Author Archives: Jehangir

Kashmir vs Cashmere

Published / by Jehangir

Kashmir is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Cashmere is one of the most expensive fabrics in the world.

Kashmire, Cashmeer, Cashmere, Cashmire, Kashmeer and Kashmir have all been used throughout the past few centuries to describe the Vale of Kashmir.

Writing about the travels of Francois Bernier, George Forster used the spelling ‘Kashmire’ for the valley in 1783. He also used ‘Kashmire’ in the title of his 1798 book ‘A Journey from Bengal to England – through the Northern part of India, Kashmire, Afghanistan, and Persia, and into Russia by the Caspian Sea.’

With the advent of the nineteenth century, the term ‘Cashmeer’ to denote the valley seems to have gained popularity while ‘Kashmire’ just disappeared. ‘Cashmeer’ was used in books like ‘The Commerce and Navigation of the Ancients in the Indian Ocean‘ published in 1807 and ‘The Arabian Nights‘ published in 1811.

In subsequent decades ‘Cashmeer’ was used interchangeably with ‘Cashmere’ till it fell out of favour and the latter became increasingly frequent by the 1840s. A few instances of ‘Cashmeer’ can be found in the 1850s and the 1860s, before bowing out in 1871 in an inexplicable blaze of glory having being brought centre-stage by Robert Shaw, an old Kashmir hand writing about his exploits in ‘Visits to High Tartary, Yarkand and Kashgar.’

I say inexplicable because the gentleman responsible for the last mainstream use of the term ‘Cashmeer’ served as the British Commissioner in Leh and must have been well aware that the official name of the kingdom by the 1870s was ‘Kashmir’ – even ‘Cashmere’ having been officially relegated by that time.

Strangely enough around the same time a pamphlet written in defence of the Maharaja of Kashmir in 1870 was titled ‘The Maharaja of Kashmeer and his Calumniators‘, marking a rare use of the term ‘Kashmeer.’ The pamphlet sought to counter western authors severely castigating the misrule of the Dogra ruler in ‘The Wrongs Of Cashmere‘ (1868) by Arthur Brinckman and ‘Cashmere Misgovernment‘ by Robert Thorpe published posthumously in 1870.

‘Cashmire’ was intermittently used over the years, primarily in literary works, and while writing in or translating from French, with ‘Kaschmir’ being the German equivalent.

One of the earliest uses of the modern name ‘Kashmir’ is found in the ‘Historical and Descriptive account of British India‘ published in 1832 by a group of British experts led by Hugh Murray. The valley is described as the ‘little kingdom of Kashmir’ and extolled as a ‘terrestrial paradise’.

Baron Charles von Hugel used the term in scientific papers published in 1835 and 1836 and his books – ‘Kaschmir und das Reich der Siek‘ (1840) and ‘Travels in Kashmir and the Punjab‘ (1845).

Over the course of the nineteenth century, ‘Cashmere’ and ‘Kashmir’ kept jostling for prominence. Official acceptance of ‘Kashmir’ over ‘Cashmere’ was an important factor and by the 20th century it was ‘Kashmir’ that had become the accepted term for the valley with ‘cashmere’ being reserved for an exquisite fabric made from the soft undercoat of Himalayan goats.

Incidentally the valley is called ‘Kasheer’ in the native Kashmiri language.

P.S Boring Scientific Explanation from the internet:
the British Raj standardized on the Hunterian system in 1872, and from the article, it looks to me like ‘Kashmir’ would be the proper Hunterian transliteration. Prior to 1872, the Raj (and before that, the East India Co.) appear to have haphazardly used either the Wilkins system or the “Dowler” system‘.

Inspired by Insomnia

Published / by Jehangir

Traditionally the insomnia of hot sleepless nights inspired my attempts at translating some of my favourite poems. Tonight, however, I am sleepless because I slept away the late afternoon and evening of an unseasonally cold June day.

I realised that I had left these two poems in Return to The Land of Poems unassailed. So here goes.

teri samundar aankhon mein
ye dhoop kinara, sham dhale
milte hain dono waqt jahan,
jo raat na din, jo aaj na kal,
pal bhar ko amar,
pal bhar mein dhuan,
is dhoop kinare, pal do pal,
honton ki lapak,
baahon ki chanak,
ye mel hamara jhoot na sach,
kyon raaz karo, kyun dosh dharo,
kis kaaran jhooti baat karo,
jab teri samundar aankhon mein,
is shaam ka sooraj doobega,
sukh soenge ghar dar wale,
aur raahi apni raah lega

when, in your ocean eyes
this edge of sunlight at dusk
this twilight
neither night nor day
tomorrow nor today
eternal for a moment
evanescent the next
at this edge of sunlight
stolen moments
lips springing
limbs clinging
our union
neither true nor false
no need for secrecy
no need for blame
no need for lies

when the evening sun sets
in your ocean eyes
householders will sleep peacefully
and the wanderer shall take to the road

Original: jab teri samundar ankhon mein (faiz ahmed faiz)

farz karo
farz karo hum ahl-e-wafaa ho
farz karo deewane ho
farz karo yeh dono baatein
jhooti ho afsane hon
farz karo yeh ji ki bipta
ji se jor sunai ho
farz karo abhi aur ho itni
aadhi humne chhupai ho
farz karo tumhe khush karne ke
dhoonde humne bahaane ho
farz karo yeh nain tumhare
sach-much ke maikhaane ho
farz karo yeh rog hai jhoota,
jhooti preet hamari ho
farz karo is preet ke rog mein
saans bhi hum pe bhaari ho
farz karo yeh jog bijog ka
humne dhong rachaaya ho
farz karo bas yahi haqeeqat
baqi sab kuch maaya ho

just suppose
just suppose i may be faithful
just suppose i may be crazy
just suppose both these suppositions
may be untrue
may be imaginary
just suppose my heart’s torment
may have been coerced from my heart
just suppose there may be more to things
i may have concealed half
just suppose to make you happy
i may have invented excuses
just suppose these eyes of yours
are actual taverns
just suppose this affliction
this love for you
may be false
just suppose in the distress of this love
each breath may be an ordeal
just suppose this destined union
may be an elaborate masquerade

but just suppose
only our love exists
and all else is an illusion

Original: farz karo (ibn-e-insha)

Confession Time: Some sharp-eyed folks have pointed out that Momin Khan Momin’s couplet in the quoted post remains untranslated.

tum mere paas hote ho goya*
jab koi doosra nahi hota

My excuse/explanation is that this couplet defies translation (at least by myself – haath patthar se ho gaye manoos to shauq kooza-gari ka kya kiije).

The juxtaposition of ‘goya‘ in an already haiku-esque expression opens up a labyrinth of interpretations.

Ghalib’s exaltation of this couplet is not accidental. It is the perfect example of Urdu poetry’s ideal of ‘kooze mein samundar.’

*The word ‘Goya‘ has been explained thus – Goya is an Urdu word that refers to a momentary suspension of disbelief that occurs when fantasy is so realistic that it temporarily becomes reality, usually associated with a story very well told. There is no translation for this word in English.

P.S : Comments and suggestions are welcome as usual.

The Memory of Music

Published / by Jehangir

My earliest musical memories (should that be memory of music?) are of qawwali singers at a great fair. Terracotta parrots in life-like colours and a huge communal degchi (?) complete the vision that has endured in my mind for almost half a century.

The memory is most certainly of the Urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti at Ajmer Sharif but my thoughts associate a lakeside location. I should ask my brother who seems to have inherited our father’s legendary memory.

Anyway science accepts that ‘the songs we love become woven into a neural tapestry entwined with the people, seasons, and locations throughout our lifespan’. My qawwali memory was nudged by the Aaj rang hai qawwali in Shashi Kapoor’s Junoon and jolted many years later by NFAK‘s estatic version.

Junoon is a haunting tale of obsession and tragedy set during the 1857 Indian Mutiny. I feel that the meticulous attention to costumes, language and music make it one of the most historically accurate films of Indian cinema.

My fondness for qawwali translates into an undying passion for Urdu (or the other way round) and dismay that the inexorable march of capitalism, masquerading as globalisation, can only progress at the expense of the local language and culture.

Globalisation is being touted as a harmless process of deeper economic integration around the globe but the expediency of a global village demands a global language. We have seen how Hindustani slowly crowded out Urdu over the years – fueled mainly by Bollywood songs and the Hindi film industry. Globalisation (Cocacolisation!) may just ensure that English and its illegitimate sibling Hinglish deliver the death blow to Urdu.

Fewer young people these days seem interested in the fading beauty of Urdu. My elder son is one lonely example so it is heartening to discover this awesome website by Hamza Shad. Hamza has authored excellent translations of some of the classic qawwalis including those of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.

Urdu, Qawwali & NFAK!

More power to your pen, Hamza Shad.

A video primer on the Art of Qawwali.

P.S : As expected Javid Bakshi not only confirmed visits to Ana Sagar (hence the lake) but also the existence of the storey-high communal degchi that was presented by Akbar the Great to Ajmer Sharif. Thanks, Bro.
Cooking vessel at Ajmer Sharif