Ghazala's Weblog

a poetic thread to string my words and experiences on…

More Poems About Poetry — July 24, 2008

More Poems About Poetry

Some more meta-poems… the first is by one of my favourites- Alice Walker. She speaks in this poem of her conversation with muse, during which she describes the creation of poetry as a painful, near death experience before poetry arrives in the garb of “wierd light”. She recounts ways in which poetry talks to poets. Once the muse arrives it nags and nags till the poem is done.

The second meta poem of this post is a short and sweet feminist poem by a poet called Tess Gallagher. This is the first time I have read anything by her but the poem really touched my heart. It reminded me of things I learnt from my mother without actually ever being taught and the eerie similarity between her and me even though she died when I was just an adolescent. The poem also spoke to me because so many times I promise myself to get back to the poem while I immerse myself in this or that mindless chore and a little girl stands next to me too watching me do it all.

And the final one by a master- Dylan Thomas. This poem is sort of a pure meta poem but beautiful nevertheless.

I Said to Poetry

I said to Poetry: “I’m finished
with you.”
Having to almost die
before some wierd light
comes creeping through
is no fun.
“No thank you, Creation,
no muse need apply.
I’m out for good times–
at the very least,
some painless convention.”

Poetry laid back
and played dead
until this morning.
I wasn’t sad or anything,
only restless.

Poetry said: “You remember
the desert, and how glad you were
that you have an eye
to see it with? You remember
that, if ever so slightly?”
I said: “I didn’t hear that.
Besides, it’s
five o’clock in the a.m.
I’m not getting up
in the dark
to talk to you.”

Poetry said: “But think about the time
you saw the moon
over that small canyon
that you liked so much better
than the grand one–and how surprised you were
that the moonlight was green
and you still had
one good eye
to see it with

Think of that!”

“I’ll join the church!” I said,
huffily, turning my face to the wall.
“I’ll learn how to pray again!”

“Let me ask you,” said Poetry.
“When you pray, what do you think
you’ll see?”

Poetry had me.

“There’s no paper
in this room,” I said.
“And that new pen I bought
makes a funny noise.”

“Bullshit,” said Poetry.
“Bullshit,” said I.

By Alice Walker


Stop Writing the Poem

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I’ll get back
to the poem. I’ll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.
by Tess Gallagher



Notes on the Art of Poetry

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.

by Dylan Thomas





Sounds of Resistance and Freedom — July 16, 2008

Sounds of Resistance and Freedom



(*My article that has previously appeared in the 2007 issue of “Our Diary”, brought out by a civil society group- “Kriti” in Delhi .)


We come across language mostly as sound- words spoken or sung and then heard. The sounds carry with them implied meanings. We can load the simplest of words with meaning beyond the literal one. We can choose the shape of our words with varying degrees of freedom. Words become a song when this freedom is exercised to its fullest potential. Music is, perhaps, the most malleable of all media of human expression. It always finds a form that’s just right for the message- gentle or ironic, grim or humorous, powerful or subtle, straightforward or a little roundabout, appropriate or offensive.  The reach of a song is far wider than other forms of expression – the deepest of messages have been known to be set to simplest of tunes.


On the other hand singing words set to music enables us to step back from the immediacy of the words as communication and to make it an aesthetic object. Singing becomes an act of contemplation and of celebration of words simultaneously. It not only conveys the meaning of the words but also adds to the meaning something that words fail to express.


In a song people may express their political or spiritual beliefs, tell a story, history, or just provide amusement. People also sing about their ethnic character or social, political, economic situations. Singing always seems to help when the going is tough, when the task is uphill, when we feel afraid and unsupported. People sing and call each other to action and to express solidarity in resisting oppression. People sing together to kindle the torch of passions in each others’ heart and light the way to see some hope.


Just as singing is celebration of words, singing together is celebration of humanity.


Songs and singing together are an integral part of protest or social change movements. Songs that are sung in movements are work songs of peasants and artisans, prison songs, anti-war songs, songs for freedom and equality, spiritual songs, songs for children and for communal harmony, songs about life and humanity, protests and resistance songs and songs just for celebration, dance and enjoyment. They contain love, hope, pain, resolve, resilience and revolt.


Songs and music attract people and have the capacity to become the most important tool for mobilization in movements. The lyrics explain complex, interconnected and multilayered issues and put things across simply. This helps people join in and/or relate with the cause. This is also how movements reach out to the larger audience on the fringes or outside movements with the message of change and equality


To sing these songs you don’t need to be trained or even talented singers, just a lot of passion will. No instruments are required really, clapping along is perfect or may be a dhapli. Like folk songs they are learnt by people from people, by movements from other movements, from place to place, and from generation to generation. And like folk songs, movement songs too, keep changing (words and tunes) and evolving over time, spontaneously as well as deliberately. At times portions of one song are sung with another song (for example verses from ‘ho gayee hai peer parwat si’ are sung with ‘sau mein sattar aadmi’).


Traditional folk songs themselves form one whole part of the protest and movement songs. They are mostly sung in groups concerned with conservationist values like adivasi or environmental movements. Some religious or spiritual songs also belong to the same category. ‘Ma Rewa Tharo Pani Nirmal‘ sung with fervour in NBA, is essentially an age old bhajan in praise of river Narmada with description of belief in its holy character. Many songs from the Sufi and Bhakti traditions are also very popular in movement groups because of irreverent attitude towards religious orthodoxy and lyrics that uphold love for humanity.


Many protest songs also invoke religious imagery to drive a point home though the message is not of religious nature, and in fact may be making an ironic reference to it. Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s ‘Hum Dekhenge’ uses the Islamic imagery of the Day of Judgement though it is talking of the day when interests of the working class shall reign supreme. Similarly, Bhupen Hazarika’s ‘Vistar Hai Apar’ invokes the belief in the River Ganga’s holy nature and cleansing powers to paint a picture of misery of the masses in our country  and unjust conditions they are forced to live in.


So religion becomes some sort of secret code and provides the poet with a tool to cut straight to the core of the issue without being overtly political about it (and hence soften the blow?). Poetry becomes a vehicle that’s capable of bridging the separation of private and public, cultural and political. This many a times makes for very powerful poetry full of rawness, pain and gore of people’s politics like that of Paash but on some occasions comes up with words of great beauty and poetic merit as in case of Faiz.


Thus, poetry/songs/music or to use a wider term ‘culture’ stations itself as a site of significant political resistance.


Women’s movement in particular has employed cultural action in a much more imaginative way than any other movement and therefore (?… among other reasons…) has had a tremendous impact on more aspects of daily lives of many more people than any other movement has had. Folk songs have played a crucial part in this regard. Singing has been available to women for centuries as an act of resistance or defiance of suffocating social norms restricting women’s expression. Gaaree sung at weddings in Bundelkhand, and other parts of eastern UP and Bihar are a case in point. These are songs full of swear words, insults and expletives sung by the women of the bride’s family abusing relatives of the groom and vice-versa. But even for more usual protest songs of the women’s movements, the folk form- beats, tunes and repetitive lyrics have been employed very frequently.


Music/Songs are the way artists- poets, songwriters, singers and musicians associate with movements and express solidarity. The sixties in America, in the backdrop of students’ movement against Vietnam war and Civil Rights Movement, saw an upsurge of popularity of protest music and gave us many great singer-lyricists (Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger) and classic songs (Times They Are A-Changin’, We Shall Overcome). These singers and their songs reached the height of popularity in a very mainstream sense. In more recent times with the backdrop changed to America’s ‘War Against Terrorism’, many mainstream pop and hip-hop singers released anti-war and anti-Bush singles but these had to be released in most cases, embedded in albums otherwise full of non-political fluff.


In India, mainstream popular music largely means songs from bollywood films. Hindi film songs that can be categorised with protest music have been few and far between. Very few songs from the mainstream cinema which had content of clearly or vaguely political nature have gone on to become popular hits. And anything by way of political has more often than not carried nationalistic sentiments. Only a handful of songs dared to go against this tide. ‘Chino Arab Hamara’ from Raj Kapoor starrer Phir Subha Hogi, and ‘Jinhe naaz hai hind par’ in Guru Dutt’s Pyasa are a few defiant examples which raised very pertinent and uncomfortable questions. A more contemporary ‘Yeh Taara Woh Tara’ in Swades raises the issue of caste discrimination but prefers to play it safe and stops short to look at the issue only from unity-in-diversity perspective.


Many mainstream musicians perform in aid of NGOs and causes- in solidarity and/or to raise funds but most such activity is restricted to areas and issues where there is no confrontation with the state and/or corporations. Also, the music played at these performances is not protest music. These performances posing as cultural action often end up being acts of patriarchal charity. 


And then there are those who are not mainstream- singing group of students in universities, groups associated with movements and development NGOs, individuals associated with one or more movements/causes like revolutionary balladeer from Andhra Pradesh- Ghadar. Susmit Bose sings songs from a relatively new genre- Urban Folk. Classical singers Madan Mohan and Shubha Mudgal (who also ventures in the Indi-pop genre occasionally) sing a repertoire of protest songs too, in some settings. Fusion band Indian Ocean is famous for playing and playing with protest and folk songs. Crowds of youth swaying to ‘hille le jhakjhor’ at Indian Ocean concerts disprove notions that there are no takers for protest music anymore in the world over or that it appeals only to the already ‘converted’.


Whether it is a marginal or mainstream genre of music doesn’t seem to bother protest music much. It plays on full of passion and vigour that befits songs of resistance and freedom.

Amrita Pritam — July 9, 2008

Amrita Pritam


I’ve lived all my life in Delhi and the stereotype of brash, loud, uncultured ‘panju’ is all too familiar but so untrue, like all good stereotypes,  as my current fling with Punjabi poets has shown me. Why do I feel such affinity with Punjabi poets? Probably it’s the proximity of Punjabi to Urdu- idioms and metaphors.

I recently discovered Amrita Pritam’s poetry… I had read a lot about her especially when she passed away in October 2005. And then her poem Chup Ki Saazish struck a chord. Here goes… with my translation…

Chup Ki Saazish


raat oongh rahi hai…

kisi ne insaan ki

chhati mein sendh lagaai hai

har chori se bhayanak

yeh sapnon ki chori hai.


choron ke nishaan-

har desh ke har sheher ki

har sadak par baithe hein

par koi aankh dekhti nahin,

na chaunkti hai.

sirf ek kutte ki tarah

ek zanjeer se bandhi

kisi waqt kisi ki

koi nazm bhaunkti hai.


Conspiracy Of Silence


The night is dozing…

from a human being’s chest

someone is trying to steal

scarier than any theft

is the theft of dreams.


Signs of thieves-

sit on each road of

each city of each country

but no eye sees

nor does it get startled.

Like only a dog

tied with a chain

at times, it barks

a poem of someone.


I read a poet by completely immersing myself in their poetry for a few days. Reading, re-reading, soaking myself in their idioms, nuances of language, recurrent and hence favourite metaphors of the poet till I think I have deciphered them for myself as well as I have the capacity to. I noticed while reading Amrita that most women poets have a tendency to use the body metaphor all too often. I feel that women poets like other women give a disproportionate space and importance in their lives to men/relationships, so much so that their creative energies also tend to get entangled in them all the time. Sex/ body/ garments imagery in poetry is an expression of the reality of most women- the discontent of not having a say or control in relationships especially over the ‘use’ of one’s body. So even when their poetry is an act of defiance against the societal restraint on women’s voice, its metaphors stem from their overwhelming preoccupation with these images. Is this avoidable? Should a woman poet wish to avoid it, what kind of poetry would she then make? Has it been already done-creation of women’s poetry with new metaphors?


 I’ve translated below a series of Amrita Pritam’s poems in which she uses the same metaphor but makes quite powerful poetry with subtle subversive, feminist undertones.


Amrita Pritam’s life was full of unconventional and defiant choices.  It takes an exceptional person to tread on the path many dread to. Amrita asked for a divorce after 25 years of marriage, openly declared her love for Sahir Ludhyanvi and stayed in a live-in relationship with Imroz for over 40 years till her death.  She was born in a devout Sikh family and her first poems were paean to Sikh gurus but after partition cut her hair short and took to smoking heavily. 


Khushwant Singh, who claims that he was closest to Amrita than anyone else besides her partner Imroz and her children, also claims that, “Amrita was not a highly educated woman, not exposed to good writing in languages other than Punjabi. Nor sophisticated enough to add new dimensions to her own.” He tells us that Amrita was not interested in politics. (Amrita Pritam: Queen of Punjabi Literature by Khushwant Singh in The Tribune, Nov. 12, 2005)


Read Amrita and decide for yourself.  


Aadi Rachna


mein- ek nirakar mein thi


yeh mein ka sankalp tha

jo pani ka roop bana

aur too ka sankalp tha

jo aag ki tarah numaya hua

aur aag ka jalwa

paani par chalne laga

par weh

pura-aitihasik samay ki baat hai


yeh mein ki mitti ki pyas thi

ke usne too ka darya pi liya

yeh mein ki mitti ka hara sapna

ke too ka jangal usne khoj liya

yeh mein ki maati ki gandh thi

aur too ke ambar ka ishq tha

ke too ka neela-sa sapna

mitti ki sej par soys

yeh tere aur mere maas ki sugandh thi

aur yahi haqiqat ki aadi rachna thi


sansar ki rachna to bahut baad ki baat hai


First Creation

I – there was a formless me.


This was the pledge of I

which took the form of water

and the pledge of you

which came into existence like fire

and the radiance of fire

started working on water

but that is about prehistoric times…


This was the thirst of the soil of I

that drank up the river of you

this was the green dream of the soil of I

that found the jungle of you.

this was the earthen smell of I

and the passion of the sky of you

that the blueish dream of you

slept on the bed of earth.

This was the smell of my flesh and yours

and this was really the first creation.


Creation of the world

is much later than that


Aadi Pustak


mein thi- aur shayad too bhi…

shayad ek saans ke faasle par khada

shayad ek nazar ke andhere pe baitha

shayad ehsaas ke ek mod par chal raha

par weh

pura-aitihasik samay ki baat hai


yeh mera aur tera astitva tha

jo dunya ki aadi bhasha bana

mein ki pehchaan ke akshar bane

aur unhone

aadi bhasha ki aadi pustak likhi


yeh mera aur tera milan tha

ham patthar ki sej pe soye

aur tere aankein, honth, ungliyan, por

mere aur tere badan ke akshar bane

aur unhone

us aadi pustak ka anuvaad kiya


rigved ki rachna

to bahut baad ki baat hai


First book


I was – and maybe you too…

Maybe standing at a breath’s distance

maybe sitting at the darkness of a look

maybe walking at the turn of feelings.

But that is

about prehistoric times…


It was my existence and yours

which became the first language of the world

letters crafted for recognizing I

letters were crafted for recognizing you

and they

wrote the first book in the first language.


This was the union of me and you

we slept on the bed of stones

and eyes, lips, fingers, tips

letters were formed from your body and mine

and they translated the first book.


Creation of Rig-Veda

is much after that…



Aadi Chitr


mein thi- aur shayad tu bhi…


mein ki chaanv ke bhitar thirakti si chhaya

aur too bhi shayad ek khaaki saa saya

andheron ke bhitar andheron ke tukde

par weh

pura-aitihasik samay ki baat hai


raaton aur pedon ka andhera tha

jo teri aur meri poshak thi,

ek sooraj ki kiran aai

veh dono ke badan mein se guzri

aur pare patthar par ankit ho gaee

sirf ango ki golai thi

chandni ki nokein

yeh duniya ka aadi chitr tha

patton ne hara rang bhara

baadlon ne doodhiya, ambar ne saleti

aur phoolon ne laal, peela, kasni


chitron ki kala to bahut baad ki baat hai…


First Picture

I was and maybe you too…

I a flickering shadow inside shade

and maybe you an ashen shadow too

pieces of dark inside darknesses

but that’s about prehistoric times…


There was darkness of nights and trees

which was your attire and mine,

a ray of sun came

it passed through both our bodies

and made an imprint on a stone a bit away.

There was only the curve of body parts,

moonlights’ sharp ends

this was the first picture of the world,

leaves filled in green colour

clouds-milky, sky-grey

and flowers- red, yellow, .


The art of pictures

is much after that…



Aadi Sangeet


mein thi- aur shayad too bhi…


ek aseem khamoshi thi

jo sookhe patton ki tarah jharti

ya yoon hi kinaron ki ret ki tarah ghulti

par weh

pura-aitihasik samay ki baat hai…


mein ne tujhe ek mod par aawaaz di

aur jab toone palat kar aawaz di

to hawaon ke gale mein kuchh thartharaya

mitti ke kan kuchh sarsaraye

aur nadi ka paani kuchh gungunaya

ped ki tehniyaan kuchh kas si gaeen

patton mein se ek jhankar uthi

phoolon ki konpal ne aankh jhapkai

aur ek chidiya ke pankh hile

yeh pehla naad tha

jo kaanon ne suna tha


sapt suron ki sngya

to bahut baad ki baat hai…


First Music

I was- and maybe you too…

There was unlimited silence

which would shed like dry leaves

or just slip away like sand on banks

but that’s

about the prehistoric times…


I called out to you at a bend

and when you called out back

something shivered in the winds’ throats

specks of dirt rustled a bit

and the river water hummed something,

branches of the tree tightened a little

a tinkle rose from the leaves

shoots of flowers blinked their eyes

and the wings of birds flapped

this was the first sound

that was heard by ears.


The name of the octave

was much later than that…



Aadi Dharm


meine jab too ko pehna

to dono ke badan antardhyan the

ang phoolon ki tarah goonthe gaye

aur rooh ki dargaah par

arpit ho gaye…


too aur mein havan ki agni

too aur mein sugandhit saamagri

ek doosre ka naam hotontho se nikla

to wahi naam pooja ke mantra the,

yeh tere aur mere

astitva ka ek yagya tha

dharm karm ki katha

to bahut baad ki baat hai…


First Religion


When I wore you

the bodies of both were in a trance

body parts got woven together like flowers in a garland

and on the grave of spirit

were offered…


You and I fire of sacred service

You and I scented offerings

lips uttered each other’s name

so those names were the chants of a prayer,

this was the sacrament of

existence of you and me

stories of religion and karma

is much after that…



Aadi Qabila


mein ki jab rut gadraai thi

maans ke paudhe par baur aaya tha

pawan ke aanchal mein mehek bandh gayee

too ka akshar lehlahaya tha

mein aur too ki chhanv mein

jan ‘veh’ aa kar nishchint so gaya

yeh ‘veh’ ka ek moh tha

genhu ka dana ham ne baant liya

‘veh’ sehej tha, swabhaavik tha,

mein ki aur too ki tripti


qabilon ki katha

to bahut baad ki baat hai…


First Tribe


When the season of I matured

the plant of flesh started flowering

fragrance tied on the flowing scarf of breeze

the letter of you danced


In the shade of ‘I’ and you

when ‘He’ came and slept without any worries

it was the love of ‘He’

both of us divided the grain of wheat

‘He’ was easy, natural,

satiation of I and of you


The story of tribes

is much later than that…



Aaadi Smriti


kaya ki haqeeqat se lekar-

kaya ki aabroo tak mein thi,

kaya ke husn se lekar-

kaya ke isq tak too tha


ueh mein akshar ka ilm tha

jisne mein ko ikhlaq diya

yeh tu akshar ka jashn tha

jishne ‘veh’ ko pehchaan liya,

bheymukt mein ki hasti

aur bheymukt too ki, ‘veh’ ki

manu ki smriti

to bahut baad ki baat hai…


First Memoirs (smriti)


From the reality of body-

to the honour of body was I,

from the beauty of body-

to the love of the body was you.


It was the knowledge of the letter I

Which gave etiquettes to I.

It was the celebration of You

which recognized He,

fear-free existence of I

and of fear-free you, he.


Manu Smriti (memoirs)

was much later than that…