Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Faiz - Ab vahi harf-e-junoon

A nice one by faiz, in classic ghazal form। The extremely commonplace 'radif' (refrain), i.e. 'thahree hai' admits of such varied meanings (both literal and idiomatic) that the shers are able to dip and swoop across an entire gamut of moods and emotions। In common usage, 'thaharnaa' could stand for many different acts - stopping, pausing, arriving, being contained, becoming, the very act of being, lingering, becoming established, etc. Faiz uses most of these senses beautifully in this...

ab vahii harf-e-junoon sab kii zubaa.n Thahrii hai
jo bhii chal niklii hai vo baat kahaa.n Thahrii hai

अब वही हर्फ़-ए-जुनून सब की जुबां ठहरी है
जो भी चल निकली है वो बात कहाँ ठहरी है

'Now that same frenzied word has settled on (reached) every tongue
once it has started off, when has a news/rumour ever stopped (spreading)?'

The 'mood' of this couplet remains a little difficult to pin down... but it has an undefinable beauty in urdu which just doesn't come out in English, unfortunately.

In its most literal interpretation, the comment seems to be on the difficulty of keeping (love's?) secrets from the public eye... 'once these things come out, where do they stop? Look, the word has now reached every mouth!'.

But since 'baat' is such a 'generic' word (there is no exact English equivalent, although the French 'parole' or 'chose' is an almost equivalent construct), the sher could mean almost anything else... after all, we do use 'baat' colloquially to mean something like 'issue' or 'matter' (in the sense of 'kya baat hai?' or 'what's the matter?'). So, the second line could be saying something like 'once something takes off, does it ever stop easily?' And so the comment could be not only on one's inability to stop 'news' or 'secrets' from spreading in a frenzied manner, but one's inability to keep ANYTHING under control, once it 'sets off'...

aaj tak sheikh ke ikraam me jo shay thii haraam
ab vahii dushman-e-diin raahat-e-jaan Thahrii hai

आज तक शैख़ के इकराम मे जो शय थी हराम
अब वही दुश्मन-ए-दीन राहत-ए-जान ठहरी है

What was, until today, condemnable in the code of the preacher
now, that very foe-of-faith has become the comfort of [my] life

In classic ghazal imagery, this would clearly be a delightful celebration of the bottle! The way drink can become the basis of (a doomed lover's) survival, whatever religious (Islamic) instruction might preach about the shamefulness of the addiction...

The sher could also apply to idol-worship or 'but parasti' [बुत-परस्ती], which is how devotion to the beloved is often metaphorically described in the ghazal world. Once again, बुत परस्ती is something that faith (and hence the 'Code of the Preacher') condemns as being completely un-Islamic, but the poet can't do without praying at the feet of this particular 'but'!

hai khabar garm ki phirtaa hai gurezaa.n naaseh
guftaguu aaj sar-e-kuu-e-butaa.n Thahrii hai

है खबर गर्म की फिरता है गुरेज़ां नासेह
गुफ्तगू आज सर-ए-कू-ए-बुतां ठहरी है

the hot news is that the advisor is running about in (attempt to) escape/depart
the discussion/conversation has stopped today in the lane of the beloved

a slightly tricky one, this.

a lot of opprobrium in the ghazal universe is directed against the 'naaseh' or advisor - someone (presumably a friend) who tries to counsel the lover/poet against his (obviously pointless) infatuation for the (unfaithful) Beloved. Because his advice is so patently sensible and irrefutable, the poet takes a sort of perverse pleasure in discomfiting and running down the well-meaning naaseh.

In this particular sher, i think there is a very specific scenario being evoked - one where the advisor has been walking alongside the poet, somewhat lost in doling out his usual words of advice, until he suddenly finds that they have reached the middle of the Beloved's lane (because the poet's feet lead him naturally that way)! At which point, the advisor fumbles about in his haste to get away from there! But why? Is he apprehensive about being unwelcome in the Beloved's neighbourhood (because of his constant criticism of her)?? Or, more deliciously, could it be that he is himself not entirely unknown in the lane of the Beloved, and is afraid of that fact being discovered by the poet??!!! If this was a Ghalib ghazal, the latter interpretation would almost certainly be the one intended, although Faiz tends to be less 'viciously naughty' in these respects. However, the ironical (or deliberately theatrical) way the sher begins 'hai khabar garm' does suggest that that is what Faiz wanted to insinuate...!

hai vahii aariz-e-lailaa vahii shiiriyan kaa dahan
nigaah-e-shauq ghaDii bhar ko yahaa.n Thahrii hai

है वही आरिज़-ए-लैला वही शीरियन का दहन
निगाह-ए-शौक़ घड़ी भर को यहाँ ठहरी है

It is those same cheeks of Laila, those same lips of Shireen
[on which] pleasure's eyes have momentarily paused

An 'over the top' way of praising the charms of his particular beloved? [that her cheeks and lips can be classed with those of the legendary beauties of the ages...] Or is it a bemused commentary on the 'sameness' of all beauty, despite its abiding ability to command the interest of the viewer, at least in passing...?

vasl kii shab thii to kis darjaa subak gujrii thii
hijr kii shab hai to kyaa sakht-garaa.n Thahrii hai

वस्ल की शब् थी तो किस दर्जा सुबक गुजरी थी
हिज्र की शब् है तो क्या सख्त-गराँ ठहरी है
when it was the night of [our] union, how smoothly/delicately it had passed
when it is the night of separation, how hard and heavy it lingers

Happy times do always seem to fly past, compared to the more difficult ones! But a lover is certainly justified in belabouring the point that the night spent in the Beloved's company had seemed to just slip by (smoothly), whereas this, the long night of separation, seems to hang heavily around him, all tough-skinned and clinging!

bikhrii ek baar to haath aai kab mauj-e-shamiim
dil se niklii hai to kab lab pe fugaa.n Thahrii hai

बिखरी एक बार तो हाथ आई कब मौज-ए-शमीम
दिल से निकली है तो कब लब पे फुगां ठहरी है
once scattered, has the wave of fragrant breeze ever come in one's hand?
once emerged from the heart, has the cry of pain ever paused on the lips?

A little trite, perhaps - the simile is somewhat too obvious.

A fragrant zephyr can't be 'caught' in the hand once it begins to flow... the poet draws a parallel to justify his inability (and those of other tortured souls like himself) to contain their cries of pains (fugaan's) by saying that 'once they leave the heart, who has ever been able to stop them from crossing the lips'... it could also be a way of claiming that the 'cries of pain' of lovers are actually rather like fragrant breezes (because they come out as poetry?)

dast-e-sayyaad bhii aajiz hai kaf-e-gulchii.n bhii
buu-e-gul Thahrii na bul-bul kii zabaa.n Thahrii hai

दस्त-ए-सय्याद भी आजिज़ है कफ-ए-गुल्चीं भी
बू-ए-गुल ठहरी ना बुल-बुल की जबां ठहरी है

The hand of the hunter is frustrated, as is the palm of the flower-picker
neither the fragrance of the flowers has stayed (in the palm) nor the voice of the nightingale (in the hand)


Try as they may, neither the hunter nor the flower picker can 'hold on' to the most precious possessions of those whom they rob of their lives and existence...

आजिज़ is a much more evocative word (often used colloquially too) than 'frustrated'... it is better captured in exasperated expressions like 'i am sick of trying to do this'... and creates a more gloating sense of the poet's enjoyment at the lack of success of the hunter and flower-picker, for whom the poet obviously (and justifiably) feels little sympathy!

aate aate yuu.n hi dam bhar ko rukii hogii bahaar
jaate jaate yuu.n hi pal bhar to khizaa.n Thahrii hai

आते आते यूँ ही दम भर को रुकी होगी बहार
जाते जाते यूँ ही पल भर को खिज़ां ठहरी है

While arriving, the spring must probably just have stopped for a breath
while leaving, autumn has just paused for a moment

Very nice. The sort of 'desperately' optimistic comment that only serves to highlight the hopelessness of the (poet's) situation. While there is little sign of the coming of spring, the poet bravely predicts that it has probably just 'paused for a breath' on its way in, and that autumn is probably just about to leave, and has only stopped momentarily on the way out!!

ham ne jo tarj-e-fugaa.n kii hai qafas mei.n ijaad
'Faiz' gulshan mei.n vo tarz-e-bayaa.n Thahrii hai

हम ने जो तर्ज़-ए-फुगां की है कफ़स मे इजाद
'फैज़' गुलशन मे वो तर्ज़-ए-बयां ठहरी है

the 'style of lament' that we invented in the cage
(out) in the garden, oh faiz, it has become a 'style of discourse'

the way Faiz ends his poems (both ghazals and nazms) is in itself enough to justify his two nobel prize nominations! Isn't this one an absolute beauty??

He evokes the stylised imagery of birds caged away from their garden (the कफ़स-गुलशन scenario) that recurs again and again in the ghazal world, and makes one of these birds (perhaps one freshly escaped from the cage after a long spell of imprisonment) inform another one (who is still trapped within) that the words (bird-songs?) they had 'invented' to bemoan their (shared) confinement have become a common 'mode of speech' (public anthems?) out in the garden!! A poet's way of taking pride in the fact that the 'prison of pain' in which he lives, gives his words the sort of pathos and appeal that makes others (who don't even share the same pain) adopt his style (of speech) for common usage.

This ghazal appeared in Faiz's work dast-e-sabaa, which was written while he was a prisoner of conscience.  As with much of his work, therefore, this sher has a more dramatic - and daringly political - interpretation: That even by clapping him in irons, his oppressors cannot prevent his words providing grist to the mills of revolutionary protest outside...


Omer said...


Thank you very much for your kind effort of going to extraordinary lengths in rendering beautiful explanations about mesmerising and haunting hindi/urdu poetry for an average mind.

Your blog is rare endeavour, whereby you share your uncommon gift of knowledge making the abstract and incomprehensible, into apprehensible, and perceivable by giving it a relevant structure, an operational base and circumstance.

You not only have the gift of understanding an esoteric literature, but also that you enterprise and strive to make it available to others who lack that power of comprehension.

Just one request if you could write the original verses in Romanized hindi or urdu, rather than in Dēvanāgarī script. People like me cannot read both languages so it become difficult to understand what verse you are referring to.

I thank you for your attention and consideration, and remain

Yours truly

Omar Ishmail
MD, MBA, MS, MedEd, PhD


Wanda said...

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