Tag Archives: Urdu

The Literatures of India

 

lit-pic

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)

 600px-parsva_and_dharnendra

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)

bedil1

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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Filed under India, Literature, Poetry, Randeep Singh, Uncategorized, Urdu

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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Poems of Shahryar

Khwaab

A Dream

I

The melody of desire dissolves
The night grows bashful
The lips of hope quiver
The feet of sorrow tremble

Naghmagee aarzoo kee bikhari hai
Raat sharmaa rahi hai apne se
Hont umeed ke pharkate hai
PaaoN hasrat ke laRkaraate hain

II

Sleep curls up close to one
To tears from one’s eyelids
Dreams come once again
To bring broken hearts together

Do palkoN se aansuoN ke qareeb
Neend daaman sameTe baiThe hain
Khwaab t’abeer ke shikashta dil
Aaj phir joR ne ko aae hai

new-moon-energetics-energy-medicine

Ek Aur Maut

Another Death

The day’s past, evening falls, night comes
The earth moves again from her axis
The moon turns over on her side
The house fills once again to
The noise of footfalls sobbing
Tonight, someone dies again
Drinking the poison of dreams

Kat gaya din, dhalee shaam, shab aa gayee
Phir zameen apne mahvar se haTne lage
Chandnee karvaTeiN phir badalne lagee
AahaToN ke sasakte hue shor se
Phir makaaN bhar gayaa
Zahar sapnoN ka pee kar
Koi aaj kee raat phir mar gaya!

Seene Mein Jalan (The Burning Breast)

From the film “Gaman”

Crowded Indian Train

I

Why’s there
a burn in the breast,
a storm in the eyes?
Why’s everyone in this town so troubled?

Sine meiN jalan aankhoN meiN tuufaaN saa kyoN hai
Is shahar meiN har shakhs pareshaaN saa kyoN hai

II

Find a pretence for your heart to beat
Why’s it stunned and lifeless, a stone?

Dil hai to dhadakane kaa bahaanaa koi dhuundhe
Patthar ki tarah behis-o-bejaan saa kyoN hai

III

Is this where solitude takes us friends!
Where a wilderness is all we can see?

Tanhaai ki ye kaun si manzil hai rafiqoN
Taa-hadd-e-nazar ek bayabaan saa kyoN hai

IV

What’s this change I see coming over me?
Why’s the mirror surprised to see me?

Kya koi nai baat nazar aati hai ham meiN
Aainaa hameiN dekh ke hairaan saa kyoN hai?

Translated from the Urdu/Hindi by Randeep Purewall. Thanks to my friends for their help.

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Hindi

arabic_hindi

As the official language of the Union of India, Hindi is a potent reminder of the political and cultural effects of nineteenth century communalism and twentieth century partition. The creation of certain upper-caste Hindu communities, Hindi, with its Devanagri script and Sanskrit vocabulary, privileges the culture of those communities to the exclusion of others. Its association with “Hindu” in the slogan “Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan” moreover (versus ‘Urdu, Muslim, Pakistan’) leaves one to question its implications for India’s “unity in diversity.”

Since 1947, the Government of India has presented diversity as natural to the idea of India. India has “instituted” diversity whereby symbols and institutions are (re)imagined to reflect the “unity in diversity” credo. So, we have the Indian flag, the national anthem-state-sponsored documentary films on the life of the nation and the pageantry of the Republic Day parade. Each of these is officially patronized, sold to India’s citizens, “naturalizing” the idea of a pluralistic and multicultural India.

Hindi though is a major exception to this rule, naturalizing instead the idea that one particular Indian culture or community is officially more deserving of recognition than others. With over six decades having passed since partition, India can reconfigure Hindi so it is less communally colored and more inclusive in its vocabulary and borrowings. Like any national symbol of institution, Hindi is an ongoing historical project which each passing generation of citizens is free to renegotiate, reinstitute and pursue.

Alongside Sanskrit, Hindi can add words from Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi, English or Japanese, Yoruba and Basque. Where Hindi can really become a common language and create common civic space and inheritance though, is to bring it back into touch with Hindustani, and in particular, Urdu. While at the level of popular culture Urdu and Hindustani are already subsumed into Hindi through cinema, film songs, popular music and poetry, so too has the Devanagri script proved accommodating with magazines likeSarai which sports a Hindi with a mix of Sanskrit, Urdu and English words and Mahakta Anchal, an “Urdu” monthly magazine, published in Devanagri script but with a higher proportion of Persianized Urdu vocabulary.

An official Hindi that can grow and absorb easily will not help in its own development but can more properly be called the property of all citizens who wish to debate, deliberate, dream and protest in it. If after sixty-five years, a Hindustani or Urdu influenced Hindi proves popular culturally, so too should a more open and demotic style of Hindi officially, a common enterprise in which all citizens can partake, a move at least in spirit toward “unity in diversity.”

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