Category Archives: Urdu

Urdu Poetry: Mir Taqi Mir

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Written by Randeep Purewall

Mir (né Muhammad Taqi Mir) was born in Agra in 1722. His father died when Mir was eleven years old, leaving the boy to seek an education and patronage in Delhi. He was educated in Delhi by the poet and scholar Khan-e-Arzu and supported by a nobleman, but left the city upon Nadir Shah’s invasion in 1739

It was years later after returning to Delhi, that Mir became a prominent poet, winning high-ranking patrons and competing with the poets Dard and Sauda in musha’ara (poetic symposiums). Delhi was being repeatedly invaded during this period, however, by Afghans, Jat and Marathas. For Mir, the times marked not only the decline of the city, but the setting of a civilization.

This age is not like that which went before it
The times have changed, the earth and sky have changed

In 1782, Mir left Delhi for Lucknow as had other poets like Sauda before him. He found patronage in Lucknow at the court of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula where he received a pension and continued to write poetry. He died in 1810.

mir

Mir’s verses express the impermanence of life and the grief at the loss of love, beauty and spring. At the same time, his poems underline the transcendent experience and journey of love through the colours of the garden, the movement of the stars and heart of man.

How long is the life of a rose?
The bud just smiles

Mir’s themes of love and beauty and pain and separation established the conventions of classical Urdu poetry and his style inspired later poets like Ghalib (1797-1869). He also helped establish Urdu as a literary language. Mir reviewed and refined the use of Urdu in the musha’ara of Delhi and naturalized its use of Persian expressions. He wrote, moreover,  in the everyday language of the city, making the language of Delhi, the language of poetry.

(Trans. Russell, Islam; Sadiq; Ali)

Every leaf and every plant my state do know
The rose knows not what the garden knows

The world is full of illusions
We behold here what we imagine

The streets of Delhi were not mere streets
They were like the album of a painter
Every figure I saw there
Was a model of perfection

The spring has come, the flowers bloom cheek by cheek
Would you and I might stand thus in the garden!

The greatest sinner, Mir
Was he who adopted love as his religion

The moments of happiness
Within this world were few
Now weep for the smiling dawn
Of the garden like the dew

I never saw the stars so bright before
It was her eyes that taught them how to shine

To keep my eyes on you, and you alone
My one and only heart’s desire is this
To open them only if you are there
The height to which I can aspire is this

Mir, quit the company of Shaikh and Brahmin
And mosque and temple too – leave them behind.
Lay one stone on another in the desert
Worship your Love at your own humble shrine

I grant you sir, the preacher is an angel
To be a man, now – that’s more difficult

Go to the mosque; stand knocking at the door
Live all your days with drunkards in their den
Do anything you want to do, my friend,
But do not seek to harm your fellowmen

What days those were!
When I would drink and climb up to the tavern roof
And fall asleep, the white sheet of the moonlight over me

Man was first made of clay
And if the song you sing be good
This world of clay for years to come
Will listen to your voice

Sources:

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

Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, Mir and Ghalib: Comparisons (trans by F.W. Pritchett), 1997.
http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00garden/about/txt_srf_mir_ghalib.html

Khurshidul Islam and Ralph Russell, Three Mughal Poets (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1991)

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

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Urdu Poetry: Khwaja Mir Dard

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Written by Randeep Purewall

Khwaja Mir Dard was born in Delhi in 1720. The son of a well-known Sufi, Dard was schooled in theology, philosophy and Arabic and Persian. After serving briefly in the Mughal army, he joined his father’s Sufi order in Delhi around 1748.

It wasn’t the best of times for Delhi. The city was sacked by Nadir Shah in 1739 and marauded repeatedly by Ahmed Shah Abdali and the Marathas. Dard stayed on in the city however, even as his contemporaries Mir Taqi Mir and Sauda fled to Lucknow.

khwaja

At his home in Delhi, Dard held poetry recitals which attracted Mir, Sauda and Soz as well as the emperor, Shah Alam (r. 1759-1806). A gifted musician, Dard also composed khayals, thumris and dhrupads:

The high and low are equal in my eyes
As the high and low notes on the harp

In addition to his Urdu deewaan, Dard wrote eight Persian works on Sufism. He remained a Sufi in Delhi until his death in 1785.

Dard’s poems are sensual, erotic and, most famously, mystical. As a mystical poet, however, he seeks to live peacefully in the world, not to renounce it. He does not flee from life, but seeks its deeper meaning.

His poems concern the unity of existence, the greatness of man, the mystery of God and the nature of the self. His Urdu is simple and his verse spontaneous and intuitive, carrying both a personal depth and a touch of transcendence.

Dard is widely acknowledged today as one of the “three pillars” of Urdu poetry, along with Mir and Sauda.

If someone has not seen you here on earth
It makes no difference if he sees the world or not

Make the best of your time for life will not come back to you
If some of your life remains, youth will not come back to you

As long as I seek, it’s you I seek
As long as I speak, it’s of you I speak
The longing I feel is longing for you
And when I yearn, it’s for you I yearn

Time moves and soon
We shall be gone
So fill the cup
Let wine flow on

I crossed the garden of the world
And found the hue and scent of friendship’s rose

These flowering fields you love so much
And which receive
Such tender care from you, relate
A different tale to me
For when the flowers fade, the buds
Contemplate
And say: Like them we too one day
Shall wilt away

Give up talk with men and quiet be
Desire only the soul’s serenity
Seek joys of union in a state of wonder
Look for guidance in your heart’s own mirror

Though man was not given wings
He soared higher than the angels

Whom would the preacher
Frighten with his day of doom?
The scroll of deeds I washed clean with my tears

Don’t judge me, O Sheikh, by my drenched cloak
The angels would seek ablutions were I to wring it

Nor heaven nor earth can Thy expanse contain
Tis but my heart that enfolds Thy grace

Roses and greenery
Aren’t worth that inner joy
That place is grove and garden
Which gladdens the heart

Trans. Ahmed Ali, The Golden Tradition: An  Anthology of Urdu Poetry; K.C. Kanda, Urdu Ghazals: An Anthology from the 17th to the 20th Century; additional translation, Randeep Purewall

 

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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)

nymph

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)

fortwilliam-1774

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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Confucius in Urdu (Part I)

Teachings of Confucius

Written and Compiled by Randeep Singh

Confucius (551-479 BCE) is one of most influential teachers and thinkers in history. His sayings are simple, profound and timeless. Here are a few selections translated into Urdu by Yasir Javid from Mukalamaat-e-Confucius  (English translation by D.C. Lau, A. Charles Muller).

Kya ye bais-e-khushi nahin ki tum ne jo kuch sikha hai us ko zer tahqeeq o amal laaya jae?
Kya ye bhi baais-e-massurat nahin ki door door se dost tumhein milne aaenn?
Agar log mujhe na pahchaanen to mujhe takleef nahin hoti, kya main ek bartar insaan nahin hoon? (1:1)

學而時習之、不亦說乎。 有朋自遠方來、不亦樂乎。人不知而不慍、不亦君子乎。

Isn’t it a joy to study and practice what one has learned?
Isn’t it also a joy to have friends come from afar?
If people do not recognize me, and it does not bother me, am I not a sage?

Main har roz teen hawaalon se apna tajz yeh karta hoon:
Kya main doosron kee khidmat mein belos raha hoon?
Kya main doston ke saath ta’aqaat mein na qaabil bharosa raha hoon?
Kya mera amal mere qaul ke mutaabiq nahin tha? (1:4)

吾日三省吾身、爲人謀而不忠乎。與朋友交而不信乎。傳不習乎。

Everyday, I examine myself on three points:
In what I have undertaken for others, have I failed to do my best?
In my dealings with my friends, have I failed to be sincere?
Have I passed on to others anything that I have not tried out myself?

Woh kehne se pehle amal kar ke dekhaata hai aur baad mein amal kee baat karta hain (2:13)

子貢問君子。子曰。先行其言、而后從之。

The noble person acts before speaking and then speaks according to his action

Bartar insaan sab ko saath le kar chalne vaala aur ghair jaanib daar hota hai
Kamtar insaan ghair jaanib daar sab ko saath le kar jaane vaale nahin hota (2:14)

君子周而不比、小人比而不周

The noble person is all-embracing and not partial. The petty person is partial and not all-embracing.

Ghor o fikr ke beghair mataala’a bekaar hain
Aur mataala’a ke beghair ghor o fikar khatarnaak (2:15)

攻乎異端、斯害也己。

Learning without thinking is useless. Thinking without learning is dangerous.

https://rekhta.org/ebooks/mukalmat-e-confucius-confucius-ebooks

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The New Urdu

ghalib devanagri

Written by Randeep Singh

Why should we worry whether Urdu is written in the Nastalliq, Devanagri or Roman script?

I recently came across an article entitled “Young Professionals Take the Lead In Reviving Delhi’s Romance with Urdu,” written by Manoj Sharma. The article cites the example of Delhites like Ranjeet Chauhan, an engineer who co-founded the Jashn-e-Adab, which organizes the International Urdu Poetry Festival.

Another organizer of Urdu poetry festivals, a Gurgaon-based software professional, Vishal Bagh, suggests that the attitudes that led to the decline of Urdu after 1947 may now be changing.

The relationship between language and script is arbitrary. Mongolian has been written in Mongol, Latin and Cyrillic scripts. Punjabi can be written in the Perso-Arabic, Devanagri and Gurmukhi scripts. Vietnamese is written in a script from a completely different language family. Urdu print magazines in Delhi like Mahkta Anchal are written in Devanagri. Urdu Islamic texts in Delhi like Fazail-i-Amal and Muntakhabat-e-Ahadis  use Devanagri. The “Rekhta” website (www.rekhta.org) features Urdu poetry in Devanagri, Roman and Nastalliq. 

In short, the Perso-Arabic script is no longer treated as the constitutive element of the Urdu language in today’s Delhi.[1] More broadly, the politics of the 19
th century which divided Hindustani/Hindi/Hindvi/Urdu/Rekhta, and the language politics of 1947, are no longer tenable in contemporary India.

So, if Indians read and absorb Urdu literature through Devanagri (or the Roman script), that benefits both those readers and Urdu literature. Why mourn a new script if it brings a new gathering?

Further Reading:

“Young Professionals Take Lead in Reviving Delhi’s Romance with Urdu,” Manoj Sharma, The Hindustan Times: http://www.hindustantimes.com/newdelhi/delhi-is-rekindling-its-romance-with-urdu-through-ghazals-and-nazms/article1-1355867.aspx. 

“Shifting Dunes: Changing Meanings of Urdu in India,” Rizwan Ahmad. Doctoral Dissertation (Linguistics), University of Michigan, 2007.

[1] Rizwan Ahmad,” Shifting Dunes: Changing Meanings of Urdu in India,” Rizwan Ahmad. Doctoral Dissertation (Linguistics), University of Michigan, 2007, 154-55.

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Shakespeare in Hindi Cinema

maqbool

Written by Randeep Singh

In the high and palmy state of Bombay, the Bard and Hindi screen did meet … It was the Parsi theatre which brought Shakespeare to Hindi cinema. The Parsi theatre flourished between 1870 and 1940, adapting Shakespeare’s plays into Urdu, the literary lingua franca of northern India. Those plays were in turn screened and adapted to Hindi cinema.

One of the earliest such films was Dil Farosh (1927), a silent film based on the Parsi theatre adaptation of The Merchant of VeniceThe Taming of the Shrew, Antony and Cleopatra and Measure for Measure were adapted respectively in Hathili Dulhan (1932), Kafir-e-Ishq (1936) and Pak Daman(1940). Hamlet meanwhile reigned among tragedies, adapted first into the silent film Khoon-e-Nahak (1928) and later into the “talkies,” Sohrab Modi’s Khoon Ka Khoon (1935) and Kishore Sahu’s Hamlet (1954).

In adapting Shakespeare to India, the dramatists of Parsi theatre recreated his pathos, wit and intrigue in Urdu. With the exception of the drama and opera Inder Sabha (c. 1853), Urdu literature lacked a tradition of drama in the Sanskrit or Elizabethean sense; and yet, the verses of Ghalib and the marsiya of Anis and Dabeer demonstrated that Urdu was capable of dramatic resonance. The Parsi playwrights exploited that potential by making an elaborately rhetorical Urdu the vessel through which Shakespeare was carried to Indian audiences.

Take the following excerpt from Safed Khoon, Agha Hashar Kashmiri’s adaptation of King Lear. The dialogue relates to the first scene between Khakan (Lear) and Zara (Cordelia) where Khakan addresses Zara:


Khakhan: Haan, ab teri gulfishani ka intizaar hai
(Now we await a shower of flower from thy  lips)

Zara: Abba jaan, mai kya arz karoon
Ita’ut mujh se kahti hai ki tu chup rah nahin sakti
Magar mera yeh kahna hai ki mai kuchh kah nahin sakti

(Respected Father, what shall I say –
Obedience tells me that I cannot remain silent
But I have only this to say that I can say nothing)[1]

In the following dialogue, each character speaks half a line to the other, a rising tension building in rhyme:


Khakan: Chhor de yeh zid………Zara: abhi chhooti nahin
(Leave this stubbornness)……….(No, never)

Khakan: Be-adab hai tu…………Zara: Magar jhoothi nahin
(Disrespectful art thou)………(But not a liar)

Khakan: Nuqsaan uthhayegi…………..Zara: era bari ta’ala hai
(You will suffer great loss)…………….(The Creator is supreme)

Khakan: Mai kuchh na doonga tujhko……Zara: Khuda dene wala hai
(I will give thee nothing)……………………  (it is for God to give)[2]

This intensely dramatic Urdu style was well suited not only for adaptations of Shakespeare plays in Parsi theatre but for Hindi cinema as well.

Gulzar’s adaptation of The Comedy of Errors in Angoor (1981) aside, adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays in Hindi cinema petered out after 1960. The influence of Shakespeare though has been felt in the theme, story and dialogue of Hindi cinema whether through the The Taming of The Shrew in Junglee (1966) and Naukar Biwi Ka (1983) or Romeo and Juliet in Mehboob Khan’s Aan (1952) and Mansoor Khan’s Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988).

In more recent years, the bard has travelled to the Bombay underworld, the dusty towns of Uttar Pradesh and Kashmir’s valleys of snow. Shakespeare will continue to evolve and inspire in Hindi cinema as in this monologue from Haider:

Dil kī agar sunooñ to hai
Dimāgh kī to hai nahin 
Jaan looñ ki jaan duñ 
Main rahooñ ki main nahiñ[3]

Exeunt

“Shakespeare in Hindi Cinema,” Rajiv Verma in India’s Shakespeare: Translation, Interpretation and Performance (ed. Poonam Trivedi and Dennis Bartholomeusz), 269-290.

[1] R. Verma, “Shakespeare in Hindi Cinema,” 273.

[2] R. Verma, “Shakespeare in Hindi Cinema,” 274.

[3] The barely sane Haider speaks revolver in hand:
“If I listen to my heart – it’s there
It’s not of my mind 
To kill or to die
To be or not to be

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