Ghazala's Weblog

a poetic thread to string my words and experiences on…

To the memory of that defiant rickshaw ride- summer of 1998 — August 28, 2008

To the memory of that defiant rickshaw ride- summer of 1998

 

This ghazal I present today is an all time favourite of mine. I had picked up an audio cassette, during a college trip to Jabalpur, called Meri Pasand by Pakistani popular singer Nahid Akhtar. I liked this ghazal so much because it was the first time that I had heard a love poem in the voice of a woman. And she was being an active lover- passionate, persuasive and hasty. It was such a refreshing gust of air- I was completely blown over. I was an independent girl and I was in love too! And I couldn’t find a poem which expressed quite how I felt. All the love poetry I found till then was full of patriarchal metaphors and imagery and the feminist poetry I had encountered till then was dark, angry, ominous and about women being at the receiving end of unjust treatment.

So when I found it, it kind of validated what I felt being in love. I was the one who wanted to throw all the restraint to air, being afraid of no one. But Nasir was cautious, hesitant… Sighting couples in love together was not rare in Jamia, but shuttling between our departments everyday in attempts to spend as much time together I would be too tired with all the walking for much else! Nasir wouldn’t share a cycle rickshaw ride on campus with me. That would be like publicly defying some unwritten code of on-campus conduct! But one day I made him do it and did we get stares?!! I loved it!!

So I present my friends this ghazal to you, dedicated to the memory of what was probably the first rickshaw ride of a girlfriend-boyfriend together in the Jamia’s history. To love’s abandon and defiance. I can’t remember who had written the ghazal may be some reader can help… ?

Agli hi gali mein rehta hai
Aur milne tak nahin aata hai
Kehta hai takalluf kya karma
Hum tum mein to pyar ka nata hai

Kehta hai ziyada milne se
waadon ki khalish badh jaaegi
kuchh baatein waqt pe bhi chhodo
dekho who kya dikhlata hai

khud usse kaha ghar aaney ko
aur uske bina mar jaaney ko
aur ab jo who kuchh aamada hua
dil reh reh kar ghabrata hai

kehta hai tumhara dosh na tha
kuchh hamko bhi apna hosh na tha
phir hansta hai, phir rota hai
phir chup ho kar reh jata hai

heres my quick translation of the ghazal.

right in the next street he lives
but doesn’t even come to see me
whats the use of being formal, he says
when we share the connection of love

he says, meeting too often
lends promises more insistent
leave a few things to time
and see what it has to show

I asked him myself to come home,
or else I’ll die, I told him.
And now when he’s inclined himself
my heart is anxious over and over.

He says it wasn’t your fault
I ,too, had lost my wits
He then laughs, and then he cries
after that he goes quiet

Your blood will plant an olive tree and your people shall live in its shade… — August 22, 2008

Your blood will plant an olive tree and your people shall live in its shade…

What makes a poem subversive? Expressing a common humanity? Refuting identities thrust at us? Turning the pen against injustices? Appreciating beauty in people? Confronting history? Telling stories of life as it is? Singing of sadness, regret and anger? Ironical, but the answer is yes. Mahmoud Darwish of Palestine did all this. He belonged to the tribe of ‘raconteurs of conscience’ whose poetry stirs the hearts that have not closed their eyes to oppression of people and their misery.  Darwish’s is really “an utterly necessary voice, unforgettable once discovered…” as his fellow Arab poet Naomi Shihab once famously said.

Mahmoud Darwish’s death on 9th August 2008 went largely unnoticed in India which has all but turned its back on the Palestinian struggle and people. It was left to the independent voices on internet to let us Indians know that the great voice will no longer sing the songs it had created and give us pleasure, touch us with the beauty of his thoughts, make us sad and uncomfortable with what he recounts. Breyten Breytenbach, an anti-apartheid Afrikaner poet who also knows well the pangs of exile and pain of prison, was at the last reading by Derwish just weeks before he died. He describes the evening thus…

“The sun was setting, there was a soundless wind in the trees and from the neighbouring streets we could hear the voices of children playing. And for hours we sat on the ancient stone seats, spellbound by the depth and the beauty of this poetry. Was it about Palestine? Was it about his people dying, the darkening sky, the intimate relationships with those on the other side of the wall, ‘soldier’ and ‘guest’, exile and love, the return to what is no longer there, the memory of orchards, the dreams of freedom…? Yes – like a deep stream all of these themes were there, of course they so constantly informed his verses; but it was also about olives and figs and a horse against the skyline and the feel of cloth and the mystery of the colour of a flower and the eyes of a beloved and the imagination of a child and the hands of a grandfather. And of death.”

Derwish was fluent in Hebrew and read the work of Lorca and Pablo Neruda in Hebrew translations. His poetry resembles that of Faiz in the sense that he uses stylistically classical language but writes of common concerns in the voice of oppressed people. Also, like Faiz, Derwish’s poetry has many layers of meaning. In a hard hitting poem, he describes the violence that Palestinians face on day to day basis. Its full force comes not from harsh angry words but soft, melancholy tones of lost relationships, death, dreams and colours.

Victim #18

The olive grove was once green;
It was! And the sky was
A blue forest; it was!
What has changed it tonight?

And tonight
I’ll come through the window
And bring you jasmine.
Don’t blame me if I’m late;
They always stop me on the way.

They quietly stopped our truck
at the curve of the road
and quietly turned us East.

My heart was once a blue sparrow;
It was! And your handkerchiefs
Were all white, my beloved.
What has soiled them tonight?
I don’t understand.

They quietly stopped our truck
and quietly turned us East.

For you I have everything:
Both shade and light
And a wedding ring
And even an orchard of fig trees.

They quietly stopped our truck
and quietly turned us East.

The olive grove was always green;
It was, my beloved.
But tonight
The blood of fifty victims
Has turned it into a red pool.
Please don’t blame me
If I can’t come;
They’ve murdered me, too.

A Palestinian blogger from Gaza- Heba says, “He taught me to believe that our cause is alive and just and that a Palestinian does live in the conscience of millions with his/her long legacy of love, patience, exile, and nostalgia.” Heba, you are right Palestine will continue to live in my heart with Derwish’s legacy and poetry.  

In one of his last poems, set in ditch where a victim and his enemy have fallen, he articulates his dejectedness at not having been able to see a resolution of Palestine Israel conflict and passes the baton to future poets to dream on and realize their dreams for the Palestinian people.

He said: Would you negotiate with me now?
I said: For what would you negotiate me now,
in this grave-hole?
He said: On my share and your share of this common grave
I said: What use is it?
Time has passed us,
our fate is an exception to the rule
here lay a murderer and the murdered, sleeping in one hole
and it remains for another poet to take this scenario to its end!

I conclude with another of his famous poems, a chance reading of which introduced me to Derwish and the Palestinian struggle, years ago.

The Earth is closing on us
pushing us through the last passage
and we tear off our limbs to pass through.
The Earth is squeezing us.
I wish we were its wheat
so we could die and live again.
I wish the Earth was our mother
so she’d be kind to us.

I wish we were pictures on the rocks
for our dreams to carry as mirrors.
We saw the faces of those who will throw
our children out of the window of this last space.
Our star will hang up mirrors.
Where should we go after the last frontiers?
Where should the birds fly after the last sky?
Where should the plants sleep after the last breath of air?
We will write our names with scarlet steam.
We will cut off the hand of the song to be finished by our flesh.
We will die here, here in the last passage.
Here and here our blood will plant its olive tree.

 

Mahmoud Darwish, poet, born March 15, 1941; died August 9, 2008

A meta-poem by Langston Hughes — August 20, 2008

A meta-poem by Langston Hughes

THEME FOR ENGLISH B

The instructor said,

            Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me NOT like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.

1951

Discovering African-American Poets — August 13, 2008

Discovering African-American Poets

I finished school and went to university (Jamia Millia Islamia) to study mathematics but got more interested in all the contemporary English literature in the Dr Zakir Hussain Library. I remember my three years of B.Sc. Maths Honours as a period of great intellectual stimulation and growth. I spent hours at the library, got issued numerous books, devoured them, often using up seldom used library tickets of my classmates. I submersed myself totally in them, not really paying much attention to any of the subjects that I was actually supposed to study.

I did not have anyone around me to recommend books or let me know of reputation of writers and books. I mostly picked up books I read randomly, intrigued by their titles. This is how I found “Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter” and then ended up reading all four volumes of the autobiography of Simone de Beauvoir. Then her novels- “She Came To Stay” and “The Mandarins” and of course “The Second Sex”. I would read all the works available of an author who interested me. So read a lot of A.S. Byatt, Iris Murdoch, V.S. Naipaul.

The biggest discovery of this period was getting to know the work of African American poets-writers of the Harlem renaissance. I had picked up Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of America” in my usual random fashion and read Margaret Walker’s prose-poem “For My People”:

. . . Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second generation full of courage issue forth, let a people loving freedom come to growth, let a beauty full of healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now rise and take control!

And Langston Hughes‘ poem “Harlem” also known popularly as “The Dream Deffered”

What happens to a dream deferred?
              Does it dry up 
              like a raisin in the sun?
              Or fester like a sore-
              And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over-
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

It was still those days when internet had not been heard of much by likes of us- so I couldn’t just google ‘Harlem Renaissance’ or ‘African American poets’ to find out more. It took years to gather in bits in pieces my acquaintance with these phenomenal poets. Another very famous poem of the genre is by Gil Scott-Heron

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag
and Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o’clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back
after a message about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, the tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

Poetry, sedition and Old promise… — August 5, 2008

Poetry, sedition and Old promise…

In an earlier post, I had promised to bring some translations of work by Ibn-e-Insha. I begin that task today… heres my translation of his ghazal- “Khamosh raho” 

This is not a time to say anything, don’t say anything- stay quiet

O! people stay quiet, O! people stay quiet

 

Truth is good, but in its roots lies a bowl of poison too

Are you mad?! Don’t be a Socrates for nothing, stay quiet!

 

Truth is good but better if someone else dies for it

Are you mansoor that you’ll go to the gallows? Stay quiet!

 

They say that the sun revolves round the earth

We agree, let the sun revolve, stay quiet!

 

Fear lurks in the gathering and the chains pierce

Think again! Yes, think again!  Yes, think again! Stay quiet!

 

Warm tears and cold sighs, the seasons felt in this heart!

Don’t open the secrets of this garden, take a walk, stay quiet!

 

Sit on the side having closed my eyes and keep closed the doors of my heart

Insha ji take this thread and stitch your lips, stay quiet!

I had contributed the original ghazal, along with another couple of poems for a campaign demanding release of an independent film maker Ajay TG who has been arrested in Chhattisgarh on charges of sedition under Sec 124 A of the IPC and the Chattisgarh Special Public Security Act. CSPSA assumes guilt by association and criminalises even political belief. Under this act ‘any contact’ with a banned organisation becomes a criminal offence. Ajay has been arrested because allegedly he wrote a letter to Maoistsin Chhattisgarh requesting them to return his camera which they had snatched from him while Ajay was accompanying a team of PUCL in Bastar in 2004!

To know more about Ajay and the campaign to release him click here  

Following is my English translation of Jo kuchh dekha-suna, samjha, likh liya- by Nirmala Putul a santhali poet (from Hindi translation by Ashok Sinha).

You have words, arguments, intelligence
Entire system is at your disposal
You can falsify truth by retelling it again and again
You can write me off completely in just one pronouncement

 

What eyes have seen
You can prove wrong
I realise…

 

But don’t forget
those who call truth-“truth”
And falsehood-  

“false” with all their might

haven’t been totally wiped out.

More on Insha later… promise!