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...