Urdu has a Future

According to experts deliberating on the Urdu language, it has a ‘golden future’ and its ‘use is expanding across the globe’.

National Language Authority chairman Fateh Malik said Pakistan’s print and electronic media used non-standard Urdu. He said Pakistan’s literary tradition was affected by the dictatorships. He said the Indian tradition was marked by an emphasis on prosody and other aspects than the purpose and message of a literary work. He said the tendency in the contemporary Pakistani literary circles to turn to India as a source of inspiration was misplaced.

I wonder who suggested looking towards India for inspiration in the first place, after the language has been pushed to the ghettos over the past half a century.

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Ibn e Insha

A Hamid recalls the time spent with the Jalandhar born poet Ibne Insha when both lived in Lahore in the late forties. Ibne Insha is the writer of that magnificient little book urdu ki aakhri kitaab and numerous nazms, ghazals and geets often written in the easy flowing sing song purabia style. A humourist par excellence.

Of the many battles that have been fought throughout history on the fields of Panipat, Ibne Insha wrote, “Till that time of which we write, only one battle had been fought at Panipat. No second battle had taken place. The people of Panipat waited long but when no second battle looked like taking place, leading citizens of the town went in a delegation to the court of the Emperor Akbar and submitted that a second battle of Panipat must take place so as to ensure that hose who supply fresh produce to the army, sharpen swords and bury the dead remain in business.”

Link via Huma Imtiaz

Listen to Insha’s nazm yeh bachcha kiska bachcha hai

Or better still, watch this touching video

link to Video via All things Pakistan

His well known ghazal sung by Jagjit Singh: kalchaudhvin ki raat thi

Some of his poetry at Urdu Poetry

One of my own favourites, among many others is sab maya hai

sab maya hai , sab dhaltee phirtee chaya hai
iss ishq mein hum nay jo khooya jo paya hai
jo tum nay kaha hai, faiz nay jo farmaya hai
sab maya hai

Some more poems at Ibn-e-Insha blog

The Secret of Mirza Ghalib’s Poetry

We now know the secret of the bard’s poetry, well, it was the …mangoes

…with his stunning memory and deep study of Ghalib’s life, Hali was the winner in proving that Ghalib had in fact tasted most of the 4,000 varieties of mangoes grown in India. This might be a funny incident but the truth is that Ghalib was the one who loved eating mangoes in sweltering summers more than composing his couplets.

The varieties of mangoes that Ghalib mentioned in 63 letters written to his friends are – Malda, Fasli, Chausa, Zard Aaloo, Jahangir, Dasehri, Rehmat-e-Khas, Sarauli, Malghoba, Aziz Pasand, Mahmood Samar, Sultan-us-Samar, Ram Kela, Bombay Green, Ratol, Safeda Mallihabadi, Dil Pasand, Husan Aara, Nazuk Pasand, Kishan Bhog, Neelam, Khudadad, Hamlet, Tota Pari, Nishati, Zafrani, Sinduri, Khatta Meetha, Barah Masi, Langra, Alfonso, Fajri Samar Bahisht, Gulabakhsh, Bishop, Xavier, Rumani and Badami. Ghalib had tasted all these.

Happy Birthday, Mirza Ghalib

(On the 209th birth anniversary of Mirza Assadullah Khan Ghalib- 27 Dec)

Over the last fifteen years, there is only one book that has always accompanied me. I had bought it in 1991 for rupees twenty, a pretty neat sum considering my first job paid me a microscopic amount. The cover has seen more than one adhesive tape ‘bandages’ on the sides, many pages have threatened to tear out and have been supplicated to be in their place with glue and tape. The pages of my copy of Diwan e Ghalib have, over these years, turned yellow, even brown.

My attempts to learn Urdu have been erratic in a persistent sort of way.

But the magic of the words has never changed over the years.

I have often wondered what is it about Ghalib that makes him so eternal? His language is certainly more difficult than of many others, he belongs to the “high” tradition that used a very Persianized form of Urdu, unlike Mir his sheyrs in the short behr (length) are few, his concerns, again unlike Mir, are often didactic and even his collection of ghazals and sheyrs is much smaller than that of many others.

So why is it that Ghalib appeals not only to such great poets like Allama Iqbal (who, like me, or me, like him, always carried a copy of the Diwan e Ghalib with him) and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, whose first book of verse bore a title after Ghalib’s ibtidayi sheyr of the Diwan, as well as the commoner folk?

I think one of the reasons is that Ghalib roars over and above his predecessors as well as successors. He rarely whimpers. He is a lively, even a gregarious character. For a long time and especially till the age of twentyfive, Ghalib refused to consider any criticism of his poetry. Consider the following sheyr:

Bandagi men bhi vuh azada o khud-bin hain ki ham
Ulte phir ae dar I kaba agar va na hua.

(We serve You, yet our independent self regard is such
We shall at once turn back if we would find the Kaba closed)

Another is his irreverence. Ghalib was hardly a ‘good’ Muslim. For one, he drank wine, as is famously known (French wine, in case you were wondering). He did not keep fasts or say his prayers or go on pilgrimage. In this he follows other Urdu poets who stand on the verge of transgression or beyond. For instance, Mir had said:

Mir ke deen-o-mazhab ko, ab poochtey kya ho, unney toh
Kashka khaincha, dair main baitha, kab ka tark islam kiya

(Do not ask what Mir’s religion is, he has
Put on the sacred mark on the forehead (tilak), sits in the idol house, and has given up Islam)

Ghalib wrote much that ridiculed and often put to serious cross-examination many of the religious and Islamic concepts. One of his somewhat cryptic posers is:

na tha kuch, toh khuda tha, na hoga kuch toh khuda hoga
Na thaa kuch to khuda thaa, kuch na hota to khuda hota

duboya mujhko hooney ney, na hota main, toh kya hota?

(When nothing was, then God was there; had nothing been, God would have been,
My being has defeated me, had I not been what would have been? )

This irreverence was driven by a spirit of transgression, of crossing the accepted norms of society that excited Ghalib. He echoed in his poetry a popular Punjabi saying:

Jo had tapey so auliya, behad tapey so pir
Jo had, behad dono tapey, us noon aakhan fakir

(The one who crosses all boundaries attains the exalted title Auliya, the one who crosses non- boundaries becomes the Pir,
The one who crosses both boundaries as well as non- boundaries, becomes a Fakir)

And Ghalib, of course, prided himself on being a fakir. He remarked:

Banakar fakeeron ka hum bheys ghalib,
Tamasha-e-ahl-e-karam dekhtey hain

(Taking on the garb of a fakir, Ghalib
I watch the goings on of the world with a detached air)

That is why Ghalib continues to surprise- there are frontiers that we become aware of only when we cross them with his poetry.

Even as I browse his diwan umpteenth time, I find myself marking sheyrs that had escaped my attention earlier.

Here is a selection of some that have been marked in my copy over the years, a handful of selection, of course:

Naqsh fariyaadee hai kiskee shokhee-e-tehreer ka
Kaaghazee hai pairhan har paikar-e-tasveer ka

Ghalib zamanaa mujh ko mitaataa hey kiss liyay,
Loh-e-jahaan peh herf-e-mukerrer naheen hoon main

(Ghalib the world should not erase or displace me, since I am the ‘word’ not to be written twice on the Eternal Slate)

Bas ke hun Ghalib, asiri main bhi aatash zer e pa
moo e atash deeda, hai halka meri zanjeer ka

Ishk taasir se naumeed nahin
Jaan supari shajar e bed nahin

Bhaagey the hum bahut, so usi ki saza hai yeh
hokar aseer daabtey hain, rahzan ke paon

Ishk ne pakda na tha abhi vehshat ka rang
rah gaya tha dil main jo kuch, zauk e khawari hai hai

Saaya mera mujh se misl e dood bhaagey hai, Asad
paas mujh aatash bazan ke, kis se thehra jaaye hai

A related post.

Source of Mirza Ghalib’s image

‘Il Postino’, Pablo Neruda and Makhdoom


“And it was at that age…Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.”
Pablo Neruda

‘Il Postino‘ (The Postman) is a movie about a fumbling postman whose job is to deliver mail to Pablo Neruda while the latter is in exile on an island in Italy. This is partly fictitious. I don’t have his autobiography with me so I cannot verify about this incident if at all it is mentioned in the book, I don’t remember reading about it.

Mario watches a documentary news item in a cinema recounting the journey of Neruda to Italy. When he is asked to deliver mail to him, he gets interested in Neruda’s poetry so that he too, like Neruda, can “impress the girls”.

Starting with this rather innocuous motive, he begins to understand the art of writing poetry and imbibes ideas from Neruda himself. The dialogues are wonderful and the interactions between the postman and the Poet are a delight every time Mario goes to deliver mail to Neruda. The rustic intelligence of Mario is pitted against the wisdom of the Neruda and the brilliance comes through despite the translation.

There area couple of sentences that I particularly liked. Mario takes a poem from Neruda to impress a girl he likes (called Beatrice). When Neruda castigates him for doing so, he responds with the following, leaving the poet speechless:

Poetry doesn’t belong to those who write it, it belongs to those who need it

Later, his friendship with Neruda evolves and he starts understanding “complex” words like “metaphors” and starts writing poetry himself. Neruda also helps him in convincing Beatrice to marry him. When the priest discovers that Mario wants Neruda, a well known communist, as his best man, he is outraged:

Priest: Find yourself a person who isn’t a communist. If Neruda doesn’t believe in God, why should God believe in Neruda. What sort of a witness would he be?

Mario: God never said a communist can’t witness at a wedding

The movie is peppered with snippets from Neruda’s poetry. Here is a short (abou 9 minutes) clip available at youtube where Neruda composes a poem, and Mario begins to interpret it. At the end he makes a powerful comment:

Is it that the whole world is a metaphor for something else?

The clip:

A spoiler here, so don’t proceed if you intend to watch the movie yourself), Mario is invited to attend a communist demonstration and dies there. At the end of the movie, Pablo Neruda returns and finds that Mario’s son, born after he has died, is named Pablito.

Mario also records the sounds of his islands to send them on tape to Neruda. This clip captures that recording.

Needless to say, it has been one of the best movies that I have seen for a long time (not that I watch much), it is perhaps also the only movie I was able to watch without any break- and it was twice in two days.

Incidentally, the role of Mario was played by the actor- writer Massimo Troisi who died one day before the movie was released. He had deferred his heart treatment so that he could complete the movie (from Wikipedia)

‘Il Postino’ reminded me of a similar episode in the life of Makhdoom Mohiuddin, the communist poet from Hyderabad. It was recounted in the TV serial Kahkashan, and what I recollect is recounted here.

When the CPI was banned in 1948, Makhdoom was incarcerated in a jail where his cellmate was a young man who had been jailed in trumped up charges by the family of a girl he was in love with. Makhdoom leads him via his poetry to become politically educated. The young man is somehow released and Makhdoom as well, after a gap. Years later, while passing by a town he is informed of the sacrifice of a young man and a woman during the Telengana struggle. Makkhdoom finds the graves of the young man who had been his cellmate and beside his grave, that of that of the girl he had loved.

Makhdoom wrote a very moving nazm when he saw this.

The Kahkashan version is here, it has also been used in a Bollywood film Cha Cha Cha.

Thanks to HD for recommending the movie.

Remembering 06 December 1992: "Doosra Banwas "

Kaifi Azmi’s poem written in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition revealed the contradictions in the movement that led the demolition.

Ram banwaas se jab laut ke ghar mein aaye,
Yaad jangal bahut aaya jo nagar mein aaye,
Raqsse deewangee aangan mein jo dekha hoga,
6 december ko Shri Ram ne socha hoga,
Itne deewane kahan se mere ghar mein aaye?

Jagmagate thhe jahan Ram key qadmon ke nishaan,
Piyaar kee kahkashan leti thi angdayee jahan,
Mod nafrat ke usee rah guzar mein aaye,
Dharam kya unka hae, kya zaat hae, yeh janta kaun?
Ghar na jalta tau unhe raat mein pehchanta kaun,
Ghar jalane ko mera, log jo ghar mein aaye,
Shakahari hae mere dost tumahara khanjar.

Tumne Babar kee taraf pheke thhe saare patthar
Hae mere sar ki khata zakhm jo sar mein aaye,
Paun Sarjoo mein aabhi Ram ne dhoye bhee na thhe
Ke nazar aaye wahan khoon ke gehre dhabbe,
Paun dhoye bina Sarjoo ke kinare se uthe,
Ram yeh kehte hue aapne dwaare se uthe,
Rajdhani kee fiza aayee nahin raas mujhe,
6 December ko mila doosra banwaas mujhe.

(Acknowledgement: Zafar Iqbal)

A rough translation:

“The Second Exile”

That evening when Lord Ram returned to his home
He remembered the jungles where he had spent his years of exile
When he must have seen the dance of madness that December 6
It must have crossed his mind
From where have so many demented ones landed on my home

Wherever he had stepped and his footprints had shone
The river waters where thousands of stars of love meandered
Instead now took turns of violence and hatred
What is their religion, what is their caste, who knows?
Had the house not burnt, who would have known the faces
Of those who came to burn my house
Your sword, my friend, is vegetarian.

You threw towards Babar all the stones
It is my head’s fault that, instead, it bleeds
Lord Ram had not even washed his feet in the Saryu waters
When he saw deep blots of blood.
Getting up without washing his feet in the waters
Lord Ram left the precincts of his own residence, bemoaning,
The state of my own capital city no longer suits me
This December 6, I have been condemned to a second exile

Related link: Review of PV Narasimha Rao’s book 06 December 1992

Kaifi Aur Main


(Background post on the play “Kaifi aur Main”)

“Kaifi aur Main” is played out by Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar reading selected texts from Shaukat Azmi’s recently published memoir read by Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar reading out from Kaifi’s writings.

The major part of the narrative recounts the days of Kaifi and Shaukat Azmi till the early fifties when they lived in the famous Bombay Commune of the Communist Party. As others who lived through those days have also recounted, it was a time when it was “the very heavens to be alive.” The Party was young, most of the leading cadres were in their twenties or thirties, and there was till hope- the dissensions that were to begin with the exposure of Stalin’s crimes were yet to emerge.

Both Shaukat and Kaifi describe how the life in the commune was, and both recollect the late CPI Gen Sec P.C. Joshi. I specially liked the bit when he instructed the other members of the commune that Kaifi be allowed to get up late. It was also a revelation that the Party had initially decided that Shaukat Azmi not have her baby when Kaifi was in jail. It was only on her persistence that the Party agreed to let Shabana be born !

There is much of history well peppered with humor and though the music is nearly all from Kaifi’s films, it perhaps enhanced the popular appeal of the play.

Shabana Azmi undoubtedly carried the day, her performance carried the soul not only of Shaukat but also Kaifi Azmi. Javed Akhtar’s performace is a constant let down, his lisp making his rendition all the more labored, except in the end when in an inspired moment, he stands up and recites his own nazm on Kaifi Azmi.

Ramesh Talwar, the veteran IPTA director who has directed this play as well, would have suited better with his sonorous voice and amazing command over the language.

Jaswinder Singh had a confident and melodious start with “Meri Awaz Suno” though the remaining ones did not hold onto the promise established in the first one. Only “Tun jo mil gaye ho”, rendered with uncharacteristic flamboyance brought life to the songs, though a few others were good too (specially “Waqt ne kiya”).

A few short clips from the play. I did not expect them to come out so well, and should have carried more memory in my camera.