Thursday, November 20, 2014

Some Company, Finally

This piece first appeared here on Outlook online version.


It is interesting how a regular occurrence in one’s life can make one become a part of a truly rare and unique event.

नहीं कुछ भी था ख़ास उस रोज़ लेकिन
ख़बर क्या थी दिन फिर न ऐसा उगेगा

Flashback January 19, 1992: The India International Film Festival is in full swing at Bangalore. As part of the Indian Panorama section, several Indian films are being screened at various theatres. I am keen to watch a few, but haven’t firmed up my mind as my college is on the outskirts of the city and one has to change several buses to reach the Majestic area where most of the films are being shown, not to mention the huge academic pressure week after week. Finally, I choose one film for two reasons – one, it is being screened on a Sunday, and secondly, I am in awe of the filmmaker. Now the tougher part – finding company. I ask several of my film buff friends, but there’s not one soul willing to sacrifice a relaxing Sunday afternoon ahead of a grueling academic week, that too for a film that is most definitely of the serious kind. Failing to convince anyone to come along, I venture alone. A series of long bus rides later, I reach the theatre – a small, dilapidated one among many other similar theatres in the area. As the scenes unfold on the screen I find myself enjoying the film – totally the kind one would from the director. Some of the scenes are really powerful, the acting uniformly good and the songs a treat for the ears. The film ends, I am convinced that I made the right choice, and I am back in the hostel preparing for another taxing week of assignments and quizzes …

What I didn’t realize at that time, and not even for many more years after that, was that I had been part of a very rare event. The film that I saw would never come to the public view again for a very long time, and I would be one of the 100 odd people lucky enough to have watched it. Nothing would have indicated to me at that time that this film would be one of the most talked about films in the future, with people dying to get an opportunity to catch a glimpse of it.

Gulzar’s Libaas. That was the film I saw on that Sunday afternoon. And the screening that I witnessed was probably the only public screening that ever happened of that film.

Till now.

Now that I hear that another screening of the film will take place later this month at the India International Film Festival at Goa, I realize that the sense of exclusivity that I had enjoyed so far among the people I know, would soon go away. But I also feel happy that I finally have some company.

खड़े थे जहाँ मुद्दतों से अकेले
सुना है वहाँ आज जमघट लगेगा

P.S: The film finally found some more viewers at the IFFI at Goa on November 22, 2014. Here’s a clip of a brief interaction with Gulzar before the screening. As I see it, I can’t help but think again how lucky I was!

IFFI Goa 2014 – Gulzar speaking at the start of the screening of Libaas, which opened a retrospective of his films

Friday, April 25, 2014

Husnlal-Bhagatram - The ‘First’ Composer Duo

This article was written as part of the ‘Guzra Hua Zamana’ series on Sangeet Ke Sitare, a music group on Facebook

Husnlal Bhagatram

A pre-pubescent boy plays the violin, while a man cries his heart out on stage singing ‘ae dil mujhe rone de’…

The same boy narrates a tale of ill-fated lovers as he plays a harmonium hanging around his neck and lip-syncs to the voice of his real-life sibling - ‘do dilon ko ye duniya milne hi nahin deti’…

This boy, in a peculiar way, symbolizes two brothers who made their debut in this very film ‘Chaand’ (1944). One, an expert violinist and an accomplished classical singer, while the other, a talented harmonium player. We’re talking about the first popular music composer duo of the Hindi film industry – Husnlal-Bhagatram.

Brothers of composer Pt. Amarnath, Husnlal and Bhagatram made their debut as music composers with Prabhat Film Company’s ‘Chaand’ (1944). Thus began a career that saw a meteoric rise and, sadly, a dramatic fall as well.

Bhagatram and Husnlal were born in Jalandhar district in 1914 and 1920 respectively. In the early years they learnt music from their elder brother Pt. Amarnath, and later underwent formal training in classical music from Pt. Dilip Chandra Vedi of Jalandhar. Husnlal went on to learn violin from Ustaad Basheer Khan. It was this rigorous training that made violin such an important part of their compositions, right from their first film ‘Chaand’, where violin played a very prominent role in the background score as well. Most of the time Husnlal would play the violin solos in their compositions himself.

Before the brothers joined hands to compose as a duo, Bhagatram had already composed for around 9 films in 1939-40, either solo, or sharing credit with composers like Ramgopal Pande and Madhulal Master. None of these films met with much success and he had to wait for some years before tasting success with his brother.

Husnlal-Bhagatram emerged on the scene at a time when the Punjabi school of rhythm-based music had gained foothold in the Hindi film industry with the growing popularity of the works of masters like Ghulam Haider. They exploited this opportunity to the fullest with their brand of simple, hummable tunes embellished with pacey rhythm.

Following the success of the music of ‘Chaand’, Prabhat Film Company commissioned the brothers again to compose for their next feature ‘Hum Ek Hain’ (1946), a topical film based on National integration. The film marked the debuts of Dev Anand and Rehman as actors and Guru Dutt as a choreographer. It also featured Husnlal’s voice as a singer for the first time in a duet with Amir Bai Karnataki. The songs of this film were in a template similar to the ones from ‘Chaand’, a style that would soon develop into an easily identifiable Husnlal-Bhagatram style.

They continued to get a small number of assignments in the following years, including Noor Jehan’s ‘Mirza Sahiban’ (1947), which they got associated with when their elder brother Pt. Amarnath fell ill during the making of the film and eventually passed away. It was with ‘Pyar Ki Jeet’ (1948) that the brothers truly came on their own and began their rapid ascent in the industry. Suraiya’s ‘tere nainon ne chori kiya’, ‘o door jaane waale’, and Rafi’s ‘ik dil ke tukde hazaar hue’ from this film became immensely popular and are remembered to this day.

Ik DIl Ke Tukde Hazaar Hue - Pyar Ki Jeet (1948) - Mohd. Rafi - Husnlal-Bhagatram - Qamar Jalalabadi

With ‘Pyar Ka Jeet’ and ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ in 1948 started a mutually beneficial collaboration between Suraiya and Husnlal-Bhagatram. Suraiya sang more songs for them than any other composer, while she was second only to Lata Mangeshkar in terms of number of songs sung by any female singer for Husnlal-Bhagatram. Suraiya lent her voice to around 58 songs composed by Husnlal-Bhagatram for 9 films (not counting 6 songs that were used both in ‘Amar Kahani’ and ‘Kanchan’).

Soon after Mahatama Gandhi’s death in 1948, Husnlal-Bhagatram teamed up with Rajinder Krishan and Mohd. Rafi to compose a multi-part song - ‘suno suno se duniyawalo baapu ke ye amar kahani’. The song became extremely popular due to it topicality and an instantly hummable tune, which admittedly tends to sound a bit monotonous due to its length.

Suno Suno Ae Duniyawalo - Non-film (1948) - Mohd. Rafi - Husnlal-Bhagatram - Rajinder Krishan

The years 1949 and 1950 were the most successful years for Husnlal-Bhagatram. Not only did they compose for as 19 films during these two years, many of their songs climbed the popularity charts with regularity. Their biggest hit during this period was probably ‘Badi Behen’. ‘Chup chup khade ho’, sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Premlata in this film would surely count among the most well-known songs of the duo and can even be called their signature song. The soundtrack was studded with numerous other gems by Suraiya and Lata. In the same year Husnlal-Bhagatram brought together their favorite female singers in two duets in ‘Balam’, and repeated the feat a few years later with another duet in ‘Sanam’ (1951).

Duniyawalo Mujhe Batao - Balam (1949) - Lata Mangeshkar & Suraiya - Husnlal Bhagatram - Qamar Jalalabadi

Husnlal-Bhagatram worked with a variety of singers, but as was the norm of that period, their female solos and duets far outnumber male solos. Apart from Lata Mangeshkar and Suraiya, their top two singers in terms of number of songs, they also worked with other major singers of that period starting from Zeenat Begum, Zohrabai Ambalewali, Amirbai Karnataki, Paro, etc. in the early phase, to Geeta Dutt, Shamshad Begum & Meena Kapoor at their peak, to Asha Bhosle and Suman Kalyanpur during the last phase of their career. At the same time, they also employed the voices of other female singers like Rajkumari, Surinder Kaur, Meena Mageshkar, Madhubala Jhaveri, Nirmala Devi, etc., although usually as a one-off case. Among male singers, they did the most work with Mohd. Rafi, followed by G. M Durrani and Talat Mahmood. Their usage of singers like Mukesh, Manna Dey and Kishore Kumar was extremely limited. They even made Khayyam sing a duet with Zohrabai in ‘Romeo & Juliet’ (1946) when Khayyam was working under them, and towards the end of their career they roped in Purushottam Das Jalota for a song in ‘Shaheed Bhagat Singh’ (1963).

No discussion about Husnlal-Bhagatram can be complete without talking about their partnership with Lata Mangeshkar. It was the 1949-1950 period that saw the beginning of Lata Mangeshkar’s dominance among female singers in Hindi films. Many music directors of that period had an important role to play in honing her talent and Husnlal-Bhagatram’s contribution cannot be overestimated. Around 105 songs in 29 films over a period of 8 years is quite a significant output. One can find all possible moods in the songs they created for Lata Mangeshkar - melancholy in ‘dil hi to hai tadap gaya’ (Aadhi Raat, 1950), youthful romance in ‘khushiyon ke din manaye ja’ (Afsana, 1951), thrill of first love in ‘aaj laila ko majnun ka pyar mila’ (Adl-e-Jehangir, 1955), the fear of separation in the Pahadi-infused duet ‘sun mere saajna’ (Aansoo, 1953), purity of motherly love in ‘aankhon ka tara’ (Aansoo, 1953), dejection in ‘lut gayi ummeedon ki duniya’ (Jal Tarang, 1949), playful banter in ‘mori bhabhi ke gaal gulaabi’ (Raakhi, 1949), complaint to the almighty in ‘zamane bhar ko hansane wale’… the list can go on and on.

Aankhon Ka Tara - Aansoo (1953) - Lata Mangeshkar - Husnlal Bhagatram - Qamar Jalalabadi

Their most lasting partnership with any person in the film industry was with lyricist Qamar Jalalabadi. From their first film ‘Chaand’ (1944) to ‘Shaheed Bhagat Singh’ (1963), they created close to 160 songs in 24 films. Their work together captures almost every possible genre and mood one comes across in Hindi film songs – romantic, sad, frivolous, motherly love, devotional, patriotic, qawwali, ghazal, and so on. The other prominent lyricists they worked with include Rajinder Krishan, Sarshar Sailani, Mulkraj Bhakri, and Majrooh Sultanpuri.

While analyzing the composing style of Husnlal-Bhagatram in his book “Hindi Film Song: Music Beyond Boundaries”, Ashok Ranade says, “The duo is fond of fast pace and it is actualized mainly through dholak and employment of atonal drums such as matka or idiophones such as ghunghroo, etc.” He goes on to add that the essence of their style is “that the rhythmic pulse is quickly, unambiguously and immediately established.” One wouldn’t say that this is something unique to them, as many composers have followed this strategy, but they surely seem very fond of it. Another aspect of their composing style in Ashok Ranade’s words is that “they make a musical statement which consists of successive song-lines with a descending and repetitive tonal contours”, which “appears to resolve the melody into completeness and it seems easier to remember” and “very few notes are used in those lines”. One of the adjectives that Ashok Ranade uses more than once while describing their style is ‘bright’, even for sad songs. He wonders if brightness was their “main and stabilized mood” as is evident in their melodic phrasing and choice of instruments and orchestration. Think ‘do dilon ko ye duniya’, ‘chup chup khade ho’, ‘chale jana nahin’, ‘wo paas rahen ya door’, ‘ik dil ke tukde’, ‘o door jaane waale’, ‘tere nainon ne chori kiya’, ‘gori gori chandni hai’ or any of the more popular songs, the ‘brightness’ will shine through and the above described composing style will be abundantly evident.

One style feature that makes many of Husnlal-Bhagatram’s fast-paced songs catchy and instantly likeable is their tendency to punctuate the melody lines with very short and catchy orchestral phrases as a trigger for repetition of words or line, or by inserting short pauses at the end of a mukhda or antara before the rhythm moves forward. There are many examples to illustrate this point but I would pick two songs that to my mind can be easily identified as Husnlal-Bhagatram creations. The first example is Suraiya’s popular ‘tere nainon ne chori kiya’ from ‘Pyar Ki Jeet (1948). The pause after ‘tere nainon ne’ is filled with a brief flute piece that becomes such an integral part of the tune that if you try humming the tune, that flute piece would instantly play in your mind.

Tere Nainon Ne Chori Kiya - Pyar Ki Jeet (1948) - Suraiya - Husnlal Bhagatram - Rajinder Krishan

The other song that I would use as an example is Lata’s ‘tum dil ko tod doge’ from ‘Farmaaish’ (1953). The prelude itself is enough for one to identify it as their creation, but let’s look at the rest of the composition. The first line is broken right at the middle and filled with a music piece, then at the end of the line comes another music piece before the line is repeated in exactly the same manner. In the antaras, a similar approach is followed, although the musical punctuation is used at the end of each line and a lovely pause is introduced at the end of the cross-line.

Tum DIl Ko Tod Doge - Farmaaish (1953) - Lata Mangeshkar - Husnlal Bhagatram - Qamar Jalalabadi

Husnlal-Bhagatram are often accused of being repetitive in their approach. In “Dhunon Ki Yatra” Pankaj Raag says, “It has to be agreed that there wasn’t much variation in their style and their obsession with Punjabi Pahadi or Punjabi Kaafi often made their style repetitive.” Ashok Ranade has also not credited Husnlal-Bhagatram with much innovation or path breaking approach, but he does say that “they served a kind of historical role. Apart from firming up the idea of a composing pair, their work during the early phase of the later modern period built a bridge between early, theatre-oriented, raaga-heavy music and the film music which looked to new composing formulae, new tonal colours and virtuoso voices demanding ambitious music that afforded them a performing scope”.

While it is true that many of their songs sound alike, but their repertoire needs more exploration to dispel this theory. They have more variety in their creations than they are credited for, especially in their early and later phases. This could probably because of the fact that their more popular numbers from their peak (1948-1951) tend to have a similar template. One does see a gradual movement away from their trademark style starting with 1952-3, which ironically marks the beginning of their declining years. The songs from that period may be less popular but present a refreshing change in Husnlal-Bhagatram’s music style, both in terms of orchestral flourish as well as wider spread-out melodies.

Mast Hai Apne Aap Mein - Apsara (1961) - Asha Bhosle - Husnlal Bhagatram - Qamar Jalalabadi

After the dizzying heights they reached in 1949-50, success slowly started eluding Husnlal-Bhagatram. Despite good soundtracks like ‘Afsana’ (1951), ‘Raja Harishchandra’ (1952), ‘Aansoo’ (1953), ‘Shama Parwana’ (1954) and ‘Adl-e-Jehangir’ (1955), they had to remain content with a handful of films with B-list producers. New composers like Shankar Jaikishan (Shankar was closely associated with them in his early days and one could say that early SJ music had reflections of the HB style) and later O.P Nayyar created unassailable positions for themselves in the industry, while some of their seniors and contemporaries like Naushad, C. Ramchandra, etc. held strongly to their positions. Lack of support from successful producers and actors probably added to their woes. The film company that they worked the most with – Famous Pictures – too underwent dwindling fortunes in the 50s. However, director D. D Kashyap, who worked with them in their very first film, remained loyal to them and went on to use their service in 6 films over a span of 12 years. Towards the 60s, they had to be content with a handful of C-grade films like ‘Tarzan & Circus’ (1965) and ‘Sher Afghan’ (1966).

Disillusioned with the ways of the film industry, Husnlal moved to Delhi where he started teaching music and performed off and on at concerts and gatherings. Listening to a few clips of his classical singing and violin recital from that period, one wonders what turn his luck would have taken had he pursued a career in classical music instead of getting mired in the fickleness of the film industry. Bhagatram remained in Bombay, but the only work that came his way was as an instrumentalist in the orchestra of other composers. Husnlal passed away in 1968 while on a morning walk. His brother followed him in 1973. Their family legacy is being carried forward by Bhagatram’s son Ashok Sharma, a noted sitar player, and his wife Zarin Daruwala Sharma.

Violin Recital by Pt. Husnlal (Raag Piloo)
Classical Vocal by Pt. Husnlal (Raag Yaman)

Husnlal-Bhagatram Filmography

  1. Chaand (1944)
  2. Hum Ek Hain (1946)
  3. Nargis (1946)
  4. Heera (1947)
  5. Mirza Sahiban (1947) – with Pt. Amarnath
  6. Mohan (1947)
  7. Romeo & Juliet (1947)
  8. Aaj Ki Raat (1948)
  9. Lakhpati (1948)
  10. Pyar Ki Jeet (1948)
  11. Amar Kahani (1949)
  12. Badi Behen (1949)
  13. Balam (1949)
  14. Bansuriya (1949)
  15. Bazaar (1949) – with Shyam Sundar
  16. Hamari Manzil (1949)
  17. Jal Tarang (1949)
  18. Naach (1949)
  19. Raakhi (1949)
  20. Sawan Bhadon (1949)
  21. Aadhi Raat (1950)
  22. Apni Chhaya (1950)
  23. Birha Ki Raat (1950)
  24. Chhoti Bhabhi (1950)
  25. Gauna (1950)
  26. Meena Bazar (1950)
  27. Pyar Ki Manzil (1950)
  28. Sartaj (1950)
  29. Surajmukhi (1950)
  30. Afsana (1951)
  31. Sanam (1951)
  32. Shagun (1951) – with Sardul Kwatra
  33. Stage (1951) – with Sardar Malik
  34. Kafila (1952) – with Bhola Shreshtha
  35. Raja Harishchandra (1952)
  36. Aansoo (1953)
  37. Farmaaish (1953)
  38. Shah Ji (Punjabi) (1954)
  39. Shama Parwana (1954)
  40. Adl-e-Jehangir (1955)
  41. Kanchan (1955)
  42. Aan Baan (1956)
  43. Mr. Chakram (1956)
  44. Dushman (1957)
  45. Jannat (1957)
  46. Krishna Sudama (1957)
  47. Trolley Driver (1958)
  48. Apsara (1961)
  49. Shaheed Bhagat Singh (1963)
  50. Main Jatti Punjab Di (Punjabi) (1964)
  51. Sapni (Punjabi) (1965)
  52. Tarzan And Circus (1965)
  53. Sher Afghan (1966)
  54. Bambi (Unreleased) (1940s)
  55. Kya Baat Hai (Unreleased) (1950s)

Bhagatram Filmography

  1. Bahadur Ramesh (1939)
  2. Bhedi Kumar (1939)
  3. Chashmawali (939)
  4. Deepak Mahal (1940) - with Ramgopal Pande
  5. Hamara Desh (1940)
  6. Hatimtai Ki Beti (1940) - with Madhulal Master
  7. Sandesha (1940)
  8. Tatar Ka Chor (1940) - with Ramgopal Pande

  1. Hindi Film Song: Music Beyond Boundaries by Ashok Da. Ranade
  2. Dhunon Ki Yatra by Pankaj Raag

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Muhafiz - Faiz in Bhopal

When Ismail Merchant decided to make his directorial debut, it was his love for Urdu poetry and a strong connection with his Indian roots that probably made him choose Anita Desai’s In Custody as the book to base his film on. For the role of the old, once famous poet, Noor Shahjahanabadi, who metaphorically represented the declining state of the Urdu language in India, he made a seemingly unlikely choice – Shashi Kapoor. At that time, it was tough for me to imagine the suave charmer I remembered him as (Utsav's lecherous Sansthanak notwithstanding), doing justice to that role. But all my apprehensions came to a naught when I saw the film. So well had Shashi Kapoor ensconced himself under the skin of the character, that it was tough to imagine any other actor of that time doing as much justice to the role. Even his physicality added a dimension to his portrayal of the role. Noor was Shashi Kapoor, Shashi Kapoor was Noor.

Quoting Caryn James’ review in the New York Times –

“Lying on his side in a narrow bed is a corpulent, aging Indian poet named Nur. He is a curiously imposing figure, even with his back to the camera, and provides what may be the greatest role in the long career of Shashi Kapoor. Almost 30 years ago, Mr. Kapoor was the slender, handsome youth in the early Merchant-Ivory film ‘Shakespeare Wallah’, and more recently the outraged father in Stephen Frears's ‘Sammy and Rosie Get Laid’. In Ismail Merchant's rich and enticing ‘In Custody’, Mr. Kapoor turns Nur into a present-day Balzac: fierce and wise, yet with all the signs of having lived a little too well."

Apart from a solid supporting cast, Ismail Merchant’s masterstroke was to use poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz as the soul of the film. All the nazms and ghazals used in the film, barring one, were Faiz’s published work. Interestingly, the review quoted above cites the use of poetry as a flaw in the film, but that’s only because it is impossible for a western viewer to appreciate the nuances of Urdu poetry through translations.

Muhafiz (In Custody, 1994) had some great music by Ustad Zakir Hussain and Ustad Sultan Khan. The film opens with Shashi Kapoor’s voice reciting the nazm Aaj Ik Harf Ko, followed by Suresh Wadkar singing it.

आज इक हर्फ़ को फिर ढूँढता फिरता है ख़याल
मधभरा हर्फ़ कोई ज़हर भरा हर्फ़ कोई
दिलनशीं हर्फ़ कोई क़हर भरा हर्फ़ कोई
आज इक हर्फ़ को फिर ढूँढता फिरता है ख़याल ...

हर्फ़-ए-उलफत कोई दिलदार-ए-नज़र हो जैसे
जिससे मिलती है नज़र बोसा-ए-लब की सूरत
इतना रौशन कि सर-ए-मौजा-ए-ज़र हो जैसे
सोहबत-ए-यार में आगाज़-ए-तरब की सूरत
हर्फ़-ए-नफरत कोई शमशीर-ए- ग़ज़ब हो जैसे
आज इक हर्फ़ को फिर ढूँढता फिरता है ख़याल ...

ता-बद शहर-ए-सितम जिससे तबाह हो जाएँ
इतना तारीक कि शमशान की शब हो जैसे
लब पे लाऊँ तो मेरे होंट सियाह हो जाएँ
आज इक हर्फ़ को फिर ढूँढता फिरता है ख़याल ...


Aaj Ik Harf Ko - Muhafiz (In Custody) - Shashi Kapoor & Suresh Wadkar - Ustad Zakir Hussain & Ustad Sultan Khan - Faiz Ahmed Faiz

The Taj-ul-Masajid in Bhopal is one of the largest mosques in Asia. The distinctive three domes and two tall minarets overlooking a lake make this a prominent landmark of the city. The construction of the mosque started sometime in the mid-19th century, but had to be called off for paucity of funds after 1957. Construction resumed only in 1971 and was finally completed in 1985.

Since the city of Bhopal formed the backdrop of the film it was obvious that Taj-ul-Masajid would have a role to play. One of Faiz’s more famous nazms was again used to great effect in the final moments of the film when the poet dies leaving behind his poetic legacy in custody of the professor/journalist character played by Om Puri. The Taj-ul-Masajid featured prominently during this scene in a single long shot towards the end that lasted for almost a minute. The ‘crown among mosques’ was not merely a backdrop, but a significant character during this scene – someone silently overlooking the end of a legacy, but with an assurance that the legacy would not be forgotten as long as it stands there as a reminder.

चश्म-ए-नम  जान-ए-शोरीदा काफ़ी नहीं
तोहमत-ए-इश्क़-ए-पोशीदा काफी नहीं
आज बाज़ार में पा ब-जौलाँ चलो

दस्त-अफ़शाँ चलो मस्त-ओ-रक़साँ चलो
ख़ाक-बर-सर चलो ख़ूँ-ब-दामाँ चलो
राह तकता है सब शहर-ए-जानाँ चलो

हाकिम-ए-शहर भी मजमा-ए-आम भी
तीर-ए-इलज़ाम भी संग-ए-दुश्नाम भी
सुब्ह-ए-नाशाद भी रोज़-ए-नाकाम भी

इनका दमसाज़ अपने सिवा कौन है
शहर-ए-जानाँ में अब बा-सफ़ा कौन है
दस्त-ए-क़ातिल के शायाँ रहा कौन है

रख़्त-ए-दिल बाँध लो दिलफ़िगारो चलो
फिर हमीं क़त्ल हो आएँ यारो चलो
आज बाज़ार में पा ब-जौलाँ चलो

Aaaj Baazaar Mein - Muhafiz (In Custody) - Hariharan - Ustad Zakir Hussain & Ustad Sultan Khan - Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Sunday, March 23, 2014

My Book of Poems

Book Cover_small

What began with a few clumsy attempts at rhyme and amateurish versification of words, took shape with the desire to explore the nuances of language from the works of masters, and flourished with the sustained quest for understanding the rules and techniques of the art, has finally found fruition in the form of a book. The ‘Urge to Fly’ has expressed itself.

After some deliberation, I went the self-publishing route to publish my collection of poems - Khwaahish-e-Parwaaz. It took me roughly one month from the time I decided to get my poems published till the book was finally available for public. I thoroughly enjoyed this entire process, which included (apart from the routine work of formatting, proofing, etc.) some significant re-writing and a choice of a takhallus (pen-name). Once I had decided to opt for a takhallus (something I hadn’t seriously considered at all so far), the choice of an apt one came in a matter of minutes. I finally decided to call myself Naaqid (critic).

So now, my book is available for buying for those interested at the following places:

  1. India (
  2. US (Createspace eStore) :
  3. Amazon US:
  4. Amazon UK:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Remembering N. Dutta

This piece is written by Shankar Iyer. It first appeared as part of the Guzra Hua Zamana series on Sangeet Ke Sitare, a music group on Facebook.

n dutta 1

Many of us brought up on radio listening would have often heard the song “Maine chand aur sitaron ki tamanna” in our young days. I do not know if it is true with the others, but the soft romantic Rafi number has remained in my heart ever since I first heard it......though sadly without knowing for many years who its composer was.

Thanks to our lovely Sangeet Ke Sitare (SKS) FB group and dear friend Aditya Pant who offered me this opportunity to write on the song’s creator, I began the journey of discovering N Dutta and his forgotten music. Well, I always knew his genius and ability to create simple heart-touching tunes, but this unearthing trip has made that conviction much stronger.

N Dutta (Dutta Naik) was born in 1930 in Oroba village in Goa. The lure of music got him to run away from family and come to Bombay at the young age of 12. He learnt classical music in Bombay and started his music career as assistant to veteran composer Ghulam Haider when the latter worked for Bombay Talkies and Filmistan. As Haider saab moved to Pakistan after partition, N Dutta joined as assistant to composer S D Burman.

It is believed that senior Burman spotted his talent at the various street music programs that Dutta played in. The films Dutta assisted Burman in the music making were in the early 50s: “Bahaar”, “Buzdil”, “Ek Nazar”, “Sazaa”, “Jaal”, “Lal Kunwar”, “Jeevan Jyoti”, “Shahenshah”, “Angaarey”, “Chalis Baba Ek Chor” and “Radhakrishna”. With this vast range of experience and association with a knowledgeable stalwart, the protégé surely benefitted as producers working with senior Burman began to notice his flair and talent.

Milap 1955N Dutta’s foray as an independent composer was with the Punjabi movie “Baalo” in 1951. His first Hindi movie was “Milap” in 1955 under the Film Arts banner. The film’s producer T R Fatehchand who earlier produced “Jaal” (directed by Guru Dutt) in 1952 was impressed the way N Dutta handled and contributed to the movie’s Goan - based story and background while assisting S D Burman. That is what clinched this assignment in Dutta’s favour. And coincidentally, the film’s director was Raj Khosla, who hailed from the Guru Dutt School of film-making!

Dutta showed his class right away on debut with some memorable songs involving Lata Mangeshkar (“Yeh bahaaron ka sama” & “Dard ka saaz bhi hai”), Geeta Dutt (“Hum se bhi kar lo”, “Jaate ho toh jaao”, “chahe bhi jo dil jaana” and her duet with Rafi “Bachna zara ye zamana hai bura”) and Hemant Kumar (haunting tandem version of “Yeh bahaaron ka sama” with a descending end to the mukhda). The vibes clearly showed how gifted N Dutta was. The film’s music lent a purposefully powerful feel to suit the mystery tale. N Dutta, the composer, had arrived!

The next two movies happened reasonably quickly thanks to G P Sippy who had produced “Shahenshah” (53) and “Radhakrishna” (54) with S D Burman’s music. They were “Marine Drive” with actors Bina Rai and Ajit in the lead, released in 1955 and “Chandrakaanta” with Bina Rai (again!) and Bharat Bhushan, released in 1956. The spark that N Dutta showed in “Milap” continued with some extremely melodious tunes in these movies. “Marine Drive” had some stunning Asha Bhosle solos like “Aji hum aur tum”, “Raat sunsaan hai zindagi veeran hai” and “Dil bhi mit jaaye”. The singer -composer affiliation had begun to build and a long partnership was in the offing.

The score’s brownie points were, however, its bewitching Lata and Rafi solos. “Apne khayalaon ko samjha dijiye, kyon raaton ko neend churane aate hain” picturised on the attractive Bina Rai saw Lata in vintage form. The subtle acceleration of percussion done at the point of “churane aate hain” spoke volumes of N Dutta’s ability to get to the nuances. And it seemed perfect foil to Sahir’s romantic writing that sounded all the more aesthetic and elegant. Rafi’s “Ab wo karam karein ke sitam main nashe mein hoon” so minutely and precisely brought out the frustration of a forlorn lover. The gentle composition and the almost-muted, though evocative, Accordion playing and singing continue to stay in our mind forever.

Apne Khayalon Ko Samjha Dijiye - Marine Drive (1955) - Lata Mangeshkar - N. Dutta - Sahir Ludhiyanvi

“Chandrakaanta” in 1956 had Rafi’s “Maine chand aur sitaron ki tamanna” that I mentioned at the start of this article. The lovingly created tune ensures to radiate through every syllable uttered (Rafi) and every word written (Sahir). A couple of solos by Asha in the movie : “Mast hokar zara jhoom le” and “Qismat agar hai saath tumhare” too remained in public memory for some time as did her duet with Rafi “Jee chahta hai aaj kahin door”. The same year (1956) also saw another Dutta score “Dassehra” that had the soulful Pradeep written and sung “Doosron ka dukhda door karne waale”.

Maine Chaand Aur Sitaron Ki - Chandrakanta (1956) - Mohd. Rafi - N. Dutta - Sahir Ludhiyanvi

Year 1957 was noteworthy for two films : “Hum Panchhi Ek Daal Ke” that won the Prime Minister’shpedk poster award for the best Children’s film with the P L Santoshi written “Ek se bhale do, do se bhale char” (Asha, chorus) and the memorable “Mr. X” (another G P Sippy production). “Laal laal gaal jaan pe hain laagu” (Rafi), an out-and-out rock and roll number with its key instruments the Drums and Accordion, made real waves during the times. Though it is said to have been inspired from Elvis Presley’s “Rock rock rock pretty baby rock”, the rhythm-based composition lent another colour and shine to Dutta’s music. Legend goes that Ashok Kumar, the movie’s actor, while watching the movie’s first trial show, had predicted the movie’s success to this rollicking Rafi number. And the forecast did come true when crowds thronged to see the Johnny Walker picturised song on the movie’s release.

A perfect contrast to the racy “Laal laal gaal” in “Mr.X” was Asha’s “Kitna haseen hai sama”, sung in a dreamy voice and pleasantly magical mood. The song remains one of my utter favourites. Last but not the least, how can one forget the bubbly “Sadqe teri chaal ke, kajra vajra daal ke” (Rafi, Geeta) picturised on Johnny Walker and Sheila Vaz. It is another matter that, in fact, it so much reminds you of the one-year later released “O dilwale ab teri gali taka a pahunche” (“Kaala Pani”, S D Burman)!

The next year (1958) saw N Dutta teaming up with B R Chopra for “Sadhna”. The score remains a landmark in Hindi films, especially for its hard-hitting Sahir poetry “Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko, mardon ne use bazaar diya”. The tune and singing are so very poignant that one can’t avoid getting moved. Every other song of the film too has its own charm. Vyjayanthimala plays a courtesan in the film and that obviously meant some great dance sequences and great music. In Lata’s “Kahoji Tum Kya Kya Kharidoge” the mujra flavour emphatically comes out, what with the deftly played Tabla and accompanying rhythm changes. “Aaj Kyon Hamse Parda Hai” by Rafi and Balbir is a milestone Hindi Film Music (HFM) Qawwali that has inspired many. And one can feel the S D phrasing style and flavour in “Sambhal aye dil” (Asha, Rafi) and “Tora manva kyon ghabraye” (fascinating voice of Geeta Dutt).

Tora Manwa Kyun Ghabraye - Sadhna (1958) - Geeta Dutt - N. Dutta - Sahir Ludhiyanvi

Light House“Light House” in 1958 (again a G P Sippy movie) had Asha Bhosle further blossoming in the Dutta camp with gems like “Tang aa chuke”, “Kis jagah jaayein”, and “Nainon se naina laage”. The pain as she sings “Tang aa chuke hain kashmakash-e-zindagi se ham, thukraa na den jahaan ko kahin bedili se ham” comes out so vehemently that one is able to easily relate to the anguish deep inside. Sure triumph for the singer, song-writer Sahir and of course the special baton of N Dutta.

“Light House”, for me, cannot go without the mention of the peppy “Gumba rumba gumba rumba gumba rumba ghelo” by Suman and Rafi. While the energy and singing are overpowering, Sahir adds real meat with words like “Custom, vustom, culture, vulture sab ko goli maaro”. And cleverly blended with it are the sensuously rendered Suman Kalyanpur preludes to the antaras: “Aa tujhe kasam hai, tujhe kasam hai, pyaar jahaan ka gham hai” and “Aa nazarein hai jawaan, nazarein hai jawaan, toh hum hai kahaan”. Though the pleasurable rendering reminds you of Lata’s “Aa palkon pe aa” (“Madbhare Nain”, 1955), the composer’s sheer genius in creating it cannot be overstated.

Gumba Rumba Gelo - Light House (1958) - Mohd. Rafi & Suman Kalyanpur - N. Dutta - Sahir Ludhiyanvi

Year 1959 perhaps saw N Dutta peaking as a composer. We talk of B R Chopra’s “Dhool Ka Phool” first, easily rated as one of N Dutta’s best by music lovers and critics. Dutta touched new highs, shouldered as he was mostly, by Sahir’s terrific poetry. “Tere pyaar ka aasra chahta hoon” (Lata, Mahendra Kapoor), “Dhadakne lagi dil ke taaron ki duniya” (Asha, Mahendra Kapoor) and my super favourite “Jhukti ghata gaati hawa sapne jagaaye” (Asha) can all race together for the number one romantic song spot! Rafi’s high octave winner “Daman mein daag laga baithe” and sensitively rendered national integrity hit “Tu hindu banega na musalmaan banega” take the score to a different level altogether. And to nicely round off were the lady solos “Tu mere pyaar ka phool hai” (Lata) and “Kaase kahoon man ki baat” (Sudha). “Dhool Ka Phool” remains one of the highly regarded scores and a prized possession for HFM collectors and listeners.

Dhadkne Lagi Dil Ke Taaron Ki Duniya - Dhool Ka Phool (1959) - Asha Bhosle & Mahendra Kapoor - N. Dutta - Sahir Ludhiyanvi

G P Sippy’s “Black Cat”, released in the same year, featuring Balraj Sahni and Minoo Mumtaz is black catanother one of Dutta’s feathers in his cap. Both the Lata versions of the song “Main tumhi se poochti hoon” are from another planet. While the faster version is romance to the core, the slower version with Lata’s extra-ordinary emoting to the eloquently played supportive Piano is the one I cherish more. The other Lata solo is brilliant too: “Sitare raah takte hain”. Its heart-rending Mandolin at the start gives me goose bumps every time I listen to it! Of course, adding variety to the score is “Nashe mein hum, nashe mein tum” (Rafi and Suman who does a Geeta Dutt!). Overall, a mind-blowing score!

Another G P Sippy film in the same year “Bhai bahen” gave a Sudha Malhotra sung, Sahir written beauty “Mere nadeem mere hamsafar udaas na ho” and the Asha song “Saare jahaan se achcha Hindustan hamara” (supported by chorus). “Jaalsaaz” in 1959 showed Dutta’s versatility with two lovely Kishore - Asha duets “Pyaar ka jahaan ho” and “Mere dil meri jaan” and the crazy “A be hakka, hakka bakka” and “A r r r todo na dil beqaraar ka”. The last two were likeable departures from the core N Dutta style of composing.

Mere Nadeem Mere Humsafar - Bhai Bahen (1959) - Sudha Malhotra - N. Dutta - Sahir Ludhiyanvi

I cannot go ahead without mentioning these unforgettable 1959 creations: “Tum mujhe bhool bhi jaao” to (athough Sudha Malhotra composed this song, N Dutta composed other songs of the film “Didi”), “Aao hum pyaar karein” and the sugary- sweet “O mere bichde balam” (both Lata solos in “Mr. John”) and “Aye dil zubaan na khol” (Lata again in “Naach Ghar”)

The B R Chopra - Sahir - N Dutta association teamed up again in 1961 for another memorable score “Dharam Putra”. Asha Bhosle seemed to be back to her glory days with “Main jab bhi akeli hoti hoon tum chup ke se aa jaate ho” and “Kya dekha o naino wali naina kyon bhar aaye” (lovely use of Sarangi in this song is to be noted) and Mahendra Kapoor delivered some real knock-outs: “Aaj ki raat nahin shikwe shikayat ke liye”, “Bhool sakta hai bhala kaun yeh pyaari aankhen”, “Chahe yeh maano chahe woh maano” (with Balbir) and “Jai janani jai bharat ma” (with chorus).

ghl“Gyarah Hazaar Ladkiyaan” (1962) seemed to be the last enriching N Dutta score after “Dharam Putra”. “Dil ki tammanna thi masti mein” (with 2 versions: Asha -Rafi duet and Rafi solo), “Pehchaano hum wohi hai” (Lata) and “Sab log jidhar woh hai” (Asha) from the movie are ones to die for. There were sure some memorable songs later: “Aapki baatein aapki kasmein” (Asha, “Kaala Samundar”, 1962), “Dhoonde nazar nazar” (Asha, Mahendra Kapoor, “Dilli Ka Dada”, 1962), “Tera aana bhi dhokha tha” (Rafi, “Mere Armaan Mere Sapne”, 1963), “Ashkon mein jo paaya hai woh geeton mein diya hai” (Talat, “Chandi Ki Deewar”, 1964) and “Chand bhi koi deewana hai” (Asha, Mahendra Kapoor, “Pyas” 1968) but it was not the same and Dutta-saab seemed to be going down-hill. There may have been a revival of sorts in year 1970 with “Jaan gayi main to jaan gayi” (Asha) and “Ponchhkar ashk apni aankhon se muskurao to koi baat bane” (Rafi), both from “Naya Raasta”, but the consistent early magic and appeal had by then deserted him. They had gone away, never to come back.

Lack of later commercial success and subsequently assignments in late 70s, forced him to play in the orchestra of other then successful music directors and reduced his wife to sing in chorus. He bacame a permanent fixture in Laxmikant Pyarelal’s team and LP would make sure he received his payment even for the recordings of the songs that he was not present for. His friendship with Sahir continued and they partnered one last time in “Chehre par Chehra” in 1980 which also turned out to be N.Dutta’s last outing as a composer.

Aaj Socha Hai Khayalon Mein - Chehre Pe Chehra (1980) - Mohd. Rafi & Sulakshana Pandit - N. Dutta - Sahir Ludhiyanvi

The B or C grade film assignments in the 70s don’t take anything away from the hypnotic charm and aura N Dutta’s music has had on us. Sadly, his later years were spent fighting ill health and commercial failure. And when he breathed his last on December 30, 1987, a true classy composer, whose work will always be held in high esteem and remain worth its weight in 24-carat GOLD, had passed away in to permanent oblivion! He was felicitated posthumously by Government of Maharashtra and a street close to his house was named after him!

Partial Filmography

  1. Baalo (Punjabi) - 1951
  2. Marine Drive - 1955
  3. Milap - 1955
  4. Chandrakanta - 1956
  5. Dushehra - 1956
  6. Hum Panchhi Ek Daal Ke - 1957
  7. Mohini - 1957
  8. Mr. X - 1957
  9. Light House - 1958
  10. Miss - 1958 - 1958
  11. Sadhna - 1958
  12. Bhai Behen - 1959
  13. Black Cat - 1959
  14. Dhool Ka Phool - 1959
  15. Didi - 1959
  16. Jaalsaaz - 1959
  17. Mr. John - 1959
  18. Naach Ghar - 1959
  19. Doctor Shaitan – 1960
  20. Ek Don Teen (Marathi) - 1960
  21. Rikshawala - 1960
  22. Dharmaputra - 1961
  23. Do Bhai - 1961
  24. Dilli Ka Dada - 1962
  25. Gyarah Hazar Ladkiyan - 1962
  26. Kala Samundar - 1962
  27. Sachche Moti - 1962
  28. Akela - 1963
  29. Awaara Abdullah - 1963
  30. Holiday In Bombay - 1963
  31. Mere Armaan Mere Sapne - 1963
  32. Rustom-e-Baghdad - 1963
  33. Badshah - 1964
  34. Chandi Ki Deewar - 1964
  35. Hercules - 1964
  36. Gopal Krishna - 1965
  37. Khaakan - 1965
  38. Bahadur Daaku - 1966
  39. Dilavar - 1966
  40. Jawan Mard - 1966
  41. Albela Mastana - 1967
  42. Madhuchandra (Marathi) - 1967
  43. Apna Ghar Apni Kahani (Pyaas) – 1968
  44. Apradh (Marathi) - 1969
  45. Ek Masoom - 1969
  46. Patthar Ka Khwab - 1969
  47. Ustad 420 - 1969
  48. Aag Aur Daag - 1970
  49. Inspector - 1970
  50. Naya Rasta - 1970
  51. Badnaam Farishte - 1971
  52. Return of Johnny - 1972
  53. Do Juari - 1974
  54. Ganga - 1974
  55. Aag Aur Toofan - 1975
  56. Phanda - 1975
  57. Preet Tujhi Majhi (Marathi) - 1975
  58. Shantata Khoon Zhala Ahe (Marathi) - 1975
  59. Bala Gau Kashi Angai (Marathi) - 1977
  60. Mama Bhache (Marathi) - 1979
  61. Chehre Pe Chehra - 1981
  62. Film Hi Film (Includes songs from Unreleased Picnic) - 1983


  1. Suvarna Sangeetacha Suvarna Kaal - 1931 – 1960 by Isaak Mujawar
  2. Yesterday's Melodies, Today's Memories by Manek Premchand
  3. Lata - Voice of the Golden Era by Mandar Bichhu
  4. Hindi Film Geet Kosh by Harmandar Singh ‘Hamraz’
  5. Dhunon Ki Yatra by Pankaj Raag

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Interpreting My Poem - XII

There is a story behind this ghazal. Sometimes in response to comments on Facebook I write instantly composed couplets that are very contextual and may not make much sense when seen outside of that context. Also, due to the fact that they are composed with minimal thought, they tend to be quite shallow. One couplet of this ghazal was written in such a scenario. I had no intention of expanding this one into a full-fledged ghazal till I was challenged by Archana Gupta to write it. I was reluctant at first but took on the challenge for a number of reasons.

First, the zameen (combination of rhyme and refrain) of this couplet was a little tricky because of bolo appearing as the refrain in each couplet. I could have made it into a ghair muraddaf ghazal (refrain-less ghazal) by choosing kholo, tolo, etc. as the rhyme words, but that seemed less challenging to me.

Secondly, the meter that I ended up using for that instant couplet (and it was not by design at all), was one I had never written on before, so that presented something new to be tried.

And finally, since the instant couplet seemed quite incomplete in isolation, it presented an opportunity to write a qit’aa for the first time in a ghazal. As many would know, the couplets in a ghazal are usually complete as standalone entities and do not depend on other couplets of the ghazal to make sense. Sometimes poets include a verse-set or a qit’aa in the ghazal in a way that those verses have to be read together to make total sense.

It took me a while to write it, but I finally did. So here is that ghazal, translated and interpreted by Archana Gupta, who has done a brilliant job of bringing out the nuances of the verses in her interpretations.

हो कैसी मोहब्बत की तस्वीर बोलो
रिहाई हो हासिल कि तस्ख़ीर बोलो

[रिहाई = freedom,  तस्ख़ीर =  entrance, captivate]

What should the tableau of love be like Pray?
Should it leave one free or entrance him, say?

The eternal question -  what should love be like or what is love really?  That what allows one to be free to be themselves, to express themselves as one desires, retain their independence of thought and action; or one that chains, binds, and enslaves one to itself either by enchanting/mesmerizing or simply by "right" or social norms?  Our poet uses the word tasKheer which literally is to entrance or mesmerize, but I do sense the question is more on the lines of "Should loving someone mean owning them?”

Now, this could be a rhetoric, possibly setting ground rules for a budding relationship but is more likely, start of a discussion for ground rules of an established relationship where the two people involved are not on the same page in this respect.

ये अहवाल मेरे तो हैं सब पे ज़ाहिर
पढ़ोगे क्या माज़ी की तहरीर बोलो

[अहवाल = circumstances,  माज़ी  = past]

My circumstances are known to one and all in totality
What else do you want to know about the antiquity?

Poet is a little perplexed, possibly at someone expressing a desire to know him better and asking questions about his past or life in general.  He believes that his life is pretty much an open book, well-known to all and sundry and is surprised that someone has questions for him.  It could also be disbelief that someone could want to know him better.

Another slightly different way to look at it is that the poet is claiming that everyone knows about his present circumstances and that is all that is important and his past should concern no one.
In either case, this is a sign of a persona who wants to tell the world nothing or truly believes he has nothing more to tell  - I suspect former.

पस-ओ-पेश या कोई पुरपेच रस्ता
हुई किस वजह से ये ताख़ीर बोलो

[पस-ओ-पेश = indecision,  पुरपेच = with twists and turns, ताख़ीर = delay]

Was it just indecision or was it convoluted way?
Tell me,  what caused this inordinate delay?

On the surface, it’s a simple question -  someone is late in getting to a rendezvous and the other one asks if he/she could not make up their mind whether to come or not, or if the route to reach was too circuitous.  But there is a mental/emotional layer to this one which indicates one persons unwillingness to commit to an emotional relationship - here, the rendezvous is an emotional commitment.  And the question is, of course, still the same -  is it just indecision on your part that you are not ready to make a firm commitment or are there other considerations that are a hindrance to your ability to do so? 

हैं ख़ुद की हदें  या रिवाज-ओ-रवायत 
नहीं कौन है पा ब-ज़ंजीर बोलो

[रिवाज-ओ-रवायत = customs & traditions, पा ब-ज़ंजीर = Shackled at the feet]

Customs, traditions or our own sense of propriety
Who in this world is footloose and totally free?

This could be considered a rhetoric, a simple statement that all of us and our behavior is bound by customs, traditions, social norms, etc. or by limits that we impose on ourselves.  And that no one is really free to act in whatever manner he pleases or to really follow his heart.  But the choice of words suggests that its a statement laced with regret, almost a desire to be free of these bounds of acceptable behavior, especially these self-imposed limitations.  Its almost as if the poet has a strong desire to do something that he himself does not think is right or feels will be unacceptable to his social connections -  for a person with strong enough conscience, former is enough to set the bounds - his bounds will be more rigid than those imposed by society.  For all others, what will people think/say becomes the guiding factor.

असरदार क़िस्सा-ए-गुमनाम हस्ती
कि फिर तज़किरा-ए-मशाहीर बोलो

[क़िस्सा-ऐ- गुमनाम हस्ती =  story of a common man,  तज़किरा-ए-मशाहीर = memoirs of famous people]

(So what would you rather choose for inspiration)
Effective and inspiring life of an unknown
Or simply the memoirs of famous and well-known

Lack of subject leaves this she'r a little vague or open ended and allows for a couple of slightly different interpretations.  One is that it is really a question to the subject, who would you rather be - a commoner with an effective and inspiring life well spent or a rich and famous person - the kinds whose memoirs are well read (even though the riches or fame may be mere accident of birth).  And the second is again a slightly different question - Why do people choose to get inspiration from the memoirs of rich and famous while it can be found in travails of ordinary people too.

A very slight third variation to look at is that its a simple comparison of what should be considered more effective or impactful  - accounts of everyday tribulations of ordinary men and women or recollections of the rich and famous?

नवाज़िश, करम, मिहरबानी की सौग़ात
है कितनी परस्तिश में तासीर बोलो

[नवाज़िश= consideration,  परस्तिश = devotion]

Benevolence, tenderness, kindness, and consideration
What all gets invoked in lieu of devotion and dedication!

This one can be interpreted in a few different moods and the word kitni allows these variations.  One is sense of wonder - Wow! Devotion so effective that in return one gets kindness, benevolence, magnanimity and even indulgence!!  The second is sort of cynical disbelief -  you think devotion is so compelling that it deserves all these gifts in return?  A slightly different third is a response from someone who is stifled by dedication of another and the strings of expectations attached to it and is perhaps responding in irritation -  what all do you expect from me in return for your supposed adoration and reverence?

बचा हुक्मरानों में कोई न आदिल
कहाँ गुम है अद्ल-ए-जहाँगीर बोलो

[हुक्मरानों = rulers, आदिल = just, अद्ल-ए-जहाँगीर = Jehangir's justice]

There is no ruler anymore who is just and fair
Where has Jehangir's justice gone, oh where?

Simple straightforward comment on the social-political-judicial tableau in the country.  The poet bemoans the fact that all the government officials are corrupt and unjust and there is no justice left in the country where once Jehangir's justice was sworn by.

शिकायत हमें तीर से तो नहीं है
मगर कैसे पाए ये नख़चीर बोलो

यहाँ भी, वहाँ भी, इधर भी, उधर भी
चले किस तरफ अदना सा तीर बोलो

[नख़चीर = prey]

Against the means I have no lament
But how shall they achieve the intent?

Here and there, this way and that, its all the same
Then where should the poor little arrow aim?

This qit’aa is an interesting one and has a story.  This second she’r was the very first she’r that was written - more in jest than anything else - in response to an interchange on a music group post.  Aditya calls such ash'aar the "instant coffee variety" and I usually try to write a ‘response’ on same zameen -  more for practicing writing in a particular behr (and because its plain fun).  AFAIR, that day I complained that the he had chosen a tough qafiya-radeef and though I did write a response, it wasn't contextual enough to post -  all because of his bolo. He then took it as a challenge to expand this she'r into a complete ghazal, warned me it might take long (and it it did take time and pestering to get him to finish) but will write one (and of course, did it).

Now for the meaning -  it’s a set that is wide open.  Basic meaning remains the same while applicability is wide - With the limited means, what all targets can one expect to achieve?  While I do not have any complaints that my means are limited, I have doubts that can achieve my goals with those.  I see so much that needs to be done, set my priorities, tell me where to shoot, rather what to address.

जवाहर गुहर लाल नज़्म-ओ-ग़ज़ल सब
ये गन्जीना है किसकी जागीर बोलो

[जवाहर= diamonds,  गुहर = pearls,  लाल = rubies, गन्जीना = treasure]

Diamonds, pearls and gems of verse and song
To whom does this treasure truly belong?

Here the poet is comparing the vastly available pieces of poetry (of all poets) and perhaps songs to precious stones and jewels and questioning who does it really belong to -  who has the right to it?  Do creators hold a right over it or does someone else?  There would certainly be at least two schools of thought on this -  First, literary creations belong to their creators and the creators have a right to share or not share.  The second would be that these literary gems actually belong to the readers and appreciators of these pieces.

A slightly different way of looking at this is also -  Whose interpretation or intent is of import when considering what a piece of poetry really means?  Is it important to know what the creator intended, what were his circumstances or state of mind at that point and what relevance the piece has to his/her life, if any? Or is the reader's independent interpretation and understanding of more significance? Knowing this poet, he firmly insists on attaching more import to reader's independent assimilation and believes that pieces of prose and poetry belong to those who have the faculty to read, understand and enjoy them and an interest to do so.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Exploring Mir Taqi Mir

Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1810) is a well-respected name in the world of Urdu literature. Many experts are of the opinion that Mir, at times referred to as Khuda-e-Sukhan (God of Poetry), gave defining shape to Urdu poetry as we know it today. Although I have barely scratched the surface of his voluminous output, whatever little I have read makes me want to explore more of his work.

Although given my limited exposure, I am in no position to define the distinctive features of Mir’s poetry. Still, let me share what I would consider unmistakably Mir. The most important aspect is the language. For most part it is conversational, it is idiomatic, and it draws from the day-today language of common folk even if that means deviating from the literary language. He seems as adept in the usage of Persian and Arabic words as he is with Hindi. At times he plays with the literary rules of grammar to make his poetry more accessible. As Shamsur Rahman Faruqui in his book She’r-e-Shorangez says, “Mir turned everyday language into poetic language”. Some of the other features he attributes to Mir’s poetry are “earth-grasping and unbridled imagination”, “vigor of everyday idiom in the language”, “informal but limited use of Persian and Arabic”, and at the same time brimming with “depth-possession and ambiguity of expression”. It’s the kind of poetry that can satisfy the connoisseurs and the common folk alike. As he had said himself:

शे'र मेरे हैं सब ख़वास पसंद
पर मुझे गुफ़तगू 'अवाम से है

(ख़वास = people of distinction; गुफ़तगू = conversation; 'अवाम = the common people)

Given his prolificacy (1916 ghazals spread over 6 deewans, in addition to several masnavis, qasidas, rubaiyat etc.), his poetry has a lot of variety as well. While his poetry is pigeonholed in the categories of romantic and tragic, nothing can be further than the truth. He has explored quite a wide variety of themes. Variety also comes in terms of the number of different meters he has used in his ghazals. One of the meters he used quite extensively is even called Behr-e-Mir (Mir’s meter), primarily because he used it so often (around 187 ghazals). Although there is evidence of this meter being used before his time as well, no other poet had made such a prolific use of this meter. Unlike other meters used in ghazals, this particular meter is extremely flexible. It can be turned into a very large number of different combinations of long and short syllables that can be used within the same ghazal, yet maintaining the overall rhythm of the meter.

When I was “assigned’ Mir as a poet in the recent Facebook chain, I wanted to select a ghazal that had most of the characteristics of Mir’s poetry that I have outlined above. Finally, I chanced upon this one. This one is in Mir’s unique meter with some unusual scansion of some words, the language is conversational, idiomatic and simple, it uses Persian & Arabic words as also purely Hindi words, it has depth, it has elements of wordplay, and some verses can have varying meanings depending on the tone one assigns to it … in short, a perfect example to demonstrate Mir-ness.

So here goes…

क्या पूछो हो क्या कहिये मियाँ दिल ने भी क्या काम किया
इश्क़ किया नाकाम रहा आखिर को काम तमाम किया

The ghazal opens with a conversational couplet, with the poet seemingly replying to a query as to what his heart has been up to. And he responds, ‘what can I say? It has been quite busy. It fell in love and failed, but (probably in this repeated effort) it finished me off completely in the end.” This is a simple verse with lots going on in terms of language and technique. There is colloquialism (क्या पूछो हो क्या कहिये), use of idiom (काम तमाम किया), wordplay (काम can mean both job and desire), use of word affinities (आखिर and काम तमाम), unusual scansion (मियाँ has been scanned as one long syllable instead of the traditional short-long), even an interesting choice of the first and last word of the couplet that appear exactly the same when written in Urdu.

अज्ज़ किया सो उस मुफ़सिद ने क़द्र हमारी ये कुछ की
त्यौरी चढ़ाई ग़ुस्सा किया जब हम ने झुक के सलाम किया

(अज्ज़ = submission, helplessness; मुफ़सिद = mischief maker; क़द्र = to appreciate, to value; त्यौरी चढ़ाई = frowned)

Here Arabic and Persian words are juxtaposed effortlessly with a purely Hindi idiom (त्यौरी चढ़ाई). The use of the word क़द्र brings an element of sarcasm in this verse. The lover has rendered himself so helpless and submissive that the beloved has stopped valuing him, The lover salutes her, but all she does is frown. The beloved in the ghazal world is known to be tyrannical and the lover actually enjoys getting mistreated by her. In that case, the use of the word मुफ़सिद is not to be taken very literally. However, it can also be taken as a genuine ‘curse’.

कहने की भी लिखने की भी हम तो क़सम खा बैठे थे
आखिर दिल की बेताबी से ख़त भेजा पैग़ाम किया

The idiom की क़सम खाना is interesting that it can mean both to swear to do something as well as to swear off something. Since the poet uses the work आखिर (Finally), here the meaning of ‘swear off’ makes more sense. The poet was probably so fed up of the beloved’s non-responsiveness that he had sworn off saying or writing anything to her, but his heart got so restless that finally he could not resist writing/ sending a message to her.

इश्क़ की तुहमत जब न हुई थी काहे को शोहरत ऐसी थी
शहर में अब रुसवा हैं य'अनी बदनामी से काम किया

(तुहमत = allegation; शोहरत = fame; रुसवा = infamy)

Infamy on account of being in love is worth more than fame of any other kind. When the lover has been accused of being in love, the corresponding infamy is pleasurable to him. The word तुहमत is quite ambivalent in that it can mean an allegation (which can eventually turn out to be true) as well as a false accusation. Also, the tone assigned to the verse can change the implication – is the lover glad or is he lamenting the fact that his love has made him well-known/ notorious in the city?

रेगिस्तान में जा के रहें या संगिस्तान में हम जोगी
रात हुई जिस जागह हम को हम ने वहीँ बिसराम किया

(रेगिस्तान = desert; संगिस्तान = stony place; जोगी = ascetic; बिसराम = halt, rest)

This is another verse that makes effective use of Hindi words like जोगी and बिसराम (विश्राम). The verse has both romantic and mystical connotations. An ascetic who has renounced the world is not bothered about his surroundings. He is constantly wandering from one desolation to other in search of the ultimate truth and it doesn’t matter where the journey of his life ends. Likewise, a mad lover too wanders in desolate places completely oblivious of his surroundings. Also note the use of the archaic form जागह instead of the normal जगह.

ख़त-ओ-किताबत लिखना उस को तर्क किया था इस ही लिए
हर्फ़-ओ-सुख़न से टपका लोहू अब जो कुछ इरक़ाम किया

(ख़त = letter; किताबत= calligraphy; तर्क = to abandon; हर्फ़ = letter of the alphabet; सुख़न = words; लोहू = blood; इरक़ाम = act of writing)

The lover has stopped writing to the beloved because he is so distressed that whenever he made an attempt to write, all he could do was to write about his pain (words dripped blood). Does the beloved even care about the suffering of the lover? What use, then, is to write anything to her?

तल्ख़ उसका तो शहद-ओ-शकर है ज़ौक़ में हम नाकामों के
लोगों में लेकिन पोच कहा ये लुत्फ़-ए-बेहंगाम किया

(तल्ख़ = bitterness; शहद-ओ-शकर = honey & sugar; ज़ौक़ = taste; पोच = in vain, of no consequence; लुत्फ़ = favour, taste; बेहंगाम = untimely, uncalled for)

Another verse that talks about lovers relishing the cruelty of the beloved. Even if the beloved expresses ‘bitterness’, it is sweet for victims of unrequited love simply because the beloved at least turned her attention towards them. But common people cannot understand that. So to avoid appearing like a fool in front of them, the lover says that the beloved’s ‘bitterness’ is a totally uncalled for ‘favour’. The use of the word लुत्फ़ is interesting given its dual meaning – favour and taste. And it plays well with other taste related words in the first line.

जैसे कोई जहाँ से जावे रुख़सत इस हसरत से हुए
उस कूचे से निकल कर हम ने रू ब-क़फ़ा हर गाम किया

(रुख़सत = departure; हसरत = grief, regret, longing; रू = face; ब-क़फ़ा = behind; गाम = step)

Like in the final moments one reminisces and regrets about the past, sometimes in the hope that the clock would turn back and things could be different, the lover too feels a similar emotion when banished from the beloved’s life. He keeps looking back either with the hope that the beloved would change her mind and call him back, or with the intent of keeping the memories alive till the last possible moment.

मीर जो उन ने मुँह को इधर कर हम से कोई बात कही
लुत्फ़ किया एहसान किया इन'आम किया इकराम किया

(लुत्फ़ = favour; एहसान = kindness; इन'आम = reward; इकराम = honour, respect)

The final verse of this ghazal is brilliant in its implication depending the tone you assign to it. It could be a genuine feeling of obligation and thankfulness on the part of the lover that the beloved who had been ignoring him all along at least talked to him. Or it could be full of sarcasm. Add to that ambiguity that comes in with the word इधर (here), which could also be read as उधर (there) because they’re written in exactly the same way in Urdu because diacritics signifying short vowels are not always written. Did the beloved turn her face towards the lover to speak, or spoke after turning her face away?


Friday, February 07, 2014

The House of Ghalib

Recently Sangeet Ke Sitare, a music group on Facebook, ran a theme where one had to post songs that talk about a home/house/abode. What follows is my post on the theme

This theme gives me an opportunity to return to my favourite subject – Ghalib’s poetry. That an ‘abode’ appears many times in his poetry is no surprise, as it forms the basis of many well-established traditional ghazal themes. What is interesting, and in no way am I saying that it is unique to him, is the various ways in which he has versified this word. Let’s look at some examples:

GHAR – The most common synonym for home. Among the many verses of Ghalib where ghar makes an appearance is this oft-quoted one:

वह आए घर में हमारे ख़ुदा की क़ुदरत है
कभी हम उन को कभी अपने घर को देखते हैं

AASHIYAAN – A Persian word meaning nest, commonly used in urdu poetry. And Ghalib uses it to chilling effect in this verse:

क़फ़स में मुझ से रूदाद-ए-चमन कहते न डर हमदम
गिरी है जिस पे कल बिजली वह मेरा आशियाँ क्यूँ हो

(क़फ़स = cage; रूदाद-ए-चमन = tale of the garden)

MAKAAN – This is how Ghalib uses this word – a deceptively simple but slippery verse:

मन्ज़र इक बुलन्दी पर और हम बना सकते
`अरश से उधर होता काश के मकाँ अपना

(मन्ज़र = spectacle, view; बुलन्दी = height; `अरश = sky)

KADA – This is a word of Persian origin, meaning a house or place, used mostly in compound words to define a place e.g. mai-kada (wine house). Ghalib has used it in several compound words. For example,

ज़ुलमत-कदे में मेरे शब-ए-ग़म का जोश है
इक शम`अ है दलील-ए-सहर सो ख़मोश है

(ज़ुलमत-कदे = place of darkness; शब-ए-ग़म = evening of sorrow; दलील-ए-सहर = proof of the dawn)

This brings me two words that one does not come across very often…

KHAAN-MAAN – A Persian word from the root khaana, which means a home. Khaan-maan (or khaan-o-maan) refers to the home and all the belongings there in. Ghalib uses this in the adjective Khaan-maan Kharaab meaning “having a ruined home”..

दीवार बार-ए-मिन्नत-ए-मज़दूर से है ख़म
ऐ ख़ान-माँ-ख़राब न इहसाँ उठाइये

(बार-ए-मिन्नत-ए-मज़दूर = weight of the obligation towards the labourers; ख़म = bent, curved; ख़ान-माँ-ख़राब = having a ruined home; इहसाँ = obligation)

KAASHAANA.- This is again a Persian word meaning a small house or a dwelling. Ghalib uses this in a traditional ghazal theme of a house turning to wilderness.

गिरया चाहे है ख़राबी मेरे काशाने की
दर-ओ-दीवार से टपके है बयाबाँ होना

(गिरया = crying; दर-ओ-दीवार = door and walls; बयाबाँ = wilderness)

What a multi-faceted house Ghalib had!

Here is a medley of these verses sung by various singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Talat Mahmood, Begum Akhtar, Arifa Siddiqui, Tarannum Naaz & Shumona Roy Biswas.


Friday, January 31, 2014

Aaye Hain Paraha-e-Jigar … Ghalib’s Unpublished Ghazal

This is one of the earliest ghazals written by Ghalib. Written in 1812, when he was just around 15 years of age, this ghazal was rejected by Ghalib when he was compiling his deewan for publication. While it has some interesting metaphors, none of the she’rs really stands out for their brilliance. The choice of a noun – ashk (tears) - for the radeef (refrain), in a way, restricts the various themes that can be addressed in this ghazal, but one must give it to the poet for still trying to avoid the beaten path. What I find a bit unusual is the use of a particular word in 3 out of the 7 she’rs. This word – Mizhgaan/Mizha (eyelashes) – seems to have been quite a favourite of Ghalib’s as it appears with alarming regularity in his poems, more so in his unpublished ones. But I haven’t yet come across another instance where it makes an appearance multiple times in the same ghazal.

Honestly, I don’t find this ghazal very exciting, but, for what it’s worth, one curious feature of this ghazal is that in reference to ‘tears’, Ghalib invokes several body parts in each of the sher’s. There’s liver, hand, tongue, heart, foot (by implication), and of course, eyes and eyelashes.

आये हैं पाराहा-ए-जिगर दरमयान-ए-अश्क
लाया है लाल-ए-बेश बहा कारवान-ए-अश्क

(पाराहा-ए-जिगर = pieces of liver/heart/spirit; दरमयान = in between; लाल-ए-बेश = precious ruby; कारवान = caravan)

The image of a sufferer crying tears of blood in extreme distress is quite common in the ghazal world. This couplet uses the same metaphor except that the level of distress is even higher, so much so that pieces of liver, the source of fresh blood in the ghazal physiology, make their way into the tears. And red as they are, they appear like precious rubies. The use of the word कारवान is interesting in that it can be used to specifically refer to a large company of ‘merchants’ – meaning that gels well with the metaphor of precious rubies.

ज़ाहिर करे है जुम्बिश-ए-मिश्हगान से मुद्द'
तिफ़लाना हाथ का है इशारा ज़ुबान-ए-अश्क

(जुम्बिश = movement; मिश्हगान = eye lashes; मुद्द'आ = wish, desire; तिफ़लाना = childish)

How do tears express themselves? Just like children who are yet to start speaking express themselves by gesticulating, tears do so by moving the eyelashes. I can’t find anything more than this in this couplet, and hence it leaves me totally dissatisfied.

मैं वादी-ए-तलब में हुआ जुम्लातन ग़रक़
अज़ बसकि सर्फ़-ए-क़तराज़नी था बसान-ए-अश्क

(वादी = channel of a river, valley; तलब = desire; जुम्लातन = totally; ग़रक़ = drowned; अज़ बसकि = extremely; सर्फ़ = to spend, to use; क़तराज़नी = running; बसान = like, resembling)

In this couplet, Ghalib equates a characteristic of tears with his own condition. Just like tears keep running all the time, he too is running here and there in the valley of desire. Probably in the frustrating quest of the object of his desire, or may be in the excitement of having found what he desired. And in this uncontrolled running around, what did he get drowned in? His own sweat that resulted from this non-stop ‘exercise’ or in desire itself, which grew stronger and stronger (or deeper and deeper) as time progressed?

रोने ने ताक़त इतनी न छोड़ी कि एक बार
मिश्हगाँ को दूँ फ़िशार पै-ए-इम्तिहान-ए-अश्क

(मिश्हगाँ = eyelashes; फिशार = squeeze; पै = on account of)

This is another fairly straightforward couplet. The lover has cried so much that he’s completely worn out and his eyes might have dried up. He doesn’t even have the strength left to squeeze his eyelashes to test if any tears are left.

दिलख़स्तगाँ को है तरब-ए-सद-चमन बहार
बाग़-ए-ब-ख़ूँ तपीदन-ओ-आब-ए-रवान-ए-अश्क

(दिलख़स्तगाँ = those with a wounded heart; तरब = joy; सद-चमन = 100 gardens; ब-ख़ूँ तपीदन = agitating/rolling in blood; आब-ए-रवान = flowing water)

This couplet hints at the masochistic tendencies of the lovers that populate the ghazal world. They relish the extreme pain that the failure/non-reciprocity/ tyranny of love causes. For them the ground where the tyrannical beloved has crushed them under her feet and left them writhing in blood is like a garden, a garden that is irrigated by endless tears. And the joy they experience in this extreme torture is equal to the joy of experiencing the blooming of a hundred gardens.

सैल-ए-बिना-ए-मस्ती-ए-शबनम है आफ़ताब
छोड़े न चश्म में तपिश-ए-दिल निशान-ए-अश्क

(सैल-ए-बिना = a torrent that shakes the foundation of something; मस्ती = intoxication, pride; शबनम = dew; आफ़ताब = sun; चश्म = eyes; तपिश = heat)

The meaning of this couplet is fairly ordinary. The poet is equating tears to dewdrops and sun to the burning of the heart. Just like the heat of the sun evaporates the dewdrops, the extreme pain cause the heart to burn, which dries up the tears. The only thing that I find somewhat interesting in this couplet is the use of the word सैल (a torrent), which is literally antithetical to dryness. Also curious is the use of the word मस्ती. The sun destroys the pride of the dewdrops by evaporating them. Is the burning of the heart doing the same to the tears?

हंगाम-ए-इंतज़ार-ए-क़ुदूम-ए-बुताँ असद
है बर सर-ए-मिश्हा निगराँ दीदबान-ए-अश्क

(हंगाम = time; क़ुदूम = arrival; बुताँ = beloved; मिश्हा = eyelash; निगराँ = one who watches; दीदबान = sentinel, guard)

It is the beloved’s nature to make the lover wait endlessly. This endless wait makes the lover cry in desperation. A routine thought, but Ghalib gives it a delicious flavor by equating the tears to a watch guard. In his imagination tears are like sentinels that sit on the eyelashes, so that they can inform the lover as soon as they witness the arrival of the beloved. So the tears are not only a result of the distress caused by an endless wait, they also have a purpose – a purpose that could eventually lead to their end. Consider this – the beloved arrives, the tears inform the lover, the lover is happy, and the ‘guards’ are withdrawn from their position so that the beloved can enter the lover’s heart through his eyes.


  1. Deewan-e-Ghalib Kaamil Nuskhah-e-Gupta Raza, Tareekhi Tarteeb Se by Kalidas Gupta ‘Raza’
  2. Tafseer-e-Ghalib az Gyan Chand by Dr. Gyan Chand Jain