Friday, June 29, 2012

Kehna Usey Part II

After I posted a rudimentary translation of the Mehdi Hassan Ghazal a few days back, a friend pointed out that the gender mentioned in the translation is wrong. In the original verse, the poet, who is obviously male, he calls himself ‘Shehazad’, addresses his beloved in masculine gender, which is obvious in the words like ‘samjha’ (not samjhi), or ja raha (not ja rahi), and so on.

I agree.

The truth is, if it were possible, I’d have liked to keep the beloved gender-neural, which is in reality the essence of a Ghazal, where love is experienced outside the bounds of earthly desires and transcends the bounds of the body. But, it’s not possible in the English language, which has an altogether different grammar than the Eastern languages. My best option was to make the beloved a woman since the speaker of the verse is male. It conveys the point without creating confusion.

For the uninitiated, if I make the beloved male, then, the verse could be read as a declaration of same sex desire, which may or may be true, since most Ghazals actually carry an undercurrent of same sex desire. (For example, Saki in Omar Khayyam’s ‘Rubaiyat’: In the original Persian verses, he is a boy at the wine bar, but the English translator Fitzgerald turned him into woman for easy appreciation in Victorian England.)

Ghazal as an art from flourished during the mediaeval age, and it was strongly influenced by the tenets of Sufism, with Amir Khusro being one of its proponents. For Sufism, all love is in fact divine love, all love is a way to reach out to the God. So, when Khusro sings in praise of Nizamuddin Auliya, he actually sings in praise of God. For, Sufism believes that God is the ultimate male figure, everything else in the world is feminine. Therefore, to attain God, the devotee must assume a feminine role (devotion is feminine, aggression is masculine.). Hence, almost all Ghazals, though composed and performed by male singers, assumes a female point of view.

Ghazals talk about two kind of love — the Divine Love (ishq-e-haqiqi), and the Earthly Love (ishq-e-majazi), and a perfect Ghazal can be interpreted in both terms. And, finally, the gender of the object of devotion, love, doesn’t matter since all Ghazals talk about unrequited love. It’s about desires that cannot be attained, and there, I suppose, lies its popularity.

More on Ghazals here.

So, what happens we change the gender? Here’s an attempt:

The buds have sprouted on the bough again, tell him
He never appreciated it, and never will, still,
Go and tell him.

The torrent of time swept away every bit of everything
Such lonesome is this existence
Go and tell him.

Leaving me alone for whom he walked away
Wouldn’t offer him the solace that stranger
Go and tell him.

My lips tremble at the heaviness of my heart
Still laughing, this skill destroys me
Go and tell him.

Who with wounds filled my ‘Shahazaad’ heart
With a smile would find the destination
Go and tell him.

And, here are the three verses of an original Ghazal written in English, by Agha Shahid Ali, in a peerless composition:

The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.

My rivals for your love– you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee–
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.

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