Ghazala's Weblog

a poetic thread to string my words and experiences on…

Faiz Ahmed Faiz (Feb 13, 1911- Nov 20, 1984 ) — February 13, 2011

Faiz Ahmed Faiz (Feb 13, 1911- Nov 20, 1984 )

 

‘Faiz’ is the name of not just a poet.

‘Faiz’ is a name of the aural experience that is at once full of sensuous beauty and excruciating reality. It is the name of the artifice that turns words into images. It is the name of the subtle sorcery that stirs extraordinary ardour in ordinary hearts. It is the name of the beacon of hope that inspires weary travellers to plod on.

‘Faiz’ is the name of voice of humanity’s yearning for freedom. It is the name of the voice raised by people so that they may fully determine their own destiny and truly realise their potential. It is the name of voice that pierces the darkness of oppression and illuminates minds. It is the name of the voice that provokes the weak into rebellion… the voice that startles people from their slumber.

‘Faiz’ is the name of not just a poet!

 

 

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

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…

 

 

 

 

Paash — March 4, 2008

Paash

All of us who are interested in subversive, revolutionary or political poetry have read our Nerudas, Faizs, Lorkas and maybe even Hikmet but in my opinion more contemporary than any of these is Punjabi poet Paash. Pash was slain by Khalistani separatists on March 23, 1987 1988. Paash never went to college as a regular student and did not have a graduate degree but saw his own poems become part of Punjabi literature curriculum in many universities. His poem “Sabse khatarnaak” (The Most Dangerous) has gone on to become very popular and is now even part of the NCERT curriculum. Heres a translation…

The Most Dangerous

Most treacherous is not the robbery
of hard earned wages
Most horrible is not the torture by the police.
Most dangerous is not the graft for the treason and greed.
To be caught while asleep is surely bad
surely bad is to be buried in silence

But it is not most dangerous.

To remain dumb and silent in the face of trickery
Even when just, is definitely bad
Surely bad is reading in the light of a firefly

But it is not most dangerous

Most dangerous is
To be filled with dead peace
Not to feel agony and bear it all,
Leaving home for work
And from work return home
Most dangerous is the death of our dreams.

Most dangerous is that watch
Which run on your wrist
But stand still for your eyes.
Most dangerous is that eye
Which sees all but remains frostlike,
The eye that forgets to kiss the world with love,
The eye lost in the blinding mist of the material world.
That sinks the simple meaning of visible things
And is lost in the meaning return of useless games.

Most dangerous is the moon
Which rises in the numb yard
After each murder,
but does not pierce your eyes like hot chilies.

Most dangerous is the song
which climbs the mourning wail
In order to reach your ears
And repeats the cough of an evil man
At the door of the frightened people.

Most dangerous is the night
Falling in the sky of living souls,
Extinguishing them all
In which only owls shriek and jackals growl,
And eternal darkness covers all the windows.

Most heinous is the direction
In which the sun of the soul light
Pierces the east of your body.
Most treacherous is not the
robbery of hard earned wages.
Most horrible is not the torture of police
Most dangerous is not graft taken for greed and treason.

Translation by Dr.Satnam Singh Sandhu of Punjabi University, Patiala

Reading Paash hits one hard- he doesn’t care for the usual niceties associated with the poetry. He just spews forth the disgust, the anger, and sometimes the despair and frustration he feels without hididng them… naked, just as the words are born in his mind. He says…

You are not aware that I am equated in poetry
With the entry into a passionate mujrah
Of a stray dog.
You think that for some dangerous party
I burn the midnight oil
And keep writing.
You are not aware how I approach a poem-
Like a village belle wearing old fashioned clothes
gets into city showrooms, frenzied
My translation of Tumhein Pata Nahin (You Are Not Aware) from Hindi Translation of original Punjabi by Dr Chaman Lal of JNU.
Not only does Paash not write pretty and sensuous poetry like, say, Faiz he actually feels disdain for the whole genre. This is where I personally, disagree with him. He totally dismisses Ghazals as being trivial, flowery and empty of any meaning. When Faiz says, “Mujse pehli si muhabbat mere mehboob na maang” (Do not ask me, my love, for the old love) he makes another (and equally powerful and moving) kind of political poetry.

Do not ask me…

Do not ask me, my love, for the old love
I had thought life is aglow with your presence
The sorrows of the world negligible when compared with agony of your love
From your face, the spring gets its permanence in creation
What else does the world have if not your eyes?
If I get you the fate will submit to me
It would not really but I wished it merely
There are sorrows other than those of love in the world
There are joys other than those of a union with you
Dreadful dark spells of countless centuries
Woven in silk, satin and brocade
Bodies on sale here and there in streets, markets
Smeared of ashes, drenched in blood
Bodies right our of ovens of diseases
Pus oozing out of rotting wounds
One cannot help but turn to look that ways too
One cannot help it even though your beauty is still heart-warming
There are sorrows other than those of love in the world
There are joys other than those of a union with you
Do not ask me, my love, for the old love
(My translation)
But it is because of Paash that contemporary Punjabi poetry has a face… for long Punjabi poetry has meant only Sufi poets such as Bulle Shah, Waris Shah, Baba Farid etc only. Shiv Batalvi was also Paash’s contemporary but his popular romantic poetry (made even more popular by Jagjit Singh) does not have that kind of iconic status. The Hindi translations of Paash by Dr Chaman Lal are so popular that many people think Paash wrote originally in Hindi!


His politics was as complicated as the times he lived in- so even as he began writing his brand of poetry when he got to know some Naxalite activists, in his own life he practiced politics of not just sangharsh (struggle) but also of nirman (construction). Paash brought our handwritten magazine promoting scientific attitude for people living in villages surrounding Uggi village where he ran a progressive school for many years. During his lifetime he was associated with many literary magazines. Just as Paash was not afraid to question powers that be, he was also not afraid to question his comrades. Following is my translation of one of the poems of a series he called “Comrade se baat-cheet” (Conversations with Comrade). This poem and the whole series seems especially contemporary given the going-ons at Nandigram.

Conversation With Comrade-5

Comrade, do you occasionally get a newspaper?
Don’t believe the piecemeal news.
Last year the one who drowned in the village pond…
It was not mother.
A brick got disengaged from the blue terrace and fell down.
At the very first raid, mother
trying to swim through Gorky’s novel
ran away from the police.
at the banks of the novel
and sometimes fades like her own blessings.
And recently, the poet
who was in news for joining the party safely
it was not I, it was a Dek tree on the outside wall
which bad spirits, wearing police uniforms
had learnt to climb up and down.
Long before that news went to print,
when night was sliding into words
and the dark- like cobra, sat coiled on names…
I stole whatever remained of the party’s compassion
and slid down…stole away
into the human clamour
When my own feet were listening to me
like love poems
I went and put the waning compassion
carefully among crow’s eggs
To Sadhu Singh and Jirvi*, I have complained
many times about these news.
Who say that the paralysis of news
does not let them walk on their own feet
they ask for crutches of our death
“if we believed their truth
we would have cried over you many times over.”
Every time I read the news of a sudden raid
I tell mother-
Its not you, but another warrior with your name
Mother knows nothing of grammatical nuances
Shivering in the chilling innocence of old age
She mistakes a naming word for a caste name
and a caste name for a collective noun
For her whenever a bullet is fired on a name
Some caste or some emotion is murdered
Comrade, mother is anyways crazy
Both of us and news cannot change her
For coming home late, she will
With any household object
Or with the whole house, beat you and later
Stuff her dry breast in your mouth

*Names of Editors of Punjabi dailies