Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Small thrills

As I grow older, I seem to get an unusual kick out of small discoveries - something I remember from my childhood. Maybe it is because I have become cynical about grand insights and world-changing ideas.

Many years ago, I had heard this song, from the Hindi film Ek Musafir Ek Hasina. The song is unremarkable, except for this refrain in Asha Bhonsle's voice:
zaban-e-yaar man turki, man turki namidanum
I never knew what it meant. It was clearly in some foreign language, but it nevertheless stuck in my head. Recently, I was reading a book about the history and culture of the Mughals by Annemarie Schimmel. Imagine my delight when I read that the strange sounding line was a lament first penned by Amir Khusro, the great poet, musician and scholar who lived from 1253 to 1325 CE. He lived during the first century of Turkic rule in Delhi and its environs. Though his ancestors were of Turkic origin, he himself was unfamiliar with the Turkish language as it was spoken by the Turks in India at that time. He wrote this line in Persian, the literary language of northern India from the thirteenth through the eighteenth century. Translated, I believe it means:
The tongue of my friend is Turkish, but I know no Turkish.
I have no idea why Shewan Rizvi, the lyricist, included this line in the Hindi film song. It has absolutely no connection that I can fathom with the rest of the song.

So, Amir Khusro wrote the line sometime in the 13th or early 14th century, Rizvi incorporated it into a ditty in 1962, I heard it for the first time in the 1980s, and finally discovered the meaning in 2008. Thanks to the internet, you can listen to the song (the audio is not great), read the lyrics, and speculate on the beauty of it all.


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