Tag Archives: ghazal

Begum Akhtar and Agha Shahid Ali

5 Feb

A nice piece by Manan Kapoor on two of India’s greatest 20th century artists and their intertwining:

How the legendary Begum Akhtar influenced the life and poetry of Agha Shahid Ali

And the Queen in live performance:

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Asia Beats: Adi and Suhail: “Jogiya”

21 Jan

I like this “Qalandar” number, but what really hooked me on these guys was a piece called Jogiya,” which unfortunately is not on YouTube and the BBC won’t let us have, so you’ll have to watch it at their site: Asia Beats: Adi and Suhail.  The ghazal-thumri-like delicacy and eroticism, the qawwali intensity and the keyboard all in one funky mess really blew me away.  And what’s up with that gorgeous black-on-black sherwani on Suhail in the “Jogiya” video.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

 

A Reader Writes: Agha Shaid Ali

19 May

Dear Nicholas Bakos,

Its a lovely article on an unknown personality in his own native place where he as a child grow up with his lovely family and I also belong to Kashmir ; no one was aware that Ali is a American -Kashmiri poet till he got expired in 2001 , I remember clearly I was 17 and my brother told me that lets attend the funeral , although he was buried in Northampton near the Emily Dickinson I noticed that day people were talking about his generosity and his liberal views about life.

Thanking you for writing a beautiful article!

Cheers!

Syed Mudasir Ali

Thank you Syed.  What news from Kashmir can you bring us?.  it’s been so absent in the news lately?  How do people see Modi’s election?

NB

Below: the entire post

*************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Talk of poetry, the Delhi Wallah and Kashmir (May 10, “Favorite Blogs: The Delhi Wallah”) made me think of one of my favorite poets of the past few years, the Kashmiri-American — I guess one would call him — Agha Shahid Ali, a prolific poet who wrote about the ghazal, edited a book of ghazals in English: Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English and wrote a collection of his own ghazals in English: Call Me Ishmael Tonight a tiny volume that obsessed me for months the first time I got my hands on it.  That one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever known — a friend and the saqi at a bar in Astoria I used to go to — introduced me to it didn’t hurt either.  “Strange and beautiful” he called them, and I still do, and often think that the one must always by necessity partake of the other to some extent: in poetry, in religion, in the physical beauty of a man or woman, in an idea…

Here’s part of Ali’s description of the genre:

“The ghazal is made up of couplets, each autonomous, thematically and emotionally complete in itself… once a poet establishes the scheme—with total freedom, I might add—she or he becomes its slave. What results in the rest of the poem is the alluring tension of a slave trying to master the master.”

In Arabic

A language of loss? I have some business in Arabic.
Love letters: a calligraphy pitiless in Arabic.

At an exhibit of miniatures, what Kashmiri hairs!
Each paisley inked into a golden tress in Arabic.

This much fuss about a language I don’t know? So one day
perfume from a dress may let you digress in Arabic.

A “Guide for the Perplexed” was written–believe me–
by Cordoba’s Jew–Maimonides–in Arabic.

Majnoon, by stopped caravans, rips his collars, cries “Laila!”
Pain translated is O! much more–not less–in Arabic.

Writes Shammas: Memory, no longer confused, now is a homeland–
his two languages a Hebrew caress in Arabic.

When Lorca died, they left the balconies open and saw:
On the seat his qasidas stitched seamless in Arabic.

Ah, bisexual Heaven: wide-eyed houris and immortal youths!
To your each desire they say Yes! O Yes! in Arabic.

For that excess of sibilance, the last Apocalypse,
so pressing those three forms of S in Arabic.

I too, O Amichai, saw everything, just like you did–
In Death. In Hebrew. And (please let me stress) in Arabic.

They ask me to tell them what Shahid means: Listen, listen:
It means “The Beloved” in Persian, “witness” in Arabic.

Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001)

More here: Poetry Foundation

Some more mundane info on the ghazal: Ghazal

“In Arabic” “Reprinted from The Veiled Suite: The Collected Poems by Agha Shahid Ali. English translation copyright © 2009 by Daniel Hall. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.”

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Become a moth

20 May

Shajarian and a very young Homayoun perform the Molana-Rumi verse (with Alizadeh and Kalhor)

Perhaps the main reason I started my attempt to learn Farsi was pure spite (the other was to go to Afghanistan).  I had gotten tired of asking Iranians whether they liked this or that translation of Saadi or Hafez and being smugly told or categorically barked at: “NO! None of them; Persian poetry can’t be translated,” or reading some poor soul on You Tube gush: “My God, what beautiful music!  Can someone translate the lyrics, please?!!” only to be shot down by an Iranian: “you dont know all the metaphors references you won’t understand you cant translate poetry.”  Well, yes you can translate poetry, ‘cause if you can’t, you can’t translate anything else either.  Or you can create a set of reasonably analogous concepts that gives the other language-speaker a strongly analogous idea, at least, and just as strong a sensory feel.  In the end, the set of incommunicable ideas we’ve each got locked in our heads is pretty much as different as that between any two languages, so if you doubt translation you’re doubting the hope of any human communication really – which might, I understand, be a reasonable theory.  But we’ll forgive the Persians their snobbery because, as they say in Spanish in an expression I love: “tienen con que…” literally “they got what with…” meaning “they have reason to be” or “they a have a right to…”

But then there’s this sweet and very generous attempt of one You Tube reader to give an almost calque-like translation of this Rumi piece:

If you are going to the drunkards, become drunk

If you go towards the drunk, go drunkenly! Go drunkenly! (mastâne is a compound from mast (drunk) and the prefix -âne, which is_ a particularizer (pertaining to the qualities of X, in a X manner) e.g. from mard we have mardâne (men’s, for men; …

You should become all soul, until you are worthy of the spirits[?]

You should become all soul until you become deserving the sweetheart (beloved)

And then become the cup [?] that holds the wine of love

And then become a cup for the wine of love! Become a cup! (in English, if I’m not mistaken, one says “become a member of X” so I translated it as “become a cup…” rather than “become the cup”)

Make your heart like the [other] hearts [?], wash it seven times [till it is free] of grudges

Go and wash the chest of hatreds seven-water-ly like [real] chests (chest is the house of heart. I think, in English, one says “like a [real] chest”. Ancient people believed that washing something with water of seven seas makes it purely clean.)

And then come live with the lovers

And then, come [and] become homemate with lovers! Become homemate! (ham- = homo-, xâne = home -> homo-home like homo-phone but anyway: homemate)

Become a stranger to yourself, ruin your own home [destroy the_ nafs]

[both] make yourself alien (stranger) and make the house ruined (I think it means “desert your past and your belongings”)

And from the heart of the flame, come out, become a moth

And into fire, enter! Become a butterfly! Become a butterfly! (candle (šamë)

Abandon your deceit, O lover, become mad

O lover, abandon deceit! Become mad! Become mad! (hilat is Arabic_ form of hila -> hile. In Persian, we have sometimes taken an Arabic word as -at and sometimes as -a. Well, as for hilat, it’s not found in common Persian and we only say hila/e)

 

And a Farsi transliteration, not all included in the above performance:

Aan goushvaar-e shaahedaan, hamsohbat-eh aarez shodeh,

Aan goush-e aarez baayadat! dordaaneh sho, dordaaneh sho(2),

Chon Jaan-e to shod dar hava, zafsaneh-ye shiereen-eh ma,

Faany sho O chon aasheghaan! afsaaneh_ sho, afsaaneh sho(2),

Andiesheh-at Jaaie ravad, aangah to ra aanja barad

zaandisheh bogzar chon ghaza! pieshaaneh sho, pieshaaneh sho(2)

O Hielat Raha kon aashegha! divaneh sho, divaneh sho(2),

Vandar del-e aHam khiesh ra bigaaneh kon, ham khaaneh ra viraneh kon,

Vaangah bia ba aasheghaa! hamkhaaneh sho, hamshaaneh sho(2),atash dar a! parvaneh sho, parvaneh sho(2)

Ro sieneh ra chon sieneh ha, haft aab_ shoo az kieneh ha,

Vaangah sharaab-e eshgh ra! peymaaneh sho, peymaaneh sho(2),

The moth-and-flame is one of the most classic of those ‘untranslatable’ metaphors: the constant injunction to become a moth and throw yourself into the flame, surrender to the annihilation of love.  The crucial surrender here, of course, is to ignore the full spectrum of interpretations – from the religious pedant’s to the equally irritating contemporary gay ‘reads’ (those of what Joseph Massad calls “The Gay International”) – about whether the flame is God or your spiritual master or a hot kid and really surrender the urge to interpret entirely, forget about metaphor, stop the transference, which is what “metaphora” means in Greek, something that the ghazal’s connected/disconnected structure is so conducive to and which gives it so much of its power  — and which probably leads to the common assumption of untranslatability.  This is what Agha Shahid Ali’s poetry does so successfully in English.

That said, I’ve never seen a moth actually do this.  I’ve heard mosquitoes incessantly frying themselves on those machines on summer nights in the sweltering plains of northern Greece while I’m trying to enjoy a roast pig crackling, but not a moth actually burn itself in a candle or other flame — or maybe Persian moths are greater emotional risk-takers.  In my experience, whenever a moth runs into trouble around light it’s usually ended up like this guy who I found in my icon lamp.

And this is what I’ve found most contemporary humans’ experience of love to be too: stuck in a viscous mess, your wings oil-logged, pedaling frantically and unable to escape your slow suffocation till life picks you out with a paper-towel and squishes you.  Don’t we wish it were instant incineration; we’d save ourselves much pointless humiliation.  But our hearts just aren’t up to such sacrificial leaps into the abyss anymore.

“Whom the flame itself has gone looking for, that moth — just imagine!” – Bollywood song

 

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Begum Akhtar

11 May

Still the undisputed queen of the sung Urdu ghazal and a figure of great and deep love for Agha Shahid Ali:

And below, in Satyajit Ray’s 1958 Jalsaghar (The Music Room), though here I need to own up to my ignorance and admit that I’m not sure if she’s singing a ghazal or thumri or some other genre.  It’s also extremely annoying and, to say the least, odd, that Ray would disrespect her performance so much by pasting most of it over by cutaways of the audience and especially the film’s idiot nouveau-riche neighbor who doesn’t even know what he’s listening to:

Begum Akhtar in Jalsaghar : (not allowed to embed it, logic of which I never understood…)

Here’s a photo anyway and more info: Begum Akhtar

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Agha Shahid Ali

11 May

Talk of poetry, the Delhi Wallah and Kashmir (May 10, “Favorite Blogs: The Delhi Wallah”) made me think of one of my favorite poets of the past few years, the Kashmiri-American — I guess one would call him — Agha Shahid Ali, a prolific poet who wrote about the ghazal, edited a book of ghazals in English: Ravishing DisUnities: Real Ghazals in English and wrote a collection of his own ghazals in English: Call Me Ishmael Tonight a tiny volume that obsessed me for months the first time I got my hands on it.  That one of the most beautiful men I’ve ever known — a friend and the saqi at a bar in Astoria I used to go to — introduced me to it didn’t hurt either.  “Strange and beautiful” he called them, and I still do, and often think that the one must always by necessity partake of the other to some extent: in poetry, in religion, in the physical beauty of a man or woman, in an idea…

Here’s part of Ali’s description of the genre:

“The ghazal is made up of couplets, each autonomous, thematically and emotionally complete in itself… once a poet establishes the scheme—with total freedom, I might add—she or he becomes its slave. What results in the rest of the poem is the alluring tension of a slave trying to master the master.”

In Arabic

A language of loss? I have some business in Arabic.
Love letters: a calligraphy pitiless in Arabic.

At an exhibit of miniatures, what Kashmiri hairs!
Each paisley inked into a golden tress in Arabic.

This much fuss about a language I don’t know? So one day
perfume from a dress may let you digress in Arabic.

A “Guide for the Perplexed” was written–believe me–
by Cordoba’s Jew–Maimonides–in Arabic.

Majnoon, by stopped caravans, rips his collars, cries “Laila!”
Pain translated is O! much more–not less–in Arabic.

Writes Shammas: Memory, no longer confused, now is a homeland–
his two languages a Hebrew caress in Arabic.

When Lorca died, they left the balconies open and saw:
On the seat his qasidas stitched seamless in Arabic.

Ah, bisexual Heaven: wide-eyed houris and immortal youths!
To your each desire they say Yes! O Yes! in Arabic.

For that excess of sibilance, the last Apocalypse,
so pressing those three forms of S in Arabic.

I too, O Amichai, saw everything, just like you did–
In Death. In Hebrew. And (please let me stress) in Arabic.

They ask me to tell them what Shahid means: Listen, listen:
It means “The Beloved” in Persian, “witness” in Arabic.

Agha Shahid Ali (1949-2001)

More here: Poetry Foundation

Some more mundane info on the ghazal: Ghazal

“In Arabic” “Reprinted from The Veiled Suite: The Collected Poems by Agha Shahid Ali. English translation copyright © 2009 by Daniel Hall. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.”

 

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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