Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Ghazal ka Saaz: The Ghazal Instrument (a translation)

The Ghazal Instrument (Ghazal ka Saaz Uthao)
By Firaaq Gorakhpuri.

[Translated from the Urdu by Siyaah]

Pick up the ghazal instrument - the night is sad indeed
Play the melody of Mir - the night is sad indeed [1]

If not to you - to whom else should I go and complain:
O shadows of black tresses - the night is sad indeed [2]

We have heard of lamps dying out in such times before:
Do pray for the hearts - the night is sad indeed [3]

Let your hand remain in mine, as is, for a little while
Do not yet depart - the night is sad indeed [4]

Translator's Notes

I first thought this would be easy. But translating Firaaq Gorakhpuri poses unique challenges. While Firaaq often does not use heavily persianized expressions, some of his apparently simple idiomatic expressions can be hard to translate accurately.

[1] Saaz: instrument, apparatus. Can also refer to the sound from the instrument. I left "ghazal" as-is in the translation, since any translation of this into a general word such as "poetry" would miss all the traditional implications inherent in the reference to the ghazal form. Nawa-e-Mir: Nawa means melody, tune, sound; Firaaq's reference to Mir is an acknowledgement of inspiration from, and deep appreciation of, the well-known poet of an earlier generation, Mir Taqi Mir. Firaaq has similarly referred to Mir in other ghazals as well.

[2] Kis se jaa ke kahen: Though the literal meaning is "to whom should I go and say", the "say" here implies "complain" and it is difficult to transfer the meaning in English without using "complain" directly. Zulf: hair, tresses. Interesting implications are possible here: is the night sad (dark) due to the (one with) black tresses - notice the imagery of sad night and black tresses - , and if so, who else more appropriate to complain to about it?

[3] Khair manao: This is an idiomatic expression that could mean "pray for the safety of", "take precautions for the safety of", etc.

[4] The first line uses the words "yun hi" (as-is) in a manner that allows two readings: I have translated it as the first more obvious meaning. It could also idiomatically mean, "for no real reason". I wondered if "just like that" could fulfill both meanings in English, but wasn't satisfied. This remains the key difficulty in translating poetry - poets are adept at using words that mean more than they seem to, and as listeners in the native language, we sometimes don't even realize that is why some verses subconsciously strike a chord with us.

Thoughts on improvements are welcome!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ghazal Ka Saaz Uthao: Firaaq

Ghazal Ka Saaz Uthao

Ghazal ka saaz uthao - bari udaas hai raat
Nawaa-e-Meer sunaao - bari udaas hai raat

Kahen na tumse to phir aur kisse jaa ke kahen
Siyaah zulf ke saayon - bari udaas hai raat

Suna hai pehle bhi aise mein bujh gaye hain chiraagh
Dilon ki khaair manaao - bari udaas hai raat

Diye raho yuheen kuchh der aur haath mein haath
Abhi na paas se jaao - bari udaas hai raat

Firaaq's obsession with night comes through in several of his compositions - this is one of them. It's also an example of his beautiful use of simpler language. Should be fun to translate this one. The rendition by Jagjit Singh will certainly count as one of the best (luckily so many of these are already uploaded by others and I don't have to upload them):

Saturday, October 30, 2010

No Allegiance

Hum ne yazeed-e-waqt se baeyat nahi kari:
Har morh par zamaane ko hum yaad aayenge...
[Manzar Bhopali]

Translation (rough):
No allegiance did we pay to the tyrant of the time:
At every turn will we be remembered by the world...

Manzar invokes the history of a specific period in time with reference to the challenge to a powerful tyrant, but I think his intent is clearly general - tyrants have changed forms from individual despotic rulers to governments to military-industrial complexes, yet their negative impact on human life and the associated desire of a few to challenge hegemony remains part of life...

Did my concurrent reading of Chris Hedge's "Empire of Illusion" have something to do with remembering this verse...


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bachaana Hai

Sawaalon ko jawaabon se bachaana hai-
Khudaaon ko kitaabon se bachaana hai...

by Siyaah [work in progress]

Rough translation [with interpretation]:
Questions have to be protected from answers [some mysteries should remain mysteries rather than be attacked by easy answers]
Gods have to be protected from books [the idea of God has to be protected from the distortion that necessarily arises when it is written down in books, in contrast to seeking it through experience...].

Thursday, May 06, 2010


Humein to bas ab apne hi ash'aar pasand aate hain Siyaah
Baaqi - auron ka kalaam - sab jhooth sa lagta hai...

Rough translation:
Only my own verses do I like anymore, Siyaah
The rest - the penmanship of others - all seems false...

[Moments of pride confessed in their own verses are fairly common amongst Urdu poets - and somehow loved by their wonders why. Also, is this is a style unique to Urdu poets...]

Wednesday, April 07, 2010


Aap se nazar milaa lete hum
Zindagi ko bachaa lete hum

Aap taaroof zaraa bhi karte
Kuchh to apna pataa dete hum

Zindagi talkh hui, aakhir kab tak
Ek yaad-e-shirin ka mazaa lete hum

Gham-e-duniya ke liye waqt kahan
Khud se itne pareshaan rehte hum

Aaj shaayar hain to keh lene do
Kal sochenge kya na kehte hum

Rang har ek tha wahaan aakhir
Kab tak wafaa-e-Siyaah sehte hum


Taaroof: introduction (especially formal, polite), formality
Talkh: bitter
Shirin: sweet

A work in progress...[by Siyaah]

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Murg-e-Sahar: Bird of Dawn


Those of us who find Urdu poetry and its rendition through classical Hindustani music close to our hearts, will immediately relate to the similar effect of "Murg-e-Sahar" in Persian poetry with Persian classical music. I thought I would introduce Urdu fans here to this gem, on the occasion of the Persian new year that started a couple of weeks ago with Naurooz ("new day"). 

The song is traditional, written by Mohammad Taghi 'Bahaar', and the music was originally composed by Morteza Neydavood. Several artists have sung it, but the traditional style of Shajarian (in this video) is considered the pinnacle. 

Perhaps I should attempt a translation...but till then, here is one that helps with the key words. 

Monday, February 01, 2010

Life in Varanasi

"We think of renunciation happening formally, definitively..., but it can happen gradually, so gradually it doesn't feel like renunciation. I didn't renounce the world; I just became gradually less interested in certain aspects of it, less involved with it - and that diminution of interest was slowly reciprocated. That's how it works. The world stops singling you out; you stop feeling singled out by the world.

I remembered how personally I used to take everything. Two years previously, I'd been given tickets for the opening day at Wimbledon, Centre Court. It rained, off and on...By the end of the day, not a shot had been played. It was as if there was a curse on me. No one else - not the players or anyone else in the stadium - suffered to the extent that I did. It was my day, my Wimbledon, my parade that was being rained on.

The weather had come between me and what I wanted - which was to watch tennis. The pain and the rain were intolerable because they conformed to a broader climatic pattern: something was always coming between me and what I wanted. That afternoon at Wimbledon it was the rain; another day it was another thing. But there was always something. I realized now that that thing was me. I was in my way. I was ahead of me in the queue. I was keeping me waiting. Everything was a kind of waiting. Varanasi I no longer felt like I was waiting. The waiting was over. I had taken myself out of the equation."

Lines that made it worth reading Geoff Dyer's "Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi".