The Literatures of India

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Written by Randeep Singh

Unlike England or China, India has no national language or literature. One cannot speak of a golden age in literature in India as one can speak of the Elizabethan Age or the Tang Dynasty. Instead, there have been different periods of flourishing across India’s many literatures. Here are just five of those periods summarized.

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

The Sangam Age was characterized by a secular poetry composed at academies (‘sangam’). The age saw the composition of the five Tamil epics (including the Silappadikaram), eighteen major anthologies of poetry and the Tolkaapiyyam, a treatise on poetics, grammar and rhetoric.

The Sangam poets wrote on love, war and kingship while the aesthetics underlying their poetry tied emotions to particular landscapes, mood and imagery.

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)

The Gupta Dynasty is the classical age of Sanskrit literature. The plays and poems of Kalidasa blend romance, fairy tale and visions of nature. The epic poems Mahabharata (including the Bhagavad Gita) and the Ramayana were reworked into their final form during this era. Sanskrit fiction also saw the composition of Pancatantra, a collection of animal tales and fables which influenced world storytelling.

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)

Blow, wind, to where my loved one is
Touch her, and come and touch me soon
I’ll feel her gentle touch through you
And meet her beauty in the moon.
These things are much for one who loves –
A man can live by them alone
That she and I breathe the same air
And that the earth we tread is one
(Ramayana, 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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Above: Kannada Inscription (983 CE)

Kannada literature of this period integrated local literary traditions with Sanskritic models and Jain themes. The Vaddaradhane (9th century) is a collection of Jain morality tales and fables and is the earliest prose work in Kannada. The poets Adikavi Pampa and Sri Ponna (c. 950) wrote Jain epics in Adipurana (941) and Santipurana (950) respectively while the court poet Ranna is best remembered for his elegy Sahasa Bhima Vijaya on the battle between Bhima and Duryodhana in the Mahabharata.

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

Urdu poetry flourished in the courts and assemblies of Delhi and Lucknow during this time. Its greatest masters were the plaintive Mir (1722-1810) and the philosophical Ghalib (1797-1869). The marsiya (a Shia elegy) flourished in Lucknow under Anis and Dabeer, while Delhi produced poetry at once mystical (Khwaja Mir Dard), satirical (Mirza Sauda) and tragic (Bahadur Shah Zafar).

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)

I feel as if you are with me
When no one else is around (Momin)

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

The world goes on changing, Zafar, with the changing times
What sights it then displayed, what now it now provides (Zafar)

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

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Above: Fort William College. The Bengali Renaissance witnessed a flowering in arts, culture and science, with its literary branch starting at Fort William College.

Modern Bengali literature adapted the Victorian novel and the English sonnet and epic to Indian themes and realities. Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s (1824-1873) retold the battles of the Ramayana in the style of Paradise Lost in his epic Meghnad Badh Kabya. Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) wrote socially realist novels like Ghaire Bhaire and poems like those in Gitanjali exploring love, nature and the divine. Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay (1876-1938) too wrote realist novels on revolution in Pather Dabi and the experience of women in Srikanta.

Confucius in Urdu

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

Shakespeare in Hindi Cinema

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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

Bollywood has run out of Punjabis

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One of the odder facts about Bollywood is who runs it. India’s Hindi film industry is located in Bombay (from whose ‘B’ we get Bollywood). But the two largest communities of this city have little to contribute to the movies.Gujaratis and Marathis are together some two-thirds of the city’s population. Gujaratis dominate most of Bombay’s commerce, including the large capital market, while Marathis run the state and administration efficiently. In Bollywood, however, there’s little sign of either community.Yes, we can point to a great Gujarati actor (Sanjeev Kumar) here and a great Marathi singer (Lata Mangeshkar) there. But they are exceptions.

The dominant communities of Bollywood are two: the Urdu-speakers of North India and, above all, the Punjabis from in and around Lahore. They rule Bollywood and always have. To see why this is unusual, imagine a Pakistan film industry set in Karachi but with no Pashtuns or Mohajirs or Sindhis. Instead the actors are all Tamilian and the directors all Bengalis. Imagine also that all Pakistan responds to their Tamil superstars as the nation’s biggest heroes. That is how unusual the composition of Bollywood is.

A quick demonstration. Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan are the three current superstars. All three are Urdu-speakers. In the second rung we have Hrithik Roshan, Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Kumar, Shahid Kapoor and Ajay Devgan. Of these, Hrithik, Ajay and Akshay are Punjabi while Saif is Urdu-speaking. Shahid Kapoor, as his name suggests, is half-Punjabi and half-Urdu-speaking.Behind the camera, the big names are Punjabi: Karan Johar, Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Yash Chopra of Lahore.The Kapoor clan of Lyallpur is the greatest family in acting, not just in Bollywood but anywhere in the world. It has produced four generations of superstars: Prithviraj Kapoor, his sons Raj, Shammi and Shashi, their children Rishi and Randhir, and the current generation of Ranbir, Kareena and Karisma.

Bollywood is a Punjabi industry. We have Dev Anand of Lahore, Balraj Sahni of Rawalpindi, Rajendra Kumar of Sialkot, IS Johar of Chakwal, Jeetendra, Premnath, Prem Chopra, Anil Kapoor and Dharmendra who are all Punjabis. Sunil Dutt of Jhelum, Rajesh Khanna, Vinod Khanna, Vinod Mehra, Suresh Oberoi of Quetta, and all their star kids are Punjabis. Composer Roshan (father of Rakesh and grandfather of Hrithik) was from Gujranwala.

What explains this dominance of Punjabis in Bollywood? The answer is their culture. Much of India’s television content showcases the culture of conservative Gujarati business families. Similarly, Bollywood is put together around the extroverted culture and rituals of Punjabis.

The sangeet and mehndi of Punjabi weddings are as alien to the Gujarati in Surat as they are to the Mohajir in Karachi. And yet Bollywood’s Punjabi culture has successfully penetrated both. Bhangra has become the standard Indian wedding dance. Writer Santosh Desai explained the popularity of bhangra by observing that it was the only form of Indian dance where the armpit was exposed. Indians are naturally modest, and the Punjabi’s culture best represents our expressions of fun and wantonness.

Even artsy Indian cinema is made by the people we call Punjus – Gurinder Chadha, Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair.

Another stream of Bollywood is also connected to Lahore, in this case intellectually, and that is the progressives. Sajjad Zaheer (father of Nadira Babbar), Jan Nisar Akhtar (father of lyricist Javed and grandfather of actor/director Farhan and director Zoya), Kaifi Azmi (father of Shabana), Majrooh Sultanpuri and so many others have a deep link to that city.

Now here’s the problem, actually two problems. First: Bollywood’s Punjabis are removed from the land that nourishes them. Punjab’s cultural capital is Lahore, and most Bollywood Punjabis haven’t ever seen it. Gulzar, whose real name is Sampooran Singh, told me that he didn’t want to return to his native Jhelum. He said he had left an idyllic place and had held on to its memories, which he records in his lyrics. But he’s exceptional and carries his world with him. People like Karan Johar, Aamir Khan and Hrithik Roshan are all Bombay yuppies, whose first language is English. The dialogues are all written in Roman because few read Urdu or Hindi.

Second: While Partition sent the Hindu Punjabis to Bollywood, Lahore’s Muslims are lost to it. The Punjabis of Lahore possess something that all India loves, and that is a high culture in Urdu. This is why Bollywood will always be made in a language that both India and Pakistan recognise as their own.

Unfortunately, there is no young Gulzar in Bollywood today, and there has never been another Manto. Our supply of Lahoris has run out.

The Punjabi provided the firepower of Bollywood, but he needed the space to express himself. Manto discovered this after Partition. Sitting in his lovely house, Lakshmi Mansion off the Mall, I thought of how much of a Bombay writer Manto was. He may have been Lahori but he belonged to Bombay. Bombay has always been India’s most liberal city because the dominance of mercantile Gujaratis and efficient Marathis has made it so.

But Bollywood dearly misses its Punjabis, and awaits the day it can get them again.

Written by Aakar Patel. Originally published in the The Friday Times (July 22-28, 2011): http://www.thefridaytimes.com/beta2/tft/article.php?issue=20110722&page=9

 

Hindi and Urdu: Sa’adat Hasan Manto

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This is Muhammad Umar Memon’s translation of an article by Sa’adat Hasan Manto.

The translation first appeared in The Annual of Urdu Studies.The Hindi-Urdu dispute has been raging for some time now. Maulvi Abdul Haq Sahib, Dr Tara Singh and Mahatma Gandhi know what there is to know about this dispute. For me, though, it has so far remained incomprehensible. Try as hard as I might, I just haven’t been able to understand. Why are Hindus wasting their time supporting Hindi, and why are Muslims so beside themselves over their preservation of Urdu? A language is not made, it makes itself. And no amount of human effort can ever kill a language. When I tried to write something about this current hot issue, I ended up with the following long conversation:Munshi Narain Parshad:  Iqbal Sahib, are you going to drink this soda water?

Mirza Muhammad Iqbal: Yes, I am.

Munshi: Why dont you drink lemon?

Iqbal: No particular reason. I just like soda water. At our house, everyone likes to drink it.

Munshi: In other words, you hate lemon.

Iqbal: Oh, not at all. Why would I hate it, Munshi Narain Parshad? Since everyone at home drinks soda water, I’ve sort of grown accustomed to it. That’s all. But if you ask me, actually lemon tastes better than plain soda.

Munshi: That is precisely why I was surprised hat you would prefer something salty over something sweet. and lemon isn’t just sweet, it has a nice flavour. What do you think?

Iqbal: You are absolutely right, but…

Munshi: But what?

Iqbal: Nothing. I was just going to say that I’ll take soda.

Munshi: Same nonsense again. I’m not forcing you to drink poison, am I? Brother, what’s the difference between the two? Both bottles are made in the same factory after all. The same machine has poured water into them. If you take the sweetness and flavour out of the lemon, what’s left?

Iqbal: Just soda… a kind of salty water…

Munshi: Then, what’s the harm in drinking the lemon?

Iqbal: No harm at all.

Munshi: Then drink!

Iqbal: And what will you drink?

Munshi: I’ll send for another bottle.

Iqbal: Why would you send for another bottle? What’s the harm in drinking plain soda?

Munshi: N… n… no harm.

Iqbal: So then, here, drink the soda water.

Munshi: And what will you drink?

Iqbal: I’ll get another bottle.

Munshi: Why would you send for another bottle? What’s the harm in drinking lemon?

Iqbal: N… n… no harm. And what’s the harm in drinking soda?

Munshi: None at all.

Iqbal: The fact is, soda is rather good.

Munshi: But I think that lemon… is rather good.

Iqbal: Perhaps, if you say so. Although I’ve heard all along from my elders that soda is rather good.

Munshi: Now what’s a person to make of this: I’ve heard all along from my elders that lemon is rather good.

Iqbal: But what’s your own opinion?

Munshi: And what’s yours?

Iqbal: My opinion… hum… my opinion. My opinion is just this… but why don’t you tell me your opinion?

Munshi: My opinion… hum… my opinion is just this… but why should I tell it first?

Iqbal: I don’t think we’ll get anywhere this way. Look, just put a lid on your glass. I’ll do the same. Then we’ll discuss the matter leisurely.

Munshi: No, we can’t do that. I’ve already popped the caps off the bottles. We’ll just have to drink. Come on, make up your mind, before all the fizz is gone. These drinks are worthless without the fizz.

Iqbal: I agree. And at least you do agree that there’s no real difference between lemon and soda.

Munshi: When did I ever say that? There’s plenty of difference. They’re as different as night and day. Lemon is sweet, flavourful, tart-three things more than soda. Soda only has fizz, and that’s so strong it just barges into the nose. By comparison, lemon is very tasty. One bottle and you feel fresh for hours. Generally, soda water is for sick people. Besides, you’ve just admitted yourself that lemon tends to be tastier than soda.

Iqbal: Well, that I did. But I never said that lemon is better than soda. Tasty doesn’t mean that a thing is also beneficial. Take achaar, it’s very tasty, but you already know about its harmful effects. he presence of sweetness and tartness doesn’t prove that something is good. If you cnsulted a doctor he would tell you the harm lemon does to the stomach. But soda, that’s something else. The thing is, it helps digestion.

Munshi: Look, we can settle the matter by mixing the two.

Iqbal: I have no objection to that.

Munshi: Well, then, fill this glass halfway with soda.

Iqbal: Why don’t you fill half the glass with your lemon? I’ll pour my soda after that.

Munshi: Makes no sense. Why don’t you pour your soda first?

Iqbal: Because I want to drink soda-lemon mixed.

Munshi: And I want lemon-soda mixed.

By Shivam Vij. Reproduced from Minds@UW and posted December 5, 2011 in “Kafila” at http://kafila.org/2011/12/05/hindi-and-urdu-saadat-hasan-manto/

‘Straying with Ahmad Farāz’ by Amarjit Chandan

I did this interview in Punjabi with the Urdu poet Ahmad Farāz for my book Humsukhan – conversations with fellow writers which never saw the light of the day. Farāz used to be in London in transit to western Europe and North America where so many Pakistani political exiles had sought asylum and were leading reasonably easy life. Those were the optimistic days.

18 October 1985. When I meet Ahmad Farāz in a pub in Piccadilly London, we both talk of the news just in of hanging of a South African poet Benjamin Moloisi at the age of 30.

Switching on the tape recorder I ask Farāz: From where shall we start? He starts with a quote from his poem: Qalam surkhroo hai/ ki jo mai ne likha/ vohi aaj main hooN/ vohi aaj tu hai…My pen is placated/ I am what I have written/ I am still the same/ and you too haven’t changed.

Does that mean a poet is answerable to himself primarily; society and ideology come later. Farāz has also written: Merey qalam ka safar raigaaN na jayeyga…The journey of my pen shall not go in vain. He goes on in chaste Punjabi: ‘The journey which involves commitment and some noble cause is not in vain. You can’t get the reward in your life time. In South Africa Benjamin has been hanged to death. They can’t stop people’s unrest with such atrocities. People’s journey never goes in vain. Tears shed in blood or in ink are never lost for nothing.’

But the commitment with what? With the political movement or with the Party or with the ideology? Farāz being close to the PPP has to say: No man is isolated and no individual is important. His only strength lies in his thinking, which takes concrete shape in the form of the movement. You are in it in the front line or in the back seat. You get the feel of a vast multitude. Otherwise no individual is great for me, how great he may be. A poet is not confined to his own experiences; he recreates others’ experiences as well.

But no politician is honest; they keep on changing their colours. They have to. That’s the name of the game. To this Farāz replies: In spite of his simplicity and sincerity a poet knows where political leaders deviate.

Is it a necessity or sheer opportunism? ‘In fact a poet is always the leader. He is with the vanguard leadership and with the rank and file as well. He plays dual role at the same time. When there is something wrong, he’s followed by his inner voice. So there is no need to feel disheartened. One can be silent to observe, to recoup. But personally I have no guts to lead the movement.’

I did not know that Farāz did not write in his mother tongue Pashto. I don’t want to put him on the spot and instead ask him indirectly: whose language is Urdu in Pakistan? He does not like my ‘strange’ question but goes on: ‘Urhdu’ (he pronounces Urdu as Urhdu and the word likhari –writer– as Likharhi which sounds to me as Khilarhi – player) doesn’t belong to any specific region of Pakistan; it’s the language of some inhabitants of Karachi. What follows is what I really want to know: ‘My father Agha Barq was a Farsi poet. His friends who visited our house wrote in Urhdu and the girl I first met knew some romantic Urhdu couplets. I started writing couplets in Urhdu for her. I had to work in Karachi Radio where all the staff was from Lucknow and Delhi. I didn’t speak Urhdu well enough, but my written Urhdu wasn’t bad though. It can’t work in Pashto. Now it is quite hard to go back.’

Farāz defends the feudal poetic form ghazal thus: It is naïve to think in terms of nazm or ghazal. The bread is bread whether it is triangular or round-shaped. All the progressives have written ghazal. What’s the point being against the form? The fault doesn’t lie with the form but with the poet. Then why Josh Malihabadi didn’t write ghazal? Farāz answers: He was against it from a literary viewpoint. The ghazal is self-contradictory – the clichés are inherent in it e.g. sāqi, qafas, bulbul. That way it is just a formula. Bad poetry is written both in the nazm and ghazal forms. Josh and Noon Meem Rāshid were weak ghazalgos. The progressives gave a new life to ghazal. It had become stale. A genre loses its vitality, if it doesn’t get new blood. In ghazal you have to say all in just two lines. It didn’t suit Josh. He keeps on filling words in his nazms without any imagination. The poem doesn’t rise vertically. Faiz and Rāshid brought great themes in ghazal. It is not limited in itself, the poet makes it so. A good ghazalgo writes good nazms. No epic poem surpass this couplet by Ghalib: kahāN tammanna ka doosra qadam… It was Ghalib who wrote: Safeena chāheeye iss bahr-e-bekrāN ke liyey/ Beqadrey zaraf nahiN hai ye tungnāyey ghazal… [A vessel is needed in this endless ocean// the unbounded ocean cannot be contained within the narrow bounds of the ghazal. Interesting that bahr is used for both ocean and metre] and Punjabi is not that developed yet to reject any poetic form. You write in all the forms. One day a Mir will appear in Punjabi. (Majid Sadiqi’s Punjabi translation of Farāz is titled PartāN – Layers).

The people’s poet comes up with a sexist example: ‘Ride the ghazal like you ride a woman. Take up the reins in your hands. As the Prophet said: Your wives are a tilth (for you to cultivate). Go to your tilth as yee will.’

Then we travel a long way to Southall in west London where he is staying with his brother. The house is deserted though whiskey and later food appears mysteriously.

Now Farāz is a bit high and stands up abruptly to bring a framed colour picture showing him shaking hand with Faiz and a femme fatale is standing by Farāz. The picture makes me sad. I have never seen Faiz so old as he appears in the photo. Farāz says that it is the last photo taken of Faiz. Then he goes into its minute details. He is eager to talk about the woman. To change the subject I ask him whether he has written any sensual poetry. He recites his couplet: vo ik rāt guzar bhee chuki magar abb takk/visāl-e-yār kee lazzat se toot-ta hai badan…That night passed long time back/But my body still aches with the relish of my lover…and declares that he believes in the intensity of life. ‘Poetry is like manhood. Never separate the ethics of poetry from the beauty of life.’ Then he picks up the collected poems of Faiz and reads his Punjabi poem aloud: ajj rāt ikk rāt dee rāt jee ke/ asāN jug hazārāN jee kia e/ajj rāt amrit de jām vāNgu/ inhāN hoThāN ne yār nu pea liaa e. Living to the full just one night/I have lived a thousand years/I sipped the body of my lover with my lips/as if it was the goblet of nectar. He adds: you can’t find such sensuality in the whole of Urdu poetry. Faiz becomes his own māshook lover in his poetry: Subah hoyee to voh pehlu se uThā ākhir-e-shub/ vo jo ik umar se āyā nā gayā ākhir-e-shub. The dawn approached and the one who woke up lying next to me// Had not arrived/nor left me for ages.

I see some sense of estrangement and frustration in visāl –meeting with the lover– in Faiz’s poetry. Farāz doesn’t want to listen to me and starts talking again about that woman in the picture. Now he tells me that she is a Sikh and is an air hostess. I interrupt: Faiz or Farāz? He tells me: I won’t talk about my self. Then Faiz or Jalib?

‘Yes, on the one hand you talk to the people face to face. That way Dāman and Jalib are very close. On the other hand is Faiz – subtle, soft with new Farsi-tinged imagery. He is poets’ poet.’

Most of Urdu progressive poetry seems to be written by the same poet. It’s full of clichéd imagery – zulm, jaddojahad, dār-o-rasan, shaheed, khoon and zakham. Farāz himself is heavily influenced by Faiz and Sahir. Without dropping names I raise the question of evolving new imagery and style. He likes the idea and fully agrees with it. But, he says, ‘there is one problem – we can’t frog-jump. We like to continue the tradition because our readership is still uneducated.’ Is it?

About the sound of language, he says: ‘Urhdu’s beauty lies in its plasticity inherited from Farsi and softness of Hindi. No word is soft or crude. It all depends on its usage. A poet has got very few words in his stock. I was in prison for a while. After the release, I had search for words while talking to others. If you don’t converse, words tend to leave you. Words are birds, who don’t like to perch on dry trees.’ He confides: you can’t write every day. You feel drained after writing a poem. Faiz used to translate Iqbal during his dry periods to ‘keep his weapons in shape’. A ghazal can be written while sitting in a moving tonga, but a poem needs much more meditation!

Farāz has also written nātiā qalām. ‘If Faiz could write on a man like Suhravardy, why can’t I write on the Prophet?’

Then why was the Rasul against the poets? The poet gives comes up with this face saver: Because he said: it is those poets straying in evil, who follow them; sees thou not that they wander distracted in every valley? And that they say what they practise not?

Our conversation comes to an abrupt end which had started with the notion of poet’s commitment. We both are drunk. I switch off the recorder.

Translated from the original in Punjabi by the author. September 2008. The recording can be availed in the Sound Archive British Library

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2. Royalties for Punjabi Language Authors

After the first post, i received some feedback questioning the need to raise the issue of royalties for authors of MaaNboli mothertongue languages, and asking why even after getting royalty on my novel Skeena, i am still keeping on about it.

It is the historic discrimination faced by MaaNboli languages in Pakistan where most of the meager resources earmarked for the development of languages, art and literature are awarded to the ‘national’ language Urdu at the expense of all local languages. So now the MaaNboli literary organizations, authors and publishers of Punjab (Punjabi, Seraiki, Potohari), Sind (Sindhi, Behari), Balochistan (Balochi, Brahvi) and the NWFP (Pushto, Pukhto) face depreciation due to the persistent non-recognition of native languages by national and provincial cultural agencies. It is a miracle performed by writers, intellectuals and publishers of maaNboli literature that any of our languages have survived the last sixty one years of Pakistani politics.

Punjabi writers and publishers, artists and patrons, musicians/dancers and producers are facing decreasing markets and lesser value for their creative work and hardship because of the ever-increasing conservatism of the political environment that does not encourage or allow creativity in art and literature. Nahid Siddiqui, a master of Kathak classical dance, and i assure you there aren’t many left in the country, does not get a chance to perform on stage or on television very often; and so, she sustains herself with a percentage of student fees from her dance classes with a community-based non-profit cultural organization that struggles each month to pay its own bills in the absence of any core funding or structural support.

The perpetual lack of government funding and public resources has pushed Punjabi cultural communities to operate at ‘charitable’ levels from before the Partition of 1947; and, now the defensive strategy once adopted to help the ailing art and literary institutions recover, has become the only ‘possible’ way to continue. This has flung most Punjabi literary organizations into an overall low-lying introvert stance where work is valiantly carried on even in the absence of ‘basic necessities’ such as scanners and printers. A living example of it appeared in my inbox yesterday in the form of a general request to help fundraise for Publisher/Distributor Kitab Trinjan to get a UPS, a printer and a scanner (For more information and to extend your support, email Zubair Ahmed at kitab.trinjan@gmail.com).

I had the unique opportunity to travel within Pakistan from May to August last year to launch my novel Skeena; and, it was most rejuvenating to meet poets, fiction writers, prose writers, publishers, musicians and cultural/social activists in nine different places including my own city of Lahore. This was made possible by many individuals and organizations but most of all by Amjad Salim of Sanjh Publications who took a big step forward by launching what may well be the first actual promotion campaign for a Punjabi book in the Punjab; Columnist Hasan Nisar who gave the campaign his unconditional support by dropping the first cash donation; Mohammad Tahseen of South Asia Partnership (SAP) who supported the Campaign by approving funds for it. I am most grateful to the cultural communities of Gujranwala, Kot Adu, Multan, Sargodha, Islamabad, Jhung, Karachi, Hyderabad and Lahore who supported this action by organizing the events to launch ‘Skeena’ in their cities.

My gains are unlimited. Just getting the feel of different places and meeting some of the most inspiring people there would have been enough for me but i got luckier than ever; great exchange of ideas, strong cultural impacts, heated discussions, hot and cold weathers, home-cooked foods, great Hasheesh, and no kidding. On the question of royalties, most authors and publishers said that since Punjabi books do not sell it will be meaningless to ask for or grant royalties to authors; some reject the very idea of running a self-sustained Punjabi publishing business as being a ‘commercial’ and so negative activity while others feel it will be impossible to make a Punjabi literary publishing business a commercial success in a market catering to Urdu and English.

The most important factor in resolving this situation is to push for language reforms as has been suggested by Shahid Mirza in his comment on Uddari-Home: “It is so unfortunate that in the new provincial assembly there is no party/individual/group to voice the right of children to study in the mother tongue. maybe we need to start a signature campaign to promote the cause”; and, the comments made by Shumita Madan Didi here, and there. As well, this is the reason for Publisher Amjad Salim and I to launch an extended promotion campaign for Skeena that included discussion on language rights, and for Mohammad Tahseen, and others to support it. I believe that winning author royalties for Punjabi writers is an important part of developing Punjabi language and literature.

The sentiment behind rejecting the concept of author royalties is well expressed by Author Amarjit Chandan in his comment on the previous post: “…In principle there can’t be any debate about royalty rights for Punjabi writers. A Punjabi writer should assert his/her rights while dealing with big publishers, but sadly we don not have any in Punjabi book industry.” I understand this view but do not share it; to me, its not a question of whether a publisher is big or not, an author is ‘successful’ or not, a publisher is ‘commercial’ or not. “Everyone has the right to the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which (s)he is the author.” (UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 27). It is a matter of human rights; of how creative work is used and valued in a society; of how creators of art and literature are recognized for their work. To me, it is important to see that a system contains at least a semblance of the ‘possibility’ for writers and artists to sustain ourselves through our creative work; and, may also improve the quality of our work as suggested by Jatinder in her comment.

Amarjit Jee further says, “I belong to the old tribe of writers who wrote and published for the love of it without asking for any reward.” Yes, in South Asia as elsewhere, writing has been a noble profession and the profession of the nobility as it required not just intellect but also education, a commodity still inaccessible to a large majority of people. I shirk from it also because it reminds me of all those other ‘recommended’ and ‘favored’ roles that are created to dupe people into feeling good about themselves while they are made to serve larger vested interests; for example, the ‘sublime motherhood’ concept for women where a woman is prompted to negate all other aspects of her person to fulfill that one role.

In the absence of royalties, what do writers do? Depend on local monarchs where available, find affluent patrons and befriend wealthy printers; Have dual careers, self-publish through an established publisher, and stay in a position of acute valuelessness for being an author who is often reminded that her/his creative work is not read by many; few want to buy it; and, the publisher is taking a loss by printing it. That reminds me of Poet Arshad Malik in Sargodha who would not publish his collection of poetry because “Ke faida? whats the use?” he said; Mushtaq Sufi, a poet of unique sensibilities who has stopped writing poetry; Painter Shahid Mirza who may have canvases ready for six exhibitions but has not exhibited his work in years outside of his own Lahore Chitrkar, “ke faida?” he says.

In every city, i met some creative artists, poets, writers, singers, dancers who are working on their art day and night without hope to publish, perform or exhibit their creations. I am clear that this situation is caused by larger political realities where literary and cultural communities suffer as a whole regardless of their role in it. But the publishers and producers of Punjabi art and literature in Pakistani Punjab though miraculous in sustaining maaNboli languages, can not continue to overlook the negative impacts on their communities of their non-recognition of creative and intellectual rights. Seen from my perspective, this non-recognition mirrors the same model of projected valuelessness to authors of native languages and literature that is projected by the larger mainstream society in relation to native languages and cultural communities; the model that we are all fighting against.

Meanwhile, we are all in a bind and at this end, even authors who are not dependent on Punjabi publishers feel slighted by them, “Lugda ai Punjab de publishraaN agay sadee koi value nahiN” (It seems punjabi publishers do not value us) says Poet/Playwright Ajmer Rode of Vancouver who has worked with publishers both in India and Canada.

Punjabi Authors and Publishers Page brings this discussion together.
books on Punjab