Thursday, February 22, 2007

One Trick Pony

iPods or other devices that let you store so many songs that you can't remember how many , shuffle and play them at random are terrific inventions :) Let me hasten to make my point, lest I start sounding like an iPod peddler. I had forgotten I had this song on the iPod and was pleasantly surprised when it started to play. It also brought back thoughts from when I first heard it and how much sense the words made then.

A lot of things decide who we are, where we think we are going , the choices we make. A great many other things have secondary influence in terms of how they bias our thinking and prepare us for the decisions we ultimately make. Something we heard, something we thought up or something we read. To me this song has been a secondary influence at different points for the past 5 or so years, since I first heard it.

I like his description of the one trick pony and the wistfulness with which he describes his own complicated style of dealing with seemingly mundane things. The last two lines sum up, to me, why sometimes when I am tearing my hair out and wondering why I voluntarily introduce complications in my life, this little guy in my head starts singing this very song.

One Trick Pony

He's a one trick pony
One trick is all that horse can do
He does one trick only
It's the principal source of his revenue
And when he steps into the spotlight
You can feel the heat of his heart
Come rising through

See how he dances
See how he loops from side to side
See how he prances
The way his hooves just seem to glide
He's just a one trick pony (that's all he is)
But he turns that trick with pride

He makes it look so easy
He looks so clean
He moves like God's
Immaculate machine
He makes me think about
All of these extra movements I make
And all of this herky-jerky motion
And the bag of tricks it takes
To get me through my working day
One-trick pony

He's a one trick pony
He either fails or he succeeds
He gives his testimony
Then he relaxes in the weeds
He's got one trick to last a lifetime
But that's all a pony needs

--Paul Simon

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Of the mystics....

Zaahid sharaab peene de masjid mein baith kar
Ya woh jagah bata de jahan par Khuda na ho

(Let me drink alcohol in the mosque/ place of worship, or show me one place where God does not exist.)

The Sufi movement came to India from the middle east at a time when the bhakti movement also became prevalent among Hindus in India. Huge parallels can be drawn among both movements in their ideologies, in talking of God as the unmanifest energy that is universal, the yearning of the mortal soul (atman) for union with this eternal , omnipresent God (paramatman) and the use of analogies of separated lovers to highlight the relationship between the atman and the paramatman. Both movements emphasised that love alone was the path to salvation.

Legacy these movements have left are the two forms of classical music we have in India today.Besides the basic structures and technicalities these art forms follow, the biggest contribution of the mystic movements has been that of lyric. The sher at the beginning of this post, is by Mirza Ghalib ( credited elsewhere to Daagh Dehelvi, so I am not really sure) and sums concisely the philosophy even as it highlights the influence the philosophy had on generations hence.

The lyrics and the vein in which a bhajan or a sufi qawwali, ghazal or nazm is performed, are marked with a deep love. A love that transports the lover to a plane that has only them and their love (God). A love so extreme, it abandons all wordly concerns.An abandon that brings with it such joy that life becomes a celebration.This celebration is evident in bhajans by Meera, Kabir and many others as well as qawwalis by various Sufi saints.

This posts highlights a qawwali by Amir Khusrau which is, IMHO, very representative of this genre. And yes, you still have to endure my , no better than before, translations :)

Chhap tilak sab cheeni ray mosay naina milaikay

You have snatched my beauty and my identity,
with merely a look

Prem bhatee ka madhva pilaikay
Matvali kar leeni ray mosay naina milaikay

You intoxicate me with the nectar of love
even as I lose myself, in merely a look

Gori gori bayyan, hari hari churiyan
Bayyan pakar dhar leeni ray mosay naina milaikay

My fair hands and green bangles are,
as if, held bound by merely a look

Bal bal jaaon mein toray rang rajwa
Apni see kar leeni ray mosay naina milaikay

I give my life for you, Oh colorful one,
even as you dye me in your color, with merely a look

Khusrau Nijaam kay bal bal jayyiye
Mohay Suhaagan keeni ray mosay naina milaikay

Khusrau gives his life for the Nijam*
even as you wed me, with merely a look

(*) Khusrau's devotion to his spiritual guru, the great Nizam-ud-din auliya , a sufi saint, often surfaces in his works , with the latter being refered to as "nijam", like in the one above.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi......

Nostalgia is a strange thing. One thought, and the brain immediately re-connects every node in the network and with this emerging network emerges every feeling that you associated with that thought, person, incident.

In the emergence of one such nostalgic network in my head, a few days back, emerged as a node, this poem by Mirza Ghalib . The first half-line having been popularised by a movie that came out two years back and became immensely popular with anyone who wanted to prove they can watch and enjoy meaningful Indian cinema ( despite bollywood) :)

Ghalib's is regarded as one of the most intricate styles in urdu poetry. In something akin to Blake's Tiger, there is a new (possibly deeper) interpretation on every successive reading. What makes it more interesting is how short a sher (couplet) is and how much he manages to pack in. This makes any literal translation, most inadequate and sometimes rather morbid, as will be evident from the lines below!

Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi is a ghazal. There are rules to the composition of a ghazal but most importantly, it is made up purely of shers. All shers follow one meter, called beher. The last words of the second line of each sher are the same , this is called radif and the essential rhyme that words before the radif must have and is called kaafiya. With that very techinical, and possibly unnecessary description, here's one of the best Ghazals of all time!

Here the radif is simply the word 'nikle' and its easy to see how the kaafiya is maintained with words kam, dam, ham, jam, sitam etc.So here it is, most of it atleast. As usual, it comes with a crude line by line translation, in blank verse ( nostalgic marker no. 2!! sigh , oh well!) Also, comes with commentary on my favorite lines.

The opening sher is my favorite in the whole ghazal. Manages to kindle every nostalgia network that has a marker for something unfulfilled. I don't know about you, gentle reader, but that tends to clutter my head with way too many networks. ( we are greedy like this only!)
The fourth sher here is next in line of my favorites. Much literature exists, in every language known to man, on this dichotomy that love seems to present. Here it is as pithy as it gets :)

1. hazaaroN KHwahishaiN 'eisee ke har KHwahish pe dam nikle
bohot nikle mere armaaN lekin fir bhee kam nikle

A thousand desires, each seeming to take a lifetime to realise.
Try as I might, they don't seem to want to become real . ( like I said, my translation sucks!)

2. nikalna KHuld se aadam ka sunte aayaiN haiN lekin
bohot be_aabru hokar tere kooche se ham nikle

I had heard of Adam being ousted from paradise (khuld),
I find my way out of your street, in big (ger) disgrace.

3. huee jinse tavaqqo KHastagee kee daad paane kee
wo hamse bhee ziyaada KHasta-e-teGH-e-sitam nikle

He, from whom I expect justice for such weakness,
is more injured by the sword of sorrow than I.

4. mohabbat meiN naheeN hai farq jeene aur marne kaa
usee ko dekh kar jeete haiN jis kaafir pe dam nikle

In love, there isn't a difference between living and dying,
I draw life from looking at the traitor I die for.

5. zara kar jor seene par ki teer-e-pursitam nikle
jo wo nikle to dil nikle, jo dil nikle to dam nikle

Try hard to get this arrow of sorrow out of my heart,
It will come out taking my heart with it, my heart will take my life with it.

6. KHuda ke waaste parda na kaabe se uThaa zaalim
kaheeN 'eisa na ho yaaN bhee wohee kaafir sanam nikle

For God's sake, don't remove the veil off of the Kaaba ( religious stone representative of God in Islam)
What if my deceitful lover hides behind it?
( Also representative of a ston hearted lover perhaps!)

A great rendition of the ghazal by Shubha Mudgal can be heard here .

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Suttum Vizhi Sudar, Bharatiyar and love.

Like most Indian languages, Tamil too lends itself beautifully to metaphors that give vernacular Indian poetry that ethereal quality. Not that I am an expert on vernacular languages, poetry of any kind or English but IMHO some very profound expressions come out sounding much better in the vernacular. But then it could be because my mother tongue ( so to speak ) is not English.

Bharathiyar's style has always fascinated me. It is simplistic, so even tamil duds like me can, not only understand but fully appreciate it, even while being filled with the most beautiful of metaphors ( now cliched , thanks to unimaginative tamil movie lyricists) . What sets it apart, however, is the consistent passion and optimism. While known most for his patriotic poems, I think his poems on social issues ( such as manathil urudhi vendum ) and the ones on various Hindu gods and God in general (ettanai kodi inbam) are really well done. Of all kinds, however, I like his love poems the best . ( I can see all the eye rolls so cut it :) )

This post chooses to elaborate on one of my two favorites, Suttum vizhi Sudar, the other one being Chinnanjiru kiliye. Kannamma is a recurrent theme in these poems, sometimes lover, sometimes child, sometimes companion.

This poem illustrates passion so unabashedly, it makes one want to fall that much in love with someone. I was of the thought that Indian culture and how it conditions us, keeps us from expressing fully how we feel about someone. While we have no issues expressing feelings of hatred we almost never vocalise or even accept to ourselves how much we love someone. I have found, half way around the world, that this seems true in America too.
What keeps us from expressing that passion? Are we afraid? Conditioned ? or simply incapable?

Analysis apart, here's a crude line to line translation of the poem. I just wish my poetry skills were a little better , to do a little justice to , what according to me is one of the greatest love poems ever. ( yeah, better than neruda even :))

Suttum vizhi sudar than Kannamma
Suriye chandiraro?
Vattakkariye vizhi - Kannamma!
Vanakkarumai kollo?

Your gaze has the brightness of the sun and moon
Your eyes reflect (*) the darkness of the skies

Pattu karuneela - pudavai
Padhittha nalviram
Natta nadunisiyil - Therium

The diamonds on your dark silk saree,
show me the stars in broad daylight. (*)

Solai malaroliyo -Unathu
Sundarapunnagai than?
Neela kadalalaiye - Unathu
Nenjin alaigaladi !
Kolak kuyil oosai - Unathu
Kuralin inimaiyadi!
Valai kumariyadi - Kannamma
Maruvak kadhal kondain.

Your smile is the bloom of the garden,
Your heart, the waves of the sea,
Your voice , sweet like the koel's
My love longs for union, Kannamma

Sathiram pesugirai - Kannamma
Sathiram yedhukkadi?
Athiram kondavarke - Kannamma
Sathiram undodi!

You talk of Rules, Kannamma
What rules do paramours (*) follow?

Moothavar sammadhiyil - Vadhuvai
Muraigal pinbhu saivom
Kathiruppenodi! - Ithupar

Elders , marriage and rituals can wait,
Can I ? Come now,

Kannatthu muttham ondru!

Let me kiss you.

changed after expert opinion although the expert disagrees with the translation to paramour, and thinks it should have been rational people , reflecting on Bharatiyar's call for rage/ anger/ passion in almost all his poems. Anger / Rage in the positive sense of bringing about change and opposing meaningless traditions , superstitious beliefs and of course, oppression.