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.