Category Archives: Music

Operas of the East

Published / by Jehangir

In our childhood days an old family retainer would regale us with his rambling retelling of the adventures of two heroes – Prince Gulfaam and the unnamed hero of Gul-e-Bakawali ( whose name he probably could not recall 😉 )

I. Gul-e-Bakawali

In 1712, Sheikh Izzat Ullah wrote a medieval romance Taj-ul-Mulk Gul-e-Bakawali narrating the tale of Prince Taj-ul-Mulk, Princess Bakawali and a magical flower that could restore sight to the blind. His book was written in Farsi (Persian) prose and over the years a number of authors published their own poetry/prose versions, and plays and later films in various Indian languages were based on the fable.

In 1835, Pandit Daya Shankar Naseem, belonging to a Kashmiri family settled in Lucknow wrote ‘Gulzar-e-Naseem‘ a masnavi (poem with rhyming couplets) based on ‘Gul-e-Bakawali‘. Reputedly verses from the poem became very popular and excerpts from the poem were included in text books.

dekha to woh gul hawa hua hai
kuchh aur hi gul khila hua hai

jis kaf men woh gul ho daagh ho jaaye
jis ghar men ho gul chiraagh ho jaaye

The poem is also famous for a controversy about its antecedents and Naseem was defended spiritedly by Brij Narain Chakbast. Apparently the controversy was fanned at the time by Awadh Punch, an Urdu weekly. [Who knew that Punch (1841-1992), the famous satirical British journal, had an Indian clone in the shape of the Awadh Punch (1877-1936), that dared to make fun of British rule during the heydays of the Raj in India!]

Pandit Brij Narain Chakbast (1882–1926) also belonged to a Kashmiri family settled in the erstwhile United Provinces. He wrote some highly-regarded poetry, most famously the following couplet:

zarra zarra hai mere kashmir ka mehmaan nawaaz
raah mein patthar ke tukdon ne diya paani mujhe

[I was reminded of this couplet when our thirsty trekking party encountered cool and sweet water flowing out of the rocks on the way to Gangabal from Naranag]

II. Indar Sabha

The story of Prince Gulfaam is even more interesting.

Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Oudh (Awadh), was so enamoured by accounts of famous European operas that he commissioned Syed Agha Hassan Amanat to compose an opera in Urdu. The Nawab supervised the production, composed part of the music and performed one of the leading roles in the opera whenever it was performed before courtiers at Kaisar Bagh in Lucknow!

The opera called The Court of Indra or Indar Sabha is a fantasy about the forbidden attraction between Prince Gulfaam (the Flower Prince), son of Gulzar Shah (the King of the Flower-Garden) in Hindustan and the Sabz Pari (the Emerald Fairy) of the heavenly court of Raja Indra, ruler of Paristan (the Land of Fairies) in Koh-e-Qaf (the Caucasus Mountains) beyond Iran.

Gulfaam is a recurring motif in Kashmiri literature, and a mystical couplet describes an idyllic setting thus:

Springtime, fragrant goblets
the evening of the full moon
rhythms of songs of youth
and Gulfaam in front of my eyes

III. Bombur ta Yemberzal

The first opera in Kashmiri was Bombur ta Yemberzal (The Bumblebee and the Narcissus) written by Pandit Dina Nath Nadeem. It is a tale about the doomed love between the Narcissus (Yembarzal) which blooms in springtime and withers away, and the Bumblebee (Bombur) which arrives in summer and searches from flower to flower till it goes blind.

Mohan Lal Aima composed the music for the opera including the famous Bumbro Bumbro song. ‘Bombur ta Yemberzal’ was performed at Tagore Hall in 1955 for Russian dignitaries Nikita Khruschev and Nikolai Bulganin.


Image credit: RIA Novosti

Bombur-Yemberzal as a symbol of selfless love is quite common in popular culture. Mahjoor’s lyrics provide the theme of a Kashmiri-Urdu-Persian fusion song which is a huge hit with Kashmiri youth these days.

tamanna chaani deedaruk chumo yemberzale bumbro
phaejis yamath laejis wuchney gaejis chaney kaley bumbro

karan mahjoor chu husnas gath vanan yaaras patho akh kath
ye dil deewan gow sei path beyis seith na raley bumbro

I don’t know how the old illiterate rascal had heard these fantastic tales but his dastangoi – mixing up elements from each other and from other unrelated tales – used to be hilarious yet compelling at the same time.

Ah sweet nostalgia!

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 gargantuan 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

To the Stars and Beyond

Published / by Jehangir

Regular readers of this blog may have been secretly hoping that they had been spared my summer translation ordeal. No such luck.

In my last post I wrote about Rahat Fateh Ali Khan's live performance of Sitaron Se Aagey by Allama Muhammad Iqbal.

Jamshed has the song on repeat mode and I have to admit that Iqbal's words and Rahat's vocals soar synergistically in this hypnotic qawwali.

Today it is the Allama's turn to suffer my efforts to translate some of his most famous verses.

In his live performance, RFAK quotes additional verses from Iqbal's famous poems like Bang-e-Dara and Armaghan-e-Hijaz besides the poem 'Sitaron Se Aagey' from Bal-e-Jibreel.

sitaron se aagey

fareb-e-nazar hai sakoon-o-sabaat

tadapta hai har zarra-e-kainat (1)

theharta nahin karwaan-e-wujood

ke har lehza hai taaza shaan-e-wujood (1)

samajhta hai tu raaz hai zindagi

faqat zauq-e-parwaaz hai zindagi (1)

jawanon ko meri aah-e-sehar de

phir in shaheen bachon ko baal-o-par de (2)

khudaya! arzoo meri yehi hai

mera noor-e-baseerat aam kar de (2)

sitaron se aagey jahan aur bhi hain

abhi ishq ke imtihan aur bhi hain *

har ek maqam se aagey maqam hai tera

hayat zauq-e-safar ke siva kuch aur nahin (3)

tahi zindagi se nahin yeh fizaayen

yahan sainkadon karwan aur bhi hain *

qanaat na kar alam-e-rang-o-bu par

chaman aur bhi aashiyan aur bhi hain *

tu hi nadaan chand kaliyon par qanaat kar gya

warna gulshan mein ilaaj-e-tangi-e-damaan bhi hai (4)

agar kho gya ek nasheman to kya gham

maqamat-e-aah-o-fughan aur bhi hain *

nishan yehi hai zamaane mein zinda qaumon ka

ke subha-o-shaam badalti hain unki taqdeeren (6)

na pucho mujh se lazzat khanaman barbad rehne ki

nasheman sainkadon main ne bana kar phoonk daale hain (5)

tu shaheen hai parwaaz hai kaam tera

tere samne aasman aur bhi hain *

nahin tera nasheman qasr-e-sultani ke gumbad par

tu shaheen hai basera kar pahaadon ki chataanon mein (7)

guzar auqat kar leta hai ye koh-o-biyaban mein

ke shaheen ke liye zillat hai kaar-e-aashiyan bandi (8)

garche hai dilkushan bahut husn-e-farang ki bahaar

taerik-e-buland baal dana-o-daam se guzar (9)

ay tair-e-lahuti us rizq se maut acchi

jis rizk se aati ho parwaaz mein kotahi (10)

jhapatna palatna palat kar jhapatna

lahoo garam rakhne ka hai ek bahaana (11)

parindon ki duniya ka darvesh hoon main

ke shaheen banata nahin aashiyana (11)

gaye din ke tanha tha main anjuman mein

yahan ab mere raazdan aur bhi hain *

All poetry defies translation, Iqbal's even more so.

I find his poetry hard to understand even in the language it was written in and it is nigh impossible to convey the nuances in an alien language belonging to a vastly different culture. The rhythm, the emotion, the undercurrent is lost but that having been said, here is what Jamshed and I have been able to figure out.

beyond the stars

peace and stability are illusions

each atom of creation is in turbulence

the caravan of life never halts

for each moment renews the glory of life

you think life is a great mystery

life is just the desire to fly

give the young my sighs at dawn

give wings to these young falcons

lord this is my desire

spread wide the light of my awareness

other worlds lie beyond the stars

trials of passion still await

your destination lies beyond all havens

life is nothing but the joy of travel

these breezes do not arise from the void

a hundred more caravans ply here

do not be appeased by just one world of colors and fragrance

other gardens and nests exist

you, the innocent one, were content with a few buds

though the rose-garden held a cure for your limited grasp

why grieve over the loss of one nest

other places to sigh and lament remain

it is the sign of the vital nations of the world

that their destiny changes every night and day

ask me not the rapture of homelessness

i have built and set afire a hundred nests

you are a falcon – flight is your calling

endless skies stretch out before you

nest not upon the dome of the emperor's palace

you are a falcon – dwell amongst rocky mountain peaks

it ekes out a living amidst peaks and deserts

for the trade of nest-building would disgrace the falcon

though the charm of the west is seductive

resist this baited trap – o bird of paradise

o bird of heavenly skies

death is nobler than prey that encumbers your flight

to swoop and to twist, and to twist to pounce

is just a pretext to keep the blood warm

i am the dervish of the kingdom of birds

the falcon builds no nest

gone are the days of my isolation at gatherings

i now have confidants here

Comments & suggestions are welcome especially for

'tahi zindagi se nahin yeh fizaayen'

Index:

* Sitaron Se Aagey (Bal-e-Jibril-060)

(1) Bal-e-Jibril-142

(2) Bal-e-Jibril-105

(3) Bal-e-Jibril-044

(4) Bang-e-Dara-116

(5) Bang-e-Dara-055

(6) Armaghan-e-Hijaz-34

(7) Bal-e-Jibril-139

(8) Bal-e-Jibril-012

(9) Bal-e-Jibril-025

(10) Bal-e-Jibril-054

(11) Bal-e-Jibril-176