Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Poetry and Bollywood..

In 1957, when Guru Dutt decided to make `Pyaasa’, a movie about a struggling poet, he signed on the greatest living Urdu poet of the day, Sahir Ludhianvi to provide the poetry. He even delved into Sahir’s non-filmy work, picking up gems from his `Talkhiyan’.

He pointed to the angst laden `Chakley’ (Brothels), asked Sahir to `simplify’ the Urdu, which he did (the tongue twisting `Sana khwaan-e-taqdees-e-mashriq kahan hai’ was duly downgraded for us lesser mortals to `Jinhe naaz hai Hind par, woh kahan hai’), along with a few other rare gems. Who can forget Guru Dutt (ok, Mohd Rafi) humming Sahir’s signature `Tang aa chuke hain kashmash-e-zindagi se hum..’

Indeed, take away Sahir, and what is left of `Pyaasa’?

In the 50s, through to the 70’s, we had genuine poets doubling as lyricists for Hindi films. Meaning each of them had a substantial body of work outside of their filmi lyrics, work that stood out on its own, and was of course, much classier than the fluff they churned out for Bollywood.

Foremost among them, of course was the unmatched Sahir Ludhianvi. I’ve written a separate post on him, called `Main pal do pal ka shayar hun’ which can be assessed at

Kaifi Azmi
Next to Sahir, stood the redoubtable Kaifi Azmi. At the tender age of eleven, Azmi wrote his first ghazal `Itna toh zindagi mein kisi ki khalal pade’  - google this one, and be amazed at his precocious and prodigious talent. Kaifi, like most of his peers, was an out and out Marxist, and part of the Progressive Writers Movement.

Kaifi’s angst for the downtrodden and the underprivileged comes through in seminal works like `Aurat’, and `Daaera’. His response to the Babri masjid demolition of 6 Dec 1992 in a poem called `Doosra Banwas’ (Second Exile), where he likens the incident to Ram being sent on a second banwas, was heart wrenching!  

He wrote the entire dialogue of Chetan Anand’s `Heer Ranjha’ in verse! And who could match his minimalistic use of language and his imagery! Just check the line `Mile na phool toh kaanton se dosti kar li’, and the sheer simplicity leaves you speechless!

Majrooh Sultanpuri, though not in the same league as Sahir and Kaifi, will forever remain immortal for his sher

Main akela hi chala tha janib-e-manzil magar,
Log saath aate gaye aur carvan banta gaya!.

In films too, he left his mark. Note the manner in which he pleads `guilty’ to placing faith above all else, to being a lover to the end, with lines like

Majrooh, likh rahe hain woh ahl-e-wafa ka naam
Hum bhi khade huye hain, gunahgaar ki tarah..

Shakeel Badayuni was, of course, immortalised in the Begum Akhtar gem `Ae mohabat tere anjaam pe rona aaya’, but his long association with Naushad in Hindi films is what he will be most remembered for. The quintessential `muslim socials’ and historicals were their forte, and one cannot really separate the angst of the ethereal Madhubala’s `Mohabat ki jhooti kahani pe royein’ or `Bekas pe karam kijiye’ in Lata’s dulcet vocals from Shakeel’s lyrics. 

And don’t forget, the most famous bhajan in Hindustani cinema, `Man tadpat Hari darshan ko aaj’, penned by Shakeel, set to music by Naushad and sung by Rafi – all three devout Muslims, is still a mirror to India’s multi religious and multicultural milieu.

And then there were others. Jan Nissar Akhtar (Ae dil-e-nadaan), Raja Mehdi Ali Khan (Lag ja gale), Makhdoom Moheyudin (Ek chameli ke mandwe thale) and Shahryar (Seene mein jalan), among others. Each embellished Hindi/Urdu cinema with gems that will far outlive them.

Besides Urdu, there were some great Hindi poets as well. The freedom struggle had produced its share of soul stirring poetry in the form of Ram Prasad Bismil (Sarfaroshi ki tamanna), Makhanlal Chaturvedi (Pushp ki abhilasha) and Subhadra Kumari Chouhan (Khoob ladi mardani).

Kavi Pradeep (Dekh tere sansar ki haalat) had written some patriotic stuff for low budget films like `Jagruti’ (Aao bachchon tumhe dikhayein), but became a household name when Lata reduced Nehru to tears with her rendering of  `Ae mere watan ke logon’ immediately after the China debacle in 1962.

Among the Hindi poets of the era, the foremost, of course, was Shailendra. His contribution to Raj Kapoor’s musicals is legendary, as was his combination with Dada Burman in `Guide’. The soulful `Din dhal jaye, raat na jaye’ still evokes the sort of romance that seems to have forever gone with the wind.

Shailendra picked up fellow poet and revolutionary Phaniswar Nath Renu’s short story `Maare Gaye Gulfaam’, and transformed it into what can be best described as poetry in celluloid in his film `Teesri Kasam’. But sadly, the film bombed at the box office, leading to Shailendra’s untimely demise.

Another titan of that era, who thankfully is still among us, is Gopal Das Saxena, better known as Neeraj. If Neeraj wrote nothing other than `Karvaan guzar gaya’, he would still be immortal in my book. I had the good fortune of meeting him, and told him as much. The heart wrenching line `Chah toh nikal saki na, par umar nikal gayi’ is pretty much the story of my life, and still makes me dewy eyed!

He recited all 84 verses of `Palki bahaar ki’ that day (only 4 feature in the song from the eminently forgettable film `Cha cha cha’), and had all of us spellbound. Note..

Guzar rahi hai tum pe kya, bana ke hum ko dar-ba-dar
Yeh soch kar udhas hun, yeh soch kar hai chasm tar
Kahani kis se yeh kahein, chadavh ki, utaar ki
Luti jahan pe bewajah, palki bahaar ki..

The titans of that era, the giants have long gone, and been replaced by pygmies. Poetry has given way to crass bump-and-grind numbers invoking, God help us, Zandu balm and Fevicol. The rap generation, and `singers’ like Honey Singh have rendered lyrics absolutely redundant.

Note that I call them `lyrics’ – for to use the word `poetry’ would be blasphemous!

Luckily, I have my iPod, and for a while, when I plug it in, time seems to stand still. Sanity returns, and the bliss of that era washes over me. God returns to Heaven, and all is once more well with the earth..

Monday, 7 December 2015

Translating Ghalib..

Next to Iqbal, Ghalib is probably the most difficult poet to translate. Not because of his obtuse use of metaphors, or a turn of phrase that is so unique to the great man, but because his verse lends itself to such diverse interpretations, that every time one reads a couplet, one discovers a new meaning, a fresh twist in it.

Ghalib wasn't too prolific. In fact, his deewan barely runs into a hundred odd pages, yet he remains the most quoted (and often misquoted) Urdu poet ever. My father's favourite couplet, particularly in his last years, when he was faced with his own mortality, was

Maut ka ek din muayyan hai
Neend kyun raat bhar nahin aati

Indeed, one can find a Ghalib quote for almost every facet of life, and even today, over 135 years after his death, lovers of Urdu poetry like me are still trying to decipher him.

The ghazal I've tried to translate is one of my personal favourites, and the lines that resonate most in ones darker phases are

Qaid-e-hayat-o-band-e-gham asl mein donon ek hain

Maut se pehle admi gham se nijaat paaye kyon..

Here's my attempt at the entire ghazal. I use the word `attempt' advisedly, for any interpretation of the great man can at best be an attempt, no more..

Dil Hi To Hai..

Dil hi to hai na sang-o-khisht, dard se bhar na aaye kyon
Royenge hum hazaar baar, koi hamein sataaye kyon

Merely a heart, not brick nor stone
Why should it not fill up with pain?
I’ll cry I’ll weep, I shall atone,
No jibes at me, I’ll go insane..

Dair nahin, haram nahin, dar nahin, aastan nahin
Baithe hain rehguzar pe hum, ghair humein uthaye kyon

Not temple nor mosque, nor hallowed turf
No tomb, no harem, no doorway of yore.
It’s a well trod, common path I surf
Who cares to oust me, aft or fore

Jab woh Jamaal-i-dilfaroz, surat-i-mehr-i-neemroz
Aap hi ho nazaarah soz, parde mein munh chhupaye kyun?

Beautiful, resplendent like the sun
A gentle breeze, a violent gail.
A vision, when all is said and done
Why doth she hide behind a veil?

Qaid-e-hayat-o-band-e-gham, asl mein donon ek hain
Maut se pehle aadmi gham se nijaat paaye kyon

Imprisoned by life, captive of grief,
It’s all the same, I do suppose..
Can man e’re death, in life so brief
Rid himself of all his woes?

Haan wo nahi kkhuda parast, jao wo bewafa sahi
Jisko ho din-o-dil azeez uski gali mein jaye kyon?

Yes, maybe she’s far from piety
Given she’s unfaithful to bane.
Those who prize faith n fidelity,
Why would they walk towards her lane?

Ghalib-e-khasta ke baghair kaun se kaam band hain
roiye zar zar kyaa, kijiye hai hai kyon?

Ghalib, you know, once you are gone
The world will go on, as before
Other great poets will be born
So why this moaning, why be sore?

Friday, 4 December 2015

Kaise Kaise...

At school, an inevitable – and difficult - question in the English exam was to differentiate between similar sounding words – eminent/imminent, insolent/indolent and the like. Now before you start googling those words, let me tell you what I’m getting at.

Urdu poetry too has similar sounding ghazals, complete with matching rhyme, metre and even words. Even diehard aficionados get confused, often merging the couplets of one with those of the other.  That the poetry was written by different poets over different eras, matters little.

Consider the lines ending with the words `kaise kaise’ in two prominent ghazals as a case in point.

The first is by Khwaja Haider Ali `Aatish’ (1778-1848).  He rues the changing of the times, the total effacement of the greats in a Shakespearean `How have the mighty fallen!’ tone.  Note the lines

Na gor-e-Sikandar hai na qabar-e-Dara

Mite naamion ne nishaan kaise kaise

I felt much the same sentiment on a trip to Alexandria, where we tried tracing the tomb of Alexander the Great. Imagine, he conquered half the world, and has left behind not a trace of where he lies buried. Again, to quote Shakespeare..

The scepter, learning, physic must
All follow this, and come to dust..

Here’s Aatish’s ghazal, and my version..

Dahan par hai unke guman kaise kaise

Kalaam aate hai darmiyan kaise kaise

His face inscrutable, expression unbeknown
Words only add to the doubts he has sown

Zameen-e-chaman gul khilati hai kya kya

Badalta hai rang aasman kaise kaise

The earth alters hues from autumn to spring
What moods do the changing skies too bring

Na gor-e-Sikandar hai na qabar-e-Dara

Mite naamion ne nishaan kaise kaise

No grave for Darius, nor Alexander’s tomb
Such glorious names, now back in the womb

Bahr-e-gulistan ki hai aamad aamad

Ke phirte hai khush baghbaan kaise kaise

As spring forces buds to open up in bloom
It’s gardeners that strut, jump up and swoon

Tawajju ne teri hamare maseeha 

Tawana kijiye natwan kaise kaise

A glance from our saviour has so often sent
Our spirits soaring, though broken and bent

Dil-o-deeda-e-ahl-e-aalam mein ghar hai

Tumhaare liye hai makaan kaise kaise

You live in our hearts, our minds and our eyes
Abodes that are humble, but only in size


Hamaare bhi hai mehrbaan kaise kaise

Sadness, grief, gloom and despair
Like lovers have loved me, with o’ so much care

Kar jis qadr shukr-e-naimat woh kam hai

Mazaa loot ti hai zabaan kaise kaise

Yet how does one thank Him, words always fail
The mellifluous tongue does tell its own tale

Amir Minai
Now let’s take the next ghazal by Amir Minai (1828-1900). Amir is more famous for the `Sarakti jaye hai rukh se naqab aahista aahista’ made popular by Jagjit Singh.

But in this poem, he talks more of how us humans (the earth) will always be beholden to the Almighty/Heavens (the skies), so much so that the Heavens, in their inexorable ruthlessness have `gobbled up’ the earth – zameen kha gayi aasmaan kaise kaise..  

The tone is a tad defeatist, as in the end he tells himself that solace may only be found in the madeena, the mosque – if you can’t beat the system, you join it..??

Here is Minai’s poem, and my version..

Hue Namwar Be-Nisha'n Kaise Kaise,
Zamee'n Kha Gai Aasma Kaise Kaise..

Such glorious names, all effaced by time
The earth bows its head to skies sublime

Na Gul Hai Na Boote, Na Gunche Na Patte,
Hue Baag Nazr e Khiza'n Kaise Kaise..

No flowers, no leaves, no petals we seek  
Desolation, despair, wretchedness so bleak

Sitaro Ki Dekho Bahaar AANKH Utha Kar,
Khilata Hai Phool Aasma Kaise Kaise..

Yet the stars will shine as bright as the day
Like flowers that blossom in every which way

Jigar Me Tadap, Dil Me Dard, Aankh Me Nam,
Mile Hai Hame Maihmaa'n Kaise Kaise..

Heart full of sorrow, eyes brimming with tears
With such bountiful gifts, my life has no fears

'AMEER' Ab Madeene Ko Tu Bhi Rawa'n Ho,
Chale Jate Hai Kaarwa'n Kaise Kaise..

To the mosque, I too must now wend my way
Each caravan must lumber along everyday..


And how could Bollywood keep its hands off such inspiring words? In the 1967 adaptation of Arthur Miller’s `Death of a Salesman’, Nasir Husain got Majrooh to pen these soulful lyrics against a desolate Rajesh Khanna job hunting through Bombay’s heartless streets, in `Baharon ke Sapne’..

Zamaane ne maare jawan kaise kaise

Zameen kha gayi aasmaan kaise kaise..

Sunday, 29 November 2015

2015 : A Space Odyssey

Of course we all need our space. Anybody squeezed into the middle seat on an aircraft will tell you that. Particularly if he happens to be squeezed between Oliver Hardy and Hulk Hogan!

I first realised I needed space when appearing for my Part `B’ exam, and the guy behind me kept kicking me on my calf, wanting to know the full form of the acronym LASER. I tried to stage whisper `Light Amplification by Simulated..’ but he cut me off with a `Chhod yaar, zara multiple choice bata!

He happened to be my neighbour, and had burnt the midnight oil in gallons preparing for the exam, while I had spent the hours pacifying a wailing, bawling six month old daughter! So one would have thought it would have been me seeking his help, but then he was a true blue Infantryman!

Growing up in a household of five siblings in two rooms, space was not a luxury one could even think of. And I’m sure that if I had ever asked my parents for `space’ they’d have wondered what that was – O ki hunda ae??

So when a precocious 13 year old Cherie puts up a poster on her Facebook page asking for - what else, space - I’m more than delighted! Of course, her dad, the man mountain Sid Khullar is busy rolling up his sleeves, ready to pounce on the first `guy’ who trespasses into the space little Cherie’s screaming for! But that’s another story, dads will always be dads!

Would Sid, I wonder, be tempted into taking a peek into Cherie’s WhatsApp timeline, to `monitor’ the goings on in her life? You know, just in case? Being protective, right? I mean, surely that would be ok? No??

I should think not.

In a similar scenario, I once found I had access to my daughter’s laptop, and she happened to be going through a rough patch. God, how I wanted to protect her! Yet, I had steeled myself, and refrained from taking a peekaboo. If there was something she wanted me to know, I reasoned, she’d tell me herself!

But let’s be honest, that’s more the exception than the rule these days. Suspicious spouses thrive on opportunities to grab smart phones that have been carelessly left lying around, and gleefully pounce upon messages that have been left carelessly undeleted.

The more despicable ones even hire professional hackers to hack into their spouse’s e-mails and chats. The fact that they’re actually killing the very relationship they’re trying to `protect’ is of little consequence to them!

Most of them have a `dog in the manger’ attitude. If not me, then nobody else!

Most of my generation, of course, are technologically challenged. In the days of NSA level snooping, and sophisticated privacy invasion techniques, the simple expedient of passwords, and `touch ids' no longer guarantees you space.

So what’s the solution?

Simple. Either be very careful, or adopt a `hell with you’ attitude to all invasions into your private space! Remember that people will hurt you only if you give them the capacity to do so!

My first advice to little Cherie is, welcome to the real world, my dear! What you ask for is a commodity that’s scarce to come by. These days. But the very fact that you ask for it is heart warming. It gives me hope. It bodes well for the future.

For if you ask for it, you will surely give it to others, will learn to respect it.

And the chest thumping pride with which your dad has posted your plea on his Facebook timeline shows that his heart’s in the right place too!

There’s no denying it. My generation screwed up big time, what we handed over was far from perfect. The generation that followed did a much better job, and I’m sure that when the torch passes on to your lot, things will have improved to an unrecognisable degree!

Take all the space that you want, dear Cherie! For it is in people like you that the future rests, that’s where true salvation lies..

To the future, Onward Ho!!