Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Story

I must finally start writing this story. For I have nothing left but this.

I am still in all sorts of doubts. A story is your creation, but it also creates you, for others to see. In this I am somewhat comforted by the fact that I might never have anyone read this. In any case, though I always wanted to be a writer, I stopped trying. I could never write anything that sells. One has sold oneself enough already - now how painful to sell even the story of that sale. I could never bring myself to change a single word, or edit a line. How cruel a punishment for the sin of exposing oneself, to have parts sliced off. What is then left is neither you, nor them - those who would read it. Let them read me as it is, or not at all. Perhaps not at all is so much better. For everyone.

I have nothing left. Everything that I ever wanted, never came to me. It came tantalizingly close to make one's desires and hopes reach where they could. And worse, it came close again when one had survived and moved on. To have it come back close again is to wrench out one's guts all over again. To feel the pain of the desire and the loss. And to feel the movement of time and realize that the loss was that much bigger, for nothing, not even it itself, can bring it back, once the time is gone.

But I might be excused for writing in generalities. No matter how specific the pain, it occurs to one as the most general state of one's life. Nothing is specific - one either loses it all or wins it all. The rest is just make-believe.

How easy it is to be born in this world. And yet how difficult to live. So easy to be born in fact that one makes no decision and no conscious effort about it. It just happens. Would that anyone would care to ask - here is the list of things you will have, here is how the world is and will be - would you like to be here? Although, knowing humans, one wonders if they wouldn't be foolish enough to still want it. Yet to stay alive requires so much effort - biological - to breathe every moment, to eat, to excrete, and to spend every moment making arrangements for these, or for the illnesses surrounding these. Psychological - to think about things around - the bewilderment of it all - nothing makes sense. At first, or later. Not till the end. Yet one must think and be enticed to believe there is free will and choice and freedom to act and determine our lives. What nonsense. Where did these ridiculous thoughts originate?

For we know nothing at all. And what is choice or freedom or anything, without knowledge? Any man standing up and contemplating about the thing closest to him - himself, is faced with the most basic questions for which there have never been any answers.

And so was I born, with ease, without so much as knowing about it. Yet consciousness came early - what a burden. And let the optimists charge me. The fact that they do so suggests their own insecurity in their house of cards. The more one lives, the more one suffers - and there are no two ways about it. When one ignores one's suffering, one can, in moments of intoxication, almost convince oneself that all is great, that life is wonderful. But these people are not in their senses at all. In fact, these people are not alive at all. For anyone alive, could not ignore the suffering - of one's body, every moment that it breathes and tries to survive on this planet, of one's soul that tries to fit into the body and make sense of what it is doing on this alien planet. Not to mention the continuous suffering of all others that one cannot be shielded from, for in the very act of trying to shield, one perceives and registers.

Those who teach one to write ruin one forever. For it is through avoiding all influence that one can sustain oneself, not the other way round. I have not read for long. Every word tears one apart. Not to mention the images and sounds and such. It tears one apart from oneself - snippets of this and that person and this and that life - that don't hold together, and never can. They only confuse and influence to render one meaningless. For it is only one's own story that holds together - every snippet, every little day and hour and moment - it is a complete story - yet so hard to tell. There is so much in it. So much that we avoid observing ourselves. So much that we must not know, to survive. And it is best that way, for to tell it to others makes it another snippet in someone else's life that adds to meaninglessness, and nothing more.

A suddent burst of prose, unedited. Some might find it too dark, but that's in line with this space. This is fast becoming a place for experiments of all kinds in (re)discovering myself...but perhaps that is what a blog is about...(?)

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Use kya, khud ko bhula dunga
Is tufaan ko bujha dunga

Main teri raah mein ab bas
Har ek lamha naya dunga

Mohabbat kya, qayamat kya
Main farq inme mita dunga

Hai darya uske ishare par
To kashti hi duba dunga

Naye rangon ki ek duniya
Siyaah-e-dil se bana dunga

[by Siyaah]
An earlier attempt at a musalsal ghazal - a somewhat unusual theme and state of being - finally had the courage to post.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

What Does A Bomb Know? - Manzar Bhopali

On a somewhat different note than usual, I am compelled to note Manzar Bhopali's commentary on the times. Manzar's forte is his ability to have a finger on the pulse of the people - touching upon the issues of the day, conveyed often through simple words using popular imagery. His mellifluous recitations always add a haunting effect- listen to this one here (third link). I have transcribed and translated one part of the poem below.

Bum Ko Kya Maaloom?
[By Manzar Bhopali]

Koi bhi mehfooz nahi hai, phoot rahe hain bum
Jaane kab ho jaaye kisi ka taara raara rum

Kaun hai hindu kaun musalmaan bum ko kya maaloom
Kaun hai sindhi kaun muhaajir bum ko kya maaloon
Aashiq ho, mehbooba ho, ya ho koi maasoom- bum ko kya maaloom
Bum kya jaane rishte naate, bum kya jaane ghum

Jaane kab ho jaaye kisi ka taara raara rum

What Does a Bomb Know?
[Translated from the Urdu by Siyaah]

No one is safe, all around burst bombs-
Who knows when anyone of us will be gone?

Who is a hindu, who is a muslim - what does a bomb know?
Who is a native, who is an immigrant - what does a bomb know? [1]
A lover, a beloved or an innocent - what does a bomb know?
What does a bomb know of relationships and friendships - what does a bomb know of grief?

Who knows when anyone of us will be gone?

[1] I have used the general word 'native' to contrast with 'immigrant' - the use of 'sindhi' and 'muhaajir' in the original points towards one of the post-partition problems of South Asia - the integration problems of immigrants in Pakistan, but the theme is general.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Khwaab ki tarah bikhar jaane ko jee chaahta hai
Aisi tanhaai ke mar jaane ko jee chaahta hai
[Iftikhar Arif]

To shatter like a dream, I wish
Such loneliness- that to die, I wish
[Translated by Siyaah]

Not much more to say these days.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Is Dard Se...

Is dard se nejaat paaun to kaise
Waapas ab us duniya mein jaaun to kaise... [1]

Abhi tak tumhaara khwaab meri aankhon mein hai
Main apna sab kuchh chhorh jaaun to kaise...

Main khush hoon bohot, pareshaan hoon bohot
Apni haalat tumhein samjhaaun to kaise...

Main kuchh bhi sochun tum aa jaate ho khayaalon mein
Khayaalon ke is jaal ko ab suljhaaun to kaise...

Tumhi the chaand, tumhi suraj, tumhi taaron ka falak
Din raat main ab apne bachaaun to kaise... [5]

Tum aaye the to yaad aaya tha ke zindaa hoon main
Ab zindagi ke mai'ne phir se bhulaaun to kaise...

Khushiyon ki horh mein hai har koi mubtelaa
Kamzarfon ko gham apne dikhaaun to kaise... [7]

Lo kehne laga phir se kuchh sher Siyaah
Ab hosh mein main aaun to kaise... [8]

[by Siyaah]

[1]nejaat: escape, to become free of (especially hardships)
[5]falak: celestial sphere, sky, also used for orbit, which gives this couplet a nice touch with reference to day and night in the second verse
[7]mubtelaa: deeply involved, especially in misfortune, misery, difficulties...thus bringing out the irony here with 'khushiyon ki...'
kamzarf: literally, those with less wit, capability, elegance, beauty
[8] Siyaah is used here as a takhallus, and could also be read as a characteristic of the sher...both interpretations connect to the last verse.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

O Dusk of Grief: A Translation

O Dusk of Grief
[By Firaq Gorakhpuri. Translated from the Urdu by Siyaah]

O dusk of grief- somewhat of that graceful gaze, let’s talk
Unconsciousness increases- of the secret, let’s talk [1]

This graceful silence, this rupturing of the heart’s veins
In silence, somewhat of that organ’s defeat, let’s talk [2]

Somewhat from the cage’s bars- something like light filters through
Somewhat of the skies, somewhat of the desire to fly, let’s talk [3]

The fragrance of hair tousled, tale of dusk of grief
Till dawn- in this very style, let’s talk... [4]

Translator's Notes

I have tried to convey the poet's words and ideas while leaving the interpretations somewhat open in places, as in the original.

[1] nigaah-e-naaz: gaze of grace / one with the graceful gaze / graceful gaze

[2] sukoot: silence; ragon: blood vessels - I have used veins for poetic effect; shikast-e-saaz: defeat of (musical) instrument - I have used organ as it carries the meaning of musical instrument and also connects to 'heart' in the previous line.

[3] qafas: cage; noor: light, typically with deeper positive connotations often of a spiritual nature; fazaa: atmosphere / skies / space, also suggesting the conditions of these i.e. the weather; hasrat-e-parwaz: desire to fly

[4] nakhat: breath of air / fragrance; zulf-e-pareshaan: hair that is tousled / disarrayed, typically invoking beauty and mystery.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Shaam-e-Ghum: Firaq

[By Firaq Gorakhpuri]

Shaam-e-ghum kuchh us nigaah-e-naaz ki baatein karo
Bekhudi badhti chali hai, raaz ki baatein karo

Ye sukoot-e-naaz, ye dil ki ragon ka tootna
Khamoshi mein kuchh shikast-e-saaz ki baatein karo

Kuchh qafas ki teeliyon se chhan rahaa hai noor saa,
Kuchh fazaa kuchh hasrat-e-parwaaz ki baatein karo

Nakhat-e-zulf-e-pareshaan dastaan-e-shaam-e-ghum
Subho hone tak isi andaaz ki batein karo

This is one of my favorite ghazals from Firaq's repertoire, rendered so well by Vinod Sehgal. I'm trying to translate this...let's see how it turns out...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Kya poochte ho...

A comment on my earlier post asked: "Where are you?"

I am still wondering how to answer. It is at once a simple yet philosophical question, depending on the mood you're in. Not to turn this into a series of posts from my own inventory, but I could not resist letting these stand-alone verses go through in response...

Kya poochhte ho kahaan hain hum
Shikasta kashti mein aur toofaan ke darmiyaan hain hum...

Kya poochhte ho ke kaise hain
Ek dard se nikle hain abhi, ek ki taak mein baithe hain...

Before I start testing everyone's patience with my own scribbles, I'll be back with translations next...

Sunday, April 29, 2007


Ye mere ghum hi hain
Jo mujh ko yahaan tak laaye hain...
Khushi mili hoti kahin-
To wahin ruk gaya hota.

[by Siyaah]

Monday, April 09, 2007

Where are all the poems I wrote?

Where are all the poems I wrote?
I did not bother to tear them up
Or turn them black, into ashes
I left them
Where I wrote them-
On the backs of pages with unsolved problems
Jostling for space with rough calculations
Complex numbers, the real and unreal
Running into differentiating, integrating expressions
Their words held together with the glue of numbers;
Or sometimes-
On blank first pages
Or back covers of notebooks
Bold, signed-
If you ever come across those bits of paper
Use them up, it does not matter
They are yours - meant, destined for you
Tokens of our ephemeral existences
Why type them up
Bind them in books
As they were never meant to be
Let each verse seek its own free life
Its own meaning, its own survival
Like the rest of us.

[By Black/Siyaah. Circa late 90s]

Finally I've slipped some more of my old stuff here, perhaps mostly as a diversion. This came about at a time when I first started to realize that I had 'lost' most of what I had strangely brought together the literal and symbolic angle of every part of that experience...

Friday, March 16, 2007

My State These Days

My State These Days
[By Jigar Moradabadi. Translated from the Urdu by Siyaah]

My state these days turns heedless of pain-
Every joy that was my share seems on the wane... [1]

An apocalyptic glory indeed - this turns now to the beauty of both worlds-
The gathering is the same, yet the heart's desire is on the wane... [2]

The same companion and attendant, yet the heart does suffocate-
The lamp is the same, yet the flame is on the wane... [3]

This life is the same, O Jigar, yet such is my state-
As if the very life of life is on the wane... [4]

Translator's Notes

One of the critical aspects for this ghazal was re-creating the "kam hoti jaati hai" effect in English. In the original, this repeated rhyme applies to a variety of metaphors. After several considerations, the poetically familiar "on the wane" was chosen as it conveyed the literal meaning of "to decrease gradually in size, amount, intensity or degree" and could be applied to the derived meanings for the different metaphors in each couplet.

[1] tabiyat can literally mean disposition, nature, temperament but here 'my state' conveyed the closest meaning suggesting the temporal aspect related to 'these days'.

[2] qayamat kya... proved very difficult to translate. qayamat carries a variety of meanings, refering literally to 'the day of judgment' but often the derived meaning indicates something of comparable intensity, particularly beauty. The metaphor is cleverly used by the poet to convey that the gathering is intensely beautiful, an 'apocalypic glory' - the apocalyptic part leads to the idea of it being at the threshold of this world and the 'hereafter', thereby being 'the beauty of both worlds'. This also suggests that the 'gathering' refered to is the 'gathering' of all humans/the world, for which his heart does not have the same desire anymore...

[3] shaahid-o-saaqi literally means 'witness and cup-bearer', and implies 'companion and attendant' which seem to go better in English in the context of this couplet.
dil bujhta jaata translated as 'the heart does suffocate' conveys the literal imagery of getting extinguished but also the deeper sense of the metaphor implying a mental / emotional suffocation.

[4] The last line literally means 'life goes out of life' which is typical of Jigar's style - conveying a 'heavy' thought with startlingly simple lyrical beauty...I have captured the idea here by the rhyming ' the very life of life is on the wane'.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Tabiyat In Dinon

Tabiyat In Dinon
[By Jigar Moradabadi]

Tabiyat in dinon begaana-e-gham hoti jaati hai
Mere hisse ki goya har khushi kam hoti jaati hai

Qayaamat kya ye aye husn-e-do-aalam hoti jaati hai
Ke mehfil to wahi hai, dil-kashi kam hoti jaati hai

Wahi hai shaahid-o-saaqi magar dil bujhta jaata hai
Wahi hai shamma lekin roshni kam hoti jaati hai

Wahi hai zindagi lekin Jigar ye haal hai apna
Ke jaise zindagi se zindagi kam hoti jaati hai

This is one of my favorites by Jigar, for whose "song of myself" I attempted a translation earlier. Rendered classically by Begum Akhtar here...there is only one way to introduce Begum Akhtar: once her classical old-world charm starts growing on you, you just can't listen to anyone else for a while. There's also a pretty good version of this by Vinod Sehgal but couldn't find it online so far...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

And here...

Walking along
Heading for the Citizenship Court
Kent Street
I have been here seven years
Yet the same question
Where do you come from?

Cyril Dabydeen, South Asian - North American poet. Goatsong 1977.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Main Sar Jhukae Hue...

Main sar jhukae hue, dard ko chhupae hue,
Palat ke aaya to har raah-guzar andheri thi...

psychic upheavals.
somewhere in south asia.