Sunday, 15 July 2007

Ghalib - Ye ham jo hijr mein deevaar-o-dar ko

Continuing with the Ghalib classics, here is another four-sher beauty from the deewaan... however, what places it among the 'classics' is undeniably its second Sher, which ranks among the two or three most famous 'signature' shers of ghalib... and deservedly so, in my opinion!

ye ham jo hijr mei.n diiwaar-o-dar ko dekhte hai.n
kabhii sabaa ko kabhii naamaabar ko dekhte hai.n

ये हम जो हिज्र में दीवार-ओ-दर को देखते हैं
कभी सबा को कभी नामाबर को देखते हैं

"when I thus regard, during separation, the walls and door
(I) sometimes see the breeze, sometimes the messenger"

The main 'break' that Ghalib is credited with having brought about in the urdu love-poetry tradition was the way he 're-focussed' poetic attention on the 'state of mind of the Lover', rather than merely continuing to lavish praise on the Beloved's beauty and charms, as had been the case earlier... indeed, one can almost say that the Beloved is incidental to Ghalib's poetry, serving only as a piquant 'frame of reference' for the desperateness and hopelessness of the the Lover's unrequited ardour, which, in fact, is the real star of the show...

This Sher is an apt example of this Ghalibian tradition... It creates an impressively lucid, almost 'visual', picture of the restlessness and impatience that the Lover feels during the long days and nights of separation from the Beloved... we can almost see this unfortunate character pacing about restlessly, sleeplessly, from room to room in his house, gazing aimlessly at the walls and doors... and, as the second line explains, sporadically imagining the arrival of either the breeze or the messenger (both of which could, of course, conceivably bring news or a missive from the Beloved, as per Ghazal stylisation). 

Even the poet knows, of course, that these imagined fancies are nothing more than that, since neither the breeze nor the messenger are actually likely to come... which only serves to highlight the air of hopelessness created by the first line...

vo aaye ghar mei.n hamaare, khudaa kii kudrat hai
kabhii ham unko kabhii apne ghar ko dekhte hai.n

वो आए घर में हमारे, खुदा की कुदरत है
कभी हम उनको कभी अपने घर को देखते हैं

"She's come to my house, the lord be praised!
I (go on) looking, (first) at her...(then) at my house..."

What a delightful Sher this is!! A true classic, it remains probably the most quoted of Ghalib's couplets, at times by people who don't even know they are quoting Ghalib (as with Shakespeare, that is probably the greatest tribute a poet can aspire to!!)

What I love about this Sher is the haunting lucidity with which it captures a vignette that is, in fact, very short in duration... but which absolutely drips with meaning, feeling, and a totally endearing pathos! 

Consider the situation - against all expectation, almost against the nature of things itself, the Poet finds, on answering a knock at his door, that the Beloved is outside!! The first response of the stupefied lover is, of course, to thank the Lord for this unexpected bounty (a sort of mental 'Hallelujah!')... but look at what happens next!!! Instead of savouring this long-awaited moment - a moment of almost cosmic consequence in the Ghazal universe - the Lover's mind is beset by a frenzied anxiety about the 'unsuitability' of his humble abode to receive a guest such as this!!! 

Isn't that an absolutely delicious picture?! One can almost see the poet goggling speechlessly at the Beloved at his doorstep...his eyes flitting back and forth guiltily between her patent loveliness and the shabbiness of his house... a shabbiness which he might have hardly noticed before this, but which now seems (to him) to scream out for attention... and all the while, the Beloved awaits a word of welcome, or at least a greeting or an invitation to enter!!

There is such an innocent air of almost 'adolescent' insecurity in this picture, that it effortlessly spans across cultural and temporal contexts... haven't we ALL experienced similar situations? The way the 'defects' in one's appearance, attributes, or material possessions, suddenly seem much more glaring when one is interacting with someone one wishes to impress... that sinking feeling when one is ushering in a cherished guest and one notices that frayed carpet or that food-stain on the sofa...! 

I mentioned in an earlier post that the placement of a preceding Sher can often add to the enjoyment of the succeeding one...remember? Take this one, for instance... the sense of agonized waiting that is captured in the first Sher of the Ghazal - all that aimless 'staring at walls and doors' that the Lover indulges in to pass his loneliness - provides a fitting context to highlight not only the significance of the Beloved's unexpected arrival in the second sher, but also the fact that the shabbiness of his 'walls and doors' had not really struck the Lover (despite his staring at them all the time) until the Beloved happened to be in a position to see them!! 

nazar lage na kahii.n uske dast-o-baazuu ko
ye log kyo.n mere zakhm-e-jigar ko dekhte hai.n

नज़र लगे ना कहीं उसके दस्त-ओ-बाज़ू को
ये लोग क्यों मेरे ज़ख्म-ए-जिगर को देखते हैं

"may the evil eye not afflict her hand or arm!
why do people look at the wound in my liver?!"

The 'cultural context' of the sher is provided by the belief, still quite prevalent, that excessive public admiration or adulation in favour of someone can expose them to the risk of 'nazar lagna'... the belief which prompts grandmoms to put kaajal spots on the cheeks of their grandkids, as a protective device to 'dilute' their otherwise envy-inspiring beauty (even when this 'beauty' seems to be apparent only to the grandmother!) [somewhat similar to the Occidental practice of 'touching wood' when talking about something fortuitous, so as to not 'jinx' the good fortune].

With that in mind, the Sher is quite straightforward, though no less lovely for that... in effect, the first line expresses an anxious prayer that the arm of the Beloved may not be exposed to such envy-inspired बुरी नज़र ... 

But, why should her arm be at risk? Well, the Poet doesn't say explicitly, but the second line expresses a plaintive complaint against the way people keep staring at the wound in his liver!! The implication being, of course, that when people regard the seriousness of the wound, they are bound to feel a certain admiration for the marksmanship of the person who inflicted the wound!! 

The 'teer-e-neemkash' sher of the earlier classic we looked at provides a nice thematic context for this particular one, doesn' it? 

Evidently, the 'punch point' of the sher is the way the Poet seems more concerned about the well-being of the Beloved than about the deadly wound she has inflicted on HIM... which is why the Sher works much better in a (typically Ghalibian) ironical/satirical/humorous delivery!

tere jawahiir-e-tarf-e-kula ko kyaa dekhe.n
ham oj-e-taalaa-e-laal-o-gauhar ko dekhte hai.n

तेरे जवाहीर-ए-तर्फ़-ए-कुलः को क्या देखें
हम ओज-ए-ताला-ए-लाल-ए-गौहर को देखते हैं

'Why should I look at the jewels in the golden rim of your crown?
I am looking at the heights of good fortune of the diamonds and pearls!'

The Beloved's crown is bordered by a golden rim, encrusted with diamonds and pearls... and the vain one has obviously been 'showing off' these precious embellishments to the poet... to which he dryly responds, 'how can I look at them? I am too busy looking at (admiring) their good fortune!!'

Their 'good fortune' is, of course, that they are on the Beloved's head... which, according to the poet, does much more to adorn them than to adorn her!! Isn't that a lovely compliment?? There is even a hint of 'jealousy' at the closeness the unworthy jewels, albeit inanimate, are enjoying vis-a-vis the Beloved!!

Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Ghalib - naa thaa kuchh to khudaa thaa

This brief three-sher masterpiece ranks among the deepest, most mystical, pieces in the entire Deewaan; impishly intriguing the imagination, but somehow always dancing out of the reach of understanding...

na thaa kuchh to khudaa thaa, kuchh na hotaa to khudaa hotaa
duboyaa mujh ko hone ne, na hotaa mai.n to kyaa hotaa

ना था कुछ तो खुदा था, कुछ ना होता तो खुदा होता

डुबोया मुझ को होने ने, ना होता मैं तो क्या होता

"when (there / I) was nothing, (there / I) was God; if (there / I) were nothing, (there / I) would have been God

(The fact of) Being drowned me; if I wasn't (me?) then what would I have been? (or 'what would have been the big deal?')

It is truly frustrating to have something as lovely, as unfathomably profound, as pregnant with prolific meanings, as this to translate - the linguistic/expressive/intellectual tools at one's command are so completely inadequate for the task...!

However, even if one can't entirely capture its richness of meaning, this sher still hits you with its depth, doesn't it? And rightly so; Ghalib is playing with Orphic mysteries here!

Take the first line - that recondite "ना था कुछ तो खुदा था कुछ ना होता तो खुदा होता" admits such a fecundity of meaning that the mind boggles!

And yet, on first glance, the line does not seem that difficult - it seems to be stating nothing more than the standard theological 'truism' that the Almighty preceded, and will outlast, all creation...[literally, "when there was nothing, there was God..." etc.]

However, that is only until one chooses to read the 'ना था कुछ तो' to mean 'when there was nothing'. Once one sees the (totally haunting) second line, other possibilities spring to mind... The introduction of the personal pronoun मैं in the second line is somewhat unexpected, given the impersonally 'abstract' nature of the first line; and it suggests that the 'ना था कुछ तो' of the first line might not have meant 'when there was nothing' but rather something like 'when (something unspecified) was nothing' i.e., the expression being evoked (by the ना था कुछ) may be the colloquial 'to be nothing' which means, of course, 'to not exist' or alternatively 'to not amount to anything'.

Which then makes one wonder what is this 'something unspecified' whose non-existence is being postulated... and one can begin to play around with possibilities...!

Is the Poet saying that when
he himself was nothing (i.e. when he did not exist), he was God? And that if he had continued to not exist, he would have continued to be God..?! That sounds almost unreasonably arrogant, but not when one recalls that in 'Sufi' traditions, one is supposed to derive one's existence out of the Almighty's, and to eventually subsume it into Him...!

Since 'कुछ ना होना' can also mean 'to be a nobody' i.e. to be someone insignificant and unremarkable, the poet could also be saying that 'when he was a nobody' (i.e. before he became successful) he was (as carefree as? as independent as?) God, and it was precisely 'becoming someone' that brought him down from this enviable pedestal...

Note that the 'ना होता मैं तो' of the second line could mean not just 'if I were not' (meaning 'if I did not exist'), but also something like 'if I was not I' (where one more मैं is 'implied')... which then would make the second half of the second line read something like 'if I were not I, what would I have been?'...! What, indeed?!

Finally, consider that 'तो क्या होता' right at the end of the sher. While it fits in beautifully with any of the previously evoked senses of the second line, there is another colloquial usage of the exclamatory expression 'तो क्या हुआ' which is something like the verbally challenging 'so what?!' in English. With this in mind, the second line could alternatively read 'It was being that drowned me; (however, even) if I didn't exist (or if i wasn't i), what would have been the big deal?!'

See what I mean? There's just too much going on in this sher to allow any hope to a translator...!! :-)

huaa jab gham se yuu.n behis to gham kyaa sar ke kaTne kaa
na hotaa gar judaa tan se to jaanuu.n par dharaa hotaa

हुआ जब गम से यूँ बेहिस तो गम क्या सर के कटने का

ना होता ग़र जुदा तन से तो जानूं पर धरा होता

"when it became so senseless with grief, why worry about the cutting of the head
If it wasn't separated from the body, it would have been resting on the knees"

Delightful! What an airy way to dismiss the fact that one has just 'lost one's head'!!

"Well", reasons Ghalib, "the wretched thing had, anyway, become so numbed with grief that even if it
hadn't been chopped off, it would have merely been resting lifelessly on the knees ... and there's no loss in losing a useless burden like that!!"

What makes this picture specially enjoyable is the fact that the resting of the head on the knees (or holding it in one's palms) is a sort of standard metaphor for being overcome with grief... it takes a Ghalib to impute a 'lifelessness of the head' to this 'standard' gesture of despair...!

Note also that the subject of the first half of the first line is left unspecified... so while it most naturally seems to be talking about the head being senseless, it could also be the protagonist whose grief-induced numbness is being evoked... i.e., 'since I am so numbed with grief, what pain would I feel if (even) my head was chopped off'!

huii muddat ki ghaalib mar gayaa par yaad aataa hai
vo har ek baat par kahnaa ki yuu.n hotaa to kyaa hotaa

हुई मुद्दत की ग़ालिब मर गया पर याद आता है

वो हर एक बात पर कहना कि यूँ होता तो क्या होता

"It's been an age that Ghalib passed away, but one (still) remembers
(his manner of) saying (in response to) everything, "if it were like this, what would have happened?"

A sublime, and much appreciated, Maqta, to end this short masterpiece of a ghazal...

The overall meaning of the sher is strikingly simple... Ghalib is dead, and an acquaintance is nostalgically recalling his habit of constantly saying 'यूँ होता तो क्या होता' in response to हर एक बात ... but it is the myriad ways in which this expression can be interpreted that makes this such a beautiful sher...

'यूँ होता तो क्या होता' can simply be the classic expression of regret... 'if only it were so...!' which evokes one characteristic of the defunct Ghalib, namely his air of chronic discontent...

However, at its most literal, the expression could also be a more direct 'explanatory' statement like 'if A had happened, then B would have happened'; the evoking of which could be a tribute to Ghalib's logical powers... and his ability to 'explain' हर एक बात

But also remember that more colloquial sense of 'तो क्या हुआ' that we evoked earlier... which is a dismissive expression like "so what's the big deal?!"... and wouldn't it have been just like Ghalib to have used something like that to respond to हर एक बात ???

Monday, 9 July 2007

Faiz - aaj baazaar mein

A soul-stirring exhortation to action - Faiz working his magic from the prison cell, circa 1959...

aaj baazaar mei.n paa-bajolaa.n chalo

chashm-e-nam, jaa.n-e-shoridaa kaafii nahi.n
tuhmat-e-ishq-poshidaa kaafii nahi.n
aaj baazaar mei.n paa-bajolaa.n chalo

dast-afshaa.n chalo, mast-o-raqsaa.n chalo
khaak bar-sar chalo, khoo.n-ba-daamaa.n chalo
rah taktaa hai sab shahar-e-jaanaa.n chalo

haaqim-e-shahar bhii, majmaa-e-aam bhii
tiir-e-iljaam bhii, sang-e-dushnaam bhii
subh-e-naashaad bhii, roz-e-naakaam bhii

in kaa damsaaz apne sivaa kaun hai
shahar-e-jaanaa.n mei.n ab baa-safaa kaun hai
dast-e-qaatil ke shaayaa.n rahaa kaun hai

rakht-e-dil baandh lo, dil-figaaro.n chalo
phir ham hii qatl ho aaye.n yaaro.n chalo

aaj baazaar mei.n paa-bajolaa.n chalo

आज बाज़ार में पाबजोलां चलो

चश्म-ए-नम, जां-ए-शोरीदा, काफी नहीं
तोहमत-ए-इश्क-पोशीदा काफी नहीं
आज बाज़ार में पाबजोलाँ चलो

दस्त-अफ्शां चलो, मस्त-ओ-रक्सां चलो
ख़ाक बर सर चलो, ख़ून बदामां चलो
राह तकता है सब शहर-ए-जानां चलो

हाकिम-ए-शहर भी, मजमा-ए-आम भी
तीर-ए-इल्ज़ाम भी, संग-ए-दुष्नाम भी
सुब्ह-ए-नाशाद भी, रोज़-ए-नाकाम भी

इन का दमसाज़ अपने सिवा कौन है
शहर-ए-जानां मे अब बासफ़ा कौन है
दस्त-ए-कातिल के शायां रहा कौन है

रख्त-ए-दिल बाँध लो, दिल फिगारो चलो
फिर हमीं क़त्ल हो आयें यारों, चलो

आज बाज़ार मे पाबजोलां चलो

Walk today in the baazaar, (even) with be-shackled feet!

A damp eye, an agitated spirit, are not enough
To be (merely) accused of an illicit love is not enough
Walk today in the baazaar, (even) with be-shackled feet!

Walk waving your hands, dancing with abandon
Walk with dust-covered hair, with blood on your clothes
The entire city of Beloveds awaits you... Walk!

The rulers of the City, (as well as) the common throngs
The arrows of blame, (as well as) the stones of infamy
The joyless mornings, (as well as) the helpless days

Who, other than us, is their ally (today)?
Who is still blameless in this City of Beloveds?
Who still remains worthy of the executioner's hands?

Tie up the baggage of the heart, (and) with wounded hearts walk
Let us again be the ones to be martyred, my friends... let's walk!

Walk in the baazaar today, (even) with be-shackled feet!!

Brings a lump to your throat, doesn't it?? If this isn't the stuff revolutions are made of, I don't know what is...!!

The 'walk in the baazaar today' is meant to be, of course, an appeal (to passive onlookers) to 'come out in the public' (in open rebellion)... perhaps a more meaningful translation of the title line might have been something like 'march out on the streets today, (despite the) chains on your feet!'