Ghazala's Weblog

a poetic thread to string my words and experiences on…

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.

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

A meta-poem by Langston Hughes

THEME FOR ENGLISH B

The instructor said,

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

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

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

This is my page for English B.

1951

Discovering African-American Poets — August 13, 2008

Discovering African-American Poets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

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

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alice Walker — January 8, 2008

Alice Walker

Before you knew you owned it

Expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.
become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Given out
Take only enough
Stop short of urge to plead
Then purge away the need.

Wish for nothing larger
Than your own small heart
Or greater than a star;
Tame wild disappointment
With caress unmoved and cold
Make of it a parka
For your soul.

Discover the reason why
So tiny human midget
Exists at all
So scared unwise
But expect nothing.
Live frugally
On surprise.