Category Archives: Literature

Punjabi Poetry: Ustad Daman

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Written by Randeep Purewall

Ustad Daman (né Chiragh Din) was born in Lahore in 1911. As a boy, he worked at his father’s tailoring shop while also attending school. Daman learned classical Punjabi poetry at home and was educated in Urdu. He also learned Persian and English including Shakespeare, Keats and Hardy.

Having participated in school poetry recitals, Daman began attending musha’ara in the parks, fairs and bazaars of Lahore as a teenager during the 1920s. The movement for India’s independence had already begun. In 1929, the Indian National Congress made its Declaration of Independence from Lahore. The city was also home to Marxist groups like the Kirti Kisan and anti-colonial and revolutionary groups like the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.

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Daman recited his own revolutionary and anti-colonial poetry at the musha’ara. While attending one such gathering, Jawaharlal Nehru referred to Daman as the “Poet of Freedom.”

‘In China the Chinese are grand,
In Russia they do as they have planned.
In Japan its people rule over its strand.
The British rule the land of England,
The French hold the land of France,
In Tehran the Persians make their stand.
The Afghans hold on to their highland,
Turkmenistan’s freedom bears the Turkmen’s brand,
How very strange is indeed this fact,
That freedom in India is a contraband’
(Trans. F. Sharma).

Daman remained in Lahore upon the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The riots of the Partition had consumed his shop and library and he lost his wife and son to illness. His first act of political defiance came in 1958 when he made fun of Pakistan’s first military coup under Ayub Khan. Daman’s arrest however did little to temper his criticism of Pakistan’s military dictatorships and the corruption of its civilian governments in his poetry.

Daman wrote in Punjabi and the form, rhythm and metaphor of his poetry bears the influence of the classical and folk Punjabi tradition. If he could be sober and thoughtful in writing on the Partition, he could also adopt a more comic and satirical note in criticizing General Zia. He maintained a friendship with poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib, but lived unassumingly in an old apartment in the precinct of the Badshahi Mosque.

Daman died in 1984. His poetry was published after his death by his friends and followers. The room he lived in near the Badshahi Mosque has since become an academy in his name.

Selected Poems (Trans. F. Sharma)

We may not say it but know it well
You lost your way. We too.
Partition has destroyed us friends.
You too, and us.
The wakeful have quite plundered us.
You slept the while, and we.
Into the jaws of death alive
You were flung. We too.
Life still may stir in us again:
You are stunned yet, and we.
The redness of the eyes betrays
You too have wept, and we.

What a house, this Pakistan!
Above live saints, down thieves have their run
A new order has come into force
Up above twenty families, below the hundred million.
Other people conquered mountains,
We live under the divisions heavy ton.
Other people may have conquered the moon.
But in a yawning precipice a place we’ve won.
I ran and ran and was aching all over,
I looked back and saw the donkey resting under the banyan.


Two gods hold my country in their sway
Martial law and La Illaha have here their heyday.
That one rules there over in the heavens
Down here this one’s writ runs.
His name is Allah Esquire.
This one is called Zia, the light of truth in full array.
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

Ecstacy does my land surround
All around the Army is to be found.
Hundreds of thousands were surrendered as POWs.
Half of the land was bartered away in the fray.
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

On TV you give recitations from Quran
With fables and traditions you go on and on.
Here we are engulfed in a brouhaha
While up there you are still there, my Allah
A pretender has staked his claim today
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

Thankful are some if they can chop wood
The others, on them, their orders bestow.
Why have the people lost their mind?
For every one the Almighty has a loving glow.
People are the real masters of this world
Orders do not from the handle of a sword flow.
The ones, Daman, who have forsaken God,
Those Nimruds are laid low at the very first blow.

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Urdu Poetry: Sauda

lucknow-mosque

Written by Randeep Purewall

To many of his contemporaries, Mirza Muhammad Rafi Sauda (1713-1781) was the embodiment of the ideal mirza. He served in the army and was a courtier and man of letters. His friendship among the nobility won him patronage as a poet and the audience of the likes of the Emperor Shah Alam (r. 1759-1806).

The eighteenth century however was a time of political disorder and confusion in Delhi. The Mughal Empire had begun to disintegrate after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. In 1719, the Emperor Farrukhsiyar was blinded and imprisoned by his own generals. The city was sacked by Nadir Shah in 1739 and later suffered invasions by the Afghans, Jats and Marathas:

How can anyone close his eyes in sleep these days?
For fear of thieves even mischief keeps awake during the night.

The devastation of Delhi prompted an exodus from the city. In 1754, Sauda left Delhi and went in search of patrons in the Kingdom of Awadh. He took service in the courts of prominent nawabs  in Farrukhabad and Faizabad before settling in Lucknow in 1774 at the court of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula.

Under Asaf-ud-Daula, Lucknow experienced an age of cultural splendor. Poetry, music and calligraphy flourished while mosques, gardens and gateways were built. Sauda was named Poet Laureate by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula and remained in Lucknow until his death in 1781.

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Sauda is the greatest non-ghazal of the eighteenth century and one of the three pillars of Urdu poetry. He helped refine the language through mushairras in Delhi. He made Urdu the language of panegyric (qasida), narrative (masnavi), satirical (hajv) and elegaic verse (marsiya). He also composed one of the first shahar-e-ashob in Urdu upon leaving Delhi for Farrukhabad:

How can I describe the desolation of Delhi?
There is no house from where the jackal’s cry cannot be heard
The mosques at evening are unlit and deserted
And only in one house in a hundred will you see a light burning

Sauda’s poetry is bold, vigorous and earthy. It reflects the spirit of a man of this world who, while prone to exaggeration, was also funny and playful in his verse. His satires reveal much about the society and culture of 18th century India with its corrupt officials, decadent nawabs, greedy merchants and cunning maulvis.

On the gluttony of Mir Zahik, a Delhi poet and rival of Sauda:

He only has to hear a saucepan rattle
And like a soldier digging in for battle
He’ll take up his position by the door
Nothing can shift him then: that god of war,
Rustam himself, might rise up from the tomb
And try his strength against him. He’d stand firm
He’d fight to the last breath and never yield
Until his corpse was carried from the field.

I am not the fairest flower in the garden
Nor am I thorn in any man’s path
I am neither famous for virtue
Nor notorious for vice
I seek nobody’s favours
And want nobody to seek mine
People may think well or ill of me as they please
I act as my nature prompts me
(Trans. R. Russell)

On Fulad Khan, the Police Officer

O my friends, where are those days
When the hand of a person stealing a lemon was cut off!
What peace and tranquility reign then
And how happily the people lived!
The police officer was above corruption
And not a single thief was to be found
But alas! corruption creeps everywhere now
And the city is full of thieves, loafers and cut-purses …
(Trans. M. Sadiq)

Ridiculing The Times (Tazhik-e-Rozgar)

Should one give up all and take
to Sufism, his fate is then to become
a laughing stock for the poets –
They compare his turban’s end
To a donkey’s tail, the turban itself
To a dome.

If in ecstatic dance at songs divine
He shouldn’t keep time, they whisper
“How silly, to be out of step!”
And if he moves to time, they say,
“What the hell! Is this a nautch-girl’s dance?”

Forsaking the world and trusting in God
If you sit at home, the wife believes
You to be an idle, feckless wastrel
Your son’s sure in his heart that you
Are in his dotage. Your daughter thinks
“The old man’s mad for sure”.
(Trans. S.R. Farqui; R. Purewall)

Sources:

Ahmed Ali, The Golden Tradition: An Anthology of Urdu Poetry (Columbia University Press, New York, 1973).

Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, The Satires of Sauda (1706-1781), University of Heidelberg, September 2010.

Muhammad Sadiq, A History of Urdu Literature (Oxford University Press, London: 1964)

 

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The Literatures of India

 

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Written by Randeep Singh

India is a land of literary diversity underlined by cultural unity. From Sanskrit, India derived much of its epic and mythological literature. From Tamil love poetry came the inspiration for the bhakti movement which shaped the literatures of medieval India. From Persia, India inherited the ghazal while the English novel shaped its modern literature.

The Sangam Age (c. 1st and 2nd century CE)

jasmine-flowers

Tamil is one of the two classical languages of India. It is a Dravidian language with the oldest continuous language of any Indian literature. The earliest Tamil literature was written in what is known as the Sangam Age, the classical age of Tamil poetry.

The poets of the Sangam Age composed epic and lyric poetry on love, war and kingship in the assemblies or “sangam” of the ancient Tamil kingdoms. Tamil epics told tales of duty, virtue and revenge while Tamil lyric poetry mused on love and separation in the midst of the lush hills, white waterfalls and jasmine blossoms of the Tamil country.

In the thicket
Of fresh lotuses rising from the ponds
Caressed by splendid paddy fields
And sugarcane are heard, as on a battlefield
Where two kings fight for victory
Various kinds of clamorous sounds
Made by waterfowls, screaming cranes,
Red-footed swans, green-footed herons,
Wild fowls, cormorants, snipes,
The ural water birds, large herons
And other birds. Buffaloes enter and immerse
Themselves in the soft, unploughed mire
With the hair on their bodies unwashed, eyes
Red, they come and rub
Their itching backs against the unspoilt, straw bins
Thus loosening the twisted strands that hold them
The bins come apart spilling the rich grain
Stored inside with sheaves of excellent paddy
That resemble cowries.
One heard the noise of the loud talk of labourers
With strong arms and farmers standing
In knots. One heard the sound
Of songs in new styles by low born women
Who turned on by strong wine worked in the fields.
Eyes wide like red minnows,
They bandied indecent words and looked
Singularly charming in their clothes splashed
With mud that also glazed their breasts and shoulders
Clasped by armlets. From their hair they picked
The fragrant flowers and thrust seedlings instead.
One heard the ploughmens’ song of praise
As they stood by their ploughs and worshipped
With folded hands. They appeared to break open
The earth radiant with wreaths bound
With shining ears of rice, plaited
With blue lotuses and the thick, vine-like hariali grass

(from Shilappadigaram, tr. R. Parthasarathy).

Sanskrit: The Gupta Dynasty (4th-5th century)

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Sanskrit is a classical language of India and the language of the earliest Indian literature. From the Vedas to the poetics of the Natya Shashtra to the tales of the Kathasaritasagara, Sanskrit boasts a rich literary, scientific and religious tradition.

The golden age of Sanskrit literature was the Gupta era. Its authors wrote poetry, drama and prose including fables, fairy tales and adventure stories. The Panchatantra is a book of animal parables which instructs kings on how to rule. The celebrated Kalidasa composed poems and dramas like Sakunata blending romance, fantasy and superb natural imagery.

In former days we’d both agree
That you were me and I was you
What has now happened to us two
That you are you and I am me
(Bhartrhari, Trans. John Brough)

May her path be safe and gracious
As gentle breezes blow,
Pleasant be her way dotted by lakes
Where green lotus-creepers grow;
May the burning rays of the sun
Filter mellowed through thick shade-trees;
Let the pollen of water lillies drift
To lie as softest dust beneath her feet
(Kalidasa, Abhijnanasakuntalam, Trans. Chandra Rajan)

Kannada: The Rashtrakuta and Chalukya Dynasties (9th and 10th century)

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Kannada is a Dravidian language with a literature going back to the fifth century. It was designated a classical language of India in 2011.

During the 9th and 10th century, royal patronage and the literacy and learning fostered  by the Jain religion usher in the classical age of Canarese literature. The Vaddaradhane is a collection of Jain stories told by Jain elders on the sufferings of mortals like merchants, courtesans and kings and the way to liberation rhrough humility and self-denial. The era also saw the first great epics on the lives of the Jain saviours by Sri Ponna and the Adikavi Pampa.

Urdu: The Late-Mughal Period (18th and 19th century)

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The Urdu language is a north Indian language written in the Persian script and drawing its literary vocabulary and form from Persian.

During the 18th and 19th century, Urdu emerged in north India as a literary language. Its greatest poets like Mir (1722-1810) and Ghalib (1797-1869) crafted verses on love, passion and loss through the rose, nightingale and spring. In the courts, assemblies and bazaars of Delhi and Lucknow, poets like Dard, Sauda and Zafar mused on the mystery of God, the hypocrisy of sheikhs and the loss of one’s kingdom.

How long is the life of the rose?
The bud just smiles (Mir Taqi Mir)

The free are not trammeled by any ties
The flower’s fragrance emits itself a thousand ways (Zauq)

If someone has not seen you here on earth
It makes no difference if he sees the world or not (Khwaja Mir Dard)

Desire in thousands – each so strong it takes my breath anew
And many longings were fulfilled – many, but even so, too few (Ghalib)

Night has arrived; again the stars tumble forth
A stream rich as wealth from a temple (Ghalib)

Bengali: Colonial and Modern Period (19th and 20th century)

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Above: Fort William College, a center of the 19th century Bengali Renaissance .

Bengali is a north Indian language. It ranks as one of the most spoken languages in the world with over 220 million speakers.

In the 19th century, the Bengal experienced a cultural renaissance which brought English literature and the Enlightenment to Bengal. Michael Madhusudan Dutt (1824-1873) pioneered the Bengali sonnet and an epic poetry blending the best of Indic and English traditions. Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) meanwhile created socially realist prose and lyrically magical poetry making Bengali literature known as far as Moscow, Beijing and Paris.

WORKS CITED
Civilization: Past and Present (Vol. 1), Robert R. Edgar et al (2002), 294

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The Poems of Bedil

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Written by Randeep Singh

Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil (1644-1720) is one of the leading poets of the Indian school of Persian poetry.

Born in Azimabad (Patna) into a family of Uzbek descent, Bedil lost his parents at an early age and was raised by his uncle. He received a classical education, but also mastered poetry and philosophy through self-study. Bedil served in the Mughal army, but returned to Delhi during the reign of Aurangzeb. It was there that he devoted himself to writing poetry.

Bedil composed over 16 books of poetry including ghazals, rubais and masnavis. His poetry deals with philosophical and metaphysical themes and his verses are complex, challenging if also captivating. He was not well received in Iran which generally disdained the “Indian School” of Persian. He remains, however, an iconic poet in Central Asia and Afghanistan. The Urdu poets Ghalib and Iqbal cited Bedil as an important influence on their poetry.

The selected verses below were translated from Persian into Urdu by Afzal Ahmed Syed and from Urdu into English by Musharraf Ali Farooqi (unless otherwise noted).

For too long the heart’s desire bound me
With a drop of blood I was painted whole
Ulfat dil umr haashad dast o paaim basta ast
Qatra-e khoon az sar taa paa hunaaim basta ast

I read in the wave’s fickle, delicate form
The preface of the sea, the wind’s footprint
Mara ma’aena shad az khat-e shakasta mauj
Ki naqsh-e paa-e hava sarnoshat-e aeen darya’st

What heart’s shop is not adorned by desire?
The mirror’s realm of clarity reflects a bazaar
Ko dil-e kaz havas aaraaesh-e dakaanash neest
Dar safaa khaana har aaena baazaare hast

Behold the spring painted with hues of new secrets
What your imagination never grasped the spring reveals
Chasm va kun rang-e asraar-edagar daard bahaar
Aan cha dar vahamat naganjad jalwa gar daard bahaar

In the desert of fancy there are no fixed points
To find our bearings no need have we
Dar dasht-e tauham jahate neest ma’een
Maa raa chi zaroor ast badaaanem kujaayem

In contentment’s land seek not the sun and moon
If a bread and lamp in night rations has been provided to you
Dar mulk-e qanaat ba ma o mahar mapardaaz
Gar naan-e shabe heest o chiraagh-sar-e shaame

For ages we’ve been amused at expressing worthlessness
We are the opener of the pages of stories of nothingness
You could expect nothing from us, but name
we are the messengers of the world of nothingness

’aumrîst kî sargarm-e bayân-e heechîm
tumâr gushâyee dâstân-e heechim
bâ nâmi az ân mîyân, zi mâ qane’a bâsh
mâ qâsed-e paighâm-e jahân-e heechîm
(Translated by Nasim Fekrat)

Sources:

Annual of Urdu Studies: http://www.urdustudies.com/pdf/27/20BedilPoems.pdf

Encyclopaedia Iranica: http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/bidel-bedil-mirza-abd-al-qader-b

 

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The Dharma and the Dīwān

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Written by Randeep Singh

The Buddha[1] and Ghalib[2] are two of the best known philosophers and poets of the Indian subcontinent. The Buddha’s teachings, the Dharma, elucidate the relationship between suffering and desire. In his collection of Urdu poetry, the Dīwān-e-Ghalib, Ghalib, ponders over desire and whether one can ever be content.

We each see new meanings in the mirror of Ghalib’s verse. His poems reflect his thoughts on suffering and desire. They also elicit new understandings on the nature of desire, challenging one’s view of the Dharma.

The first two noble truths of the Buddha are that life is suffering and that the cause of suffering is desire. Ghalib’s couplet (sh’er) poignantly reenacts this drama:

 hazāroñ ḳhvāhisheñ aisī kih har ḳhvāhish pah dam nikle
bahut nikle mire armān lekin phir bhī kam nikle (219.1)

 A thousand such longings, I’d die with each one
Many wishes escaped only to prove too few

We die with each longing. We remain unfulfilled, desiring more than we can attain. The Buddha taught that wanting what we cannot have is a form of suffering.

And yet, desire has its uses:

havas[3] ko hai nishāt̤-e kār kyā kyā
nah ho marnā to jīne kā mazā kyā

What joys of action has desire
What joy has life without death

Would one act without desire? Would the world exist? Desire underlies life and action. And we enjoy life, knowing it will end.

Can we ever be desire-less? Without desire, Siddharta Gautama would not have become the Buddha, he would not have desired to end suffering. For those of us who aren’t monks, desire is fulfilled in moderation and ultimately, transformed from something self-centered (‘tanha’) to the positive desire to better oneself and do good to others (‘chanda’).

Ghalib’s sh’er reminds us that life cannot be lived without desire. It seems that “positive” desire has its joys of action as well.

 

[1] Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 BCE or 480-400 BCE).

[2] Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan (1797-1869).

[3] ‘Desire, lust, concupiscence, inordinate appetite; — ambition; –curiosity’. Platts, John T. (John Thompson). A dictionary of Urdu, classical Hindi, and English. London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1884, 1241.

 

 

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Modern Punjabi Poetry: Pāsh

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Translated by Randeep Singh

Born Avtar Singh Sandhu near Jalandhar, East Punjab, Pāsh (1950-1988) was a Marxist poet whose poems were critical of neo-imperialism, social conservatism and religious orthodoxy. He wrote three anthologies of poetry in the 1970s during his lifetime, with an additional anthology being published posthumously in 1989. He was killed by Sikh militants in 1988 after his criticism of the Khalistan movement.

The Most Dangerous Thing
(‘Sabh toñ khatarnāk nahīñ hundā’)

The most dangerous thing is
Not one’s looted toils
Not a police thrashing
Nor treason’s greedy fist

It’s a terrible thing to be
Seized in the dead of night
Clenched by terrifying silence – but
It’s not the most dangerous thing

The most dangerous thing is
When your soul dies
When you feel nothing
When you bear it all
Home to work
Work to home
To live without dreams
That’s the most dangerous thing

The most dangerous moment
Is when you realize
What others see as moving
You see as standing still

The most dangerous eye
Is one which sees all things as frozen
Which can’t see a world swaying in love
Whose vision is obscured by the fumes of riches
Which is lost in the cycle of days and nights
Which is carried off on the ass of reason

The most dangerous neighbour
Is one who after each chapter of genocide
Peeks over the wall for a glimpse
Into your courtyard
But whose eyes remain unmoved
Even if spices were thrown into them

The most dangerous song
Is that which comes to your ears
Trespassing as a wail
Before the doors of people terrorized
Coughing the sickness of depravity

The most dangerous night
Is the night descending
On the skies of living souls
Where owls hoot and jackals bawl
Which sticks eternally
Barring doors and windows

The most dangerous direction
Is where the sun has set on one’s soul
On the final beam of that dying light
Which pierces the body’s eastern horizon
The most dangerous thing is
Not one’s looted toils
Not a police thrashing
Nor treason’s greedy fist…

Sabh toñ khatarnāk

Kirat dī lut sabh toñ khatarnāk nahīñ hundī
Puls dī kuṭ sabh toñ khatarnāk nahīñ hundī
Ghadārī-lobh dī muṭh sabh toñ khatarnāk hundī

Baiṭhe sutiāñ phaṛe jānā – burā tāñ hai
Darū jihī chup vich maṛe jānā – burā tāñ hai
Sabh toñ khatarnāk nahīñ hundā

Kapaṭ de shor vich
Sahī hundiāñ vī dab jānā – burā tāñ hai
Kise jugnūñ dī lo vich paṛan lag jānā – burā tāñ hai
Sabh toñ khatarnāk nahīñ hundā

Sabh toñ khatarnāk hundā hai
Murdā shāntī nāl bhar jānā
Na honā taṛap dā, sabh sahin kar jānā
Gharāñ toñ nikalnā kam te
Te kam toñ ghar jānā
Sabh toñ khatarnāk hundā hai
Sāḍe supaniāñ da mar jānā

Sabh toñ khatarnāk oh ghaṛī hundī hai
Tuhāḍe guṭṭ’te chaldī hoī vī jo
Tuhāḍī nazar de laī khaṛī hundī hai

Sabh toñ khatarnāk oh akh hundī hai
Jo sabh dekhdī hoī vī nanḍhī yakh hundī hai
Jis de nazar duniā nūñ muhabbat nāl chumndā bhul jāndī hai
Jo cheezāñ’choñ uṭhdī anepan dī bhāf ute ḍul jāndī hai
Jo nit disde dī sādhārantā nūñ pīndī hoī
Ik mantakhīn duharā de gadhī-goṛ vich hī rul jāndī hai

Sabh toñ khatarnāk oh chan hundā hai
Jo har katal kānḍ de bād
Sun hoe vihiṛiāñ vich chaṛdā hai
Par tuhāḍīāñ akhāññ mirchāñ vāng nahīñ laṛdā hai

Sabh toñ khatarnāk oh gīt hundā hai
Tuhāde kanāñ tak pahunchan laī
Jihṛā kīrnā ulanghdā hai
Dare hoe lokāñ de bār mūhare –
Jo vailī dī kangh kanghdā hai

Sabh toñ khatarnāk oh rāt hundī hai
Jo paindī hai jīūndī rūh diāñ ākāshāñ’te
Jihde vich sirf ulū bolde giddaṛ havāñkade
Chimaṭ jānde sadīvī ner band būhiāñ chugāṭhāñ’te

Sabh toñ khatarnāk oh dishā hundī hai
Jihde vich ātmā da sūraj ḍubb jāve
Te us dī marī hoī dhup dī koi chilatar
Tuhāḍe jism de pūrab’ch khubh jāve
Kirat dī lut sabh toñ khatarnāk nahīñ hundī
Puls dī kuṭ sabh toñ khatarnāk nahīñ hundī
Ghadārī-lobh dī muṭh sabh toñ khatarnāk hundī

Dreams (‘Sufne’)

Not everyone can dream
Can lifeless dynamite
Dream of exploding?
Can the palm without sweat
Dream of fighting injustice?
History books silenced on shelves
Can they ever dream?
To dream, one needs
An enduring heart
A vision – in that land of dreams
Dreams are dreamed

Sufne
Har kisī nūñ nahīñ aunde
Bejān barūd de kanāñ’ch
Suttī agg de sufne nahīñ aunde
Badī laī uthī hoī
Hathelī nūñ pasīne nahīñ aunde
Shelfāñ’ch paīe
Itihās de granthoññ sufne nahīñ aunde
Sufne laī lāzmī hai
Jhalū dilāñ da honā
Nīnd dī nazar honī lāzmī hai
Sufne is liye har kise nūñ nahīñ aunde

Poems on the Rainy Season (‘Barsāt’)

Clouds rumble
Deep within me
I fear that coming storm
May sweep you away too
With innocents in their nests
The people of my world
So uncivilized even today
They cannot recite the mantra
Of the lightning flash

Mere dhur andar kite badal gaṛkde han
Main ḍardā hāñ us tūfān’ch
Aālianāñ vich masūmtā sune
ñ vī nā kite rul jāveñ
Mere jahān de lok aje aene janglī han
Bijlīāñ dā mantar nahīñ jānde

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Modern Punjabi Poetry: Poetry from West Punjab

Translated by Randeep Singh

Punjabi poetry from Pakistan (West Punjab) include Sharif Kunjahi (1915-2007) and Ustad Daman (1911-1984) and poets who began writing after Pakistan’s independence in  1947 including Ahmad Rahi (1923-2002), Ahmad Saleem (b. 1945) and Mir Tanhai Yousafi (b. 1955).

Munir Niazi

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Born in Khanpur near Hoshiarpur, now East Punjab, Munir Niazi (1926-2006) migrated to Sahiwal after 1947. A leading poet in Urdu and an acknowledged film song-writer, Munir wrote three books of poetry in Punjabi:  Safar Dī Rāt (‘The Night’s Journey), Char Chup Chīzāñ (‘Four Quiet Things’) and Rastā Dasan Vāle Tāre (‘The Path-Telling Stars’).

Paths (‘Raste’)

These paths
These winding paths
Where do they lead?
To ancient palaces
Into the arms of old friends?
Or into deep dark forests
Terrifying us, like a beast?
Or after making us wander aimlessly
Back to where we began?

Ih raste ih lambe raste
Kihṛe pāse jānde naiñ
Bahut purāne mahilāñ andar
Vichṛe yār milānde hain
Uchiyāñ ḍūngiyāñ jangle andar
Sherāñ vāng ḍarānde naiñ
ñ phir aiveñ ghum ghumā ke
Vāpas moṛ liānde naiñ

Means of Being (‘Honī de hīle’)

Some desire I had for a love not of this world
Some days I knocked on each door in search
Some friends never let go their faults
Some rivals stirred in their poison
Some company in separation I found
Some lovers gave me a pain profound
Some of my misfortunes withered away
Some distance brought love closer
Some of those paths were difficult
Some collars of grief I bore
Some townsfolk were tyrants to me
Some too I was fond to slay

Kujh shoq sī yār faqīrī dā
Kujh ishq ne dar dar rol dittā
Kujh sājan kasar na choṛī sī
Kujh zahar raqībāñ ghol dittā
Kujh hijar firāq da rang chaṛhīā
Kujh dard māhī anmol dittā
Kujh saṛ gaī qismat bad qismat dī
Kujh pyār vich judāī rol dittā
Kuch unj vī rāhvāñ aukhiyāñ san
Kuch gal vich gham dā tauk vī san
Kuch shahar de lok vī zālim san
Kuch maiññ maran da shauq vī sī

 

Najam Hussain Syed

Najam Hussain Syed (b. 1936) was born in Batala, East Punjab and moved to Lahore after 1947. He has written more than a dozen books of poetry in Punjabi (including Rutt Da KammChandan Rukh Da Vera and Bar Di Var) as well as plays in Punjabi and books on literary criticism, including Recurrent Patterns in Punjabi Poetry.

 

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Colours (‘Rang’)

Come, celebrate colours
Colours of new leaves
Again and again
New leaves gleam
A message of warmth
Place the warmth in your heart
The gleam in your eye
Come celebrate, again and again
If winter’s arrived, spring shall too
If smoke smoulders, the fire too shall blaze …
Come, celebrate
Again and again
Those who every day decay
Without becoming new
Live a life of death
Reds and greens come out
When they cast off old skins
Come celebrate the colours
Again and again

Naviāñ pattrāñ de
Aāo rang manāīe
Naviāñ pattrāñ de
Vāre vāre jāīe
Naviāñ pattrāñ dī lishk sunehā
Lishk ‘cho’ simdā sek sunehā
Sek dil de andar dharīe
Lishk akhīñ nāl lāīe, rang manāīe
Naviāñ pattrāñ de vāre jāīe
Chaṛiā māgh, vasākh vee āvsī
Dhukde rahe tāñ mach vī pavsī
Pelo pairīñ āondiāñ age
Dam dam tel chavāīe, rang manāīe
Naviāñ pattrāñ de vāre vāre jāe
Mar mar nit jihṛe naveñ na hoe
Uh tāñ rahisan jionde moe
Sūhe sāve niklan tāhīoñ
Haḍ gae jad lāīe rang manāīe
Naviāñ pattrāñ de vāre vāre jāīe

 

Zubair Ahmad

Zubair Ahmad (b. 1958) is a Punjabi poet, essayist, critic and short story writer. A former journalist, editor and previously active in Punjabi street theatre, Ahmad is currently a professor at Islamia College, Lahore. In addition to two short story collections, he has written two books of poetry in Punjabi: Koi Dam Yaad Na Keeta (‘A Breath Not Remembered’) and Sadd (‘The Call’) from which the following poems have been taken.

Feel Me Always, Like This (‘ Roz maiññ inj jāpe’)

Feel me always, like this
Like the evening
Creeping across the river
And the dawn
The quivering day
The furtive night

Roz maiññ inj jāpe
Jiveñ shām
Daryāoñ pār tūñ āve
Te savere dī
Darya darya din āve
Chorī chorī rāt

How Do I Tell Your Story? (‘Teri Kinj Kahānī Karīe’)

How do I tell your story, dear?
We’ve been apart for so long

We picked clean the cotton
Without spinning it into thread
We left with no goodbye
No candles on the sill
For the other to return home
How do I write this tale?
My words and speech have fled
We’ve been apart for so long

A strange evening came to town
When passing that final door
Closing its window to the world
I saw it all in a dream that night
Had my eyes hung on to that night!
But they broke under pain’s water
We’ve been apart for so long

Terī kinj kahānī karīe uṛīe
Rut purāne kar baiṭhe āñ

Pūnī pūnī kar jo katiā
Ohdā tān nā tanīā
Chaldiāñ vidā na kittā
Kakh bāl banere na dharīe
Kinj likhīe rām kahānī
Sabh sukhan zabānī kar baiṭhe āñ
Rut purāne kar baiṭhe āñ

Ajab shām nagar vich āī
Būhā pichlī jo langh āī
Os ḍhoī ḍar dī tākī
Sapan rāt akhīñ vich pāī
Ih raat akhīñ rakh lende
Akhāñ dardāñ pānī kar baiṭhe āñ
Rut purāne kar baiṭhe āñ

 

 

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