The magical lyricism of Urdu !!!
The magical lyricism of Urdu - Culture - Aaker Patel
Ghalib announced he would give up all his poems to have written this one couplet: “Tum mere paas hote ho goya/Jab koi doosra nahi hota (You remain within me even/When nothing else is mine)”. The couplet is by Momin Khan “Momin” (The Believer) who died in 1851. It is a spare line, perfectly weighed. The sentiment in it is haunting, a word often used. In this case it’s justified.
Asadullah Khan “Ghalib” (The Conqueror) died in 1869, the year Mahatma Gandhi was born. Ghalib himself wrote many, many couplets poets would sacrifice their life’s work for including this jewel: “Na tha kuch to Khuda tha, kuch na hota to Khuda hota/Duboya mujh ko hone ne, na hota main to kya hota?” I will leave this untranslated because it is byzantine, with dozens of meanings. A terrific line of poetry.
Ghalib thought himself great, and he was, and he was justifiably arrogant. But in one couplet he tips his hat to another poet: “Rikhta kay tumhi ustad nahin ho, Ghalib/Kehte hain aglay zamanay mein koi Mir bhi tha (You aren’t Urdu’s only master, Ghalib! Apparently there was once another, called Mir).”
Rikhta is another word for Urdu. The Mughal court functioned in Farsi, but Mir Taqi “Mir” (The Leader) who died in 1810 wrote in Hindustani/Urdu, making him a pioneer. Mir described why he took to Urdu in this couplet: “Khugar nahin kuch yun hi hum Rikhta-goi kay/Mashooq jo apna tha, bashinda-e-Dakhan tha (It isn’t casually that I began dabbling in Urdu/I picked it from my lover, a native of the Deccan).”
Deccan is where Urdu was thought to have originated (the scholarly consensus now is that it rose in Gujarat). The “Deccan lover” Mir refers to is Wali Muhammad “Wali” (The Friend) who died in 1707, the year that Aurangzeb Alamgir also died. He is also called Wali Gujarati. Wali is the first of Urdu’s great poets.
On the afternoon of 28 February 2002, a Gujarati mob tore down his tiny grave outside the Ahmedabad police commissioner’s office and paved the road overnight. Nothing now remains. I happened to come across a tattered book of Wali’s poems a few weeks later. The opening line was: “Dar Firaaq-e-Gujarat so hai khaar khaar dil (Parting from Gujarat leaves thorns in my chest)”.
My heart stopped when I turned the page to another poem titled: “Ta’arif-e-shehr Sourat (Lines in praise of the city of Surat). I read out Wali’s couplets to Gujarat’s chief minister one cold evening. I asked him to consider restoring that little tomb, no more than 10x8ft, but Narendrabhai was unmoved. For some Indians, the two-nation theory is a living thing.
Faiz Ahmed “Faiz” (Success) died in 1984 and thought Partition was unfulfilling. He wrote a poem about this called August 1947, which opens with this couplet: “Yeh dagh-dagh ujala, yeh shab-gazidah sehar/Woh intezar tha jiska, yeh woh sehar to nahin (This stained light we see in this tattered dawn/This isn’t the morning we had been promised).”
Partition is a good subject for Urdu poetry because it involves a critical image for Muslims: hijra, or exile. A decade or so ago journalist M.J. Akbar interviewed Pakistan’s Mohajir leader Altaf Hussain. A Partition exile from Uttar Pradesh (Mohajir means he-who-did-hijra), Hussain had then been chased away from Karachi and led the MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement) party in exile from London. He said of his plight: “Na Khuda hi mila, na visaal-e-sanam/Na udhar kay rahay, na idhar kay rahe (I found neither faith, nor union with my lover/And now I belong neither there nor here).”
Before he was fired as editor of The Asian Age, Akbar often ran Urdu headlines, especially to his own stories. After he wrote an election feature from Andhra Pradesh in 1996, he ran this headline: Hyderabad: Jo beet gaya dard, guzar kyon nahin jaata? (The wound is healed, why does my pain still remain?).”
This was modified from the lovely poem written by Mumbai’s Nida Fazli (born 193. The actual lines are: Benaam sa yeh dard thehar kyon nahin jaata?/Jo beet gaya hai woh guzar kyon nahin jaata? (This echo of pain, why does it insist on remaining?/That which is past, why is it not yet gone?)”.
Fifteen years ago, newspapers would use high-culture references like this one, but no longer. This is a reflection of the decline in the quality of readership. Some publications then had readers of such quality that they themselves wrote first-rate poetry.
Singer Jagjit Singh says he got his break with HMV for his first record when he happened to come across one such poem. The poem was published in the magazine Shama (owned by Sadia Dehlvi’s family) and had been sent in by a reader. Its magical opening line was: “Baat niklegi to phir duur talak jaayegi (If our secret is revealed, word soon will spread).” The writing is actually arrhythmic, and Jagjit Singh had to set it to a stop-start rhythm. It remains his finest song. One can imagine the shock and exhilaration that still-anonymous writer must have felt on suddenly hearing his or her (I suspect her) words one day, rendered in that magnificent voice.
Director Sudhir Mishra named his movie after the Ghalib couplet: Hazaaron khwahishen aisi, kay har khwahish pe dam niklay/Bohat niklay meray armaan. Lekin phir bhi kam niklay.
The lethal line of this poem is actually its maqta. The maqta is the poem’s final couplet which contains the poet’s signature, his name. Kahaan maikhanay ka darwaza Ghalib, aur kahaan waiz/Par itna jaante hain, kal woh jaata tha kay hum niklay (You wouldn’t associate the mullah with the tavern, Ghalib/But this I know: I was leaving it yesterday when I saw him enter).
( Continued on next page )