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Interpreting My Poem - II

In my previous post, I had presented a translation/ interpretation of one of my ghazals. Here is another ghazal, interpreted again by Archana Gupta.

राशिद तू कुफ़्र से है पशेमान किस लिये
इतने से विज़्र से है परेशान किस लिये

(राशिद = pious person;  कुफ़्र = Unbelief, infidelity; पशेमान = repentant, ashamed; विज़्र = sin)

The word "कुफ़्र" stood out here.  This is a word with multiple meanings - one general negative sense but a number of subtle nuances, each of which lent a different perspective to this couplet and caused "राशिद" and "विज़्र" to assume slightly different personas as well .
Literally  translated with most direct/conventionally accepted word meanings, this is a sort of a taunt towards religious fundamentalism. Why should the "pious one" feel guilty of religious tolerance that other call non-believing. It is too small a sin in the larger scheme of things.  This was the poet's take on the couplet too.
Looking at "कुफ़्र" as  inability to accept or believe only, without assigning any religious context, we get  -  "O pupil, why are you ashamed of your inability to accept (may be past misdeeds).  Why do these not so significant (in the long run)  matters bother you so"?  Assigning Rashid the literal meaning of Pupil who has been accepted into a teacher's guidance (jisne guru-diiksha prapt ki hai), this could well be the teacher addressing the new pupil (or a preacher addressing a confessor).  Once you have decided to make a transition into a new way of life, your past should be considered insignificant and be relegated to the back burner, basically should no longer bother the taught /confessor.
Now another slightly varying meaning of कुफ़्र is infidelity.  So another interpretation is that this is an address of the faithful but extremely forgiving partner to the unfaithful one.  The question is the same, why are you so ashamed of your act (of infidelity).  Considering all things (aspects of life together and your having confessed) its not such a big burden to carry around.  Note that the nature of one partner and act of the other, place them at unequal footing, signified by "Rashid"  (literally the teacher is considered far above the taught.  Conventionally, partners in an intimate relationship would be equal )
A yet another play on "कुफ़्र" is the meaning of ingratitude.  This again leads to another meaning with a more sarcastic tone to this couplet.  Its an oblique comment on the fact that there seems to be no value for emotion like gratitude in today's world -  "As the world does not consider ingratitude a vice, why are you so ashamed and bothered by this."

फ़िरदौस को न जायेगा इन्सान अब कभी
बैठा है दर-ए-ख़ुल्द पे रिज़वान किस लिये   

(फ़िरदौस = paradise; दर-ए-ख़ुल्द = door of paradise; रिज़वान = doorkeeper of paradise)

Again two interpretations are possible here, based on whether you consider "किस लिये " to be rhetoric or not.
If you consider this phrase to be actual question, then consider why is a doorkeeper needed ?  To guard a door so that the wrong people do not enter. The poet questions, When people in this world are such sinners that there is no likelihood of any them getting a seat in paradise, why the need of a door keeper at all?  No one will reach the door at all...
If you consider it a rhetoric then the interpretation is slightly different.  No human will ever get entry into the Heavens now for they are guarded by the ruler of the Heavens himself.  Basically, the reference is that humans are allowed entry into the Heaven based on evaluation of their "Karma".  The ruler himself guarding refers to the bar having been set higher and the obvious comment is that the deeds of humankind no longer match up to the bar  -  this is a more of social comment in either case.

बस कल ही की तो बात है परदानशीं थे वो
हैं आज सर-ए-राह वो उर्यान किस लिये

(परदानशीं = behind curtains, veiled; सर-ए-राह = middle of the road; उर्यान = naked)
This one is again possibly layered.
Literal meaning is "She used to stay in hijaab (veil), why is she being seen naked in the streets today?"   In a more refined fashion, it translates to "As of yesterday (or when I was closer to her), she used to maintain a mystique around her, how come now her motivations, intent and desires are known to the world?"
At a different level -  as a more social comment, this could be a reference to anything/anyone that was hidden from public before and thus was held in high esteem but has now been exposed to have feet of clay and has thus fallen in stature.

ख़ातिर-तवाज़ो के हैं न असबाब मेरे पास
आते हैं मेरे घर पे ये मेहमान किस लिये

(ख़ातिर-तवाज़ो = to receive with politeness; to entertain; असबाब = means)
Literally translated, it is a lament of a  man about his lack of capacity or willingness to provide for his guests- he would rather not have guests at all. 
A closer look reveals that this could also be the poet's lament with respect to people making claims to his time or having high expectations from him that he finds himself unwilling to meet or sees no reason to meet. 
Another, though less plausible, interpretation is that the poet is stating that generally people give him more credit or consider him far more worthy and capable than he really is.  So the "guests" have expectations that are beyond his "capabilities"  (not desires).

अग़यार के लिये थी उठी आपकी नज़र
जानिब हमारी अब है ये अहसान किस लिये

(अग़यार = strangers; अहसान = favour)
Two possibilities...
"Earlier you used to welcome strangers - considered them closer or gave them more importance,  why have I suddenly become more important for you?  Why is my council suddenly valuable?"  Note that conventionally speaking, every one other than the two people involved romantically are "outsiders" or "strangers" in context of the relationship.
Second meaning is also within the context of the relationship and ties into one partner feeling that the other is letting outsiders in.  Here the comment is more sarcastic saying "If you want to welcome the strangers in, don't try to portray it as if its a favor to me or you are doing it on my behalf too - I plain don't want them here".  May be tied to the general unwillingness to have "guests" as discussed above also.

जिनके लहु के दम से ये मिट्टी बनी है ज़र
इफ़्लास के मारे हैं वो दहक़ान किस लिये

(ज़र = gold; इफ़्लास = poverty; दहक़ान = villagers, peasant)
This is a direct social comment but could be generally applied to mean "Those who do the actual work, do not actually get their due or credit". The literal translation is that why are those farmers bankrupt who have toiled so hard that the barren land has become fertile only on account of their labor (as if its been irrigated with their blood)?  Why have they not reaped the benefit of this fertility?

माना कि तुम्हारा है तिजारत से इल्तिफ़ात
बाज़ार में ले आये हो ईमान किस लिये

(तिजारत = trade; इल्तिफ़ात = to attend to)
This one is relatively straightforward.
I understand that you are by nature fond of trading or bartering (be it favors) but why have you stooped to selling your conscience?

मक़सूद है जो क़त्ल से नज़रों से काम लो
घिसते हो पत्थरों पे ये पैकान किस लिये

(मक़सूद = intention; पैकान = arrow-head)
Now this one appears plain romantic on first glance.  Literal meaning is that "You could kill me with just the look of your eyes, why are you sharpening tips of your tools on the stone".   
On a second look, It appears to be the poet's/poet's imaginary personification's regret at his vulnerability to someone, perhaps a lover.   When translated within that context, one meaning is "If you want to criticise/reprimand me, just non-verbal cues are enough. Why do you have to choose the harshest of words (sharpened tooltips) to express that?"  A slight variation on the same is "You could break my very spirit with just a non-benevolent or disapproving or ridiculing look and that itself is equivalent to death.  Thus there is no need to sharpen the tools to end my physical existence.  Such is your power."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Interpreting My Poem - I

I have been writing for many years now, mostly for my own consumption. One of the reasons why I haven’t shared much of my poetry with others is that I find myself terribly inadequate in explaining or translating my own poems for others. Of course, I can provide the meanings of the difficult words, but explaining the meaning behind them does not come easily to me. Moreover, I feel that poetry needs to be interpreted by the reader. The poet’s intent is nice to know, but finally it is up to the readers to extract the meaning from it. And if I explain everything myself, the fun is lost.

I do realize that this makes my poems quite inaccessible to people. I had no solution to this problem, till Archana Gupta, a facebook friend, volunteered to translate and interpret some of my ghazals. I thought this was a reasonable solution. While it does not completely overcome the problem of experiencing poetry through someone else’s eyes, it is better than hearing it from the poet himself because it is another reader’s interpretation.

So here I present Archana’s interpretation of one of my ghazals. Hope you enjoy it.

The most interesting thing about good poetry is its innate ability to lend itself to multiple interpretations, to have enough depth to allow for the exploration of under the surface meaning and imagery.   A few ash'aar (couplets)of this ghazal also fit that mould rather well.  In some cases below, its the interpretation of "कोई ", that leads to multiple layers.
ये क्या जो लाला-ओ-गुल से तवस्सुल कोई करता है
ख़राश-ए-ख़ार का लेकिन तजाहुल कोई करता है

(तवस्सुल = association; ख़राश-ए-ख़ार = injury caused by a thorn; तजाहुल = ignorance)
When interpreted generally with "कोई" as people, it seems to be a comment, even a complaint about the human tendency to associate with things that are outwardly beautiful and completely ignore that beautiful things do have faults underneath and can cause one pain -  sort of a warning that good in life comes with the bad. 
One could also view the "कोई " as poet himself stating his philosophy or positive approach to life.  Then the meaning becomes "I desire the flowers from the garden (of life) and am willing to purposefully ignore the raze of the thorns (troubles) that come along, rather bear the troubles that come along".   Though the meanings appear the same when viewed casually, the intent is different.  In the second case, the "purposefully turning a blind eye" is then an intent to pay the debts of life to get what one wants.

मुकर्रर है जहाँ में हर ख़ता से मग़फ़िरत का दिन
क़रार-ओ-ताब दिल में रख तहम्मुल कोई करता है

(मुकर्रर = pre-determined; ख़ता = mistake, sin; मग़फ़िरत = absolution, forgiveness; क़रार-ओ-ताब = patience; तहम्मुल = endurance)
Someone is (I am) tolerating (the travails of life) with repose and patience with the belief that the day of salvation is pre-decided and will come regardless.

शिकस्ताहाल रहते हैं ये महव-ए-बुतपरस्ती में
न क्यूँ उश्शाक़ पर नज़र-ए-तफ़ज़्ज़ुल कोई करता है

(शिकस्ताहाल = broken down; महव-ए-बुतपरस्ती = absorbed in worshipping an idol/obeject of desire; उश्शाक़ = lovers; नज़र-ए-तफ़ज़्ज़ुल = look of kindness/benevolence)
Here if one views "कोई " as the lord himself, the sher appears to be a complaint to the Almighty.  "Your followers (lovers/उश्शाक़) are so deeply devoted to you that they forget everything else, yet you don't listen and improve their circumstances". Alternately, it could be viewed as a similar complaint to one's object of desire (but), so now "कोई " is the lover -  in either case, the one worshipped.

Yet another interpretation of the play of words comes about when "कोई" is considered to be the worshipper    -  (When troubled in life) people (कोई) absorb themselves in idol-worship or appeals to the (unseen and unknown entity called)  God  (in hope of finding salvation from their sorrows).  Why do they not seek (and in process provide) solace from (to) their lover or partner in life (when the sorrows are actually shared)?  So here, the change in "कोई" changes, rather offers a completely different interpretation. 

न रूदाद-ए-सितम कोई बयाँ करता असीरी में
बहें अश्क-ए-फ़ुग़ाँ क्यूँकर त-अम्मुल कोई करता है

(रूदाद-ए-सितम = tale of tyranny; असीरी = captivity; अश्क-ए-फ़ुग़ाँ = tears of complaint; त-अम्मुल  = hesitation)
Now this sher is a little different.  Here the "कोई " is the same and is rather unimportant to the meaning.  Its considering the placement of the word "क्यूँकर", that offers the difference in interpretation.

If one considers "क्यूँकर त-अम्मुल कोई करता है" to be one phrase, the meaning appears to be "Why is the captive hesitating in narrating the travails of captivity; he/she should let the tears of complaint show."

However, if one considers "क्यूँकर" to be part of the leading words and "त-अम्मुल कोई करता है"  as the independent phrase, the meaning becomes - "She/He does not describe her problem, nor complains of torture in this relationship.  I am left reflecting (with bewilderment) why does she/he cry and lament then (what is troubling her/him)?"  Here we interpret the captivity to be the relationship with one involved party wondering this about the other one that appears to be quietly unhappy.

है क़िस्मत का सितारा औज पर लेकिन रहेगा डर
ज़मीं पर अर्श से आख़िर तनज़्ज़ुल कोई करता है

(औज = zenith; अर्श = sky; तनज़्ज़ुल = descent, fall)
While my stars are on the zenith (fate is smiling upon me), I remain apprehensive, as its inevitable that those flying high in the seventh heaven would fall to the ground one day.  Here the interpretation considers the poet to be the "कोई"
Those ("कोई") who are enjoying the benevolence of the powers that be, should remain mindful of the fact that times and circumstances change – it’s the law of nature that what goes up must come down
The difference in the two is only in the tone of the she’r...

जो होता है यहाँ दहशतनुमा अक्स-ए-हक़ीक़त भी
है लाज़िम ये कि वा बाब-ए-तख़य्युल कोई करता है

(दहशतनुमा = scary; अक्स-ए-हक़ीक़त = image of reality; लाज़िम = necessary; वा = open; बाब-ए-तख़य्युल = door of imagination)
The realities of life are so frightening (there is so much trouble in reality)  that its reasonable that someone (I) turn to the world of my imagination (to make this life bearable).   Could it be that this is the poet's justification to immerse himself in the world of poetry?  World's reason for indulging in various art forms -  music, drama, films, painting -  all creative arts?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

प्रियतम को निमंत्रण

बरसे घन सारी रात
संग सो जाओ
आओ रे प्रियतम आओ
प्रिय आओ
संग सो जाओ …
नहलाओ साँसों से तन मेरा
शीतल पानी याद आये
सागर नदिया याद आये
शबनम धुला सवेरा
होटों से तपन बुझाओ
प्रियतम आओ
संग सो जाओ …
कुम्हलाया उजियारा मेरे मन में
अँधियारा घिर आया मेरे मन में
क्यों तन सिहरे छाया डोले
क्या तुम आये बाँहे खोले
नींद आई
मधुर समर्पण
अंतिम सिसकी
चुम्बन से चुप कर जाओ
प्रियतम आओ
संग सो जाओ …

प्रथम दृष्टि में इस मुक्त छंद की प्रारंभिक पंक्तियाँ अपने आप में रत्यात्मक प्रतीत होती हैं - श्रृंगार रस से परिपूर्ण. लेकिन यदि आप इस कविता को पूर्ण रूप से समझे और सन्दर्भ के विषय में सोचें तो कुछ और ही दृष्टिगत होता है. और तब आपको शायद ये बात न खले कि इस गीत का भाव शब्दों से विरोधाभास रखता है. यहाँ पर प्रियतम के नाम से किसी और को नहीं, अपितु मृत्यु को सम्बोधित किया जा रहा है. चिरनिद्रा में विलीन होने का उल्लेख किया जा रहा है.

ये गीत कुमार शहानी की फिल्म तरंग से लिया गया है. विख्यात कवि रघुवीर सहाय द्वारा कलमबद्ध ये रौंगटे खड़े कर देना वाला गीत संगीतबद्ध किया है वनराज भाटिया ने और अपनी वाणी प्रदान की है लता मंगेशकर ने. फिल्म में ये गीत तब आता है जब वो महिला किरदार आत्महत्या का विचार कर रही होती है. उस सन्दर्भ में इस गीत का निहितार्थ एक दम सटीक बैठता है.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

One Tune, Many Songs–Raja Jaani/ Radha Rani

One hears a song for the first time, but it sounds extremely familiar. Happens, doesn’t it? You start your exploration till you get your aha! moment. There was after all a reason for that strong feeling of familiarity!

The entire history of Hindi film music is replete with instances where specific tunes or lyrics are repeated in multiple songs. As I explore Hindi film music across decades, many a time I end up making serendipitous discoveries. For me, such discoveries provide a sense of thrill, especially when one finds that such borrowing spans across generations. Let me cite one example, where over a period of time, I discovered 4 songs with pretty much the same tune, spread over more than half a century. The sequence of discovery was quite random for me, but I am presenting it here in chronological order.

1. The year 1934 – early days of Indian talkie.  Dina Nath Madhok directed a movie called Watan Parast, featuring Moti Lal and Rajkumari. Little is known about the music of the film except that it was composed by H. C Bali. One of the songs in that film went:

Raja Jaani Na Maaro Nayanva Ke Teer Re

2. Hindi Film Geet Kosh, the seminal work of Hindi film music by Harminder Singh ‘Hamraaz’, lists another song with the same lyrics in an 1935 film called Dil Ki Pyaas. I haven’t heard that song, so I cannot be sure if Master Nagardas, the composer for that film, used the same tune, but that seems very likely.

3. After almost two decades, this tune and almost the same lyrics made another appearance in Lal Kunwar (1952). The composer this time was Sachin Dev Burman, and the lyrics were credited to Sahir Ludhiyanvi. The lyrics of this Shamshad Begum song were slightly different.

Raja Jaani Laaga Mohe Nainwa Ka Baan Re

4. Another jump of almost two decades and Sahir comes up with another version in Sansar (1971), this time the opening lines being exactly the same as the 1934 version. And it was Chitragupta who borrowed the tune and Krishna Kalle who sang it.

Raja Jaani Na Maaro Nayanva Ke Teer Re

5. It was in the 80s, where we finally heard a version of this tune with completely different lyrics. The film was Sansar (1987). And this version also had a second line in the mukhda that took this song in very different trajectory. The mood of this song was decidedly different from the mujra-like mood of the previous versions. This makes this a curious case of two different films with the same title using the same tune. The credits here belonged to Anand Bakshi for lyrics, Laxmikant Pyarelal for music and Anuradha Paudwal for singing.

Radha Rani Na Jaiyo Ri Jamuna Ke Teer
Gagri ke Badle Tu Nainon Mein Bhar Laayegi Neer

So there you go…. Four (possibly five) film songs, spanning 55 years, but based on the same basic tune. It is highly likely that it is an even older traditional/folk tune that people have been constantly drawing from in films. I will continue to be on the look out for any such information.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

One Phrase, Many Songs: Chhoone Na Doongi….

Some days back on the Facebook music group Sangeet Ke Sitare, we were exploring phrases that have been used in multiple songs over the years. The two-day exploration brought to the fore many such instances - some quite obvious, some not so. I was quite taken up by this ‘theme’ and it continued to consume me for a few more days. And it led to an accidental discovery…

One day while exploring lyricist Hasrat Jaipuri’s filmography, I came across a song he had written for Muzaffar Ali’s Aagaman in the 80s. It was a first time hear for me, but it struck me that I had heard more songs with similar lines. As I dug deeper into my mp3 collection, I realized that there was not one, not two, but at least four other similar songs used in Hindi films from 1947 to 1992.
The lines in question were:
Chhoone na doongi shareer
najariya se jee bhar doongi
1. The very first instance of these lines that I came across was from a 1947 film called Pehla Pyar. Written by Pt. Balam (?) and composed by Premnath, this song was sung by Shamshad Begum and it went…
Choone na doongi shareer balam ji, haan haan balamji
najariyon se jee bhar doongi

2. Next came an Asha Bhosle song from an obscure 1960 film, Captain India. I don’t know who wrote this song, but the composer was Hemant Kedar (Ramakrishna Shinde). The lines were modified very slightly in this song.
Choone na doongi shareer
najariya se jee bhar lo
sapnon ki hoon main tasveer
najariya se jee bhar lo

3. In 1964 appeared the most famous variation of these lines. Hasrat Jaipuri wrote a mujra number composed by Shankar Jaikishan for the film Zindagi. Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle sang these lines:
Chhoone na doongi main haath re
najariyon se jee bhar doongi
baithi rahoongi saari raat re
najariyon se jee bhar doongi

4. Almost two decade later in 1983, came this song that had sent me on this exploration trail. Hasrat Jaipuri again used the same words in what sounds like another mujra number. The song composed by Ghulam Mustafa Khan was for Muzaffar Ali’s Aagaman, and sung by Anuradha Paudwal
Chhoone na doongi sareer
najariyon se dil bhar doongi
tan tan ke maroongi teer
najariyon se dil bhar doongi

5. If you thought, quite logically so, that these lines would be the exclusive preserve of female singers, you couldn’t be more wrong. For Naushad got Hariharan to croon these lines as a thumri in the 1992 film Teri Payal Mere Geet. This time it was Hasan Kamaal who borrowed these words.
Chhoone nahin doongi shareer
najariyon se dil bhar doongi

Given the fact that the exact lines have been used so many time by different lyricists, I am inclined to believe that this could be some traditional thumri. However, I have so far drawn a blank trying to trace that.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Unraveling the Sham’a Parwana Equation

I had written this piece for a post on Sangeet Ke Sitare - a Facebook music group - and later modified it a bit for the Geeta Dutt site. I'm reproducing the piece below:

Kab se mehdood hain ye daa’era-e-ma’ani mein
Sham’a parwane ko thodi si rihaee de do

कब से महदूद हैं ये दा'एरा-ए-म'अनी में
शम'अ परवाने को थोड़ी सी रिहाई दे दो

(Confined within the limits of meaning for so long,
The flame and moth now seek a release)

In the context of Urdu poetry, the metaphor of sham’a parwana (flame and the moth) is old as the hills. It is an imagery borrowed from the Persian tradition. So deeply ingrained has this metaphor become within Urdu poetry, that it is no longer ‘foreign’. At the same time, it has been used (and abused) so often that one could even call it a cliché. It wasn’t only the sham’a parwana metaphor that Maulana Altaaf Hussain Haali, a noted 19th century Urdu critic and poet, had in mind while criticizing the adherence to conventional metaphors and borrowed imagery by contemporary Urdu poetry of his time, but he would have surely thought about it. Of course, there were some great poets who did impart varied flavor to this imagery, despite the fact that it does not lend itself to very many different interpretations. One such unconventional use of this metaphor is by Ghalib, who hasn’t used it very often in his poetry. He wasn’t probably satisfied even with this one, as he finally expunged it while compiling his Diwan for publishing. It is a very unique usage where the poet compares the wings of a moth to the glass-shade of a candle.
Aashiq naqaab-e-jalwa-e-jaanaana chaahiye
Faanoos-e-sham’a ko par-e-parwana chahiye.

आशिक़ नक़ाब-ए-जलवा-ए-जानाँना चाहिए
फानूस-ए-शम'अ को पर-ए-परवाना चाहिए
When it comes to Hindi film songs, the sham’a parwana metaphor has been beaten to death. There has hardly been any exploration beyond the obvious and conventional. And one wouldn’t entirely blame our lyricists for that. Film songs have to be more accessible and conventional imagery is definitely very accessible.

Let us try to explore a few sham'a parwana songs sung by Geeta Dutt.

1. Sham’a and parwana translates to deepak and patang(a) in Hindi. In Ganesh Janma (1951) the poet, Bharat Vyas, presents the contrast of how deepak and patang symbolizing the lovers ‘burn’ together, but the character singing the song is destined to burn along in the absence of her lover. It is the contrast between meeting and separation, visaal and firaaq; milan and virah
Deepak ke sang jalta patang
tere bina piya mora jale ang ang

2) Next, let us look the case of an object of affection expressing pride at the fact that she has multiple prospects vying for her attention. Raja Mehdi Ali Khan’s words were tuned by Bulo C. Rani for Baghdad (1952)

Ek sham'a mehfil mein parwane hazaaron hain
wo naina hoon jiske deewane hazaaron hain


3) Finally, here is a song that tries to give a slightly unconventional twist to this conventional metaphor. Sham’a and parwana are still lovers, but it is not the suicidal parwana that wants to burn in the flame, but a playful, flirtatious lover who is teasing the object of his affection. The song is from the film Ek Armaan Mera (1959), written by Kaif Irfani, composed by S. D Batish and sung by Geeta Dutt.

Aa ke sham’a ke qareeb jo parwana palat jaye
To ye sham’a ke parwane ka kitna sitam … haaye kitna sitam


P.S. - There are hundreds of songs using the sham'a parwana metaphor and it is an impossible task to analyze each of them. The intent here was just to take a few songs at random...