Thursday, January 18, 2007


The main reason for the resurgence of the ghazal genre in India from the 1980s onwards has been its popularization by singers. As with other things subcontinental, popular ghazal music is often kitschy. Nevertheless, it has helped to keep Urdu poetry alive in public consciousness in India. The singers usually choose lyrics in which the Urdu has been kept simple. The main part of the poetry package is the surprise element in each sher (couplet). Most popular ghazals are about ishq, husn and nasha (love, beauty and intoxication) - themes that are long-lived staples of poetry in that part of the world. Deeper thought, if there is much of it, has not been popularized by the singers. Nor has the listening public demanded it.

Ghulam Ali, a Pakistani ghazal singer, is very popular in India as well. Here is one ghazal where he plays to the gallery. On this track, you can also hear the intrusive vaah-vaahi (loud audience approval) that is considered an essential ingredient of proper appreciation. Here are the lyrics:

हमको किसके ग़म ने मारा ये कहानी फ़िर सही
किसने तोड़ा दिल हमारा ये कहानी फ़िर सही

दिल के लुटने का सबब पूछो न सबके सामने
नाम आएगा तुम्हारा ये कहानी फ़िर सही

नफ़रतों के तीर खाकर दोस्तों के शहर में
हमने किस किस को पुकारा ये कहानी फ़िर सही

क्या बताएँ प्यार की बाज़ी वफ़ा की राह में
कौन जीता कौन हारा ये कहानी फ़िर सही

[ Ham ko kis ke gham ne maara, yeh kahani phir sahi
Kis ne toda dil hamaara, yeh kahani phir sahi

Dil ke lutne ka sabab poochcho na sab ke saamne
Naam aayega tumhaara, yeh kahani phir sahi

Nafraton ke teer khaakar doston ke shahar mein
Ham ne kis kis ko pukaara, yeh kahani phir sahi

Kyaa bataayen pyaar ki baazi, vafa ki raah mein
Kaun jeeta kaun haara, yeh kahani phir sahi ]

Here is my translation:

Whose sorrow was it that struck me; that story some other time
Who was it that broke my heart; that story some other time

Do not ask openly for the reason my heart was plundered
Your name will come up; that story some other time

Suffering the arrows of hate, in the city of friends
Who was it I called for; that story some other time

What can I say, the gamble of love in the path of fidelity
Who won, who lost; that story some other time

The trouble with translation is trying to be faithful to the original. If you get the rhyme right, you have to mess with the word order. If you manage to get those elements right, it will screw up the meter. If by some miracle, you manage to get past those hurdles, the idiom sounds outlandish or the lines seem to drip with sentimentality. Sometimes, there is no option but to give up the entire effort. Thanks to my limited attempts, I am beginning to develop great respect for Shahriar Shahriari, who has translated some Omar Khayyam verses in multiple and elegant ways.


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