Saturday, September 14, 2019

Hindi divas

हिंद में हिंदी बनते बनते बनी, कई सौ साल लगे। अब भी बन ही रही है। संस्कृत के ताने पे तुर्की फ़ारसी का बाना और फिर जाने कौन-कौन ज़ुबान की कढ़ाई। अब अंग्रेज़ी के पैबंद लग रहे हैं।

हिंदी पे रहम कीजिए, फलने फूलने दीजिये। जब ज़ुबान नए धागे ढूंढ़ने लगे, नया मज़बूत रेशा, समझ लीजिए वो ज़िंदा रहना चाहती है। जितना उसे एयरटाइट डिब्बे में बंद करेंगे, उतनी जल्दी घुट के मर जाएगी। जिसे प्यार करते हैं उसे आज़ाद छोड़ना पड़ता है। नहीं तो, या तो प्यार मर जाएगा या वो, जिससे प्यार है। 

हाँ, हिंदी से प्यार नहीं है तो कोई बात नहीं। लेकिन सोच लीजिए, ज़ुबान माँ भी होती है, बेटी भी। जहाँ प्यार मिला, वहीं मुड़ जाएगी। हैप्पी की तरह, जूते पहन के भाग जाएगी। 

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Why did the chicken cross the road?

A new poem published in Narrow Road (Vol 8) is an attempt to examine chickens, roads and crossing over to the other side: Why did the chicken cross the road?

This issue was meant to be dedicated to 'anecdotal poetry', guest edited by Sivakami. My submission can be read as either anecdotal or a multiple choice question poem.

Click the link above and keep flipping pages until you find the poem.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Ertugrul in the age of Erdogan

As a child, I had thrilled to the story of a powerful, warrior woman on the throne of Delhi but had never wondered about who her ancestors were. I had not thought of medieval Turks as nomads, casting about in whirlpools of contested nationalities. In the modern Indian imagination—especially the Hindutva narrative—Turks are seen as usurpers of power, lumped with Persians, Chagtais and Mongols like Changez Khan who was the Oguz Turks’ biggest foe. Through watching Resurrection: Ertugrul, I began to see them as landless tribes whose only chance at life was a strong sword arm.

The world these characters inhabit is an intensely cosmopolitan one. The bazaars, inns, port towns are melting pots of race and civilisation. The actors come in all shades of brown, reflective of the mixed Greek, Roman, Armenian, Arab, Assyrian and Moroccan ancestry in the region. Watching them I felt something shifting but it took me about a hundred episodes to understand what it was. It was the stone of cultural imperialism and it weighed a few centuries... our awareness of the greater world was minimal—everything between Bombay and Britain was an indistinct blob in our minds. Millions of South Asians worked in the Gulf but we didn’t know its history. We read about Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990; the newspapers mentioned the decade long Iran-Iraq war before that. But we didn’t know how Iraq and Kuwait came to be on the map.

All I knew about Turkey was a couple of lines in my history textbook: The Indian struggle for independence was entwined with the Khilafat movement, which opposed British attempts to strip the Caliph of all power. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk defeated colonisers and made it a secular nation.

In fiction, I read about King Arthur, Joan of Arc, Papal politics. I read about the Crusades and knew that these were wars fought between Christian knights and Muslim hordes. The knights, I thought of as vaguely noble: knight in shining armour; knight to the rescue of damsel in distress; knight on a white horse; people “knighted” after great achievements. The Muslim hordes, I thought of as... The truth is, I did not think about the Muslims at all.

Read the full text of my essay on cultural politics, Netflix, and the shaping of minds via storytelling and media exposure in Fountain Ink magazine : 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

A profile of Akhil Katyal, bilingual poet and rising star on Delhi's literary horizon

By now, he had published his first poem in the school magazine. It was written in Hindi, during his “Casio phase”. He had been taking private music lessons for a few years, tabla in Dehradun and Casio (the keyboard) in Lucknow. A man came to their Ganga Sinchai Puram home and taught him and his brother to play simple Bollywood tunes. “It was songs like “Roop Suhana Lagta Hai”, and “Didi Tera Devar Deewana”. I played these tunes at public events, especially at the colony’s officer’s club, where children would perform at dinners.”
It was the 150th-year celebration of their school, and both his brother and he took ill. He was still keen on participating somehow, so he wrote a poem for the school magazine. It was called “Ghar”, and he admits he had help with it. “I wrote the first six lines and my keyboard teacher wrote the second half.”
Over the years, his language skills were getting sharper but so was the pressure to focus on science. “My mother is a double graduate. My father went to IIT before he joined the state irrigation department. Most of the men on either side of the family were in engineering or the air force.”
Katyal ended up studying science for another two years, but it was a miserable time. After school, he was sent to a private coaching centre, full of young men preparing to crack the big entrance exams – medicine and engineering. He began to cut classes. “I would take my moped and wander around Lucknow. I’d go to the imambara, or to the riverside. I rode far out, waiting until it was time to go home.”
He fared badly in his 12th board exams and failed the IIT prelims. His parents finally took him to a career counsellor who tested his aptitude and told them that the boy’s interest and talent clearly lay in English literature. “She said, ‘Take him to Delhi University and let him study literature’.” By now, his older brother had been put through the grind and ultimately allowed to go his way, into hotel management. “So I was a little freer to do this non-serious thing, literature.”

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Naught Naught Narrative Justice

An obvious example is the retelling of fairytales. In the cultural zine, Toast, writer Anne Thériault argued that fairytales were probably women’s narratives to start with. They spelt out fantasies — “a prince, a castle, a happy ending” — and fears, such as being taken advantage of by a man or losing one’s children. It wasn’t until the Grimm brothers gained control of fairytales that “beautiful and reasonably spirited young women” morphed into obedient and hard-working ones.

Then, there is the question of medium and money. Storytelling forms have changed dramatically over the last 200 years. Women were rarely in control of the popular narrative because they did not control printing presses, newspapers or film studios. With the tide turning in recent decades, we are seeing fairytales being re-interpreted yet again. Newer versions, particularly animated films, tend to portray princesses as headstrong and quite capable of looking after themselves.Underpinning these re-tellings is the idea of narrative justice. Female characters have rarely been centre-stage in the great epics or screen fantasies of the last century. Sometimes they occupied the margins. Where they did have a major share in the story, it was either to enable, support, or thwart the male protagonists, or to be the prize that must be won. Now, with women occupying more and more public and creative roles and with some semblance of a share in media resources, they have begun to seek out stories that allow us to collectively rethink gender and power.

A lot has changed since Ian Fleming first wrote his spy thrillers and perhaps it is only a matter of time before we see a female Bond. We do already have Salt occupying the high-voltage female spy thriller zone. In contemporary times, particularly for those of us who live in nations other than the U.S. or the U.K., a better question to ask might be: why do people keep making (and watching) Bond films?

Read the full column in The Hindu

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Where to, from here?

The messages doing the rounds are on the lines of “What can India expect if…?” “What should we brace for?”

Those who felt the need to brace for something in the event that the BJP-led NDA returned to power through the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, are well aware of what they need to brace for. The last few years have offered some indication.

There is an assumption that bracing will help. It is unlikely. Bracing helps to break a fall, either in a crash landing or in a somewhat evenly matched martial contest. Once you fall, even if you’ve managed to land without breaking your collar bone, you are still down and defenseless, and whoever put you down must have done so with some intention. There is precious little you can do to prevent the realization of that intention in the moment.

Whether the results are an accurate reflection of the people’s mandate and whether majoritarian ambition is all that will be permitted expression henceforth, remains to be seen. The question to focus on is not what to worry about, or even what to combat, but what we value, and how to achieve such values.

For too long, the national conversation has been dominated by unacceptable ideas, and people we want to reject rather than embrace. For some citizens, the idea of secularism was unacceptable. But I find it hard to believe that they valued hatred as a life principle. For others, corruption or crony capitalism was unacceptable. But not much energy and time was spent building the road to the opposite values – honesty and small, independent enterprise.

We may rail against wealth being concentrated in the hands of industrialists who fund the careers of the most powerful people in Parliament, and who will inevitably extract their pound of flesh. However, we continue to use the services and goods that make these business houses richer. We do not build or invest in more independent services because using them is inconvenient.

We don’t mind taking long drives or wasting fossil fuels because the mood strikes us. We do mind going two kilometres to pick up groceries and clothes from non-big corporation owned, non-shopping malls. We don’t like other people consuming hateful rhetoric. We do mind paying the full price for independent media. We don’t like surveillance. We sign up for Aadhaar based surveillance. We are aghast at men threatening to beat up women for drinking in pubs. We do little to counter such men except make cartoons or memes to share on social media.

We would like to think these two strands of choice are unconnected. We would like to do our thing and remain safe, remain free, remain a basically good, inclusive society, all the while surrendering our time, money, our bodies to the processes that fund the exact opposite of what we truly desire and value.
The way to recover our sense of who we are is by inhabiting and embodying our stated values. There is no other way. That is why the leaders of the independence struggle were successful in turning hearts – they didn’t just state, they strove to inhabit, their cherished values.

Ultimately, there are only two things that keep us going as individuals and as a people – love and justice. Take away either and it’s like living with one lung; take away both and the organism starts to collapse.

The nation may yet survive as an anxious, under-nourished, over-worked citizen continues to breathe, work, pay bills. But her being suffers. As hope of love and justice fades, it is replaced by bitterness and rage. While bitterness may yet be diluted through fear or the occasional candy bribe, rage is a hungry beast, not easily domesticated.

It cannot be that some Indians consistently get away with destroying lives and livelihoods. They merely open the floodgates for all others to follow their lead. As it is, India has long suffered from a lack of active, visible justice. Many people already believe that existing systems and processes subvert the Constitution rather than enable it. If people were to stop participating even in the facade of justice, if expectation of dignity and respect were abandoned, then the law, its makers and its administrators will cease to mean anything.

Then, we will need to brace for the end of hope. I am not sure if it is possible to brace against such a thing.

Published in The Quint

Saturday, May 25, 2019

A banned lullaby (Ek zabt-shuda, aur thodi si daraaoni 'Lori')

Level of expectations dekh lo, भई! कभी-कभी देश भक्ति के आवेग में बह जाते हैं लोग, तो ऐसी नज़्में लिख डालते हैं जो अपना जोश तो दिखाती ही हैं, अगली पीढ़ी के मैदान-ए-जंग में क़ुर्बान होने का वायदा कर डालते हैं। ये वीर रस में लिखी अनोखी 'लोरी' है। सोचती हूँ, इन साहब के साहबज़ादे को रात में नींद आती भी थी?

नज़्म: लोरी
शायर: अख़्तर शीराज़ी

कभी तो रहम पर आमादा बेरहम आसमाँ होगा
कभी तो ये जफ़ा पेशा मुक़्क़दर मेहरबाँ होगा
कभी तो सर पे अब्र-ए-रहमत-ए-हक़ गुलफिशाँ होगा
    मस्सर्रत सा समाँ होगा
    मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

किसी दिन तो भला होगा गरीबों की दुआओं का
असर ख़ाली न जायेगा ग़म-आलूद इल्तिजाओं का
नतीजा कुछ तो निकलेगा फ़क़ीराना सदाओं का
    ख़ुदा गर मेहरबाँ होगा
    मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

ख़ुदा रखे जवाँ होगा तो ऐसा नौजवाँ होगा 
हसीन-ओ-कार्दां होगा दिलेर-ओ-तेगरां होगा
बहुत शीरीं ज़ुबाँ होगा बहुत शीरीं बयाँ होगा
     ये महबूब-ए-जहाँ होगा
     मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

वतन और क़ौम की सौ जान से ख़िदमत करेगा ये
ख़ुदा की और ख़ुदा के हुक़्म की इज़्ज़त करेगा ये
हर अपने और पराए से सदा उल्फ़त करेगा ये
        हर एक पर मेहरबाँ होगा
        मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

मेरा नन्हा बहादुर एक दिन हथियार उठाएगा
सिपाही बन के सू-ए-अर्सा-गाहे रज़्म जायेगा
दुश्मन की ख़ून की नहरें बहायेगा
       और आख़िर कामराँ होगा
        मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

वतन की जंग-ए-आज़ादी में जिसने सर कटाया है
ये उस शीदा-ए-मिल्लत बाप का पुर-जोश बेटा है
अभी से आलम-ए-तिफ़ली का हर अंदाज़ कहता है
         वतन का पासबाँ होगा
         मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

है उसके बाप के घोड़े को कब से इंतेज़ार उसका
है रस्ते देखती कब से फ़िज़ाएँ कारज़ार उसका
हमेशा हाफ़िज़-ओ-नाज़िर है परवरदिगार उसका
       बहादुर पहलवाँ होगा
       मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

वतन के नाम पर इक रोज़ ये तलवार उठाएगा
वतन के दुश्मनों को कुंज-ए-तुर्बत में सुलाएगा
और अपने मुल्क को ग़ैरों के पंजे से छुड़ाएगा
      ग़ुरूर-ए-ख़ानदान होगा
      मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

सफ़-ए-दुश्मन में तलवार इसकी जब शोले गिराएगी
शुजा'अत बाज़ुओं में बर्क़ बन कर लहलहायेगी
जबीं की हर शिकन में मर्ग-ए-दुश्मन थरथराएगी
       ये ऐसा तेगदान होगा
       मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

सर-ए-मैदाँ जिस दम दुश्मन इसको घेरते होंगे
बजाये ख़ून रगों में इसकी शोले तैरते होंगे
सब इसके हमल-ए-शेराना से फेरते होंगे
      तह-ओ-बाला जहाँ होगा
      मेरा नन्हा जवाँ होगा

         *       *        *

[ज़ब्त शुदा नज़्में; पेज 232]
[source : आज़ादी की नज़्में]

दवाल: चमड़ी, belt
गुलफिशाँ: फूल बिखराता
मस्सर्रत: ख़ुशी
ग़म-आलूद: ग़म में सना हुआ
कार्दां: समझदार, होशियार
तेगरां: तलवार चलाने वाला (swordsman)
आलम-ए-तिफ़ली: बचपन (infancy)
पासबाँ: रखवाला, चौकीदार
कारज़ार: जंग का मैदान
सू-ए-अर्सा-गाह: मैदान की ओर
रज़्म: जंग
कामराँ: सफ़ल (successful)
मिल्लत: क़ौम या देश 
हाफ़िज़-ओ-नाज़िर: रखवाला, नज़र रखने वाला
सफ़-ए-दुश्मन: दुश्मन की क़तार (ranks of the enemy)
कुंज: कोना
तुर्बत: क़ब्र
शुजात: बहादुरी
हमल-ए-शेराना: शेर जैसा हमला
तह-ओ-बाला जहाँ: दुनिया को उल्टा करना


Nazm : Lori
Poet: Akhtar Sheerani

Kabhi to reham par amaada be-reham aasmaan hoga
Kabhi to ye jafa pesha muqqadar meharbaan hoga
Kabhi to sar pe abr-e-rahmat-e-haq gulfishaan hoga
    Massarat sa samaan hoga
    Mera nanha javaan hoga

Kisi din to bhala hoga gareebon ki duaaon ka
Asar khaali na jaayega gham-aalood iltijaaon ka
Nateeja kuch to nilkega faqeerana sadaaon ka
     Khuda gar meharbaan hoga
     Mera nanha javaan hoga

Khuda rakhe, javaan hoga to aisa naujavaan hoga
Haseen-o-kaardaan hoga diler-o-taigraan hoga
Bahut shireen zubaan hoga bahut shireen bayaan hoga
     Ye mahboob-e-jahaan hoga
      Mera nanha javaan hoga

Vatan aur quam ki sau jaan se khidmat karega ye
Khuda ki aur khuda ke hukm ki izzat karega ye
Har apne aur paraaye se sada ulfat karega ye
         Har ek par meherbaan hoga
         Mera nanha javaan hoga

Mera nanha bahadur ek din hathiyaar uthayega
Sipahi ban ke su-e-arsa-gahe razm jayega
Dushman ki khoon ki nehre bahayega
         Aur aakhir kaamraan hoga
         Mera nanha javaan hoga

Vatan ki jang-e-aazaadi mein jisne sar kataaya hai
Ye us sheeda-e-millat baap ka pur-josh beta hai
Abhi se aalam-e-tilfi ka har andaaz kahta hai
         Vatan ka paasbaan hoga
         Mera nanha javaan hoga

Hai uske baap ke ghode ko kab se intezaar uska
Hai raste dekhti kab se fizaaein kaarzaar uska
Hamesha haafiz-o-naazir hai parvardigaar uska
        Bahadur pehelvaan hoga
        Mera nanha javaan hoga

Vatan ke naam par ik roz ye talvaar uthaayega
Vatan ke dushmano ko kunj-e-turbat mein sulaayega
Aur apne mulk ko gairon ke panje se chhudayega
       Guroor-e-khaandaan hoga
       Mera nanha javaan hoga

Saf-e-dushman mein talvaar iski jab shole giraayegi
Shujaat baazuon mein barq ban kar lahlahayegi
Jabeen ki har shikan mein marg-e-dushman thartharayegi
       Ye aisa taigdaan hoga
       Mera nanha javaan hoga

Sar maidaan jis dum dushman isko gherte honge
Bajaaye khoon ragon mein iski shole tairte honge
Sab iske hamle sheraana se pherte honge
      Tah-o-bala jahaan hoga
      Mera nanha javaan hoga

[Source - Aazaadi ki Nazmein]
[Zabt Shuda Nazmein, Page 232]

Monday, May 20, 2019

Single does not translate into unselfish

Sometimes I wonder what we would do if India – as a political entity – had a Facebook account and had to update her relationship status with her citizens. I suspect she would say, ‘It’s Complicated’.

It is, indeed, complicated in a country where most relationships are suspect and where even the most conventional family structure is starting to be politically problematic. At the crux of it, of course, is the argument against ‘dynasty’. In Hindi, it sounds even more complicated. The term parivaar-vaad is used which suggests the support of one’s own family.

The assumption is that a leader with a spouse is likely to hand down the mantle of power to his/her own children, and this looks too much like monarchy for our comfort. There is also the rhetoric around single politicians – by virtue of being footloose and child-free – devoting all their time and energy to the well-being of other people’s children. In actual practice, they might be devoting their time to poetry, photography, or changing outfits a few times more than is strictly necessary.

Those who don’t have their own children often end up grooming a relative who can be trusted – to the extent that trust is possible in politics – or someone not related by blood or marriage but who has hung around long enough to become a substitute child, or mentee.

Some political careers have probably been constructed thus – through the willingness to hang around older politicians who may not have their own children to groom. This method of doing politics, however, is the exact opposite of what a democracy needs. We need people who are agitating towards the resolution of problems – including the difficulties of raising babies and caring for ageing or sick parents – and are willing to risk something in order to do so.

We all know single people in our own lives: an unmarried aunt, a widowed grandparent, a divorced cousin. In my own experience, they are not exceptionally self-sacrificing merely by virtue of being single. On the other hand, some of the most generous people I have known – those who work twice as hard and also volunteer time for public causes, especially to the care of other people’s children – are married mothers.

This is not because they are filled with the literal milk of human kindness. It is because they are care enough to fight their way out of the moment and look beyond. Many of them want to create a nation, a planet, a city, a village fit for their kids. Many fathers also work towards similar goals. They manage to be decent husbands and dads, while fighting legal battles for those who need their services, or writing extensively, traveling to meetings and joining demonstrations.

However, deep down, we all know that being single is not the answer to anything. Single people just are what they are – single. Not better, not worse, perhaps a little more vulnerable in their old age. Then why do we idolise single politicians in India?

Part of it is our brutal approach to personal joy. It could be that it makes us peevish to think of a man who wields power, with all its trappings and its endless retirement benefits, also finding love, with its full spectrum of hope, joy and purpose. There must be a spot of envy in our collective soul that demands the sacrifice of happiness at the altar of public validation. Of women, we ask twice the sacrifice. The smallest hint of reaching out for sexual satisfaction and out come the snarling teeth, the howls of disapproval.

Many Indians also assume that all laws will be broken, all systems corrupted in the interests of one’s own child, because this is precisely what they themselves do. What they want, then, is the freedom to go on corrupting the nation for the sake of their biological offspring – starting from kindergarten admissions to Vyapam-like scams, all the way up to offshore bank accounts in tax havens – while reveling in the knowledge that their chosen leader does not have the pleasure of doing the same.

That our chosen leaders might be bending all the laws of the land to empower a handful of business dynasties does not occur to most of us. Perhaps we are so preoccupied with our own families and communities, we find it hard to wrap our minds around the idea that someone can just take a chunk of public resources and hand it on a platter to another’s man’s children.

I am no advocate of dynasty, be it political, cultural or business. At any rate, as history teaches us, no dynasty lasts unless each generation works hard to retain its position. However, what India does need urgently is a nurturing leadership, one that has a serious stake in her future. We do not need leaders who are devoid of all filial, maternal or sexual attachment. We do need leaders who are willing to support everyone’s right to live, with or without dependents and attachments.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

देश प्रेम पे ध्यान: २

मेरी माँ ने एक बात कही थी जो ज़हन में गहरी जा के अटक गयी है। उन्होंने कहा: ख़ुदा/ भगवान/ प्रकृति किसी को दुनिया में भूखा मरने के लिए नहीं भेजता है; बच्चे के साथ उसकी रोटी भी भेजी है। माँ के ज़रिये उसके खाने-पीने का इंतेज़ाम किया है।

किसी बच्चे से उसकी रोटी, दूध छीना जा रहा है तो इसमें धरती का दोष नहीं है, न ऊपर वाले की कठोरता। ये इंसान का काम है, जो ऐसे हालात पैदा कर देता है कि माँ के पास कुछ नहीं बचता अपने बच्चे के लिए।

उन दिनों मैं अपनी माँ से अक्सर बहस किया करती थी। मुझे लगता था, ऊपर वाले (या वाली) की अच्छाई पे कोई कैसे यक़ीन कर सकता है जब नीचे, दुनिया में, देश में इतनी तकलीफ़ है? अब समझती हूँ। कुछ इंसान हैं ऐसे जो दूसरों से सब छीन लेते हैं, अपने पास बटोर के रख लेते हैं। इस बटोरने की कोई इन्तहा नहीं। ज़मीन, पेड़, साफ़ पानी और सुरक्षा, सुकून की नींद - इतना छीन लो और माँ की सेहत बिखरने लगेगी। लाचार माँ, भूखा बेज़ार बच्चा।

मुझे ये भी लगने लगा है, छीनने के सिलसिले की शुरुआत माँ की ज़ुबान से होती है, ताकि जब एक-एक कर सारी सहूलियतें, जीने के ज़रिये ख़त्म होते नज़र आएं, वो अपनी तकलीफ़ बयान न कर सके।

शायद छीनने वालों को डर है, कहीं बच्चे किसी तरह पल ही गए तो कौन सी कहानियाँ सुन कर सोयेंगे? माँ की मजबूरियों की ज़िम्मेदारी ठहराने चले, तो कहाँ रुकेंगे?

इसलिए माँ की ज़ुबान पे ताला ज़रूरी है। कभी उसे डराया जाता है - मुँह बंद रखो नहीं तो जान सलामत नहीं। कभी उसे छोटी-छोटी रिश्वत से बहलाया जाता है - ये लो एक रोटी और एक बोटी, चुप बैठ के खाओ नहीं तो कल दोबारा ये भी नहीं मिलेगी। जो माँ बेचैन रहे, चीख़े चिल्लाए कि जो हक़ प्रकृति ने दिया है उसे छीनने वाले तुम कौन हो? उसकी ज़ुबान खींच ली जाती है। जो लोग ज़मीन-पानी-हवा का शोर मचाएँ, उनका मुल्क ढेर कर दिया जाता है। 

देश. माँ. माता. Motherland. रोटी।  दूध।  बग़ावत।  शहादत।

कब से? कब तक?

शायद हर दौर में माँ एक रोटी का सौदा कर गयी है, चार रोटी की भूख को कुचलती हुई। हर दौर में एक मटका पानी लाने में इतनी मसरूफ़ रही, नदी की धार पे क़ब्ज़ा करना भूल गयी। बच्चों की जान बचाने के लिए पैसों का इंतज़ाम करती रही और जिस जगह पैसे पे बच्चों की ज़िन्दगी का सौदा टिका है, वहाँ के निज़ाम को खदेड़ने की ताक़त नहीं बना पाई।

प्रेम करती रही, वोट भर्ती रही। अपने हक़ में खड़ी कम ही हुई। बच्चे बच सके तो बच गए। 

Monday, May 06, 2019

Seasons of joy

Tradition and ritual, especially unthinking ritual, hold little appeal for me. Those of us who grew up celebrating almost every religious festival there is on the Indian calendar would have also grown weary of the expectations attached – to cook, buy gifts or new clothes, visit the same set of ten to 15 people, rinse, repeat.

As an adult, I tired of the seeming emptiness of these rituals and wondered what exactly we celebrated. Those of us who are not farmers cannot experience the joy and relief of a harvest season in the physical or social way our ancestors would have. Those of us who do not rear sheep or chickens cannot expect to truly participate in a celebration of sacrifice.

The first festival that gave me a sense of homecoming had me standing beside my mother, along with thousands of strangers, gasping at the magic of Ustad Zakir Hussain’s hands on the tabla. The performance was free and open to all. We had no seats. It didn’t matter. The Ustad was playing at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in Mumbai, the year after his own father, Ustad Alla Rakha, had passed away. So we knew that he was playing in some grief. Under the cool night sky, we listened, marveled and felt quietly grateful.

Read the full article here in GQ India

Friday, May 03, 2019

A place of beauty, and of harassment

Cars are not my happy place. Yet, for over two years, I wrote a road column for The Hindu. 

My view was that of a citizen who uses the road, sometimes as motorist, sometimes as pedestrian and sometimes as a person dependent on public transport. This was the last column of the series:

A road is more than an enabler of motor transport. It is public space. It is a place of pathos, of beauty. It is also the venue of a dozen contestations of power – who gets to stand where, talk how loudly and to how many people, and who is frightened off the road.

On Holi this year, I had a strange experience. Actually, a commonplace experience but it felt strange because I had forgotten what it's like to be followed, , in Mumbai and in broad daylight, and to struggle against unwanted male attention.

I stepped out in the evening after Holi celebrations were over, to buy groceries. A sleek, expensive-looking black car slowed down.

Read the whole column here:

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Coops and cages

Citizens old enough not only to vote but also to marry and have children--some of them even old enough to contest parliamentary elections--were locked in, unable to participate in the cultural and academic life of the university. These were adult women who could not take a walk around the lawns or eat a meal off campus without written permission from local guardians.

All Indian colleges and universities insist on a “guardian” rather than a local emergency point of contact for undergraduate, graduate and even doctoral scholars. This guardian decides whether or not a student can watch a movie or attend a workshop.

The sexism extends to guardians too. A college teacher wrote in to say that when a friend’s daughter needed a local guardian, she volunteered. However, Daulatram College hostel refused on the grounds that she was single; in addition, she was treated to a lecture on the “morals of womanhood”.

Read full story on women students across India breaking hostel curfews and demanding that colleges change the rules:

Friday, April 19, 2019

Proscribed Poems: 'Door Tak Yaad-e-Vatan Aayi Thi Samjhaani Ko'

Another proscribed poem credited to Bismil in the collection 'Zabt Shuda Nazmein'. About this poem, the editor has added a note saying, this is the simple and sincere poem that was sung in court by the prisoner Prem Dutt during the Lahore Conspiracy Case trial, and that it had reduced people to tears.

Further, Prof Chaman Lal writes here that Prem Dutt Verma was one of the young associates of Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru, and that he was barely 18 years old when he was arrested and accused, among other things, of trying to establish a “Federated Republican Government”. Prem Dutt was listed as accused Prem Dutt alias Master alias Amrit lal, son of Ram Dutt Khatri of Gujarat.

Poem: 'Door Tak Yaad-e-Vatan Aayi Thi Samjhaani Ko'

Hum bhi aaram utha sakte the ghar par rah kar
Humko bhi paala tha maa baap ne dukh sah-sah kar
Waqt-e-rukhsat unhein itna bhi na aaye kah kar
God mein aansoo bhi tapke jo rukh se bah kar
                   Tifl inko samajh lena jee behlaane ko

Desh seva hi ka bahta hai lahu nas-nas mein
Ab to khaa baithe hai Chittorh ke garh ki qasmein
Sarfaroshi ki ada hoti hai yoon hi rasmein
Bhai khanjar se gale milte hain sab aapas mein
                 Behenein tayyar chitaaon pe hain jal jaane ko

Naujavano jo tabiyat mein tumhaari khatke
Yaad kar lena kabhi humko bhi bhoole bhatke
Aapke uzv-e-badan hovein judaa kat-kat ke
Aur sad-chaak ho mata ka kaleja phat ke
                   Par na mathe pe shikan aaye qasam khaane ko

Apni qismat mein azal se hi sitam rakha tha
Ranj rakha tha mahan rakha tha ghum rakha tha
Kis ko parvah thi aur kis mein ye dum rakha tha
Humne jab vaadi-e-gurbat mein qadam rakha tha
                  Door yak yaad-e-vatan aayi thi samjhaane ko

Apna kuch ghum nahin hai par ye khyaal aata hai
Madar-e-hind pe kab se ye zavaal aata hai
Desh aazaadi ka kab hind mein saal aata hai
Qaum apni pe to ro ro ke malaal aata hai
                   Muntazar rahte hain hum khaak mein mil jaane ko.


From Zabt Shuda Nazmein; page 88
[1 - Bande Matram, 1921]

The poem is credited to Ram Prasad Bismil. But some poems have been mistakenly credited to Ramprasad Bismil in this collection, such as Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna, which was written by Bismil Azeemabadi, so I am not entirely certain which ones might belong to which 'Bismil'. 


'दूर तक याद-ए-वतन आयी थी समझाने को'

                                                   - बिस्मिल

हम भी आराम उठा सकते थे घर पर रह कर
हमको भी पाला था माँ बाप ने दुःख सह-सह कर
वक़्त-ए-रुख़सत उन्हें इतना भी न आए कह कर
गोद में आँसू भी टपके जो रुख़ से बह कर
                      तिफ़्ल इनको समझ लेना जी बहलाने को

देश सेवा ही का बहता है लहू नस-नस में
अब तो खा बैठे हैं चित्तौड़ की गढ़ की क़समें
सरफ़रोशी की अदा होती हैं यूँ ही रस्में
भाई ख़ंजर से गले मिलते हैं सब आपस में
                      बहनें तैयार चिताओं पे हैं जल जाने को

नौजवानों जो तबियत में तुम्हारी खटके
याद कर लेना कभी हमको भी भूले भटके
आपके उज़्व-ए-बदन होवें जुदा कट-कट के
और सद-चाक हो माता का कलेजा फट के
                      पर न माथे पे शिकन आये क़सम खाने को

अपनी क़िस्मत में अज़ल से ही सितम रखा था
रंज रखा था महन रखा था ग़म रखा था
किसको परवाह थी और किस में ये दम रखा था
हमने जब वादी-ए-ग़ुरबत में क़दम रखा था
                       दूर तक याद-ए-वतन आयी थी समझाने को

अपना कुछ ग़म नहीं है पर ये ख़याल आता है
मादर-ए-हिन्द पे कब से ये ज़वाल आता है
देश आज़ादी का कब हिन्द में साल आता है
क़ौम अपनी तो रो-रो के मलाल आता है
                        मुन्तज़िर रहते हैं हम ख़ाक में मिल जाने को।


Note: एडिटर ने इस नज़्म के बारे में लिखा था के ये वो सादा पुरख़लूस नज़्म है जो मुक़दमा-ए-साज़िश लाहौर की समा'अत के दौरान में असीर प्रेम दत्त ने गा कर लोगों को रुला दिया था। 

ज़ब्त शुदा नज़्में (पेज 88)
[Source 1 - बन्दे मातरम, 1921]

Potentially difficult words: 

तिफ़्ल: छोटे बच्चे (infant)
उज़्व-ए-बदन: बदन का हिस्सा, अंग 
सद-चाक: सौ बार चीरा गया 
अज़ल: अनादि/आदि काल (eternity or  beginning )
महन: दुःख 
ज़वाल: पतन (decline)
मुन्तज़िर: इंतज़ार में 

[Credited to Ram Prasad Bismil. But note: Some poems have been mistakenly credited to Ramprasad Bismil in this collection, such as Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna, which was written by Bismil Azeemabadi, so I am not entirely certain which ones might belong to which 'Bismil']


Have just been pointed to a link that has the same poem in a much more expanded form. Perhaps the whole thing was not published in Bande Matram magazine from where it has been sourced for this anthology.

Please find the whole poem at Kavita Kosh

Proscribed Poem 3


Poet: Ghani

Surat-e-barq tadap jis ghadi dikhlaoonga
Tere phande se main sayyaad nikal jaaoonga

Larzish paa hoon gar dast-e-karam se tere
Saaqiya peete hi yak jaam sambhal jaaoonga

Bhool jaayega falak shoabda baazi jis dum
Apni teenat se main sau rang badal jaaoonga

Phir na manoon vo lakh manaayein ae dil
Vaada-e-vasl pe jis dum main machal jaaoonga

Dil kisi shokh tarah vaar ko de doonga Ghani
Shokhi-e-ishq mein jab khoob main dhal jaaoonga

From: Zabt Shuda Nazmein (page 129)
(Source listed: Bande Mantram 1)


शायर : ग़नी

सूरत-ए-बर्क़ तड़प जिस घड़ी दिखलाऊँगा
तेरे फंदे से मैं सैय्याद निकल जाऊँगा

लर्ज़िश-ए-पा हूँ गर दस्त-ए-करम से तेरे
साक़िया पीते ही यक जाम संभल जाऊँगा

भूल जायेगा फ़लक शोब्दा बाज़ी जिस दम
अपनी तीनत से मैं सौ रंग बदल जाऊँगा

फिर न मानूँ वो लाख मनाएँ ऐ दिल
वादा-ए-वस्ल पे जिस दम मैं मचल जाऊँगा

दिल किसी शोख़ तरह वार को दे दूंगा ग़नी
शोख़ी-ए-इश्क़ में जब ख़ूब मैं ढल जाऊँगा

(1 - बन्दे मातरम)

ज़ब्त शुदा नज़्में (पेज १२९)

Difficult words:

बर्क़: बिजली

लर्ज़िश-ए-पा: काँपते पैर

शोब्दा बाज़ी: तमाशे बनाना, खेल खेलना (trickery)

तीनत: सीरत या स्वभाव (temperament )

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Tweak the system in order to save elections

Words like “party” are slowly being leached of meaning. What does it mean to vote for a party when the person you vote for ceases to represent that party? Post-election alliances also appear to be based on who can be persuaded to surrender a slice of power. There is little pretence about smaller parties wanting to ally with others based on common values. In such a climate, those who speak of values — their own or those of the voters — elicit mockery, while those who can successfully dismantle the public mandate are admired.

It doesn’t have to be like this. All over the world, voters participate in elections because they take for granted that their candidates represent a set of values. Some nations go a step further and account for the fact that individual leaders have their own following, regardless of party affiliation.

Perhaps it is time India also tweaked our system so that our vote does not get highjacked so easily.

Some suggestions in this column here:

Friday, April 12, 2019

'Vo Chup Rahne Ko Kahte Hain Jo Hum Faryaad Karte Hain'

Another proscribed poem. The interesting thing about it is that the poet 'Bismil' (Ram Prasad, or Azeemabadi? As mentioned in the last post, I have a doubt because of at least a few mis-credited poems) uses the tropes of a romantic ghazal to speak of 'aazaadi'. Freedom, imprisonment, tyranny and the longing to be free.

'Vo Chup Rahne Ko Kahte Hain Jo Hum Faryaad Karte Hain'

Ilaahi khair, voh har dum se nayi bedaad karte hain
Humein tohmat lagaate hain jo hum faryaad karte hain 

Kabhi aazaad karte hain kabhi bedaad karte hain 
Magar is par bhi hum sau jee se unko yaad karte hain 

Aseeraan-e-qafas se kaash ye sayyaad keh deta 
Raho aazaad ho kar hum tumhe aazaad karte hain 

Raha karta hai ahal-e-ghum ko kya kya intezaar iska 
Kar dekhain vo dil nashaad ko kab shaad karte hain 

Ye kah-kah kar sabr ki umr ne qaid-e-ulfat main 
Vo ab aazaad karte hain, vo ab aazaad karte hain

Sitam aisa nahin dekha jafa aisi nahin dekhi 
Vo chup hone ko kehte hain jo hum faryaad karte hain 

Ye baat achhi nahin hoti, ye baat achhi nahin karte
Humein bekas samajh kar aap kyun barbaad karte hain

Koi bismil banaata hai jo maqtal mein humeen bismil
To hum darr kar dabi aavaaz se faryaad karte hain 

  (Ram Prasad?) Bismil (Azeemabadi?)
     From: Zabt Shuda Nazmein (page 86)

'वो चुप रहने को कहते हैं जो हम फ़र्याद करते हैं '

इलाही ख़ैर वो हर दम से नई बेदाद करते हैं
हमें तोहमत लगाते हैं जो हम फ़र्याद करते हैं 

कभी आज़ाद करते हैं कभी बेदाद करते हैं 
मगर इस पर भी हम सौ जी से उनको याद करते हैं 

असीरान-ए-क़फ़स से काश ये सय्याद कह देता 
रहो आज़ाद हो कर हम तुम्हे आज़ाद करते हैं 

रहा करता है अहल-ए-ग़म को क्या-क्या इंतेज़ार इसका 
कर देखें वो दिल नाशाद को कब शाद करते हैं 

ये कह-कह कर सब्र की उम्र ने क़ैद-ए-उल्फ़त में
वो अब आज़ाद करते हैं, वो अब आज़ाद करते हैं

सितम ऐसा नहीं देखा जफ़ा ऐसी नहीं देखी 
वो चुप होने को कहते हैं जो हम फ़र्याद करते हैं 

ये बात अच्छी नहीं होती ये बात अच्छी नहीं करते
हमें बेकस समझ कर आप क्यूँ बर्बाद करते हैं

कोई बिस्मिल बनाता है जो मक़्तल में हमें बिस्मिल
तो हम डर कर दबी आवाज़ से फ़र्याद करते हैं.  
(राम प्रसाद?) बिस्मिल (अज़ीमाबादी?)
[ज़ब्त शुदा नाज़में (पेज 86)]

Some difficult words:

बेदाद : अन्याय
अहल-ए-ग़म : ग़म रखने वाले लोग
असीरान-ए-क़फ़स : पिंजड़े में बंद क़ैदी
मक़्तल : क़त्ल की जगह

Half the night is indeed gone

Had reviewed Amitabha Bagchi's beautiful novel 'Half the Night is Gone' last year. Thinking of it again today, with admiration for its craft as well as it's insight.

Is the narrator Vishwanath telling a lightly fictionalised story of his own family? We cannot be sure. But there are parts of himself in all those characters, as there must be in the work of any writer. The story of two brothers, but these are not the same two brothers.

The foundations of 20th century India are revealed through the fractures within these twin narratives. We read the story of two families and a nation, of its classes and its schisms, of religious texts and poetry, and its place in the minds of people. The Ramcharitmanas (referred to just as Manas) is at the centre of the narrative, much like the figure of Ram himself has been central to the storm raging through the heart of the nation since the 1980s.

Part of the problem, Vishwanath realises, is that the nation was being ruled by a class that had moved so far from its cultural roots, it had forgotten the hold of religion over people’s hearts and how it could be channeled by political forces. Help, he writes, could have come from a different sort of intellectual, such as Hindi speakers like himself. “At the very least we knew who Tulsidas was and had read his work… Perhaps, together we could have created an alternative narrative that didn’t reduce people’s faith to complaints about noisy loudspeakers.”

Review here:

An addendum to Sarfaroshi?

चर्चा अपने क़त्ल का अब यार की महफ़िल में है
देखना है यह तमाशा कौन सी मंज़िल में है

देश पर क़ुरबान होते जाओ तुम, ए हिन्दीयों
ज़िंदगी का राज़ मुज़मिर खंजर-ए-क़ातिल में है

साहिल-ए-मक़्सूद  पर ले चल ख़ुदारा, नाख़ुदा
आज हिन्दुस्तान की कश्ती बड़ी मुश्किल में है

दूर हो अब हिंद से तारीक़ी-ए-बुग़्ज़-ओ-हसद
बस यही हसरत, यही अरमाँ हमारे दिल में है

बाम-ए-रिफ़त पर चढ़ा दो देश पर हो कर फ़ना
बिस्मिल अब इतनी हवस बाक़ी हमारे दिल में है

Words that may be difficult:

मुज़मिर: छुपा हुआ (hidden)
मक़्सूद: उद्देश्य (purpose)
नाख़ुदा: मल्लाह, कश्ती चलाने वाला (oarsman)
तारीक़ी: अंधेरा (darkness)
बुग़्ज़-ओ-हसद: नफ़रत और ईर्षा (spite or malice and jealousy)
बाम-ए-रिफ़त: ऊँची छत, ऊँचाई  (on a high terrace)

[कॉंग्रेस पुष्पांजलि 1930]

Another proscribed poem, from 'Zabt Shuda Nazmein (page 85)

Roman version available here:

These verses follow the pattern of the famous Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna, and are credited to Ram Prasad Bismil in the book. However, poems have been mistakenly credited to Ramprasad Bismil, including Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna which was actually written by Bismil Azeemabadi and perhaps made popular by Ramprasad. So I am not entirely certain which of these belongs to which 'Bismil'.

[Source cited for this poem: Congress Pushpanjali 1930]

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