Saturday, October 28, 2006


[By Firaq Gorakhpuri. Translated from the Urdu by Siyaah]

Who has ever belonged to another for life? Still...
This beauty and love is all deception; but still...

A thousand times has the world traversed through here-
Something about your passage is new still.

A lifetime has gone by in avoiding your gaze-
The dagger has pierced through to life's artery still. [3]

[3] rag could literally mean vein or artery.
neshtar literally means lancet, but the meaning contained in 'dagger' is closer to the context.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Phir Bhi

Phir Bhi
[By Firaq Gorakhpuri]

Kisi ka yun to hua kaun umr bhar, phir bhi,
Ye husn-o-ishq to dhoka hai sab, magar phir bhi.

Hazaar baar zamaana idhar se guzra hai,
Nayi nayi si hai kuchh teri rahguzar phir bhi.

Teri nigaah se bachne mein umr guzari hai,
Utar gaya rag-e-jaan mein ye neshtar phir bhi.

I'm not aware if any prominent singer other than Jagjit (listen here) has sung this ghazal...though I wish there were more versions.

Raghupati Sahai Firaq (1896-1982) has a distinctive voice in many ways. He often used a mellifluous vernacular style based on the language spoken around his native region, Eastern Uttar Pradesh. The content of his poetry almost always borders on the melancholic, with night and darkness as repetitive metaphors and themes. The first couplet of his poem above reveals a rare cynicism with the more affable themes of ghazals...but it also suggests that he came to accept and live with his own disposition. Is it any surprise that I am drawn to his work...I'll render this into English verse soon...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Blackening

How many times have I laughed like hyenas,
with blood curdling silence clutching at my throat,
with the absorption of all,
and the absence of all,
at daggers drawn.

How many times mountains, seas, and plains,
have I crossed with my soul yearning for home,
with the blood in my veins,
and the words in my brain,
at daggers drawn.

How many times indeed have I,
looked back again and again to the skies,
with immunity, solitude, and isolation,
and life, the world, rejection and depression,
with what's left of my fingers recounting,
and the new look, in vain, again arising,
in this black ambience,
these black ages,
with black,
and black,
at daggers drawn.

[by Black/Siyaah, circa 1990's]

I initially thought I wouldn't put down any of my own experimental poetry here. Mostly because I don't write anymore...anything I have is quite a bit old. But I already snuck one or two verses past the net. Sometimes I like these bits and pieces from long ago a lot - they were part of a freer me - a more intrinsic, natural me. I am slowly losing these pieces, in more ways than one - from my own being, my memory and also in terms of hardcopies - not sure I have them all anywhere anymore.

These pieces are perhaps the more 'personal' side of my personal interaction with poetry in general, and Urdu poetry in particular, which influences me at many levels. My own experiments led me to appreciate the real masters better, and see the pinnacle where they stood.

I've thus noted a very personal work here. The title and content reveals my fascination with the metaphor of black and blackening that I later admired in the works of the Urdu masters. I should perhaps mention that it was around this time that I first adopted the nom-de-plume "Black".

Friday, October 13, 2006

Exile: a translation

Exile: Nahin Nigaah Mein Manzil
[By Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Interpretive translation from the Urdu by Siyaah]

Though the destination eludes sight- let the search be;
Though union defies attainment- let the longing be.

The body lacks blood, the eyes lack moisture-
Yet the prayer of desire is obligatory, without purity it may be. [2]

Let the gathering come alive somehow- O those of the tavern,
If not goblets of wine, let lightheartedness and laughter be.

If the wait is tough- then in the meantime, O heart,
On someone's promise of tomorrow - let conversation be. [4]

In this abode of strangers, if no confidant exists,
Faiz - let the invocation of homeland with yourself be. [5]

Translator's notes:

[2] Namaz: prayer - original word relates to ancient Persian form of worship. Be-wuzu: to not be in a state of ceremonial/physical preparedness for prayer. Wuzu literally refers to ablution preceding prayer.

[4] waada-e-fardaa: literally, promise of tommorrow. Fardaa also has implications of 'the day of the event', 'judgement day', 'day of resurrection'.

[5] Mehram: has many shades of meaning, including 'confidant', 'trustworthy friend', 'close relatives', 'spouse'. Zikr: has many shades of meaning, including 'mention', 'remember', and 'invoke' (often in a spiritual sense).

I have taken the liberty of titling these couplets "Exile", as a mood of exile and deprivation permeates the poem. The last couplet, which had prompted an earlier post, reveals it clearly.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Nahin Nigaah Mein Manzil: Faiz

Following my earlier post and the interesting comments it invoked about Faiz, I must do justice to him and showcase the full ghazal here.

Nahin Nigaah Mein Manzil
[By Faiz Ahmed Faiz]

Nahin nigaah mein manzil to justujoo hi sahi,
Nahin visaal mayassar to aarzoo hi sahi.

Na tan mein khoon faraaham na ashq aankhon mein,
Namaaz-e-shauq to waajib hai, be-wuzu hi sahi.

Kisi tarah to jame bazm maikade waalon,
Nahin jo baada-o-saaghar, to haa-o-huu hi sahi.

Gar intezaar kathin hai to jab talak ai dil,
Kisi ke waada-e-fardaa ki guftgoo hi sahi.

Dayaar-e-ghair mein mehram agar nahin koi,
To Faiz zikr-e-watan apne ru-ba-ru hi sahi.

Listen to it here in Abida's voice.

Will attempt an interpretive translation into English soon...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Urdu Rap...anyone?

Okay, I am stepping a bit out of character here to note something interesting that I stumbled upon: yes, rapping in Urdu. The group is Outlandish, and the person is Waqas Ali Qadri. Am still wondering what to make of this...a somewhat 'outlandish' yet contemporary expression form in Urdu...? The urdu comes in towards the end of the song.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Why Write?

"I have been one of the fortunate ones of the Earth,
Having gazed upon Beauty and Truth all my days,
And I had no need to think or to write concerning them,
But when Beauty and Truth were withdrawn from me,
I found I could no longer live without them,
But I was obliged to keep them ever by my side,
I therefore wrote of them,
and to write I thought of them,
And by thinking kept them with me and they stayed.
[by Stanley de Vere Alexander Julius, "The Poem of a Prisoner of War, 1917"]

If all we have is human experience, what can we do with it? We hold on to and communicate these experiences...through language. Humans are drawn to strings of words...that are ultimately the vehicles for communicating our experiences.

Interestingly, the recreation and communication of experience often reaches its zenith when immediate outlets are few. Is it any surprise that some of the most moving poetic expressions were created in incarceration. Faiz comes to mind:

"Dayaar-e-ghair mein mehram agar nahin koi,
To Faiz zikr-e-watan apne ru-ba-ru hi sahi."

Incarcerations though could also be of the mind, and not necessarily behind physical iron cages. Firaq's lifelong search for beauty outside his immediate life and the recurring portrayal of "night" and "darkness" as themes in his verses come to mind:

"Ghazal ka saaz uthao badi udaas hai raat,
Nawaa-e-Meer sunao badi udaas hai raat."
[Listen to it sung beautifully by Jagjit here]

I'll explore the entire ghazals related to these Urdu verses soon...