Ghazala's Weblog

a poetic thread to string my words and experiences on…

The Second Brilliante Weblog Award — March 10, 2009
Slum‘dog’: On Uncouth Language and Subversion —

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’.

An Award! — March 7, 2009

An Award!

I now understand why awardees (of any award) go on about it being a responsibility! Well, dear friends, my blog has just received an award and my response was to first write a new post after being dormant for long and then receive this award.

Fellow blogger Bhupender who has been visiting my blog and encouraging me with his comments has awarded my blog the  Brilliante Weblog Award. You can imagine my happiness…  I,  now resolve to post more frequently and regularly.

Now, the rules for the award are:
1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person that has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.

2) Pass the award to another five blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgment, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award.

I think this is a great award because its given out by a fellow blogger to a blog who she/he thinks is good- kind of peer review. the idea is to also encourage bloggers to engage more with each other as well as with content on each other’s blogs. I must confess that I am not a very active member of the blogging community and haven’t really been engaging with bloggers while I read the content on their blogs.  My awardees wouldn’t know me so I decided to give away my quota of five awards- one every week, starting now.

My first awardee is Amardeep Singh‘s blog which I visit pretty regularly for his take on literature and much of the other stuff that houses meaningful lives.

Daughters and Feminist Mothers — March 6, 2009

Daughters and Feminist Mothers

All my unconsciousness knows about being a woman was learnt from my mother.

I am eerily like my mother in so many ways but I don’t want to be “like her” and try to do things, react to things differently. Even though I wasn’t close to her and my father was my teacher of the world, its politics and the large philosophical questions, it is ultimately, who she was that shapes me as a woman.

I firmly believe that it is not so important to ask how much time was a mother able to spend with her daughter (child?) and what she did specifically in that time but what the mother did with her entire life. How did the mother take on the various aspects of life, what kind of treatment she took from people around her, what were her dreams and how did she go about them…all these the child remembers. The girls learn from this how to be a woman and, I suppose, the boys would learn how to treat a woman.

Arundhati Roy once said somewhere that a feminist is a woman who creates choices for herself. Being a feminist daughter to my mother is not easy. I’m always evaluating my choices and trying to create new ones where none exist. Being a feminist mother to a daughter is no joke either… in fact the whole effect is that of a double whammy. I seem to be constantly swimming against the tide. Regardless of whether I make any progress or not on any front, slogging is a must and being tired is a given.

Why do I feel compelled to go on slogging? Because of my daughter… let me clarify lest you get me wrong. As a feminist, my struggle for equality begins with my own family, in my own house. I struggle with feelings of love and concern, with demands of devotion and decency while I strive for respect as an individual and freedom to engage with what I wish to. I struggle with others’ nostalgia for ‘family values’ and I struggle against unreason and coercion masquerading as ‘respect for elders’. I am forever struggling and contesting established notions in relationships to create options for myself that will create a new legacy for my daughter. With each act of negotiation, confrontation, conciliation and even compromise I am writing the text for her unconscious.

As I struggle, I write the script of my daughter’s struggles.

It is not surprising, then, that it was the feminist struggle that gave birth to the slogan “personal is political”. None other could have.

For women’s day my gift to my daughter and all my (feminist) friends who have daughters, a ‘Lullaby‘ by Fehmida Riaz in translation by Amina Yaqin.

Dearest your countenance like the
moon
You who are a piece of my heart
Dearest I keep on looking
Dearest my eyes are filled by your
image
Dearest I rock you in my cradled arms
Holding you next to my heart
Dearest sparkle of my eye listen,
Your mother’s entire life,
A flowing cataract of tears
Passed by
This bowl has been filled with that clear
water
With that dearest let me wash your
flowerlike hands, lotuslike feet
Touch you with my eyes
I endlessly wept away my sorrowful existence,
your sight stopped the tears
They unfurled and blossomed into
laughter
My frightened motherhood has great
faith in you
It seems like yesterday to me
I can recall that night
When you were born
That night was very black
Tormenting the heart with pain
But a kind of oil lamp began to burn
upon hearing your cry
Your beautiful beautiful limbs
Lovely and fresh, healthy and
prospering
Dearest can’t manage a kiss
Dearest I’m shaking and shivering
I know a wolf stands in my doorway
Consuming my youth, drinking my
blood
The wolf who was raised by Mammon
Who rules the world
We who are cursed from age to age
Because of whom in this world
Thinking is considered a crime
To love-a major sin
It has sniffed the blood of a human
body
It tracks your every move
Dearest cannot sleep at night
Dearest I am constantly awake
Dearest borne of my womb listen
This world belongs to injustice
What skills can I teach you
Women who came and went
Embroidering sprigs on net upon net
Placed food on platter upon platter
Which the wolf ate
Today every kitchen is empty
What can I show you
What skills shall I teach you!
When I take you in my arms
I listen to the call of time
I hear great battle cries
I listen to the beckoning of war
Hearing this again and again
Your skill is “bravery”!
Listen my dear little one
This land, this sky
All the grandeur of peace
The markets full of grain
Until that does not belong to us
We cannot exist in harmony
No one to lean on
There is no other option
Do not fear the wolf
Dear heart! Fight with conviction
Do not ever despair
I will teach you bravery
I will make you into a lioness
Fear will not touch you
Listen my dear new little one
You will not be alone
Your friends will be with you arm in
arm
Your friends, your companions
Will be by your side
Many hands will join together
This is my one wish!

How shall we get acquainted again…? — December 24, 2008

How shall we get acquainted again…?

So much has happened in the last couple of months and it has left an unsavoury taste in lots of interactions, expressions and friendships. Mumbai attacks claimed hundreds of lives but people were not the only casualties.  For weeks I went about my life, feeling inwardly as if I had experienced a personal loss. Like when my parents died.

Kosi floods had pained me as did the images of recent repression in Kashmir. The encounter of young Raj from Bihar had me shaking my head in disbelief and sadness at being a citizen of police state. But this was something different… It was personal. It could not be otherwise when a friend told me that, “in times like this when Imams want to wear black bands on Eid and Muslim groups don’t want terrorists to be buried on Indian soil, you of all intellegensia (sic) should sense the dominant mood and that perhaps its very WORTHWHILE for Muslims all over the world to say that TERROR in name of Islam should be stopped.” Another person said “Although some members of the Muslim community do express condemnation, on the whole I do feel that the Muslim community has not expressed enough outrage at some of the terrible atrocities that some extremists have committed in the name of their religion over the last decade or so especially.”  

These people were essentially just agreeing with American Hawk journalist Thomas Friedman when he says “But at the end of the day, terrorists often are just acting on what they sense the majority really wants but doesn’t dare do or say. That is why the most powerful deterrent to their behavior is when the community as a whole says: “No more. What you have done in murdering defenseless men, women and children has brought shame on us and on you.”

Another person said, “It is actually the welfare of the Muslim community that is at the heart of this argument… it is a religion and a community that has some serious thinking to do at many many levels…”  (all this exchange took place online when the friend mentioned above CC’ed an e-mail, containing a link to this Friedman article from New York Times, to several of her friends saying it was a “worthwhile read” and I hit the reply all button to say that I was, “Really saddened to see that you thought this dangerous ranting against Muslims in general a ‘worthwhile read’.)

I mulled and agonised over all this when I sat in winter sun in the park and watched my 3 year old daughter Miftah play and call for more of my attention. “Amma dekhiye… AMMA!” The comments hammered on my heart and left me gasping for air every time I thought of it. “Muslims all over the world“? Me included Miftah included? The terrorists were acting on what I and millions of Muslims around the world want but do not dare to do? And what they have done has brought shame on me and my daughter? Then, obviously, many people think it is not enough that I condemn the attack as a human being but that I should somehow feel responsible and ashamed because I am a Muslim and condemn the attacks as a Muslim.

I looked at Miftah and felt scared for her… I did not feel this scared even during and after the Gujarat 2002 violence. Those days, at least from the security of the small world of development professional/social activists, I heard many sane voices of reason and compassion. No one was calling for people who condemned the communal carnage to identify their religion.

I told my friend that it saddened me but it just scared life out me to realise that this was the world that my Miftah will be doing her growing up and living in. For weeks, I couldn’t muster words to respond except to apologise for my inadequate e-mail attequettes- having hit the reply all button.

My friend, philosopher and guide Dr. Manoj Jha sends out new years wishes every year. This year he chose this ghazal by Faiz Ahmad Faiz to go on the card. I think, it just so aptly and beautifully says what I struggled to in the earlier paragraphs of this post but couldn’t really. It will suffice if my English translation conveys how I feel even to a few people.

Hum ke thhehre ajanabi itni madaraaton ke baad
Phir banenge aashnaa kitani mulaqaaton ke baad

Kab nazar mein aayegi bedaagh sabze ki bahaar
Khoon ke dhabbe dhulenge kitni barasaaton ke baad

Dil to chaha par shikast-e-dil ne mohalat hi na di
Kuchh gile-shikave bhi kar lete munajaaton ke baad

The bohot bedard lamhen khatm-e-dard-e-ishq ke
Thien bahut bemehr subahein meharabaan raaton ke baad

Un se jo kahane gaye the “Faiz” jaan sadaqaa kiye
Ankahi hi rah gae vo baat sab baaton ke baad


Even after much warm hospitality we stand unfamiliar

After how many meetings shall we again get acquainted

When shall we see a spotless spring in the fields again

How many rains shall it take to wash the blood stains off

Though the heart wished, it did not allow its defeated self

To make complaints after whispering words of prayers

Merciless were the moments when the throbbing of love ended

Unpitying were the mornings that followed the compassionate nights

With the gift of your own life, Faiz, what you went to tell them

That matter remained unsaid when all had been expressed

The past few weeks have also included conversations with friends that gave much hope and I do not wish to end this post at a pessimistic note so here is an Arundhati Roy quote, that my friend Aanchal Kapoor mailed me.

“Sometimes — quite often — the same people who are capable of a radical questioning of, say, economic neo-liberalism or the role of the state, are deeply conservative socially — about women, marriage, sexuality, our so-called ‘family values’ — sometimes they’re so doctrinaire that you don’t know where the establishment stops and the resistance begins. For example, how many Gandhian/Maoist/ Marxist Brahmins or upper caste Hindus would be happy if their children married Dalits or Muslims, or declared themselves to be gay? Quite often, the people whose side you’re on, politically, have absolutely no place for a person like you in their social, cultural or religious imagination. That’s a knotty problem politically radical people can come at you with the most breathtakingly conservative social views and make nonsense of the way in which you have ordered your world and your way of thinking about it and you have to find a way of accommodating these contradictions within your worldview.”

Peace All.

APOLOGIES TO LARGE QUESTIONS FOR SMALL ANSWERS… — November 30, 2008

APOLOGIES TO LARGE QUESTIONS FOR SMALL ANSWERS…

I’m in a strage place. Mumbai massacres are over and everything is agitated and turbid. I am a little apprehensive of what this holds in store for the future of so many things… will India too, get dragged in the ‘war against terror’? who will symbolise ‘terror’ now and take the strike…?

Somehow reading Wislawa Szymborska seems fitting. She says in her poem The Three Oddest Words

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no non-being can hold.

Her poem Children of our era somehow reminded me of the parable of blind old black woman and some youngsters with a bird in their hands, in a hauntingly poetic and beautiful nobel lecture of Toni Morrisson (Szymborska is 1996 nobel winner). Morrison says “In her country children have bitten their tongues off and use bullets instead to iterate the voice of speechlessness, of disabled and disabling language, of language adults have abandoned altogether as a device for grappling with meaning, providing guidance, or expressing love. But she knows tongue-suicide is not only the choice of children. It is common among the infantile heads of state and power merchants whose evacuated language leaves them with no access to what is left of their human instincts for they speak only to those who obey, or in order to force obedience.”

We are children of our era;
our era is political.

All affairs, day and night,
yours, ours, theirs,
are political affairs.

Like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin a political cast,
your eyes a political aspect.

What you say has a resonance;
what you are silent about is telling.
Either way, it’s political.

Even when you head for the hills
you’re taking political steps
on political ground.

Even apolitical poems are political,
and above us shines the moon,
by now no longer lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
Question? What question? Dear, here’s a suggestion:
a political question.

You don’t even have to be a human being
to gain political significance.
Crude oil will do,
or concentrated feed, or any raw material.

Or even a conference table whose shape
was disputed for months:
should we negotiate life and death
at a round table or a square one?

Meanwhile people were dying,
animals perishing,
houses burning,
and fields growing wild,
just as in times most remote
and less political.

Ever so often, I think of our ill-attended meetings, dharnas and marches as pitiably futile, but then again I get up and go join something and tell myself that this was an act of resistance to atleast being passive, if not more. To be sure there are things, issues and questions not well attended to, neglected and not among our favourite. Szymborska says, in her Under a Certain Little Star, what I  wish to scream out today…

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity in case I’m mistaken.
Don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you for my own.
May the dead forgive me that their memory’s but a flicker.
My apologies to time for the quantity of world overlooked per second.
My apologies to an old love for treating a new one as the first.
Forgive me, far-off wars, for carrying my flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
My apologies for the minuet record, to those calling out from the abyss.
My apologies to those in train stations for sleeping soundly at five in the morning.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing sometimes.
Pardon me, deserts, for not rushing in with a spoonful of water.
And you, O hawk, the same bird for years in the same cage,
staring, motionless, always at the same spot,
absolve me even if you happen to be stuffed.
My apologies to the tree felled for four table legs.
My apologies to large questions for small answers.
Truth, do not pay me too much attention.
Solemnity, be magnanimous toward me.
Bear with me, O mystery of being, for pulling threads from your veil.
Soul, don’t blame me that I’ve got you so seldom.
My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere.
My apologies to all for not knowing how to be every man and woman.
I know that as long as I live nothing can excuse me,
since I am my own obstacle.
Do not hold it against me, O speech, that I borrow weighty words,
and then labor to make them light.

* All poems translated from polish by Joanna Trzeciak

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. 

“Dayar-e-shauq Mera” Tarana-e-Jamia — September 24, 2008

“Dayar-e-shauq Mera” Tarana-e-Jamia

Another post, to set the context for some words used in the last post. It just occurred to me that the Tarana-e-Jamia or Jamia’s anthem has very interesting lyrics. It uses a delightful mix of Islamic imagery with themes popular in Urdu (but not Islamic)- of wine and taverns etc and talks of Jamia’s formation in answer to nationalist call, passion for quest of knowledge and freedom.

Here is the original text transcribed in English

Dayar-e-shauq mera, Dayar-e-shauq mera
Shehr-e-aarzoo mera, Shehr-e-aarzoo mera

Hue the aake yahin khemazan woh deewaney
Uthhe the sun ke jo aawaz-e-rehbaraan-e-watan
Yaheen se shauq ki be rabtiyon ko rabt mila
Isi ne hosh ko bakhsha junoon ka pairahan
Yahin se lala-e-sehra ko ye suraagh mila
Ke dil ke daagh ko kis tarha rakhte hein roshan

Dayar-e-shauq mera, Shehr-e-aarzoo mera

Ye ehle shauq ki basti, ye sarphiron ka dayar
Yahan ki subha nirali, yahan ki shaam nayi
Yahan ki rasm-o-rah hai kashi juda sab se
Yahan ke jam naye tarha, raqs rasm-e-jam nayi
Yahan pe tashna labi maikashi ka haasil hai
Ye bazm-e-dil hai yahan ki sala-e-aam nai

Dayar-e-shauq mera, Shehr-e-aarzoo mera

Yahan pe shamma-e-hidayat hai sirf apna zamir
Yahan pe qibla-e-iman kaba-e-dil hai
Safar hai deen yahan kufr hai qayaam yahan
Yahan pe raah rooi khud husul-e-manzil hai
Shanaawari ka taqaza hai nau-ba-nau toofaan
Kinar-e-mauj mein aasoodgi-e-saahil hai


Translation by Prof. M. Zakir

This is the land of my hopes
This is the land of my dreams

This is where men with zeal stayed
Men who answered the leaders’ call
It is here that torn-off love
Found the cohesive chords
It is here that wayward passions
Formed into frenzied love
It is here that the wild tulip learnt
How to make the scar of heart aglow

This is the land of my hopes
This is the land of my dreams

This is the place of men of vision
And of those with a challenging thought
Every morning here is new
And every evening newer still
Different is this tavern
And different are its norms
Different are the dancing cups
And different is their dance
Here drinking begets thirst anew
And different is this tavern’s call

This is the land of my hopes
This is the land of my dreams

Here, conscience is the beacon light
And conscience is the guide
Here is the Mecca of heart resides the guiding faith
Ceaseless movement is our faith
And blasphemy it is to stay still
Here, the destined goal is the march on and on
Here, the swimming urge seeks
Newer and newer storms
Restless wave itself is our resurrected shore

 

Listen to the Tarana being performed by the Jamia School choir. Shaky video but okay sound.

Longing for Gandhi… —

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.