Ghazala's Weblog

a poetic thread to string my words and experiences on…

Hum parwarish-e-lauh-o-qalam karte rahenge — December 28, 2015

Hum parwarish-e-lauh-o-qalam karte rahenge

By Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Hum parwarish-e-lauh-o-qalam karte rahenge
Jo dil pe guzarti hai raqam karte rahenge

Asbaab-e-gham-e-ishq baham karte rahenge
Viraani-e-dauraan pe karam karte rahenge

Haan talkhi-e-ayyaam abhi aur barhe gi
Haan ahl-e-sitam mashq-e-sitam karte rahenge

Manzur yeh talkhi yeh sitam hum ko gawaara
Dam hai to madaawa-e-alam karte rahenge

Maikhana salaamat hai to hum surkhi-e-mai se
Tazzain-e-dar-o-baam-e-haram karte rahenge

Baqi hai lahu dil mein to har ashk se paida
Rang-e-lab-o-rukhsar-e-sanam karte rahenge

Ek tarz-e-taghaaful hai so woh unko mubaarak
Ek arz-e-tamanna hai so hum karte rahenge

———————————————————-

———————————————————–

MY TRANSLATION

To nurture pen and ink we would continue,
To commit to script what the heart goes through, we would continue

We shall continue to bear reasons of the pain of love
To be moral in the desolate times we would continue

Sure, the bitterness of the times would still surge
And yes the practice of tyranny by oppressors would continue

We accept this bitterness, this tyranny will be borne
Until death, to remedy and care we would continue

If the tavern is still inhabited, with the redness of wine
decorating the door and roof of the sanctuary, we would continue

If there is still blood left in heart, then with each tear drop
colouring lips and face of the beloved, we would continue

They are welcome to this trend of paying no heed
To express what the heart desires, though, we would continue

Habib Jalib’s “Main Nahin Manta” — September 22, 2012

Habib Jalib’s “Main Nahin Manta”

Habib Jalib was one of the most loved people’s poets of Pakistan though not so well known as other Pakistani Urdu poets in the rest of the subcontinent. I came across his work while reading and researching other contemporary Urdu Pakistani poets. Jalib’s language is, like Ibn-e-insha and unlike Faiz, the plebeian language of the streets. But unlike Insha Jalib does not dabble in satire and subtleties. He is more like Paash who grabs hold of the truth about the oppressor by its neck. He is straight-forward and utterly unafraid.

I attempted a translation of his most popular poem which is also pretty representative of his work and approach.

Deep jis ka mehllaat hi mein jaley,
Chand logon ki khushiyon ko le kar chaley,
Wo jo saaye mein har maslehat ke paley,
Aisey dastoor ko,
Sub-he-be-noor ko,
Main nahein maanta,
Main nahein jaanta.

Main bhi khaaif nahein takhta-e-daar se,
Main bhi Mansoor hoon, keh do aghyaar se,
Kyun daraatey ho zindaan ki deevar se,
Zulm ki baat ko,
Jehl ki raat ko,
Main nahein maanta,
Main nahein jaanta.

“Phool shaakhon pe khilne lagey” tum kaho,
“Jaam rindon ko milne lagey” tum kaho,
“Chaak seenon kay silne lagey” tum kaho,
Iss khule jhooth ko,
Zehn ki loot ko,
Main nahein maanta,
Main nahein jaanta.

Tum nay loota hai sadyon hamaara sukoon,
Ab na hum per chalega tumhara fasoon,
Charaagar dardmandon ke bantey ho kyun?
Tum nahein charaagar,
Koi maane magar,
Main nahein maanta,
Main nahein jaanta.

Jalib used to recite his poetry in an extremely powerful tarannum (a musical rendition) during mushairas (gathering of poets and listeners and public meetings.

My Translation

Whose lamp shines only in mansions,
Which sets out only with a few folk’s elation,
Under the shadow of self-interest which finds protection,That tradition…That dark morning…I shall not revere!

I shall not greet!

I too am not afraid of the powers that be!

I too am Mansoor, go and tell the enemy!

With the prison wall why do you try to scare me?

The tongue of oppression…

The night of ignorance…

I shall not defer to!

I shall not acknowledge!

“Branches are abloom with flowers” you say!

“The thirsty have got to drink” you say!

“Wounds of the heart are being sewn” you say!

This open lie…

A plunder of reason…

I shall not consent to!

I shall not recognise!

For centuries you have pillaged peace that was our

Your spell over us shall have no more power

Why do you pretend to be a healer of those lamenting in grief?

You are no healer!

Even though some may agree…

I shall dis-agree!

I shall not concede!

 
 
Lal- A leftist band from Pakistan has remixed Jalib’s rendition of this poem to (what I think is) good effect.
 
Aaj bazaar main pa ba jolan chalo — May 27, 2010

Aaj bazaar main pa ba jolan chalo

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Chashm-e-nam, jaan-e-shoreeda kafi nahin
Tohmat-e-ishq-posheeda kafi nahin
aaj bazaar main pa-bajolan chalo
Dast afshan chalo, mast-o-raqsan chalo
Khak bar sar chalo, khoon badaman chalo
Rah takta hai sub shehr-e-janaan chalo
Hakim-e-shehr bhi, majma-e-aam bhi
Teer-e-ilzam bhi, sang-e-dushnam bhi
Subh-e-nashaad bhi, roz-e-naakaam bhi
Unka dum-saaz apnay siwa kaun hai
Shehr-e-janaan main ab baa-sifa kaun hai
Dast-e-qatil kay shayan raha kaun hai
Rakht-e-dil bandh lo, dil figaro chalo
Phir hameen qatl ho aain yaro chalo

My Translation

Teary eyes and stormy life are not enough

Even the accusation of a secret love is not enough

Come, walk today in public wearing your shackles

Hands thus adorned, walk in trance- dance

Walk with dust over head and blood on attire

Come, walk to the beloved city, everyone is waiting-

the town ruler and the common spectators;

the arrow and the stone of accusation too

along with the sorrowful morning and the day of failure.

Who will be their ally, if not us?

In the beloved city who remains unsullied?

No one worthy of the hand of executioner remains.

Behold your heartbeats, come even the broken hearted

Friends, come lets us go and be slain

I have been listening to Nayyara Noor singing this nazm for quite some time now but I realized that I had not really understood its true essence till I actually sat down to translate it late last night. It is not as if Faiz is exhorting people to react and speak up because the situation is oppressive (as in case of his nazm Bol). It is also not as if he is talking of change that will be ushered in by people when they arise (as in case of Hum Dekhenge). In Aaj bazaar mein pa ba jolan chalo things have reached such a pass that just exhorting and hoping will not do. It is not enough that we cry for the underdog, It is not enough that we are being accused of siding with the oppressed. To be aware that even though we do not come out in open, we do wear the shackles in our private-day to day lives. We have to come out to walk in public knowing fully well what our fate will then be. Even though our hearts are broken it is we who will have to do it because no one else is left to do it for us.

Shakespeare’s sister… — August 2, 2009

Shakespeare’s sister…

A big house

with a study and lawn

A little money

to call my own

Would then my poems be more profound?

and new ideas

my essays expound?

Sylvia Plath…?

crazed by her craft?

Virginia Woolf with stones in her pockets

To remain grounded

and let my dreams defer?

With tradition shall my poems concur?

Write haikus

and of love borrowed

Or like Hughes, let it exlode?

Slum‘dog’: On Uncouth Language and Subversion — March 10, 2009

Slum‘dog’: On Uncouth Language and Subversion


Every blog worth its name (number of hits) has had something to say about Slumdog Millionaire. I think I should also make the most of this opportunity 🙂 I really have nothing to say about the film that hasn’t already been said but the controversy about its title (slum’dog’) gives me a chance to say my two bits about the language of subversion.

Hip-hop music and culture in USA has a ‘slanguage’ of its own in which the word ‘dog’ has a special place because of the frequency and flexibility with which it is used. Among other things it is used as a common noun for ‘person’, especially a friend or a term of endearment. It would be a bit off the mark to say that the word has lost all the derogatory connotations but the usage in hip-hop/rap is a bit complex.

Let me draw a parallel with the feminine of the word ‘dog’- ‘bitch’. ‘Bitch’ has a long history of being used as a derogatory word for women. The connotations are those of ‘lewd’, ‘on heat’, ‘sexually promiscuous’. Also associated is the verb ‘bitch’- when one is ‘bitching’ she (he?)  is ‘gossiping’ or ‘back-biting’. Today a ‘sexually promiscuous’ woman is plainly called a ‘slut’ or a ‘whore’ (‘hoe’ in hip-hop). A ‘bitch’ is a woman who is straying away from the feminine conventions; she makes no effort to be obedient and pleasant. In hip-hop its cool to be a ‘bitch’. Many female rappers call themselves and girl friends ‘bitch’ just as African-American rappers also frequently call themselves and others ‘nigga’ and ‘dog’.

There is a derogatory subtext but it is full of subversion.

So, why so much hue and cry over the film title? Let me try an explanation using again the ‘bitch’ example. While it may be cool when a close girlfriend calls me a ‘bitch’, I would definitely take it as an insult if someone not close were to throw the word at me. Two African-American rappers may call each other ‘nigga’ but a white person using the n-word would be inflicting a racial slur. Is the title ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ derogatory, then?

The slum‘dog’ controversy reminded me of Faiz Ahmed Faiz‘s Kuttey (Dogs). I wonder what people may have to say of it…

Yeh galiyon key aavaara bekaar kuttey
Ke bakhsha gaya jin ko zoq-e-gadaai
Zamaney ki phitkaar sarmaaya un ka
Jahaan bhar ki dhutkaar in ki kamaai

Na aaram shab ko, na rahat saveyrey
Ghalaazat mein ghar, naaliyon main baseyrey
Jo bigrein to ik doosray say lara do
Zara ek roti ka tukra dikha do
Yeh har ek ki thokerain khaney waley
Yeh faaqon say uktaa kay mar janey waley

Yeh mazloom makhlooq gar sar uthaey
To insaan sab sarkashi bhool jaey
Yeh chaahain to duniya ko apna bana lein
Yeh aaqaaon ki haddiyaan tak chaba lein

Koi in to ehsaas-e-zillat dila dey
Koi in ki soee hui dum hila dey

My rough translation…

these vagrant, aimless streets dogs
the flair for beggary has been conferred upon them
their net asset is being scorned by their times
rebukes of the entire world their earnings

No rest in the evening nor reprieve at dawn
housed in filth, dwellings in drains
if they agitate, pit one against the other
show them a piece of roti
putting up with getting kicked by all
they tire of being starved and die

If this oppressed species were to arise
humans would forget all domineering
they can own the world if they’d only wish
they can chew up even the bones of the masters

Somebody stir them to feel their mortification
somebody move their sleeping tail

To me it looks like that using what is considered, foul/uncouth language for one self (or others who share the oppressed identity) is a way of arousing an oppressed people to feel their mortification, humiliation, and thereby, a subversive act. Young people tend to use slang more than any other age group because they find in this a convenient and cool way to display their irreverence towards what is established, traditional and the norm. Language full of slang, coarse and swear words is an act of defiance against authority- a way of expressing hostility and pent-up aggression, safely. In this way, it becomes one of the most used ‘weapons of the weak’.

Who Is Afraid Of Poems? — October 24, 2008

Who Is Afraid Of Poems?

I stumbled upon this interesting article by Katha Pollitt. Of course, the Laura Bush connection is hugely amusing and the article makes an interesting point about American poets’ response to wars (and how that has changed over time). My forever sceptic friends, who tut-tut my ‘naive’ optimism, please note that poetry does scare some hearts as it emboldens others.

Anyways… so, Pollitt is a columnist with The Nation- her column is called “Subject to debate”.

Poetry Makes Nothing Happen? Ask Laura Bush. 

by Katha Pollitt

 

So Laura Bush will not, after all, be discussing the works of Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes with a selected group of American poets at the White House on February 12. The conference, “Poetry and the American Voice,” was abruptly “postponed” after Sam Hamill, editor of Copper Canyon Press and author of thirteen books of verse, responded to his invitation by putting out an e-mail urging invitees and others to send him poems and statements opposing the invasion of Iraq. When I spoke to him on the phone, Hamill described himself as a lifelong radical (“What on earth were they thinking?” he wondered out loud), and said he had planned to decline his invitation but had hoped to compile an anthology that another invitee would present to the First Lady. Within days almost 2,000 poets had responded to his plea. It was almost like old times, when Robert Lowell refused to attend a poetry symposium at the Johnson White House to protest the Vietnam War.

 

Why was the conference canceled? Hamill expresses himself rather forcefully (“I was overcome by a kind of nausea,” he wrote of finding the invitation in the mail)–in fact, he sounds a lot like writers of letters to The Nation. But he didn’t urge poets to take off their clothes and pee in the punch bowl, or to stage a reading of the Not In Our Name statement. He merely suggested giving the First Lady some poems. Poets these days are a mannerly crowd, and it’s a safe bet that those who chose to attend would have been polite. Marilyn Nelson, poet laureate of Connecticut, said she planned to wear a silk scarf decorated with peace symbols, in hopes of attracting the First Lady’s eye. So is that it? The White House, so bold to make war, is afraid of poems and scarves?

 

So much for democracy, free speech, vigorous discussion. In this most insulated and choreographed of administrations, the “American voice”–note the singular–is welcome only when it says what the White House wants to hear. And yet, as so often, censorship backfired. “They did us an extraordinary favor,” Hamill told me. “They revealed that there are many, many poets opposed to the Bush regime. And they demonstrated their fear of the carefully chosen word–their fear of poetry.”

 

Now Laura Bush, a former librarian, likes to read, and that’s good. As Texas First Lady she helped start the Texas Book Fair, and as First Lady she has held a number of symposia on interesting historical topics–women writers of the West, the Harlem Renaissance and Mark Twain, whom she calls the “first real American writer,” so eat your heart out Bradstreet, Edwards, Franklin, Irving, Douglass, Emerson, Thoreau (especially you, Henry, you civilly disobedient antiwar tree-hugger, you). To her credit, she invited to these gatherings serious writers and scholars–Arnold Rampersad, Justin Kaplan, David Levering Lewis, frontier historian Ursula Smith–who she must have known could not, on the whole, be happy with her husband’s policies. Still, according to press reports, invitees to these events arrived suspicious, went away charmed. That’s how it usually works with the presidency–Bill Clinton beguiled an entire roomful of poets at a 1998 soiree, with only a few refuseniks. Proximity to power, a brush with history, the cachet of exclusivity and, in the case of Laura Bush, a private glimpse of perhaps the biggest contrast-gainer in the history of marriage–say what you like about the irrelevance of poets in today’s world, if they’re willing to forgo all that, antiwar feeling must be positively rampaging across the land.

 

“There is nothing political about American literature,” Laura Bush has said. But it would be hard to find writers more subversive than the three she chose for her event. Whitman’s epic of radical democracy, Leaves of Grass, was so scandalous it got him fired from his government job; Hughes, a Communist sympathizer hounded by McCarthy, wrote constantly and indelibly about racism, injustice, power; Dickinson might seem the least political, but in some ways she was the most lastingly so–every line she wrote is an attack on complacency and conformity of manners, mores, religion, language, gender, thought. None of these quintessentially American writers would have given two cents for family values (Whitman was gay, as perhaps were Hughes and Dickinson), abstinence education, the death penalty, tax cuts for the rich, Ashcroftian attacks on civil liberties or the other hallmarks of the Bush regime. It’s hard to imagine them cheering the bombing of Baghdad.

 

There will be readings all over the country on February 12. As of this writing some 3,500 poets (who knew?) have sent poems and statements to http://www.poetsagainstthewar.org. Here’s mine:                         

 

   TRYING TO WRITE A POEM AGAINST THE WAR

   my daughter who is as beautiful as the day

  hates politics: Face it, Ma,                                     
   they don’t care what you think! All                              
   passion, like Achilles,                                           
   she stalks off to her room,                                      
   to confide in her purple guitar and await                        
   life’s embassies. She’s right,                                   
   of course: bombs will be hurled                                  
   at ordinary streets                                              
   and leaders look grave for the cameras,                          
   and what good are more poems against war                         
   the real subject of which                                        
   so often seems to be the poet’s superior                         
   moral sensitivities? I could                                     
   be mailing myself to the moon                                     
   or marrying a palm tree,                                         
   and yet what can we do                                           
   but offer what we have?                                          
   and so I spend                                                    
   this cold gray glittering morning                                
   trying to write a poem against war                               
   that perhaps may please my daughter                               
   who hates politics                                               
   and does not care much for poetry, either. 

Longing for Gandhi… — September 24, 2008

Longing for Gandhi…

 

What has visited me in the middle of tonight doesn’t feel like muse. But more a consuming urge to get this off my chest. I think in Hindi/Urdu so this is how it came but the translation took a turn of its own.

Khud ko majboor karti hoon
Khayalon ko idhar kuchh, udhar kuchh
Rakh ke dekhoon
Ke ik tasweer ban jaye
Zuban bojhil si hai
Dil pe kuchh saye hein…

Mere bachche! Mere log!
jin ki zubanein kati hui hein
Un ke haathon mein aslahey na dein
Dayare shauq mera!

Ke koi Gandhi ab kahan
Jo puchhe
“Zakir Hussain theek hein?
Jamia theek hai?”

saathi! kuchh dost
Dil ko khangaal kar
sharmindagi hi nikaal paye
haashiye se aati hui
doosri aawaazon ki taraf
uchhaalte hein sawaal kai
Khauf ke baad ki woh shaam
Lagaatar boonda-baandi ne
Ek bechaari si chaadar daal di thi jis ke sir pe
Halki si khunki thi hawaa mein
dar se larazne ka ilzaam uspe tha

Mere ghusse ki aag par
chai banti rahi kai kap
aur log drawing room mein beith kar
kehte rahe ke haalaat abhi aur kharaab honge

The translation or another poem in its right

Sleep eludes me
I move the ‘thought-pieces’
Here and there
Clockwise and anti…
And wait for a picture to emerge
My tongue keeps growing heavier
And long shadows loom over my heart

My people!
Find their tongues severed
My children!
Weapons thrust in their hands…
A dictionary, rough note books and pen
bomb-makers need these too…

Evening after fear
wore the pathetic chador offered by incessant drizzle.
There was slight nip in the air.
It took the blame
of making people shiver-
fear was left off the hook

my anger kept simmering tea
cup after cup
and in the drawing room discussion
it was declared that things will go worse from bad

Dayare shauq mera!
I long for a Gandhi
who will ask
‘Is Zakir Hussain safe,
is Jamia safe?’

Comrades! some friends
Reflect as asked and find
Guilt and anxiety
They hurl accusing questions
at the other voices from margins
and attempt even they don’t know what

I was at Janpath in a solidarity March and collection drive for Bihar Flood Relief on September 13, 2008 when we heard two bombs blast off at Central park and Barakhamba. And I was at home in Zakir Nagar while the Delhi police encounter at Batla House happened. What is the best way to respond to situations like these? To lie low and do nothing? I don’t know but that’s what I did- nothing and like so many others felt sad, helpless, restless, angry at the news reports.

For some time in the past, I have felt my bond with Jamia weaken slowly. ‘Time…’ I thought. But the recent events proved that bonds are ‘bonds’- inherently difficult to break. Mushirul Hasan’s statements today and the university’s stand have reassured many a common-person-in-Jamia-Nagar’s (like myself) agitated hearts. Why is he doing what he is doing? I don’t wish to speculate on this and let skepticism take over … but I was reminded of the passages I reproduce below about Jamia during partition of India from a life sketch of Dr Zakir Hussain in RajMohan Gandhi’s “Understanding the Muslim Mind” (Penguin India, 2000)

“…Soon, however, disturbances started in Delhi. Many Muslims living in villages near Okhla were looted and killed, not by their Hindu neighbours, who had a long relationship of friendship with the Muslim villagers and with the Jamia but by organised groups from outside. Some Jamia men were attacked too. Shafiqur Rahman and Hamid Ali Khan- who was in charge of Jamia publications, barely escaped with their lives. Led by Zakir Hussain, who was obliged to forget his weariness and depression, the Jamia community organised the protection of its women and children and harboured a number of Muslims who had fled from their homes in surrounding areas. Nehru visited Jamia in the middle of one night; General Cariappa, head of the army, came and left behind a platoon of the madras regiment. ‘Keep the gardens in trim’, Zakir Hussain told Mujeeb. ‘if we are forced to vacate, let those who occupy this place after us feel that we loved it.’

From Calcutta, where a fast by him had restored security, Gandhi, 78, arrived in Delhi. His first question to those who met him at the station was, ‘Is Zakir Hussain safe, is Jamia safe?’ The next day he went to Okhla. Later Zakir Hussain recalled the visit:

‘His finger had got crushed in the door of the car and he was suffering great pain. In spite of this he laughed and provoked others to laugh, he infused courage into us, and advised us to stay where we were. He talked to the Muslim refugees on the terrace of the secondary school, took an orphaned girl in his arms and hugged and kissed her. Then he left, saying that he would do all that was necessary for our safety or perish in the attempt.’”

Tomorrow, I shall hopefully, march behind Mushir Sa’ab with students, staff and faculty of the Jamia in the neighbouring areas. Jamia is doing what Jamia has done earlier too, but I shall miss Gandhi.

Ganga, why do you flow? — September 18, 2008

Ganga, why do you flow?

In 1927, Oscar Hammerstein II Originally wrote the song Ol’ Man Missisippi for a musical ‘Show Boat’. The song is famously, but wrongly, credited to Paul Robeson who sang the song in the film based on the musical.

Dere’s an ol’ man called de Mississippi,
Dat’s de ol’ man dat I’d like to be,
What does he care if de world’s got troubles?
What does he care if de land ain’t free?

Ol’ Man River,
Dat Ol’ Man River,
He mus’ know sumpin’,
But don’ say nothin’;
He jes’ keeps rollin’,
He keeps on rollin’ along.

He don’t plant taters,
He don’t plant cotton,
An’ dem dat plants ’em
Is soon forgotten,
But Ol’ Man River,
He jes’ keeps rollin’ along.

You an’ me, we sweat an’ strain,
Body all achin’ and racked with pain.
“Tote dat barge! Lift dat bale!”
Git a little drunk,
An’ you lands in jail!

Ah gits weary,
An’ sick o’ tryin’,
Ah’m tired o’ livin’,
And skeered o’ dyin’,
But Ol’ Man River,
He jes’ keeps rollin’ along!

Bhupen Hazarika wrote an Aahomia song inspired by Ol’ Man Missisippi in which Hazarika alludes to river Brahmputra. (For more on Bhupen Hazarika and his Paul Robeson connection, click here ).

I present here Hindi version of the song written by Hazarika himself addressed to river Ganga, followed by my rough translation in English. The version is set around the belief in river Ganga’s cleansing powers as well as Ganga as a character in the epic story of Mahabharata.

 Ganga baheti ho kyun?

                       

Vistar hai apar, Praja dono par       

Kare hahakar, Nishabdha sada       

O Ganga tum, Ganga baheti ho kyuin?

 

Naitikta nashta hui, Manavata bhrashta hui                    

Nirlajja bhav se baheti ho kyuin?

 

 Chorus: Itihas ki pukar, Kare hunkar                    

O Ganga ki dhar                          

Nirbal jan ko

Sabal sangrami, samagra gami                                    

Banati nahi ho kyuin?                    

 

Anapadh jan, akshar hin               

Anagin jan, khadyavihin                

Netravihin dekh maun ho kyuin?     

 

Vyakti rahe vyakti kendrit                                            

Sakal samaj, Vyaktitva rahit                             

Nishpran samaj ko, Chodti na kyuin?                             

                            

Shrutasvini kyuin na rahi?

Tum nischay chetan nahi              

Prano mein prerana perti na kyuin?                              

Unmat avani, Kurukshetra bani

Gange janani, Nava bharat mein

Bhishma rupi, Sut samarajayi

Janati nahi ho kyuin?

 

Ganga why do you flow?

 

the spread is immense and

subjects on both banks are in turmoil

always quietly O Ganga, Ganga why do you flow?

         

morality stands destroyed, humanity stands corrupted

Why do you flow shamelessly?

 

Chorus: The call of history, roars

O stream of Ganga

turn powerless people into forceful strugglers

marching forward

Why don’t you?

 

illiterate people, unlettered

innumerable people, without food

sightless, why are you silent seeing this?

 

individual stays self-centered

entire society  characterless

lifeless society why don’t you abandon?

 

Why aren’t you the listener anymore?

you are definitely not animate

why don’t you fill inspiration in life

exhilarated earth has become Kurukshetra (a battle ground)

Ganga, O mother, in modern India

Why don’t you give birth to

a victor, a son like Bhishma (whose loyality lay with the state)

The song, also sung by Hazarika, is really rousing and reverberates in heart for long. I am personally, a little disappointed in the last lines and of course, Bhupen Hazarika’s political u-turn a few years ago has taken some sheen off the song. But again, like I said in an earlier post, the work of a poet is much more than the poet himself/herself and their unexpected, irrational political swings.

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