Monday, July 23, 2012

Dil Dhoondta Hai

A very good friend reminded me of these lines -

Aao tumko utha loon kandhon par
Tum uchak kar shareer hothon se
Choom lena ye chand ka matha...

Aaj ki raat dekha na tumne
Kaise jhuk jhuk ke koniyon ke bal
Chand itna kareeb aaya hai...

Can you recognize which film these lines are from ?  I must say I was struck by how "shareer hothon" hits you in the middle of the poetry !! This is, but yet another example of the genius of Gulzar where he picks known words but weaves them together to create a completely unknown effect, at least to someone like me who is largely ignorant of the world of Hindi and Urdu poetry beyond Hindi film songs.

Me and my friend went back and forth as to whether it is "chand sa matha" or "chand ka matha". Both would make sense in isolation but in the context of the verse, "chand ka matha" made a little more sense. I had an audio cassette from the days of yore that had the songs of Aandhi with the dialogues interspersed and I know that I have it somewhere in our apartment. However, the fact that I couldn't find it or didn't even bother to try might tell you something about the high entropy content of our apartment, possibly not that uncommon in academic families living in Manhattan with a toddler ! In any case this was not easy to verify and none of the songs on youtube had the dialogue. So 1:10:50 into this, I could eventually verify that.

"koniyon ke bal" is another spot in the verse that hits your mind. Again, being literally ignorant in Hindi and Urdu, I first thought that it would be "koniyon ke pal". On reflection, that did not make much sense and listening to the lines again (thanks youtube !) and again confirmed that it was indeed "koniyon ke bal". What in the world does that mean ? Today, at a gathering of scientists, two good friends, Kamlesh and Simanshu clarified that "koniyon" meant elbow, i.e. "konui" in Bengali and "koniyon ke bal" likely implied struggling motion, akin to that of a handicapped person. What a beautiful analogy ! This is not the first time it has dawned on me that the poetry of Gulzar, like a vintage wine or an exotic perfume has multiple, yet richer layers of "under taste" that are revealed long after you have listened to the lines for the first time. But that being said, I couldn't help falling in love with this seventy-something year old man, one more time !

I got my friend's message in the morning and the lines stayed in my head till they turned into this by the end of the day, before I could be enlightened by Kamlesh and Simanshu. This is a bit too personalized to be considered a translation and it is a rather horrible one at that -

The kids have been to sleep,
Far and deep.

The night is young still,
For ours to keep.

None but the luscious moon in sight,

I'll hold you up, you hold me tight.

A kiss from your cherry lips, my love,

And one for the moon tonight.

I have always wondered whether a bit of ignorance can be bliss or a really bad thing when it comes to appreciating Hindi/Urdu poetry and I don't quite know yet.

My friend, who is on his way to becoming a hot property has written a few blog posts on Gulzar that are worth checking out if you have read thus far into this post. Although he has pampered me with my previous writings, I gather he did not like this translation at all because he was uncharacteristically silent.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Siddhartha's figure looked like a black silhouette in the window frame. "The difference between the views is abrupt", he thought. Although he had the other view from a few feet below, many times, he had never mustered the courage to step onto the window sill, till today. He thought it was curious that the vertigo didn't feel as bad as he had apprehended. Down below,  Manhattan seemed like a narrow gorge. It was a fairly windy night. He sensed the cold air brushing past his hair to meet the East River right next door, and it almost reached his spine. He shivered slightly although he didn't let go of his grip, yet. "How funny it is that Manhattan never sleeps", he thought. Even slightly past three, one could spot the occasional cab running by, almost jumping the red lights, that tried hard to choke their mad rush to reach their destinations. He wondered if he would be spotted from below if it were in broad daylight. "Nah, it is unlikely that anyone would look up", he softly uttered to himself. No one ever looks up in Manhattan - they are always moving forward or trying to convince themselves that they are. As he quickly stole a look behind him, his son and wife were still fast asleep, cuddling each other mildly as their bodies moved rhythmically with the rise and fall of their breath.

Siddhartha's mind drifted away to events in the recent and not so recent past. He met a few good friends the past weekend, after a long long time. A few others he longed to meet  but he knew that would be too late. The time wouldn't be right anymore. "Is there ever a right time, the perfect time ?", he thought.  His mind strayed yet farther in past to search for the answer. "Why not ?", he thought. He had, time and again, wondered if the academic pursuit was worthwhile but he had no doubts anymore. The wounds of long hours, fruitless months, toiling nights at the bench were all but "wounds of Love". But the fruits were, intense moments of joy, ones that he hardly imagined any other profession that he might have pursued, could ever present to him. He had finished his final experiments today and everything made perfect sense. He knew that he had all the data he needed to finish the manuscript that he had started working on. And merely a couple of months later, he was going to start his dream job. "Is this the end, my only friend ?", his voice sounded hoarse to himself, the tune barely recognizable in his own ears.

They had installed the child-lock on the living room window when his son was born. He had sometimes woken up from his sleep in deep shivers imagining his son falling through an open window from their apartment. Thankfully though, they left the bedroom window to itself. He had often wondered what the final moment would be like. Was it going to be over midway in the air ? Or was he going to land with a thud, with his skull bones breaking into pieces and jutting into the flesh ? Or was he going to land on his feet, merely breaking his knees and reduced to a laughing stock ? He could not dwell on it for too long - his mind was feverishly trying to weave a tapestry of the life that he had lived. He knew he had lived the best month of his life. He did not quite know if it would be all downhill from now, but he knew that if it did, he could not bear it. His limbs were starting to pain from standing still for so long - it was close to four now. He knew that it was getting close to the time when his son's sleep cycle would reach a nadir and he had to act fast. Siddhartha's hand started to sweat as he felt the window frame slipping away from his grip.

"Baaba, agua......", came a shrill, unmistakable cry. Siddhartha looked back. He had left the table lamp on. His son was up, awake on the bed, looking at him directly in the soft light with a somewhat agitated look. "Baaba, agua", he repeated, demanding action. "Agua" was the gift of a Hispanic teacher in his son's daycare. He could not remember if he had ever heard his son uttering the word "water". His wife moved slightly in her sleep, half irritated by the sudden jolt. A few moments of indecision and that would be the end of it all, he knew. Siddhartha closed his eyes and stepped forward. Two thousand five hundred years ago, another man by the same name stepped in the other direction. "What a fool", Siddhartha thought to himself !