Pal do pal ka shayar

What exactly is the status of Sahir Ludhiyanvi, as a poet and as a film lyricist? A debate currently raging at Kafila pits two radically different views about Sahir against each other.

Against the conventional view, which sees him as a towering icon in the poetic movement of India as also in our cinema, Panini Pothoharvi maintains that Sahir was an ordinary versifier, who cannot even be placed along side Shailendra and Majrooh Sultanpuri, as a film lyricist.

Lest I do some injustice to Mr Panini’s views, I will quote the relevant paragraph in its entirety.

“It must be remembered that Sahir’s reputation rests largely — go around asking the cognescenti (and who care about them, anyway) what they think of Sahir’s poetry and you would know a thing or two you wouldn’t wish to hear in your adolescent exuberance — on his film songs. And I must say that I am not greatly enamoured of his Chin-o-Arab Hamara — the refrain may be catchy but the stanzas simply do not work.
To a large extent, the same holds true for Woh Subah… I would prefer a Majrooh Sultanpuri and a Shailendra to Sahir any day. Kaifi simply wouldn’t make the grade.”

Popularity

It is true that Sahir’s poetry today evokes much less enthusiasm than it did in the heydays of the “movement”.

It is also true that in those days, any ordinary rhetorician could be celebrated as a cult poet.

At the best of times, the Urdu critical establishment, when it ceased to be controlled by the progressives that is, did not treat Sahir with the same seriousness that he was accorded within the party.

At the same time, it is difficult to sustain criteria that can simply be called purely literary, as if politics is something that taints the pristine gestation of art.

It is difficult in the case of poets, as equally in the case of other artists, to determine whether their popularity rests purely on their artistic merits or whether there is something about their writing, or personality, that catches the imagination of the public.

Is Neruda a great poet because he wrote great poetry about human suffering and inequality? Is he a great poet because he wrote with noble aims? Is he great because he was so famous and popular?

Is he great because he was patronised by the then powerful communist parties all over the world? Or is he great because a variety of reasons combined to create an appeal for him that transcended his particular origins?

We are now much wiser to the hidden biases that always determine the constitution of a canon.

For years, S R Faruqi, the formidable Urdu critic, has been pontificating about the relative lack of artistic merit in Faiz’s oeuvre.

If a list of five great Urdu poets who came after Iqbal were to be composed, Faiz, he has vociferously maintained, would be the last name on it, after Miraji, Rashid, Majeed Amjad and Akhtarul Iman, names, which have never really caught the popular imagination.

Yet, there is something to be said for popular imagination after all, for there are figures, especially artists, who come to stand for far more than the body of their work. Faiz became a metaphor for dissent and for enlightened politics in a country, where such symbols were as rare as they were needed.

His importance, as an icon, or as a poet, cannot simply be reduced to whether his ghazals or nazms had the same groundbreaking freshness as some others.

Ordinary versifier

It is the same with Sahir in one sense. He might have been an ordinary versifier (as compared to whom?), but for a variety of reasons, he came to stand for an attitude and as a proponent of instrumental uses of art in a cultural arena that went much wider than the literary community, which he addressed.

Even today, in places like Rajasthan or Himachal Pradesh or even in the peninsular, young men find in Sahir an attitude and a resonance that allows them to challenge authority and to create a present for themselves that is politically more radical than the existing set up.

Some months ago, I wrote a piece on Kaifi Azmi, where I urged that instead of seeing Sahir or Kaifi or Majrooh, as poets who strayed into film writing, we should instead see them as film writers who also wrote very good poetry.

It is not given to every literary figure to become successful in films. Long as is the list of successful Urdu writers, who wrote for cinema, the numbers of those who tried to write for cinema but failed is even longer, Manto, Taban, Josh, Miraji and so on and so forth.

As a film writer, it would be a naïve judgment that would assert Sahir to be of less importance than Majrooh or Shailendra.

Sahir was such a successful writer in part because he collaborated very closely with certain figures — S D Burman and N Datta at first, Yash Chopra later on — including composers. One Pyasa and one Kabhi Kabhi — main pal do pal ka shayar hoon — is enough to immortalise him.

Choice of language

Mr Panini also wonders why Sahir never wrote in Punjabi? Alas, why did Kalidas write in Sanskrit and not Apbhransha? Why did Abul Fazal write in Persian? Why does Rushdie write in English and not Kashmiri? Why does Kashinath Singh write in Hindi and not Bhojpuri?

Why does Mr Panini himself write in English and not in some other language? Why a writer chooses a particular language has many reasons from among which, cultural prestige and financial returns being two very important ones.

But this is hardly a question we can put to individuals. Perhaps Sahir’s entire generation, as well as his own entire generation might be able to satisfy Mr Panini on that front.

[First published in Mid-Day]

26 thoughts on “Pal do pal ka shayar”

  1. Urdu was a major language in undivided Punjab. The dominance of Punjabi language today is a more recent phenomenon that developed with the Punjabi Suba movement. It may seem incongruous today, but the major debates about the language issue was, for a long time, fought on the pages of Urdu newspapers since the major newspapers in the Punjab were published in Urdu, not in Punjabi or Hindi. Unless this context is kept in mind, Faiz, Sahir, Bedi and Krishan Chander will all appear as anomalies.

    On fossilization: I think it is correct to say that Sahir’s poetry (or anyone else’s) is fossilized- but only in the sense that we are all become fossils one day.
    Sahir’s contribution lay in the fact that in a country where the oral tradition dominates, in the backdrop of a massively illiterate population, he brought both poetry and the humanistic message of the progressive movement via a medium that is susceptible to crassness and mediocrity.

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  2. A quick word about Mr Mehmood Farooqui wondering about my alleged wondering about why Sahir never wrote in Punjabi. In fact I never wondered why Sahir chose Urdu as a medium of poetic expression. His choice to me is symptomatic of a larger quasi-cultural condition. Its politics is not as simple as raising questions – discourse as mimicry – about why Kalidas wrote in Sanskrit and not Apbhramsha or Rushdie in English and not in Kashmiri or why I write – you call that writing? thank you, thank you – in English and not Pothohari (a dialect I do not know at all). Such naivete springs from a desire to wilfully obliviate the linguistic politics which has been at the root of much of divisive tensions we have witnessed in Punjab since the advent of Arya Samaaj in the last quarter of the 19th century. Mr Bhupinder will do well to go back to both W Jones’ “Arya Dharm” and “Banned” and see for himself the number of publications in Punjabi that vigorously took up the debate. Just walk down the difficult-to-negotiate alleys and bylanes of Lahore’s Anarkali and see for yourself as to how many of them wish to conduct even an ordinary chat in Punjabi. You, Mr Farooqui especially, would be horrified. It is Urdu and Urdu all the way – or shall we say an ‘Apbramshic’ variant of Urdu. The hegemonic politics of languages is frightening whether it is the death of Urdu in ‘our’ part of the world or that of Punjabi in ‘theirs’. And, by the way, where did you get this fantastic notion that I am in running down Sahir Ludhianvi’s poetry invoking some abtruse, canonical and aestheticist parameters of judgement. I am afraid this is a complete misreading of what I have tried to spell out. Firstly, nobody should be beyond the pale of a cultural critique – not even Brecht and Neruda. They have had their extremely vulnerable moments of creative impoverishment. Brecht, quite frequently comes across as quite insensitive to the gender question despite his “Mother Courage” and “Good Woman of Setzuan”. I find Neruda’s “Tonight I can write the saddest lines” similarly problem ridden. And since you have mentioned him Mr Farooqui, Kalidas – look at his Raghuvansham – touches the absolute rock-bottom quite frequently. As for Rushdie, I will keep my mouth shut for reasons of political propriety.

    Somewher in the middle of your ‘privileged’ argument you opine and I quote: “At the same time, it is difficult to sustain criteria that can simply be called purely literary, as if politics is something that taints the pristine gestation of art.” This is yet another instance of mimicry as discourse. Nobody has made that assumption that you seem to be (shadow)fighting here. Sahir’s politics – if indeed there is one in his poetry in much the same way as it is there in the poems of for instance Faiz – is too lachrymose, too syrupy and too unhelpful within the larger resonance of existence to be good enough even for the annual sunning of Sahmatic and Anhadic banners.

    Mr Farooqui also asserts that Sahir “came to stand for an attitude and as a proponent of instrumental uses of art in a cultural arena that went much wider than the literary community”. Are you trying to suggest that his polpularity ‘included’ the pariah called the “literary community” or did it simply “transcend” them or did it simply put them under the Derridean erasure? And all this talk about oral tradition that Mr Bhupinder invokes – hoe do you understand Sahir’s “Chin-o-Arab Hamara” except in reference to Allama Iqbal’s pan-Islamic vision of “Chin-o-Arab”? Talk of literacy, indeed!

    People – ‘men’ (I haven’t mercifully come across many women) – who find in Sahir’s poetry ‘an attitude and a resonance’ and who still treat him as a cult figure, seem to have been moved more by the ‘aurality’ of the poet rather than his ‘orality’. In ant case, I had referred to Sahir in reference to his “mar gaye lut gaye” brand of failed irony which Mr Hashmi’s self-fleggelating piece seemed to me to wallow in. And I stick to my position. The terms of discourse must change.

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  3. Thank you for that Panini…the grammarian in you is itching, I can see. Yes, the terms of discourse must change, I entirely agree, as they always do, just as the conflict is always deepening, but quite in what direction do you want the discourse-which one too-to turn.
    Can we conceptualise linguistic hegemony as something devoid from a nation-state-formation in colonial conditions? So where exactly should we begin to unwind the process of hegemonisation-in the 18th century when Urdu, thanks in part to colonial expansion, or Rekhta as it was then called began to spread to all corners of this country. Within a generation, between 1760-1800, you get Tazkirahs, bibliographical dictionaries, of Urdu poets of particular towns, from Hissar to Murshidabad to Patna. I have tried to investigate, elsewhere, the reasons for this sudden and quick spread but there is a certain hegemonic presence before colonial policies make Urdu a central feature in Punjab’s education…let us hear more…

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  4. Thats wonderful! All this contextualisation of linguistic hegemony within the context of nation-state formation. I think the death of Punjabi in the Pakistani Punjab can be similarly explained away. Nearly a thousand year long history of Punjabi literature – much older than Urdu, older than Hindi and definitely older than Bengali – can be callously flushed down the NSF drain without any further ado. My reference to the linguistic hegemonies – at times murderous and insidious – was made in reference to Mr Aditya Nigam’s comments about how Urdu had been sidelined. I sincerely bemoan the loss greatly enamoured as I am of Mir, Ghalib, Faiz and Rashid. But I have some problem about accepting Urdu as people’s language. It was the language of a culturally and politically empowered elite. Sahir comes across as a very ordinary poet when he attempts to write in ‘Urdu’ Urdu. He is emotionally seductive when he takes recourse to a coarser version of the other ‘Urdu’ which offers the veneer of etiquette and cultural sophistication at an enticingly low-priced SALE to those who want to belong. It is not a choice between a hard to please literary critic Mujeeb and them. Somewhere in the middle is the political class – resonant, alive and thinking.

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  5. >hoe do you understand Sahir’s “Chin-o-Arab Hamara” except in reference to Allama Iqbal’s pan-Islamic vision of “Chin-o-Arab”? Talk of literacy, indeed

    I have enjoyed Chin o Arab hamara before I knew the Iqbal connection. And I continue to enjoy Sahir without dissecting his poetry with linguistic scissors.

    While I disagree with your (with what I feel are hasty, if not unkind) remarks on Sahir, would like to see you, as Mahmood has indicated, elaborate on the direction of the change.

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  6. Urdu’s established elitist vehicularism has not prevented it, now or never, from making itself at home at popular culture. Once you take away Hindi from Urdu, and it is certainly not an easy taking, what you are left with is the difficult residue, that which is exotic, sophisticated even effeminate in its refinement. But how can you take away Hindi from Urdu when Urdu was actually called, referred if you will, Hindi for the first century of its existence? Is mera tera aapka hamara Hindi or Urdu? Who took these away from Urdu and gave it to Urdu? When Wali says ‘kareje mein kyun na katari lage?,’ or Mir says ‘sirhane mir ke aahista bolo, abhi tuk rote rote so gaya hai,’ what in it is elitist? Urdu has a large variety of registers, larger than any other Indian language, English and Punjabi included, therefore its reduction to any one register could only happen because of the triumph of modern Hindi. The diminution of Punjabi, which actually has a medieval literature as rich as Urdu, is a result not of Urdu’s elitism but of the linguistic violence that happened during colonial rule. It was the Angrez who taught us that Urdu is sophisticated and Punjabi is rustic. No doubt many, most even, Urduwallahs, whether they come from Punjab or from Kashmir, internalised that vein of categorisation but they were not the only ones to do so. Pakistani Punjabi has suffered even more because state formation in Pakistan made Urdu a centralisation theme. Ab ismein bechare Sahir ki kya ghalti?

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  7. “Sahir comes across as a very ordinary poet when he attempts to write in ‘Urdu’ Urdu. He is emotionally seductive when he takes recourse to a coarser version of the other ‘Urdu’ which offers the veneer of etiquette and cultural sophistication at an enticingly low-priced SALE to those who want to belong.”
    Panini,
    Confession: I buy a lot at such low-price SALEs. I am no expert in language/Urdu or philosophy but I want to question your ‘Urdu’ Urdu. It seems to me that you are looking for a Platonic essence that all but completely dead languages lack. To repeat a point Mahmood made, are ‘pyaar’ and the common cuss words we use Urdu, Hindi or Punjabi? Language is rather like biological species or states, it is nice for taxonomical purposes to have boundaries but there really is no such thing as a ‘pure’ language, is there?
    I love Urdu because it is like bhel or khichRii: a delicious mix of Hindi, Sanskrit, Persian,etc. Does that make me pedestrian, a sort of Urdu “junk foodie”? (I don’t care if it does, btw, I’m just curious if that’s what you mean.)
    You said elsewhere that all but Bedi and Sahir never spoke the language that they wrote in. I hope you didn’t mean Urdu, as that would be simply incorrect.

    As for Sahir-well, I happen to think he is sharp, bitter (his first book was called ‘talKhiyaaN’!) and a keen observer of human nature. I don’t think he even tried to put a “veneer of sophistication” on anything. I remember reading “sanaa-Khwaan-e-taqdiis”….and not being able to read anything else for weeks! The tender lyricism of “chaaNd maddham hai aasmaaN chup hai” still haunts me. Perhaps I’m a sentimentalist/romantic when reading poetry, but isn’t all poetry ultimately sentiment/romance? I happen to think that Sahir’s popularity as a lyricist and/or poet stems from the fact that people recognize something that’s really good, and they buy it much more if it’s on sale.

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  8. without jumping into the akhada …Just a couplet:

    Ek shanshah nay khoobsoorat taj mahal banwa kar
    Hum gariboon ki mohobat ka udaya hai mazak.

    Quite monumental, this couplet, a little bigger than Taj itself. The NEW of art/poetry, I believe, sabotages the existing aesthetic value judgment, if it has a courage to do so. This couplet is golden in that sense.
    The political layer in the couplet is that the pain and creativity ( I mean micro-creativity) of labourers disappearing in the very form of the monument. Everything around the world is surprisingly dominated by this very phenomenon. The form of Architecture looks hierarchical in that sense, because all the power structures used this over-awing of the masses through the form of it. Not surprising that the symbolic significance of it often belittles the people’s simpler drives and other needs. So many wars for these symbols of power, money and territory, but very little for the understanding of people itself.
    It must be unwittingly, that the innocence of an artist (here, Architect ) who dreams a form of an monument, becomes a tool in the hands of various players of the ruling structure at a particular period of time. The above couplet has succeeded to restore that dream in some other mysterious way. It has demolished the King’s appropriation of the Artist’s dream-form ( Taj Mahal ) without demolishing the beauty of Taj. Poetry must be very close to that inner thought process in comparison to the actual realization of a dream-form of a monument in marble or some other material. The material inevitably engages people, mostly the sacrifices of the poor to construct it. The New aesthetic will talk about that in poetry/art rather than that so called love as the main living element of Taj.

    In that sense, I guess, poetry becomes instantly universal, without the thought of being written in a particular language. I am certainly not holding a brief for the meaning as a leading factor in poetry, but without a people oriented meaning the form looks monumental for a tourist attraction only. That is romanticism in its ordinary sense.

    Sahir too was a romantic poet, but that is anther debate that how romanticism helps a poet to become a political poet or artist. Often, the romantic poet fails to come to grips with the reality out there. Faiz was an exception. Consider Keats, who is believed to be romantic, who just ended not being so, but is not political even. But what is political, or even Poetry ?
    So, the debate never ends…

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  9. Point One

    Well said Mehmood Sa’ab. Very well said, indeed! “sirhane mir ke aahista bolo, abhi tuk rote rote so gaya hai,” is your example from Mir and you aver that it is not elitist. Indeed it is not. But what is popular-culturalist in it? Mir is ‘elitist’ in the sense that he is a poet ‘read’ and ‘caroused’ by the cultural elite that patronized Urdu as a mark of its linguistic identity. Even Ghalib and, and I know it is controversial, Faiz are. Nor am I unduly worried about this ‘hide-and-seek’ mode of elitism.
    Where is Faiz in terms of popular culture – except when a classical vocalist like Meeta Pandit sings (where else but at the annual Sahmatite-Anhadite attempts at beating the early-January fog) his “Hum Dekhenge” with a visible, desperate but convictionless desire to seek integration. There are too many ‘rasiyas’ of ‘gajal’ and Urdu shaayari seeking similar validations – even in Himachal and Rajasthan. And, man, have the Anup Jalotas and Pankaj Udhas so udhasli contributed to its popularization?

    I am glad that Sahir succeeds not as a distinctly Urdu shayar. I love his – “Raat bhi hai kuchh bheegi bheegi, chaand bhi hai kuchh madhdham madhdham” and within that “tapte dil par yun girti hai teri nazar se pyaar ki shabnam, jalte hue jungle par jaise barkha barse ruk ruk tham tham”. I also find his “Jaane kya tune kehi, jaane kya maine suni” adorable as I do, though with considerable less warmth, his “chalo ik baar phir se ajnabi ban jaayen hum dono”. But what is this “Chin-o-Arab hamara, hindostan hamara, rehne ko ghar nahin hai, saara jahaan hamara”. Even the burning desire to be ironical falls flat politically. It is bad dystopian poetry sung beautifully by Mukesh and composed equally beautifully by – was it – Khayyam. And this “Mein pal do pal ka shaayar” is the ultimate “choon choon ka murabba” – sentimental beyond retrieve. (Sohail Sa’ab’s piece and earlier yours about being a Muslim in India belongs here) Even Mukesh sounds horrible singing this one and the composition is unquestionably pedestrian despite its enormous popularity amongst the ‘gajal-spewing rasiks(?)’.

    Point Two

    In your unbridled confidence, you go ahead and claim: “Urdu has a large variety of registers, larger than any other Indian language, English and Punjabi included, therefore its reduction to any one register could only happen because of the triumph of modern Hindi.” I mean you couldn’t be historically, linguistically and culturally so far off the mark. Firstly, why bring in poor English into this game of one upmanship. Obviously, you have no clue as to what the Punjabi language and literature is all about. You wouldn’t otherwise make such a churlish statement. It reveals very clearly why Punjabi remains vilified despite the Angrez having left our shores many many decades ago. Incidentally, which registers are you talking about? Are these linguistic registers? If so, have you even heard of Majhi, Doabi, Puadhi, Malwai, Pothohari, Saraiki, Multani? I am aware of the controversy about Seraiki and Multani and the charges of cultural colonialism traded against the hegemony of an abstract Punjabi but I am referring here to the registers of “exchange” – linguistically, culturally and, in an elitist sense, philosophically. No, Mehmood Sa’ab – ignorance cannot be traded as bliss anymore otherwise even the Togadias and Modis will pass the muster one day.

    In a surge of selective generosity, you concede that “Punjabi has a medieval literature as rich as Urdu”. Thank you indeed. One has to thank you because we live in a world where the Urdu-elite has still not come to terms with the fact that the 13th century Sufi savant Baba Farid chose to write in Punjabi. I wouldn’t otherwiset have with diligent application burned the midnight oil to prove that the poetry included in the Guru Granth is not his poetry at all. That is 13th century we are talking about. How many comparable 13th century poets do have in Urdu from the 13th century? I would very much like to be enlightened. Unless you invoke Amir Khusrau – and did he indeed write in Urdu – of the Muzaffar Ali cc-revival who spent bulk of his life writing panegyrics to his myriad lordships. How many do you have from the 16th century comparable to the lyricism of Shah Hussain or the celebrative and secular mysticism of Nanak? I do not wish to go over the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries – the list is simply too long and examples would chokingly overwhelm you. One song by Rabbi Shergill has had the entire India dancing to the highly addictive dosage of Bulle Shah. I wouldn’t go any further. I know Mir and Ghalib are alltime greats. But there are many in the Punjabi literature who simply cannot (unfortunately, the campaign to vilify the Punjabi literature has gone on unabated despite the Angrez and they have remained hidden from the pan-Indian gaze) brushed aside with the callousness that, at least, I see reflected in your patronizing comparison. Even in the 20th century, the stature of Puran Singh and Ustad Daman (and I am mentioning only two) is to my mind no less. One needs an open and unfettered mind to receive them. I am ashamed of Punjabi being a rustic language. That is its strength that people like Sahir and ilk couldn’t imbibe. Good for them and good for us.

    And finally, you ask – “ab isme Sahir ki kya ghalti hai.” Bhai uski koi ghalti nahin, ghalti hamari hai jo hum ek generic term ko ek individual par utaare ja rahe hain.

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  10. The sentence :

    I wouldn’t otherwiset have with diligent application burned the midnight oil to prove that the poetry included in the Guru Granth is not his poetry at all.

    should read:

    It wouldn’t otherwiset have with diligent application burned the midnight oil to prove that the poetry included in the Guru Granth is not his poetry at all.

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  11. There are too many howlers in the text – please carry the corrected version:

    1.

    But there are many in the Punjabi literature who simply cannot (unfortunately, the campaign to vilify the Punjabi literature has gone on unabated despite the Angrez and they have remained hidden from the pan-Indian gaze) be brushed aside with the callousness that, at least, I see reflected in your patronizing comparison.

    2.

    I am not ashamed of Punjabi being a rustic language.

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  12. And this “Mein pal do pal ka shaayar” is the ultimate “choon choon ka murabba” – sentimental beyond retrieve. Even Mukesh sounds horrible singing this one and the composition is unquestionably pedestrian despite its enormous popularity amongst the ‘gajal-spewing rasiks(?)’.

    One song by Rabbi Shergill has had the entire India dancing to the highly addictive dosage of Bulle Shah.

    Hope the next comment is not be about popularity of Himesh Reshmiya’s “Tera tera tera surur”. Pls god, spare!

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  13. Mr/Ms Bhopale’s statement makes one truly wonder. Is s/he trying to equate Bulle Shah’s “Ki jaan*a meiN kaun” with “Tera tera tera saroor”? Or, is s/he trying to suggest that Mukesh’s ‘Pal do pal ka shaayar’ is sung better and sounds better than Rabbi’s “Bulla”? If s/he places Bulle Shah alongside of Himesh Reshamiyya, one would merely treat it as Urduwalas by now complusive and patronising desire to put everything Punjabi (‘the language is rustic’, ‘their medieval literature is passable’ etc) down. If, however, the comment is about Rabbi vs Mukesh – with specific reference to ‘Bulla’ and ‘Pal do pal’ – go to any knowledgeable connoisseur of music and seek an honest opinion. Mukesh is nearly besura – why nearly, he is – in this song and barely able to hold his voice through. Rabbi, on the other hand is intense and musically mesmerizing. To bring in Himesh Reshammiya is to trivialize discussion. Nut madame/sir, no amount of sarcastic mimicry would obfuscate the obvious.

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  14. If you take time to read the comment and control your heart from overtaking your brain, it would be obvious that you were deviating the discussion from the composure to the singer. More than the singer, I would like to point out that it is the time. Every song has a period – Pal Do Pal Ka was great for its time, as is Rabbi’s Bulla today. These are not comparable. I am a huge fan of Pal Do Pal (although I am no “knowledgeable connoisseur of music”), and that does not stop me from being a fan of Rabbi. Now where do I stand Mr. Panini, a Urduwala or not?
    As far as my Himesh comment is concerned it was in response to your “One song by Rabbi Shergill has had the entire India dancing …”. Entire India can dance with anything – be it India Shining or India Poised. Don’t talk of popularity please, if you want to talk sense. As has been famously said “Pyar ko pyar hi rahne do, koi naam na do”

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  15. Sentimental mush! The entire India did not dance, as the BJP famously knows(?) today, to INDIA SHINING and the entire India is not dancing to INDIA POISED as both the Congress and the CPM would soon realize if they are not already in the process of realizing. One should also learn to distinguish between a somewhat metaphoric and excessive usage of language – ‘the whole of India was dancing’ (in Rabbi’s case, for instance we know, his own home state Punjab did not exactly dance to his ‘Bulla’), for example – and quite clearly a narcissistic self-belief in a ‘reality’ that does not exist – media celebrations of an India shining then and an India Poised now, for instance. Rabbi’s song is radical, playfully self-mocking and intense and, under no circumstance, could it be compared with Reshammiya’s ‘Tera Tera Tera Saroor’. One needs also to distinguish between mass and popular culture. This is where your intended/ unintended mimicry trivializes the argument. The text of Rabbi’s song is irrepressibly irreverent unlike much of Sahir’s sentimental poetry – ‘Mere saamne se hata lo ye duniya’ or ‘jinheN naaz hai HiNd par wo kahaN haiN’ or passively hopeful like ‘Wo subah kabhi to aayegi’ etc. Compare these last two poems with Faiz’s ‘Yeh wo sahar to nahiN’ or ‘hum dekheNge’ and you would immediately know the difference between sentimental mush and genuine will to interpret and intervene with a language which is at once charged and resonant. Sahir is largely lacking in this regard except when he pens ‘Tu HiNdu banega na Musalmaan banega’ which deeply moves in these times of communal bigotry, hatred and mayhem.

    Vaise yeh maan lo ke Urduwalas ka problem hai Punjabi ko lekar. Sooner you get into a self-critical mode, the better. Just as the Hindutva-ites other Urdu, the Urduwalas other the smaller others such as Punjabi etc. Do not go only by the collective cultural wisdom of the disillusioned ex-comarades such as Aditya Nigam and Sohail Hashmi. For, about the comardes it is said that once they leave the party, they keep on leaving it for the next twenty years or so.

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  16. “Vaise yeh maan lo ke Urduwalas ka problem hai Punjabi ko lekar”, says professor. Just like you would expect to assume X to be the unknown digit in the mathematical equations. Maan lo “Rabbi’s song is radical, playfully self-mocking and intense”. Maan lo “Mukesh is besura” because Sahir was not good with his lyrics. Maan lo Sahir was sentimental in ‘Mere saamne se’, ‘jinheN naaz haiN’, ‘Wo subah’ but not so in ‘Tu HiNdu banega’. Don’t resort to sentimental mush, the great professor is working on the unknown digit X of a unknown mathematical problem, while the world has gone somewhere else.

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  17. I have been quietly following the conversation on this and the other thread initiated by Sohail on Sahir Ludhianavi. I didn’t have anything to value add so I kept mum and continued reading. But the nation dancing to Rabbi’s tune and his Bulle Shah song brought a memory back to me.

    When that Rabbi song became popular, coincidentally I was reading translations of Rumi’s poems and I stumbled upon this:

    I find this Rumi poem strikingly similar to Bulle Shah’s composition. Savour it !

    From The Mathnawi…

    What is to be done, O Muslims, for I do not know my own identity: I am neither a Christian, nor Jew, neither a Zoroastrian nor Muslim.

    I hail neither from the East nor the West, neither from land nor from sea; neither from the mine of Nature nor from the revolving spheres.

    Neither from dust nor from water; neither from air nor nor fire; neither from the throne of God nor the earth; neither from existence nor from entity.

    Neither from India nor China; neither from Bulgaria nor Scythia; neither from the land of the two Iraqs*, nor from the province of Khurasan.

    Neither from this world nor the next; neither from heaven nor from hell; neither from Adam nor Eve; neither from Paradise nor the garden of Eden.

    The placeless is my place; the traceless is my trace; I have neither body nor soul for I belong to the soul of the Beloved.

    I have renounced duality; the two worlds I see as one; One I seek, One I know, One I see, One I call.

    “He is the First, He is the Last; He is the Manifest; He is the Hidden.”^ Save “Oh, He is”~ and “Oh, He who is”~ no other cry is mine.

    I am distraught with the cup of Love; the two worlds have slipped from my hands; save revelry and spiritual carouse no other aim have I.

    Were I to spend a single day of my life without Thee, from that time and that hour I’d be eternally ashamed of myself.

    Could I have Thee all by myself for a single moment, I’d trample on both the worlds and throw up my arms in ecstasy.

    O Shams-i-Tabriz I have become so intoxicated in this world that apart from drunkenness and revelry I have no other tale to tell.

    Jalalu’d-Din Muhammad Rumi, 1207-1273 A.D.
    Scholar, Mystic, Poet, Sufi

    Translated by Prof. R.A. Nicholson
    M.S. Israeli, ICCR, 1972

    Notes

    * The Arab Iraq or Lower Mesopotamia; and Persian Iraq or Central Persia
    ^From Holy Qur’an
    ~Famous cries of Derwishes.

    Now, this opens a whole new debate on plagiarism. Was Bulle Shah trying to pass off a remix version of Rumi as his? What does this do to Bulle Shah’s credibility as a poet? Let’s see where this conversation moves now. :-)

    Thanks and best regards,

    Danish

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  18. Churlish! It is a bit like saying that Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s “mushkileN paRiN mujh pe itni ke aasaaN ho gayiN” is a straight lift from Shakespeare’s Othello where the Duke of Venice thus advises an inconsolate Brabantio:

    When remedies are past, the griefs are ended
    By seeing the worst, which late on hopes depended.
    To mourn a mischief that is past and gone
    Is the next way to draw new mischief on.

    In any case this thing about Bulle Shah having lifted his poem from Rumi is by now old hat and was picked by an old Sardarji, an apology of a Sufi singer – another Sahmatite-Anhadite – many years ago. So Danish discovery is no discovery at all.

    Number two: while Mr Danish Husain embarks upon by now a well-known but badly-strategised deep desire of the Urdu-daaNs to denigrate Punjabi, he produces the translation of the Rumi poem by one Nicholason, he conveniently forgets to cite Bulle Shah’s text where the alleged ‘plagiarism’ is said to have occurred.

    The political intent and the individual’s creative ego is far sharper and daring than in Mevlana’s poem. In fact, Bulle Shah’s poem is not only far more intransigent and fearless but a much greater poetic act.

    Rumi can never bring himself to say:

    Avval aakhir aap nu jaana
    Na koi dooja hor pehchaana
    Maithon hor na koi siyaana
    Bulla! ooh khadda hai kaun

    I am the first, I am the last
    None other, have I ever known
    I am the wisest of them all
    Bulla! do I stand alone?

    So take a deep breath Mr Danish!

    Like

  19. It is a bit like saying that Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s “mushkileN paRiN mujh pe itni ke aasaaN ho gayiN” is a straight lift from Shakespeare’s Othello where the Duke of Venice thus advises an inconsolate Brabantio:

    When remedies are past, the griefs are ended
    By seeing the worst, which late on hopes depended.
    To mourn a mischief that is past and gone
    Is the next way to draw new mischief on.

    In any case this thing about Bulle Shah having lifted his poem from Rumi is by now old hat and was picked by an old Sardarji, a Sufi singer – another Sahmatite-Anhadite – many years ago. So Danish discovery is no discovery at all.

    Number two: while Mr Danish Husain embarks upon his polite crusade to denigrate Punjabi and produces the translation of the Rumi poem by one Nicholason, he conveniently forgets to cite Bulle Shah’s text where the alleged ‘plagiarism’ is said to have occurred.

    The political intent and the individual’s creative ego is far sharper and daring than in Mevlana’s poem. In fact, Bulle Shah’s poem is not only far more intransigent and fearless but a much greater poetic act.

    Rumi can never bring himself to say:

    Avval aakhir aap nu jaana
    Na koi dooja hor pehchaana
    Maithon hor na koi siyaana
    Bulla! ooh khadda hai kaun

    I am the first, I am the last
    None other, have I ever known
    I am the wisest of them all
    Bulla! do I stand alone?

    Like

  20. Mr Danish Husain’s charge of plagiarism against Bulle Shah’s “Bulla Ki Jaana meiN kaun” deserves to be dispassionately looked into. As per my reading of the two poems, there are obvious similarities – the whole idea of the disavowal of the self for instance being one. However, let me point out that this is a practice which has long been followed by a number of poets including Kabir and possibly Nanak. In fact traces of negation as a creative assertion of the self could be found even in the ancient texts as well.

    But between Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi and Bulle Shah, the ideas of negation as a poetic agency are not only differently negotiated but are even opposed in their respective political and existential intent.

    But before that let me remind the readers on the blog about the politics embedded in the very semiotics of their names: Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi and Bulle Shah. Whereas the former is very specifically enshrined within the titular embellishments (identity through avowal/assertion of titles), the latter wilfully relocates himself within the disavowal of the name (hence, Syed Abdul Shah becomes a mere Bulle Shah – an act of wilfull disrobing and equally wilfull alignment with the marginalized, dispossessed but loved by the mother).

    Now onto the poem – I remember listening to an old Sardarji singer of Sufi verses a couple of years ago holding forth on the same issue and in fact citing and singing verses from the two poems to show Bulle Shah in poor light. I had a chat with him after his performance at the Dilli Haat where I had agrued with him that whereas Mevlana’s negation of the self was rooted in surrender, Bulle Shah’s was clearly the opposite – namely, the rejection of rigid identities but also the assertion of a newly emergent and challenging creative ego whose resonance could be extended to an as yet nascent social ego. My intent was not to ridicule the poetic stature of the Mevlana but to underline the difference and thereby point out the injustice being done to Bulle Shah in labelling him as no more than a plagiarist.

    It was obvious to me that unlike Bulle Shah, the Mevlana couldn’t ever bring himself to say:

    Avval-aakhar aap nu jaana
    Na koi dooja hor pacchaana
    Maithon na koi har syaana
    Bulle shauh Kharha hai kaun

    (I deem myself to be the beginning and the end
    Other than me I do not recognise another
    Another one wiser than me isn’t there
    Says Bulle Shah who’s the one who stands and dares)

    The political and existential intent of these verses is nowhere visible in the poem – a poem of surrender on the path of love – by the Mevlana. Bulle Shah was openly intransigent and even self-destructively sacrilegious. He may begin from Rumi – not an Urdu poet in any case – but he may take off on his own and eventually produce something radically different from him

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