Friday, January 01, 2016

Interpreting My Poem - XIII

pnp-quill-and-parchment (1)

It’s been a long time, but what better day than the first day of the year to put up another of my ghazals!The ghazal was written more than a year back, a few months after my book of poems was published, but it is ‘new’ in the sense that I haven’t shared it publicly before.

As with similar posts earlier, all the translations and interpretations here are by Archana Gupta, and as usual she has done a brilliant job at  it. Any first-person references in the English text refer to her.

मुज़लिम करे न ख़ाना-ए-दिल चश्म-ए-सुरमगीं

बेदम ही न कर छोड़े कहीं ज़ुल्फ़-ए-अम्बरीं

May kohl-lined eye not turn my heart gray

Let not her fragrant hair suck my breath away

[मुज़लिम = Becoming dark, dark, black, mysterious, One who enters into, or walks in, darkness, ख़ाना-ए-दिल = heart's house (basically heart), चश्म-ए-सुरमगीं = kohl rimmed eyes, बेदम = breathless, ज़ुल्फ़-ए-अम्बरीं = fragrant hair]

Seen literally, the lover is skeptic of the effect that the beloved’s kohl lined eyes and fragrant hair may have on him.  While both are usually considered assets that enchant the lover (and many have written volumes in their praise), this poet feels that they might serve to harm him - direct implication is that he suspects the beloved’s intent/fidelity etc.  Viewed generally, these metaphors are used to express the poet’s skepticism at anything that appears to be very attractive at first glance, all that glitters is not gold etc. - he suspects that such “attractions” may actually harm him in unexpected manner or may be disguises for more sinister intents/entities.

तारीक चश्म कर दे न नज़्ज़ारा ख़ुशतरीं

क्यूँकर है ख़ौफ़ सा ये तह-ए-दिल में जा-गुज़ीं

Pleasant sight masks something dire and dark

Why is this fear lodged deep in my heart

[तारीक = dark, ख़ुशतरीं = extremely pleasant, तह-ए-दिल = bottom of the heart, जा-गुज़ीं = making a place for itself]

This is a verse that can be interpreted in two ways that are markedly opposite in meaning.

  • First is the direct continuation of the thought expressed in the last she’r.  Literally, it simply states that a fear that the very pleasant sight may actually blind me (darken my eye) has taken hold deep down in my heart.  The metaphor, of course, appears to be representing the poet’s anxiety that while all seems well, even great, in his life, all that appears bright, smooth and desirable might have some hidden problems. Or, if all is indeed well, something very bad is lurking behind and  all the “wellness” cannot last … and this misgiving is ever-present.  This is also the poet’s preferred reading of this she’r.
  • There is, however, a completely opposite reading also possible where the tone is more self-deprecating or self-mocking.  Here the poet expresses a fear based on his natural pessimism and skeptic tendencies.  He expresses that he is so used to being unhappy and entertaining dark, brooding thoughts that he is always afraid that while life is in reality good, his tendency to treat all the goodness (things and people) with wariness may actually spoil the things for him, that his negativity may actually overpower the pleasantness in his life and darken his world like a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And this fear is firmly lodged at the bottom of his heart.  This is my preferred reading of this she’r and is represented by the following couplet:

Perspective may darken the pleasant sight
Oh why does this thought make my heart so tight  

In either case, this is an expression of a person afraid to be happy and forever expecting misery and sadness from his existence.

महफ़िल के ना-गुज़ीर ग़ुल-ओ-शोर से परे

ख़लवत-कदे की आब-ओ-हवा राहत-आफ़रीं

Far from the clamor of festivity

One finds solace just when solitary

[ना-गुज़ीर = inevitable, ग़ुल-ओ-शोर = noise, din, clamor, ख़लवत-कदे = lonely house or house of loneliness or place to be solitary in, राहत-आफ़रीं = one that provides relief]

Very straightforward, simple statement and oh so in line with this loner poet’s perpetual claim in life.  He is comfortable only in his own company, away from other people and compulsions of socializing or even exchanging pleasantries with acquaintances - so no parties and social gatherings for him please…

होगा ज़रूर कुछ मेरे नज़दीक दीदनी

तशरीफ़ इस गली में जो लाए तमाशबीं

Something worthy there must be about me

That brings voyeurs to my vicinity

[दीदनी = worth seeing, तमाशबीं = onlookers, especially ones who take pleasure in watching someone else's misery]

Again a couple of different interpretations are possible:

  • For one, the poet/speaker is unaware what is happening around him but from the fact that there is so much activity around, he gathers that something special / worth participating in must be going on .  Implication is that the speaker is highly unaware of his surroundings generally and may be either mostly self-absorbed or absorbed in another’s thoughts (this is unstated though).  In any case, he lives in his own world.
  • The other is that while the poet/speaker does not believe there is anything extraordinary about him, enough people, even strangers, have been telling him/praising him on some pretext or the other, to the point that he has also started believing it.  This second reading is the  one that I favor as primary for the she’r.

जो नावक-ए-नज़र पे जताया है ऐतिराज़

वो आ रहे हैं दश्ना लिए ज़ेर-ए-आस्तीं

I claimed that her gaze was such a killer

She brought under her sleeve, a hidden dagger!

[नावक-ए-नज़र = sharp/killer glances (arrows of eyes), दश्ना = dagger, ज़ेर-ए-आस्तीं = under the sleeve]

The poet/speaker/lover claims that the other party/beloved is very contrary.  Objecting to something mild that he found objectionable simply caused her to take an even stronger/bigger step in the same direction.  He asserts that telling her that she was killing him with her glances (a milder weapon) simply made her dig in her heels and come at him with an actual dagger (a much more lethal weapon)  hidden under her sleeve - And he went from the frying pan to the fire.

बख़्शे है सब्ज़-ज़ार को शबनम जो ताज़गी

अश्क-ओ-अरक़ से पाएँ वही आरिज़-ओ-जबीं

Dewdrops on a lawn impart it vigor and glow

Tears and sweat the same to cheeks and forehead bestow

[सब्ज़:-ज़ार = a place abounding greenery, a lawn, अश्क-ओ-अरक़ = tears & sweat, आरिज़-ओ-जबीं = cheeks & forehead]

Water tends to make things look fresher.  A lawn looks beautifully fresh in the morning after being adorned by dewdrops.  And while one normally would not consider tears or sweat to be beautifying agents, the poet claims they are.  Tears impart the same freshness to the cheeks and sweat to the forehead.  I interpret this second line to somehow mean that labour (sweat being its sign) imparts a dignity to the forehead and ability to bear pain (tears being the sign) does the same for the cheeks, that industriousness and perseverance are the virtues that bestow freshness and glow to a face.

ऐ हक़-शिनास वक़्त-ए-क़यामत ये क्या हुआ

रहमत-नज़र रक़ीब मिले दोस्त ख़श्मगीं

Oh Lord, on doomsday, what's this vagary

Rivals are kind, but friends cross and angry

[हक़-शिनास = God i.e. one rendering to everyone his due (on judgement day);  ख़श्मगीं = angry]

This one reminds me of the famous Nida Fazli she’r in terms of the sentiment expressed

tere jahaan mein aisaa nahiin ki pyaar na ho
jahaan ummiid ho is kii vahaan nahiin milataa

Poet/speaker seems surprised that he is being shunned by friends while foes are perhaps empathizing. Why?  A few possibilities exist…

  1. Haq also means truth, so on doomsday, the truth is revealed. Those who were considered as foes during lifetime, were in reality well-wishers, whereas friends turned out to be contrary.
  2. Or, during one's lifetime, one was tolerant of foes and hard on friends, so on judgment day, friends were angry and foes kind. 
  3. Or could it be that the speaker/poet has done something wrong (that he perhaps does not realize/know) which has angered his friends but pleased his rivals (hence may not actually be good for him in reality - unsure of ones own actions again?)

दर्जा-ब-दर्जा रुतबे में बढ़ता रहा बशर

और ज़ेर-ए-पा-ए-हस्ती खिसकती रही ज़मीं

The world gains stature with a certainty

Mankind looses touch with reality/ humanity

[दर्जा-ब-दर्जा = step by step, बशर = Mankind; ज़ेर-ए-पा-ए-हस्ती = from under the feet of mankind/from under my feet]

Another she’r with a couple of possibilities. 

  • First one is a comment on the apparent “progress” of this society.  While in general our impression is that the world is progressing ad that society has advanced, but in reality, people seem to have lost touch with basic human values.
  • Second interpretation assumes a “jealous” tone on part of the speaker/poet.  While the world is progressing by leaps and bounds, in comparison, I seem to be losing my position - maybe because I am not progressing at all or just not progressing as much, hence falling behind.

माहौल गर्म चाहिए वरना ये है मुहाल

बारिद क़लम से पैदा हों अश'आर आतिशीं

The milieu must be conducive you see

Cold pens can't write verses that are fiery

[मुहाल = Impossible; बारिद = cold, frigid; आतिशीं = fiery, splendid]

I am not too sure how to explain this one.  Ostensibly the ask is for “garam mahaul”, so that the pen may produce revolutionary or fiery verses.  The poet seems to be saying that there must be anger or extreme dissatisfaction against the surroundings and happenings for a poet to pen fierce, rebellious or defiant thoughts.  To some extent this makes perfect sense - times of political turmoil like struggle for Indian independence, partition, Military rule in Pakistan and associated atrocities have been the setup in which some of the most radical poetry of modern times was produced in the subcontinent.  Similar pattern is observable in rest of the world also and extends to prose as well.  

Though the poet talks only of the “Aatishiin ash’aar”, personally, I think the analogy is extendible to all poetry, intact to all art forms to some degree but certainly to the written word.  A heart must feel an emotion deeply to be able to translate it to the written word.  And most poignant poetry and prose comes from the pain and suffering.  A comfortable or routine existence, and lack of any real challenge combined with simply an inability to feel non-personal pain/hardship leads to complacence that is guaranteed to cause the pen to become listless, thus ineffective.  In short, to be a good poet or writer, either one must experience an emotional upheaval (could be pleasant but strong emotions too but more likely suffering & hardship) personally or possess a fine ability to empathize with others and be in tune with others' emotions - one must feel strongly.

ज़ाहिर करे निकात वो कितने भी हों दक़ीक़

'नाक़िद' को बे-वजह नहीं कहते हैं ख़ुर्द:बीं

He brings to fore all nuances and every subtlety

'Naaqid' is indeed the microscope he is said to be

[निकात = Points, nuances; दक़ीक़ = subtle, minute; ख़ुर्द:बीं = critic, fault-finder, literally - a microscope]

Naaqid is the poet’s takhallus or pen-name.  Literally means “a critic”, more specifically a person whose business it is to examine a coin and ascertain its goodness – Khare-khote ka hisaab karne waala.  It is a  term that is also used for literary critics -  therefore a meaning that fits our poet.  This couplet simply seems to be in self-praise (if ability to criticize can be praised) and claims that no matter how fine or subtle the points may be, Naaqid evaluates them correctly and reveals them to the world and that is why he is known literally as a microscope -  one who reveals every minor facet of a thing/fact/ person (or poem) under examination.  I felt is was a very clever weaving in of the takhallus.