Friday, June 05, 2015

In Which Lily White Turns Emerald Green

Barnes Iqbal1

William Barnes was a 19th century English writer, poet, Church of England minister and philologist. He wrote more than 800 poems on a variety of subjects. One of his well-known poems is A Mother’s Dream (Mater Dolorosa), written around 1867. It is a poignant first person description of a mother’s dream about her lost son.

Allama Iqbal must’ve been touched by this poem, as he translated it in Urdu and included in his collection Baang-e-Dara (1924). The translation, called ‘Maan Ka Khwaab’ is extremely faithful to the source. The 24 lines of the original lead to 15 couplets (30 lines) in the adaptation. The extra lines by Iqbal, especially the ones corresponding to the last stanza of the original, add more emotion and poignancy to the mother’s lament. And the build up to the ending of the Urdu version packs a wallop that I find much more effective.

A Mother’s Dream (Mater Dolorosa)

William Barnes

Maa.N Ka Khwaab

Allama Iqbal

I'd a dream to-night
As I fell asleep,
O! the touching sight
Makes me still to weep:
Of my little lad,
Gone to leave me sad,
Ay, the child I had,
But was not to keep.

As in heaven high,
I my child did seek,
There in train came by
Children fair and meek,
Each in lily white,
With a lamp alight;
Each was clear to sight,
But they did not speak.

Then, a little sad,
Came my child in turn,
But the lamp he had,
O it did not burn!
He, to clear my doubt,
Said, half turn'd about,
'Your tears put it out;
Mother, never mourn.'

मैं सोई जो इक शब तो देखा ये ख़्वाब
बढ़ा और जिससे मेरा इज़्तिराब

ये देखा कि मैं जा रही हूँ कहीं
अँधेरा है और राह मिलती नहीं

लरज़ता था डर से मेरा बाल बाल
क़दम का था दहशत से उठना मुहाल

जो कुछ हौसला पा के आगे बढ़ी
तो देखा क़तार एक लड़कों की थी

ज़मुर्रद सी पोशाक पहने हुए
दिये सब के हाथों में जलते हुए

वो चुप चाप थे आगे पीछे रवाँ
ख़ुदा जाने जाना था उनको कहाँ

इसी सोच में थी कि मेरा पिसर
मुझे उस जमा'अत में आया नज़र

वो पीछे था और तेज़ चलता न था
दिया उसके हाथों में जलता न था

कहा मैंने पहचान कर मेरी जाँ
मुझे छोड़ कर आ गए तुम कहाँ

जुदाई में रहती हूँ मैं बेक़रार
पिरोती हूँ हर रोज़ अश्कों के हार

न परवा हमारी ज़रा तुमने की
गए छोड़ अच्छी वफ़ा तुमने की

जो बच्चे ने देखा मेरा पेच-ओ-ताब
दिया उसने मुँह फेर कर यूँ जवाब

रुलाती है तुझको जुदाई मेरी
नहीं उस में कुछ भी भलाई मेरी

ये कह कर वो कुछ देर तक चुप रहा
दिया फिर दिखा कर ये कहने लगा

‘समझती है तू हो गया क्या इसे
तेरे आँसुओं ने बुझाया इसे’

In one of the stanzas above, William Barnes describes that the mother in her dream sees a number of children dressed in ‘lily white’. But in Allama’s vision their apparel is emerald green. Just a seemingly simple change in the colour of the apparel, makes the poem resonate with cultural specificity. Given that both William Barnes and Allama Iqbal was religiously inclined, it would be safe to say that they chose the colour according to their faiths. In Christianity, white signifies purity, innocence and holiness; whereas the green occupies similar significance in Islam.

Another notable aspect of the Urdu version is that it is written in an extremely simple language, which I find quite uncharacteristic of Iqbal. However, the depth of expression is not compromised one bit. At the surface it can simply be taken as a mother’s lament for a dead child, and the dream providing her a sign for closure. It can also be about a son coming on his own and starting on a new life (symbolized by green), but who is unable to find his way (symbolized by the lamp which does not burn) as the attachments keep pulling him back. Following the path shown by others (other children with burning lamps) is the only thing he can do in such circumstances, and that makes him a laggard in the journey of life. In order for him to find his own identity and direction and not be left behind in the journey, he has to be assured that the mother is not mourning his absence.

Listen to this poem here:

Maa.N Ka Khwaab - Allama Iqbal (adapted from William Barnes)