Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Mir - Aa ke sajjaada-nasheen Qais huaa mere baad

How about another by Mir today? This is a short one, but one I've long liked – though, in all fairness, my opinion is at least partly coloured by having first encountered this ghazal in a magical rendering by Mehdi Hassan (and MH, if he put his mind to it, could bring a lump to one's throat even with 'Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall', couldn't he...? Seriously though, if you haven't heard him singing this one, you should – it is nothing short of a package tour to heaven– all 15 minutes 03 seconds of it! Moreover, it is a 'live' concert recording, which is always so much better than the 'studio' versions vitiated by superfluous orchestration).

के सज्जादा-नशीं क़ैस हुआ मेरे बाद

रही दश्त में ख़ाली कोई जा मेरे बाद

Qais came and became the custodian of (my) tomb, after me

No place in the desert remained empty (desolate), after me

This is a truly delightful sher, albeit somewhat abstruse because of its allusiveness.

Qais was the actual name of the unfortunate male protagonist of Nizami's Laila-Majnoon epic. In the world of urdu poetics, Qais (or Majnoon as he came to be called, following his doomed infatuation for Laila) remains the reference point for describing the 'junoon' of love – as exemplified in his aimless wanderings in the desert. That provides the context for, and gives the bite to, this outstanding sher.

Let's look at the first line – the words 'sajjaada nasheen' would literally translate to 'someone who lives on a prayer mat' (metaphorically, someone habitually in abjectful worship). However, the composite term 'sajjaada nasheen' actually has a more specific meaning, namely the religious custodian of the 'dargah' (or shrine) of a Pir. [Often, though not always, the Sajjaada-nasheen of a dargah claims direct descent from the Pir in question. A Sajjaada-nasheen holds a formal office, recognised in law, although the 'secular' management of a dargah is usually entrusted to another official called a Mutawalli].

So what is the first line saying? Well, after the death of the poet, it seems that the other principal wanderer of the desert, namely Majnoon, has abandoned his wanderings, to take up office as the custodian of the poet's shrine. The implied link of kinship serves, of course, to stress the commonalities between the poet and Majnoon, in the shared intensity of their desperate ardour.

But what explains the uncharacteristic willingness of Majnoon – that emblematic lunatic who is supposed to have famously turned away from the entire world to embrace wildernesses – to take up a formal office? Well, as the second line cleverly informs us, there actually are no wildernesses left in the desert anymore, after the poet's death. Why? Because it is the entire desert that has become the Poet's shrine, and Majnoon, if he has to continue to reside in the desert, has no other choice, really, than to tend to this shrine!

One mustn't miss the clever choice of words in the second line... the Arabian desert (where the Laila Majnoon romance is set, of course) is named the 'Rab-ul-Khalee' (literally, 'the empty space'), hence the use of the 'khaalee' to describe desolateness is quite deliberate. ('Jaa' is Farsi for 'place').

चाक करना है इसी ग़म से गिरेबान--कफ़न

कौन खोलेगा तेरे बंद--क़बा मेरे बाद

(I) have to rip open the collar of (my) shroud, just out of this concern

(that) who will undo the fasteners of your robe, after me

Isn't that just beautiful? The 'compulsion' the Lover feels, even after his death, to forcefully tear his way out of his shroud (remember the 'chaak-e-garebaan' stylisation that he is supposed to have endured throughout his life?) because he is anxious about the fact that, after his death, his Beloved would have nobody left to help her out of her clothing!! While this can only be, due to its implied sexual intimacy, a celebration of 'consummated' love (somewhat unusual in the ghazal world), what a touching celebration it is...!

[A 'qabaa' is typically the type of woman's robe that is secured at the back, bosom and the navel by tied strings (as opposed to the more commonly used word 'pairaahan', which is normally a dress that uses buttons or other fasteners).]

वो हवा-खाह--चमन हूँ की चमन में हर सुब्ह

पहले मैं जाता था और बाद--सबा मेरे बाद

Such a walker in the garden am I, that every morning in the garden

I would reach first, and the morning breeze (would come there) after me

Oh, this one is just too clever and tongue-in-cheek! Ghalib would be proud of it!

And yet, it is very simple too, isn't it? The main punch of the sher is provided by the colloquial idiomatic usage 'hawa khaana' which translates literally as 'to eat air' but actually means to go for a walk or promenade. Hence someone who describes himself as a 'hawa-khaah-e-chaman' is simply describing his fondness for visiting the garden for walks. But the literal meaning allows Mir to wittily imply that it is because he is so famously (and ominously) a 'consumer of the garden air' that even the morning zephyrs fearfully postpone their arrival in the garden until after he has come and left!!

तेज़ रखना सर--हर ख़ार को दश्त--जूनून

शायद जाये कोई आब्ला-पा मेरे बाद

Keep the point of every thorn sharp, o desert of madness

perhaps someone with blistered feet might come by, (even) after me

Once again, a really nice one, despite the simplicity! Even thorns serve some purpose, being useful for 'pricking' the blisters in the feet of those who have made a career of wandering the desert... the Poet seems to be worried about the possibility that the thorns may choose to shed their acuity after his death (the implication being that the thorns implicitly recognise that nobody truly 'blistered' is likely to come by now, once the Poet is no more)...

मुँह पे रख दामन--गुल रोएंगे मुर्गान--चमन

हर रविश ख़ाक उडाएगी सबा मेरे बाद

The birds of the garden shall weep covering their faces with 'daamans' of flower (petals)

On every turn (path) the breeze will blow dust (clouds), after me

What absolutely divine imagery this sher uses! And what delightful word-play!

First look at the hauntingly lovely first line... I haven't bothered to translate 'daaman' because there isn't any English equivalent, but we know that it describes the multi-functional trailing (or free-hanging) portion of a woman's dress, one of whose uses can be to serve as a handy face-covering during a dust-storm! With that in mind, the first line sketches a touching picture of the birds in the garden using the blooms (or their petals) as proxy daamans to cover their faces, whilst they weep.

In a mushairaa context, we wouldn't yet know why the birds are weeping, even less why they are doing so with their faces so concealed (the first instinct seems to be to assume that they are covering their faces simply because they are weeping, as a woman might well use her daaman to hide her tears). It is the second line that informs us that the birds are weeping because the Poet (that kindred lover of the garden) is no more – however, more importantly, it also reveals that what is making them use the flowers for face-masks are the continual dust-clouds being blown about the garden by the wind!

What's the implication? Normally, the 'chaman' is held in poetic contrast to the 'sehraa' or 'dasht' (the desert), with dust being, naturally, the constituent of the desert, not of the garden. However, the sher implies that the death of the Poet has evidently marked a 'victory' of the desert over the garden, because of which the dusts have invaded the chaman...and the birds are probably weeping as much for the imminent death of their garden as that of the Poet!

'Ravish' literally means something like 'walk' or 'gait' or 'manner of behaving' (because of which 'har ravish' can translate to something like 'on every instance' or 'constantly'), but is also used specifically to denote a 'path or avenue in a garden', hence its usage in the second line is particularly well thought out!

बाद मरने के मेरी कब्र पे आया वो मीर

याद आई मेरे ईसा को दवा मेरे बाद

After my death she came to my grave, O Meer

My Jesus remembered (my) cure, after me!

Once again, wonderfully tongue-in-cheek! The maqtaa, simple as it is, would have been a sure-shot crowd-pleaser in oral delivery! The reference to Jesus is evidently meant to allude to the Biblically recorded miracles of him 'raising the dead' with his breath or words...which becomes rather difficult once the poor defunct is already interred, of course!


malik ali said...

amazing poetry and equally amazing tanslation and explanation.just stumbled upon,but surely taking a lot from here.keep it up.

Sambuddha Bishee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sambuddha Bishee said...

Your website is a source of awe, amazement and sheer bliss.
Being a non-speaker of Urdu, I'd try getting the meaning of individual words from an online farsi to english dictionary (e.g. rekhta.org), but the nuances of the poetry never fully reveal itself unless one enlightens on the language and its evolution.
One of my favourite places, this blog. A true chaman-bahaar.