Saturday, 31 August 2013

Amrita Pritam's `Ode to Waris Shah'..

Today (31st August) is Amrita Pritam’s 94th birth anniversary.

Amrita Pritam (1919 - 2005) was one of the most prominent female writers and poets of our time. She published over seventy books - novels, short stories and poems.

Amrita Pritam was born into a Sikh family of Gujranwala. She was the only child of a school teacher and a poet. Her mother died when she was eleven. Amrita married at the age of 16, and divorced in 1960, at the age of 41.

At the time of Partition, in 1947, Amrita migrated to Delhi. After migration, she started writing primarily in Hindi, instead of her native Punjabi. She has authored two autobiographies, titled, `Rasidi Ticket’ and, `Aksharon ke Saaye’. Her novel, `Pinjar’ (Skeleton), about the agonies of Partition riots, was also turned into a movie.

Amrita’s impromptu capturing of the condition of Punjab at the time of partition in her, `Ode to Waris Shah’ makes for compelling reading. Legend has it that Amrita wrote this poem, on her migratory train ride from Gujranwala to Delhi in 1947, deeply moved by the violence she witnessed.

`Ode to Waris Shah’ is a call to the legendary Punjabi poet, Waris Shah (1722 – 1798) whose `Heer' is considered the Bible of Punjabi poetry. It is filled with allusions to Waris Shah’s legendary work. She refers to Heer as the, “daughter of Punjab” (dhii Punjab di), and beseeches Waris Shah to step out of his grave and hear the partition cries of a million Heers. The poem also references many of the main characters of the Heer legend – Ranjha, his brothers, and Qaido (the villainous Uncle), comparing the attitudes of the Punjabis at the time of partition, to the evil acts of later.

My own understanding of pure (`theth’) Punjabi being severely limited, this translation would have been impossible without the inputs from Samina Rizwan, who researched the `Luddan’ reference and came up with a plausible explanation. Also, her brother Umar Rafi who started it all by circulating his own translation, which I have used as a reference point.

Amrita Pritam passed away on 31st Oct 1995 at Delhi.

AN ODE TO WARIS SHAH – by Amrita Pritam

Aaj aakhaN Waris Shah nuuN, kitoN kabraaN vichchoN bol,
te aaj kitab-e ishq daa koii aglaa varkaa phol

Waris Shah, I beseech thee, speak up from your grave
To love’s eternal treatise, please add another leaf

ik roii sii dhii punjaab dii, tuuN likh likh maare vaen,
aaj lakhaaN dhiiaaN rondiaa, tainuN waris shah nuN kahen

A single daughter wept once, you screamed out in protest
Today a million daughters weep and implore you, Waris Shah:

uTh dardmandaaN diaa dardiaa, uth takk apnaa Punjaab
aaj bele lashaaN bichhiaaN te lahu dii bharii chenab

Oh, voice of the anguished Arise, see the plight of your Punjab
The fields are lined with corpses, the Chenab flows red with blood

kise ne panjaN paniaN vichch dittii zahar ralaa
te unhaaN paniiaaN dharat nuuN dittaa paanii laa

Who has stirred this poison into our rivers’ waters?
It is this very water that now irrigates our land
is zarkhez zamiin de luun luun phuttia zaher
gitth gitth charhiaaN laaliaN fuuT fuuT charhiaa kaher

This fertile land sprouts venom, from each and every pore
The sky has now turned crimson, from all these cries of gore

veh valliissii vha pher, van van vaggii jaa,
ohne har ik vans di vanjhalii ditti naag banaa

It’s a terribly ill wind that rages through the woods
Transforming every bamboo-shoot into a deadly snake

pehlaa dang madaariaN, mantar gaye guaach,
dooje dang di lagg gayii, jane khane nuN laag

The very first snake-bite, and the charmer lost his spell
Yet every bite after that addicted them all the more..

laagaaN kiile lok muNh, bus phir dang hi dang,
palo palii punjaab de, neele pae gaye ang

Addicted to these waters, to be bitten again and again
See how the limbs of Punjab have turned blue with pain
gale'oN tutt'e geet phir, takaleon tuttii tand,
trinjanoN tuttiaaN saheliaaN, chaRakhRre ghuukar band

The songs have all been silenced, the cotton threads are snapped
The girls have fled the courtyards, the spinning wheels are mute

sane sej de beriaaN, luddaN dittiaaN rohr,
sane daliaan peengh aj, piplaaN dittii toR

The wedding beds and the boats have all been cast away
And the Pipal branch, the swing lies broken in disarray

jitthe vajdii sii phuuk pyaar dii, ve oh vanjhalii gayii guaach
raanjhe de sab veer aaj, bhul gaye uhadii jaach

The flute that just knew love, has been forever lost
Even Ranjha’s brethren no longer know this art

dhartii te lahoo varsiyaa, kabraaN paiaaN choan,
preet diaaN shaahzaadiaaN, aaj vichch mazaaraaN roan

It’s blood that’s rained on this earth, seeping through the graves
The damsels that lie within them lie weeping in their shrouds

aaj sabbhe 'Qaido' ban gaye, husn ishq de chor
aaj kitthoN liaaiye labbh ke waris shah ik hor

Today there are just Qaidons, looters of beauty, love
Today, where shall we find another Warish Shah?

aaj aakhaN waris shah nuuN, kitoN kabraan vichchoN bol,
te aaj kitaab-e ishq daa, koii aglaa varkaa phol

Waris Shah, I beseech thee, speak up from your grave
To love’s eternal treatise, please add another leaf

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

62 Not Out!

The bowler runs in, left arm, around the wicket and unleashes his trademark reverse swing. The ball is slightly short, on the leg and middle, going away from the batsman. He shuffles in the crease – his eyesight and his hand-eye coordination are no longer what they used to be – glances it towards fine leg, and ambles across for yet another single. He moves on to 62.

62 not out. As a bowler, life is getting better and better. The reverse swing is lethal (maybe there’s a case for a ball tampering complaint), the googlies and doosras are getting more and more unreadable. And as a batsman, one is getting slower and slower. Each run is a huff-n-puff single, the halcyon days of fours and sixes are but a distant memory.

I started this blog two years ago, and my first post was `Resolutions at 60’. As I turn a not so weary 62 today, indulge me as I revisit the premises I made the day I officially became senile (sathiyana, as it is so delightfully called).

My first assertion was that henceforth I was on `borrowed time’. In a sense, we all were, as this was prompted by the untimely and sudden passing away of a course mate.  So my sage advice to the rest of us was to be thankful for life’s blessings, and to make the most of whatever time we had left. Junk all bitterness, chuck all unequal relationships, I said, except those with your children – those, the more unequal the better!

As a kid, I was lucky if I got heart shaped cup cakes from the Irani bakery near Nishat talkies. Today, I’ve been promised a cheesecake from the Marriot Hotel. One has come a long way.

`Focus, Harish – concentrate!’ the venerable Mr Khanolkar always told me at school. I wanted to become a writer, the Perry Mason books inclined me towards law, I was a more than decent football goalkeeper, and could open the batting as well as the bowling for the school cricket team. A jack of all trades stood no chance, he told me. `Specially if one was equally mediocre in all trades’, I added to myself.

I left school with a spring in my step, and a song on my lips. I was all set to change the world, to `show them how’. Aaj udta hua ek panchhi, zindagi ki baharon mein aaya..

Things didn’t turn out the way I had dreamt. Literature’s loss turned out to be the Army’s gain – although I’m not so sure all my Commanding Officers would agree..

Today, one would like to say one has seen it all. Have had a loaded AK-47 pointed at me by a crazed, bearded thug in Iraq screaming in Arabic. Luckily, he was more of a petty thief than a jihadi, and was thrilled to see my navy blue Indian (`Hindish’ as he called it) passport. He even did a little Bollywood jig, and wanted to know if I was Amitabh Bacchhan! Of course he stripped me of the last dollar I had, but then that was Iraq – a war ravaged country where the poverty was even more stark than back home.

A young American soldier who had yet to sprout whiskers also pointed his weapon at me. The red tracer mark in the dead centre of my chest was unnerving, to say the least. To be fair, he was acutely embarrassed, and actually saluted me when he learnt I had been a Colonel in the Indian Army! “We’re here to kick some ass!” he boasted.

One has indeed come a long way. God gave me two wonderful children, life gave me two more! And although the nest is empty, the heart remains full..

One misses the routine of going to work. Life was more structured that way. Now it’s a different set up.  Of the 24 hours you have, devote one hour to the upkeep of your body – so lug yourself to the Sub Area Sports Complex every morning. Walk, cycle, gym, huff and puff. Spend another hour in sharpening up your mind and keeping your mental acuities keen – a cryptic crossword, a difficult Sudoku or the latest puzzle/game on Lumosity.

In addition, I spend about 2 hours `catching up with my ignorance’ – read, read, read!  A minor accomplishment – I managed to read Manto’s brilliant `Thanda Gosht’ and `Khol Do’ – in the original Urdu!

`Mitti Pao!’ is nearing a half century of posts. Your comments have been generous. Someone suggested compiling them in a book form, but I suspect he/she was merely being kind.

62 not out. Hopefully, I can gather a few more runs, howsoever sluggishly, before the umpire up there raises the dreaded finger. And since there’s no DRS in this game, I’m told – so no rash strokes, no flashing outside the off stump, and no skiers for me. Plod on..

Ek raasta hai zindagi, jo tham gaye toh kuch nahin
Ye kadam kisi mukaam par jo jam gaye toh kuch nahin..