Archive for Worth Quoting

Shade of love…

This is my translation of a poem by my homeboy Makhdoom Mohiuddin. I did this last week, and the translation is still a work in progress — so if you know Urdu and English, and have suggestions, please hit me up in the comments (same goes for transliteration).

The poem itself was collected in his 1944 anthology, Surkh Sawera, or Red Dawn.

محبّت کی چَھاؤں
مخدوم محی الدین

ہم محبت کی چھاؤں میں سوتے تھے جب
خار بھی پُھول معلوم ہوتے تھے جب

ابتدائے جنون کی وہ اک بات تھی!
وہ محبّت کی تاروں بھری رات تھی

دِل کے تاروں سے مِضراب ٹکراگیا
آتشیں لئے اُٹھی کیف ساچھاگیا

حُسن کا وار جو تھا وہ بھر پور تھا
جس کو دیکھا نظر بَھر کے وہ طُور تھا

دِل کو اک بار سَب دھوگئیں بجلیَاں
میری رگ رگ میں حل ہوگئیں بجلیَاں

دردِ دل کا بَہانہ بَنی دِل لگی
آنسوؤں کا فسَانہ بنی دِل لگی

پَل کے پَل میں بدلنے لگی زندگی
غم کے سانچوں میں ڈھلنے لگی زندگی

چاہ کا دِن ڈھلا شام ہونے لگی
دِل دھڑکنے لگا آنکھ رونے لگی

رات اور دن یُوںہی آتے جاتے رہے
حُسن اور عِشق تکمیل پاتے رہے

muhabbat ki chhaoN
makhdoom mohiuddin

hum muhabbat ki chhaoN meiN sote the jab
Khaar bhi phool maloom hote the jab

ibtida-e junooN ki woh ek baat thi
woh muhabbat ki taaroN bhari raat thi

dil ke taaroN se mizrab Takra gaya
aatisheeN lae uThi keif sa chha gaya

husn ka vaar jo tha woh bharpoor tha
jis ko dekha nazar bhar ke woh toor tha

dil ko ek baar sab dho gaeeN bijliyaN
meri rag rag meiN hal ho gaeeN bijliyaN

dard-e dil ka bahaana bani dil lagi
aanso’oN ka fasaana bani dil lagi

pal ke pal meiN badalne lagi zindagi
gham ke saanchoN meiN Dhalne lagi zindagi

chaah ka din Dhala shaam hone lagi
dil dhaRakne laga aankh rone lagi

raat aur din yooNhi aate jaate rahe
husn aur ishq takmeel paate rahe

Shade of Love
Makhdoom Mohiuddin

When I slept in the shade of love
Even thorns seemed to be flowers then

That was a matter of the beginning of passion!
That was a night of love, full of stars

My heart’s strings were struck by the pick
Fires rose up, a kind of intoxication cast over

The one endowed with beauty was endowed abundantly
The one I looked at endlessly was revelation

Once my whole heart was washed over with lightning
Lightning was dissolved in my every vein

My heart’s amusement became the reason for my heart’s pain
My heart’s amusement became the story of my tears

My life began to change in a moment
My life began to be cast in the mould of sorrow

The day of love declined, the evening began
My heart began to throb, my eyes began to cry

Night and day came and went like this
Finding beauty and love finished


Revelation. I’ve translated toor as revelation. toor literally means hill or mountain, but refers to Mount Sinai and to the revelation received by Moses there. On Mount Sinai:

When Moses came to Our appointment and his Lord spoke to him, he said: ‘My Lord, show me Yourself that I may look upon You.’ He said: ‘You shall not see Me, but look instead upon that mountain. If it remains firmly in place you shall see Me.’ When the glory of his Lord appeared upon the mountain, it levelled it to the ground. Moses fell down, unconscious. When he came to, he said: ‘Glory be to You! I have repented before You and I am the first among believers.’ (Qur’an 7:143)

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I am your father!

No!

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Itne bazoo, itne sar…

One of my favourite songs, ever, is from the Hindi film Main Azaad Hoon. Itne bazoo, itne sar brings tears to my eyes, just about every time. This song is right in line with El pueblo unido jamás será vencido and The Internationale. In fact, you can see the references (certainly to the latter). Itne bazoo, itne sar was written by Kaifi Azmi — one of India’s leading leftist poets of recent times. Javed Akhtar (his son-in-law) wrote the screenplay, and I’m certain he had a hand in the lyrics of the song as well. Amar-Utpal composed the music.

Yet, it’s very hard to find good copies of the video or the song. But just last night, or, to be more accurate, this morning, I found some clips from the film (including the song in a couple of iterations) on YouTube. I also found a high quality mp3 of the song elsewhere. This was really serendipitous.

I’m presenting the clips here with my transcription and (awful) translation of the song — please feel free to correct or help me.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Nature Boy

noaman: there was a boy
noaman: a very strange enchanted boy
noaman: they say he wandered very far
noaman: very far
noaman: over land and sea
noaman: a little shy
noaman: and sad of eye
noaman: but very wise was he
noaman: and then one day, a magic day, he passed my way
noaman: and while we spoke of many things, fools and kings, this he said to me
noaman: the greatest thing you’ll ever learn
noaman: is just to love and be loved in return
Fathima: i hate kids like that

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Damn those progressive conservatives

Just now I got a phone call. This is how it went down:

Caller: Hi, I’m calling on behalf of the Conservative candidate for Markham-Unionville, K.K. Li. You do know there’s a provincial election coming up?

Me: I’ve heard of it.

C: We’re calling to see if there’s Conservative support in the household.

Me: I’ll support the Conservatives if … well I have some conditions.

C: Well go on the Internet — you do have the Internet right?

Me: I’ve heard of it.

C: Well go on kkli.com and you can tell us about your conditions.

Me: Wait, the Conservative party is the communist one right?

C: No, we’re the opposi–

Me: Well, I’m against communism.

C: No, sir, listen–

Me: In case you people haven’t heard, the Soviet Union collapsed in the … 1990s

C: No, sir, can you hear me?

Me: I don’t have time for commies. (Hang up.)

Cruel? Yes… Funny? Yes. To me, at least…

You had to be there.

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The crimes of the moneyed classes are safeguarded by their improbability

In Brecht’s Threepenny Novel, the character of Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum observes:

Politicians can only take money because people picture their corruption as being altogether finer and nobler than it really is. Should anyone portray them as they are, that is, quite unscrupulous, then the whole world would cry out: What an unscrupulous rascal! and, by that, mean the portrayer.

It made me laugh.

And from one of Brecht’s unpublished drafts, writing in the 1950s about the 1990s to come:

The authorities had been able to cancel travel entirely since television now showed everything that interested delegations…. By means of raising productivity and volunteerism as well as by increasing efficiency, it was possible to limit the number of workers needed. At last, about 99% of the population could devote itself to the real goal of life, to the filling out of forms.

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Chaddi aur phool

Gulzar’s words:

Jungle jungle baat chali hai, pata chala hai
Arre, chaddi pehan ke phool khila hai, phool khila hai

Jungle jungle pata chala hai
Chaddi pehan ke phool khila hai
Jungle jungle pata chala hai
Chaddi pehan ke phool khila hai

Ek parinde hua sharminda, tha woh nanga!
Bhai, isse to ande ke andar, tha who changa!
Soonch raha hai bahar aakhir kyon nikla hai
Arre, chaddi pahan ke phool khila hai, phool khila hai

Jungle jungle pata chala hai
Chaddi pehan ke phool khila hai
Jungle jungle pata chala hai
Chaddi pehan ke phool khila hai

And mine:

Everywhere in the jungle word is spreading, it’s become known
Well, a shorts-wearing flower has blossomed, a flower’s blossomed

Everywhere in the jungle it’s become known
A shorts-wearing flower has blossomed
Everywhere in the jungle it’s become known
A shorts-wearing flower has blossomed

A bird became embarrassed — he was naked
Instead of this, inside his egg, he was just fine
Wondering why he he came out at all
Well, a shorts-wearing flower has blossomed

Everywhere in the jungle it’s become known
A shorts-wearing flower has blossomed
Everywhere in the jungle it’s become known
A shorts-wearing flower has blossomed

Needless to say the shortcomings are in my translation and not in the wonderful song that Gulzar wrote for this TV series. I first came across it in India in the early 90s, I don’t remember precisely when — I was far too young to be able to keep track. But there in front of a black and white television, my cousins gathered and eagerly watched this show. The theme song has seeped into the popular discourse of Hindi-speaking Indians, particularly the refrain, “Jungle jungle pata chala hai, chaddi pehan ke phool khila hai”, and the character of Mowgli. I don’t recall following the series, indeed, I couldn’t — there was no Doordarshan TV in Saudi Arabia, and when satellite channels came out, I don’t recall any of them carrying this show. But in any case, the refrain’s been in my head as well.

I read The Jungle Book in grade six. I enjoyed it, and it attests to Rudyard Kipling’s creativity (and perhaps his accessibility). I hadn’t really been exposed to Orientalism as a theoretical concept so I wasn’t quite thinking of that when I read the book. (Though my grade six teacher, Ms Pate, did try to introduce us to socially relevant literature — rights of African-Americans and the problems of clear-cutting and indigenous rights — and a lot of that probably made an impact on me.) Disney also produced an animated film based on the book. But The Jungle Book TV series was produced in Japan, primarily for a Japanese audience but, it seems, with an eye for export — and it was exported all around the world from what I can see on YouTube. There are dubbings in Finnish, German, English, Tagalog and, of course, Hindi. Thus, there’s a trajectory from British-occupied India to Kipling’s imagination to the Disney remake to the Japanese remake before coming back to India….

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Ghalib

Har ek baat pe kehte ho tum ke tu kya hai
Tum hi kaho ke yeh andaaz-e-guftgoo kya hai

Everything gets lost in translation.

To every statement you say, “What are you?” ["Who are you to say?"]
You tell me what manner of speech this is

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Ph.D. & Eating Apes

An African-American associate professor at a liberal arts college in the 1960s points to his own appointment as an example of progress. Malcolm X asks him:

“Do you know what white racists call black Ph.D’s?”

He said something like, “I believe that I happen not to be aware of that”—you know, one of those ultra-proper-talking Negroes.

And I laid the word down on him, loud: “Nigger!

- The Autobiography of Malcolm X, p. 290.

By explaining that white racists (and if we loosen the definition of racist, we can assume that’s the majority of Americans) still consider him a nigger, Malcolm brings into sharp relief the fact that such “progress” is literally skin deep. As long as you have white racists, as long as the system that creates disparities and allows racists to continue to be racist exists, there is no real progress; all there is is window dressing.

We have to consider, then, how far such “progress” has come.

Eating Apes is a book by Dale Peterson, a journalist (or writer or something) about how people in certain parts of Africa eat apes. (I’m reading the book for a History course on how people in the West view subjectivity in sub-Saharan Africa.) For Peterson, this is unconscionable and — because (among other things) it is so much like eating humans — even immoral:

In the big cities of Central Africa, middle-class people pay a premium for bushmeat, including the meat of apes. [...] Thus, we see that the problem [of eating apes] is deeper than material history and that cultural values are clearly as much a root cause as poverty.

- Dale Peterson, Eating Apes, pp. 200-201.

Here, I see Peterson saying the same thing Malcolm pointed out white racists say: It doesn’t matter how rich black people get, they’re still niggers. (In this case, because eating apes is part of their “cultural values”.)

When Peterson refers to material history, it appears that his scope quite narrowly refers to the history of poverty in Africa (or parts of Africa). It doesn’t refer to the material conditions through which many of the people in Africa live — the material conditions that give birth to cultural values. (Where else do cultural values come from? Primordial backwardness?) One of these material conditions is, or was, the kinds of animal meat available for consumption. This differs remarkably from the kind of meat available to those in the West.

But wait, Peterson goes on to explain that:

Recent advances in Western scientific disciplines tell us that the great apes are far closer to human than anyone had previously imagined. [...] Killing and eating [apes] amounts to killing and eating animals shockingly close to human. Such is the thinking, one of the several reasons for deep concern about the extent of the slaughter of apes in Central Africa [....]

Peterson, p. 205.

So the reason people in the West don’t eat apes is because they are shockingly close to humans. That’s it. This brilliant logic also explains why most people in the West don’t eat frogs, horses, donkeys, rats, grasshoppers, cockroaches and beluga whales. They are all shockingly close to humans — as revealed by advances in Western science.

Peterson also refers to hunted animal meat as “bushmeat”. But is that what he calls deer? or quail? No, he doesn’t even bring those things up. If we disregard conservation statuses, what’s the moral difference between someone in Canada shooting a deer for consumption and someone in Africa shooting an elephant for consumption? The very use of that term, bushmeat, is remarkably patronizing and contributes to the process of othering in which Peterson indulges.

Not that I advocate eating apes. I just don’t really see the problem with eating apes if there’s no problem with, say, eating chickens (whose DNA is shockingly close to that of humans).

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Mere Geet

Mere sarkash taraane sun ke duniya ye samajhti hai
Ke shaayad mere dil ko ishq ke naghmon se nafrat hai
Mujhe hungaama-e-jang-o-jadal se kaif milta hai
Meri fitrat ko khoon-rezi ke afsaanon se raghbat hai

Magar ai kaash dekhen voh meri pursoz raaton ko
Main jab taaron pe nazrein gaad kar aansoo bahaata hoon
Tasavvur ban ke bhooli vaardaatein yaad aati hain
To soz-o-dard ki shuddat se pahron tilmilaata hoon

Main shaayar hoon, mujhe fitrat ke nazaaron se ulfat hai
Mera dil dushman-e-naghma saraai ho nahin sakta
Javaan hoon main, javaani naazishon ka ek toofan hai
Meri baaton mein rang-e-paarsaai ho nahin sakta

Mere sarkash taraanon ki haqeeqat hai to itni hai
Ke jab main dekta hoon bhook ke maare kisaanon ko
Ghareebon ko, muflison ko, bekason ko, besahaaron ko
To dil taab-e-nishaat-e-bazm-e-ishrat nahin sakta
Main chaahon bhi to khwaabaavar taraane ga nahin sakta

- Sahir Ludhianvi

Sahir was one of the greats of modern Urdu poetry; a Leftist, he made his comfortable living writing songs for Hindi films (e.g., Pal do pal ka shaayar).

When the world hears my angry songs, it assumes
That perhaps my heart abhors songs of love
That I derive pleasure from the turmoil of war and conflict
That by nature, I get pleasure from stories of bloodshed

Would that they could witness those anguished nights
When I cast my eyes on the stars and weep
When forgotten encounters become remembered imaginations
When for hours, I tremble with the intensity of my grief

I am a poet, I have great love for the sights of nature
My heart can never be the enemy of song writing
I am young, youth is a storm of passion
My words can never be coloured by temperance

If there is a reason for my angry songs, it is this
That when I see the farmers dying of hunger
The poor, the oppressed, the helpless
My heart cannot bear the celebration of high culture
Even if I wish, I cannot give voice to dreamy songs

- Translated by Ali Husain Mir & Raza Mir*

* But I made some modifications.

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