Saturday, December 06, 2008

Ab Tum Hi Kaho Kya Karna Hai: Faiz

Ab Tum Hi Kaho Kya Karna Hai
[by Faiz Ahmad Faiz]

Jab dukh ki nadiya mein humne
jeevan ki naao daali thi
tha kitna kas bal baahon mein
lahu mein kitni laali thi
yun lagta tha do haath lage
aur naao pooram paar lagi

Aisa na hua- har dhaare mein
kuchh andekhi majdhaarein theen
kuchh maajhi the anjaan bohot
kuchh be-parkhi patwaarein theen

Ab jo bhi chaaho chhaan karo
ab jitney chaaho dosh dharo
nadiya bhi wahi hai, naao wahi
ab tum ki kaho kya karna hai
ab kaise paar utarna hai

Jab apni chhaati mein humne
is des ke ghaao dekhey the
tha khud par bhi vishwaas bohot
aur yaad bohot se nuskhey the
yun lagta tha bas kuchh din mein
saari bipta kat jaayegi
aur sab ghaao bhar jaaenge

Aisa na hua- ke rog apne
kuchh itne dher puraane the
ved unki toh ko paa na sake
aur totke sab bekaar gaye

Ab jo bhi chaaho chhaan karo
ab jitne chaaho dosh dharo
chhati bhi wahi hai, ghaao wahi
ab tum hi kaho kya karna hai
ye ghaao kaise bharna hai...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

That Is Sight

That Is Sight

[By Asghar Gondvi. Translated from the Urdu by Siyaah]

That is sight, which goes beyond this existence and the next
And yet falters when it falls on a radiant face [1]

How can sight not falter on that beauty- how can it not?
That turns at times to a blossom, and is at times a face [2]

I stride on- laughing, playing with the waves of tragedies
If there were ease, life would be difficult indeed... [3]

Translator's Notes
[1] Kaun-o-makaan: literally, this Persian expression refers to "all existence", but the implication is to include this existence and the next, based on earlier classical usage by the Persian sufi poet, Hafez;
Ru-e-taabaan: face that is radiant / emits heat or light. I interpret it as an expression of beauty that blinds one to all else.

[2]rukhsaar: face;
"(Nazar) us...par thahre" literally means "to stay put", but the meaning of the expression is lost in English. The implication is more closely captured by "to not falter".

[3]mauj-e-hawaadis: literally, waves of accidents/misfortunes/tragedies;
Dushwar: difficult to the point of being almost impossible.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nazar Wo Hai: Asghar Gondvi

Nazar Wo Hai

[by Asghar Gondvi]

Nazar wo hai ke jo kaun-o-makaan ke paar ho jaaye
Magar jab roo-e-taabaan par pade bekaar ho jaaye

Nazar us husn par thahre to aakhir kis tarah thahre
Kabhi jo phool ban jaaye, kabhi rukhsaar ho jaaye

Chalaa jaata hoon hansta khelta mauj-e-hawaadis se
Agar aasaaniyaan ho zindagi dushwaar ho jaaye...

Asghar Hussain (1884-1938) takes his takhallus from his home district Gonda, in the province of U.P., India, historically part of the Awadh culture. He is less known, but highly regarded for his relatively fewer works.

[Incidentally, the picture in the clip is from a couple of months ago, when I was crossing the border from Italy to Switzerland, passing through the Swiss Alps by train. Somehow felt like using it here...there is something about such pristine beauty. You can see the sky, the mountains, the water, and civilization at the edge, including a church...everything fits...]

Thursday, September 18, 2008

In-between worlds

Wo bhi apna hai wahaan aur hum bhi uske hain yahaan,
Kya hua baaqi hai kuchh jo zindagi-e-darmiyaan.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Ghalti apni bhi hai- ab maan bhi lo,
Thi mohabbat- ab jaan bhi lo...

Gham uske jaane ka nahin hai tumko,
Aks apna pehchaan bhi lo...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Duniya ki hadon ko chhoDo
Siyaah, jao pehle apni hadon ko toDo.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Tahayya-e-Toofaan: Ghalib

Ghalib humein na chhed ke phir josh-e-ashq se,
Baithe hain hum tahayya-e-toofaan kiye hue.

[By Mirza Ghalib]

Ghalib, tease us not again with the flood of tears,
We sit with a determination to rival the storms.
[Translated by Siyaah]

josh-e-ashq: literally josh means 'to boil', ashq=tears. There is no exact expression to capture the effect in English. "Flood of tears" has a similar idea.

tahayya-e-toofaan: tahayya=determination. One could interpret it either as a determination to face storms, or a determination as strong as that of storms - I have tried to capture both ideas with 'to rival the storms'

Friday, April 18, 2008


Have you seen one who denies the deen? (religion/judgment)

That is the one who repulses the yateem (orphan)

And urges not the feeding of the miskeen (indigent)

Ah, woe unto the musalleen (those who pray)

Who, of their prayers, are saahoon (unmindful)

Who want to be yuraaoon [seen (at prayer)]

Yet refuse al-maaoon (small kindnessess / neighbourly needs).

Tried a different way of translation: keeping the last word in the original to preserve the rhyme and give a sense of how lyrical the original sounds.
Source: any guesses?! (not my usual area of 'expertise')

Saturday, April 12, 2008


"Metaphorically then, not to open your water taps fully while shaving is dharma; not to jump the red light on the traffic signal is dharma; and not to pollute the air we breathe is dharma."

"In India nearly every situation is encountered as a first-time situation and people respond to them as such- so for sheer survival one has to be extremely intelligent. You have to be extremely intelligent to grasp in a split second that the traffic cop has no vehicle to chase you with, and so you can jump the red light with impunity. Or judge in the flash of an eye whether he has a pen and notebook with him to jot down your number- if he does not have these with him, you assume it is safe to ignore his signal to you to pull over. Or to figure out, when on impulse you spit copiously on the street from the safety of your balcony and a poor pedestrian happens to intercept your wad, that there is precious little he can do, short of DNA testing, to prove that it was you who spat."

"When I jump a queue or a red light, or throw that garbage on the sidewalk, I am taking a rational 'squeal' decision, since it seems to get me ahead of others or make life easier for me. Here I am being privately smart. But then, as others are no less rational, intelligent and smart, they too start 'squealing' for the same reasons, and before we know it, we have unruly traffic, filthy streets and stinking urinals. So collectively we are worse off, just as the two prisoners in the dilemma. And then we complain about a dirty country, a polluted city and apalling traffic. In short, publicly we emerge dumb."

"...It was Nobel laureate John Nash who first turned his attention to rivalries with mutual gain, that is, non-zero-sum situations, where one does not have to win at the cost of another, as both parties can emerge winners."

From "Games Indians Play" by V. Raghunathan.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Eight Things

I've never really done tags on this blog- somehow it never went with the overall feel of the place. But given that somehow I'm now part of a set of bloggers who are quite regular here and whose blogs I frequent, I feel I should give it a shot. So here's to a regular reader here (not sure I'll get a full 'eight' list in all cases...)

Eight things I am passionate about:
Reading poetry
Translating poetry
Writing poetry
Traveling to places I've never been before
Natural Science (Theoretical physics,...Any science fields related to human evolution)
Social Science (Human cognition and behavior,...)
The interaction of science (e.g. science of human brain) with social science (e.g. human behavior)

Eight things I want to do before I die:
Write a funny novel (something along the lines of Seinfeld and Chasm-e-bad-door put together, based loosely around college life and crazy friends from that time...)
Write a tragic novel (based on the darker aspects of life)
Write a script for a movie based on the above
Travel to almost every country
Experiment with painting- without training, without exhibiting any works

Eight things I say often:
Take it easy!
Have fun!
Haan bhai...! (said sarcastically) (Hindi/Urdu)
Tur Khoda! (By God! -said in dejection) (Persian)

Eight books I've read recently:
Nine Stories- J.D. Salinger (re-reading gradually)
Games Indians Play- V. Raghunathan
Lonely Planet Guide to Iran (after the visit!)
The Mind of the Strategist - K. Ohmae
Structural Equation Modeling - R. Kline
Managers Not MBAs - H. Mintzberg
The Codfathers - G. Pitts
The Alchemy of Happiness - H.I. Khan

Eight songs I could listen to, over and over:
Dekh to dil ke jaan se uthta hai (Mir by Mehdi Hasan)
Jalwa baqadra-e-zarf-e-nazar (Jigar by Abida Parveen)
Love Street (The Doors)
Riders on the Storm (The Doors)
Faith (George Michael)
Muddat hui hai yaar ko mehmaan kiye hue (Ghalib by Iqbal Bano)

Eight things that attract me to my best friends:
Independence of thought
Originality of thought
Ability to challenge my thoughts
Ability to see humor and tragedy in anything
Ready to re-examine firmly held beliefs, to change anything
Struggles -internal, external
A desire to understand something beyond everything...

Eight people I think should do this tag:
Anyone who stumbles upon this blog...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Student

Many years ago,
I saw a man in uniform,
Get down on one knee,
And fire upon a crowd of protestors,
Fleeing into narrow lanes of ghettos,
As if their only crime was to come out of oblivion,
And protest their exclusion,
And bullets were needed to throw them back,
Into their desolate lives, excluded.
A few were shot- all on their backs,
I later learned a student died,
I was a student in the ghetto,
I had learned a lot,
and survived.

Somehow recalled the above lines on seeing the movie Hotel Rwanda (rare movie recommendation on this site). The lines just came to me sometime last year, recounting a real-life incident I had witnessed more than a decade ago.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

At the Splendor...I Stared: An Interpretive Translation

At the Splendor...I Stared.
By Jigar Moradabadi
[Interpretive translation of the Urdu by Siyaah]

At the splendor, with an appreciative, capacious gaze, I stared
What else could I see- but at her, I stared. [1]

At my own reflection, presented to my gaze, I stared
A mirror there was face-to-face, wherever I stared. [2]

In her sanctuary of grace, where could I stand-
At the imprints on the veil at the door, I stared. [3]

Some such nights of separation went by as well-
As if it were her, presented to my gaze, at whom I stared. [4]

With every glance, the grandeur of beauty changed, O Jigar
At every glory of the transforming world, I stared. [5]

Translator's Notes

One aspect of note in Jigar's ghazals is his command on the rhyme- often, he has two opening couplets (rather than the mandatory one for the typical ghazal) with all verses in rhyme.

Translating this was much tougher than it first appeared. The words had to be very precise in terms of their meanings in several places, yet had to be open to interpretation in two ways- for an earthly beloved, and for the Spiritual as well (the word 'her' can be replaced with 'Him' for that effect - in Urdu, the two words are the same). Suggestions for improvements are most welcome.

[1] jalwa: splendor; ba-qadr: showing the proper respect, admiration and appreciation - valuing something at its proper worth; zarf: capacious, being able to hold much. I chose 'I stared' to convey the sense of wonder and almost helplessness conveyed through 'dekh-te rahe'.

[2] ru-ba-ru: face-to-face.

[3] hareem-e-naaz: hareem means santuary or sacred place, house, and often also refers to the enclosure of the sanctuary at Mecca. Naqsh-o-nigar: decorations, engravings, designs, imprints. I prefered 'imprints' as it also suggests that what is seen on the veil is a manifestation or imprint of the sacred that is hidden from sight- one sufistic interpretation here would be that the world is an imprint of the Creator who is veiled from wordly sight.

[4] firaaq: separation.

[5] lehza: a look, a glance, a moment. Jahaan-e-digar: digar means next, other, another. This was the most difficult couplet to translate - Jigar's choice of every word gives it a variety of meanings. Jahaan-e-digar could be read as the 'next world'. Coupled with the first line, it could imply the various aspects of the beloved's beauty that the poet observed with every glance made him compare it to 'other world'-like beauty. Yet, it could also imply that the poet, through witnessing the changing beauty of this world in general, had a spiritual experience of 'transition to' the other world. I used 'transforming world' for jahaan-e-digar as it preserves all interpretations and brings the poet's experience alive through the words.

There is much more here, open to interpretation.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Jalwa Baqadr-e-Zarf-e-Nazar

Jalwa Baqadr-e-Zarf-e-Nazar
[By Jigar Moradabadi]

Jalwa baqadr-e-zarf-e-nazar dekhte rahe
Kya dekhte hum unko magar dekhte rahe

Apna hi aks pesh-e-nazar dekhte rahe
Aaina ru-ba-ru tha jidhar dekhte rahe

Unki hareem-e-naaz kahaan aur hum kahaan
Naqsh-o-nigaar-e-parda-e-dar dekhte rahe

Aisi bhi kuch firaaq ki raatein guzar gayin
Jaise unhi ko pesh-e-nazar dekhte rahe

Har lehza shaan-e-husn badalti rahi Jigar
Har aan hum jahaan-e-digar dekhte rahe

One of my favorites from Jigar, grows on you slowly but open to more than one interpretation. It reads so well as poetry sung to an earthly beloved - yet Jigar's verses often seem to imply Sufi angles and the meanings could apply to the Spiritual 'beloved'. In this ghazal in particular, the two layers of meaning flow through so seamlessly. Listen to it rendered by Abida Parveen here.

Sunday, January 20, 2008