• Parchhaaiyaan: A Poem by Sahir Ludhianvi

    Surinder Deol

    September 29, 2019

    Translation is not just about words, it is about carrying a culture, a history, a whole world into another language. Translations do not just bring languages closer to one another, they also introduce us to diverse modes of imagining and perceiving different cultures.

    To mark the International Translation Day, celebrated on 30 September, the Indian Cultural Forum will be doing a series of posts to emphasise the power and importance of translations.

    Sahir Ludhianvi was a remarkable film lyricist and an iconic literary poet. In Sahir: A Literary Portrait, Surinder Deol paints a sensitive portrait that reveals an artist who was aware of the depth of his poetic message as well as of his ability to present it in words that captured the reader's imagination. The book contains free verse translations of over ninety of Sahir's literary creations as Deol strives to bring together four distinct elements of Sahir's work: his deep-rooted love for nature, his snug romanticism, his sensitivity to human suffering, and his unceasing optimism for a better tomorrow.

    The following is an excerpt from the section "Poems: War and Peace" of the book.

    Image courtesy OUP

    ‘Parchhaaiyaan’ is incomparable in terms of the intensity of its antiwar message. Sahir is laser-focused on his central idea, namely, the preservation of global peace. The horrors of the preparation for war are portrayed alongside the unravelling lives of two ordinary lovers caught up in this whirlwind of war. The poet leaves the reader wondering whether this is an account of something that actually happened, or what could happen in the future if we are not careful.


    The scenario presented in the poem—a global war, conscription of Indian soldiers to fi ght someone else’s battle, a foreign power’s control over war and peace-making, etc.—makes it clear that it was written not in 1955, as is generally understood, but around 1944 or 1945, when Sahir lived in Lahore. According to one account, this poem was fi rst published in an Urdu magazine called Chattaan, edited by Shorish Kashmiri, one of Sahir’s close friends. The poem, whenever written, whenever published, will always be remembered as unique in Urdu literature.

    Writing a war poem, especially highlighting its destructive impact on society as a whole, was a favourite topic among the progressive poets. But a poem that mirrored the horrors of war against the backdrop of a relationship between two individuals—perhaps a romantic relationship—and how it impacted those lives was something different and special. Only two progressive poets—Sahir and Faiz—were able to bring together the really big and the really small successfully. Whether it was about revolution or war, a poet like Josh Malihabadi came across noisily, unloading a whole carriage of slogans and affirmations, while Sahir and Faiz made a deep connection with the inner chords of being, through a velvet romantic softness and mysteriously captivating meaning-making. Another noteworthy factor where both these poets distinguished themselves was musicality; the rhythmical flow of words and movements that introduced tonal variations turned their poems into musical compositions: a lament for the dead, or perhaps a covenant or disposition for the living.

    The Shadows

    In the heart of the adolescent night,
    there is a milky edge
    that is fidgeting like a dream
    made of shiny marble.
    Beautiful flowers, beautiful leaves,
    beautiful branches
    are flexibly bending down
    like a maiden’s body.
    The soft contours of the horizon
    have blended into the air.
    The land spouts loveliness
    as if it were the land of our dreams.
    Shadows arise in my imagination.
    Sometime as guesses,
    other times as certainties.
    The trees, under whose shadows
    we sought protection,
    are standing motionless
    like a trusted guardian.

    Under those very trees today,
    once again, two living hearts
    have come to say something
    and to listen to the words
    with their silent lips.
    I don’t know with how much struggle
    and how much eff ort
    they have succeeded to come here,
    by stealing moments
    that have the feel of being partially asleep
    and partially awake.

    This is how we felt the air,
    it was the same season,
    the same years—
    that is where the journey
    of our love commenced.
    With fast-throbbing hearts
    and wishful eyes we off ered
    our little prayers
    for lotus buds to become big fl owers.
    We wished for the acceptance
    of prayers that came from
    deep within us.
    Shadows arise in my imagination.

    You are coming to meet me,
    hiding from the eyes of the people around,
    with downcast eyes
    and body as if it were a stolen object.
    You were afraid of the sound
    of your own footsteps,
    and the movement of your own shadow.
    Shadows arise in my imagination.

    A little boat is moving
    with the force of the wind.
    The boatman sings a song
    matching the sound of the fl owing water.
    Your body shakes
    when the wave hits
    and you fall into my arms.
    Shadows arise in my imagination.

    I am pinning a flower in your combed hair.
    Your eyes lower themselves with joy.
    God knows what I am going to say today!
    My tongue is dry
    and my voice is rapidly wearing down.
    Shadows arise in my imagination.

    You have wrapped
    your delicate arms around my neck.
    The shadow of my smile
    is falling on your lips.
    I am certain
    that nothing would separate us now.
    You are concerned
    that we are separate even in this union.
    Shadows arise in my imagination.

    You are arranging my books
    randomly spread on the bed
    with great reverence.
    You are singing those songs in tender tones
    that are sung on the wedding night
    by women to the accompaniment of drums.
    Shadows arise in my imagination.

    How heart-warming were those moments,
    and how lovely were those points in time.
    How delicate were those decorations
    worn by the grooms,
    how attractive were those pearl strings.
    Every small alley of our village
    was filled with greenery,
    making the place look like an island of dreams.
    Each breath we took
    and each wave of the morning breeze
    felt like a melody.

    Suddenly the sound of booted footsteps
    was heard from the other side of the fields
    whose green shoots were dancing wildly in the wind.
    The breeze coming from the west
    had the smell of gunpowder.
    On the bright face of construction
    the cloud of destruction spread widely.
    The dance of savageness was seen in each village,
    and the wilderness of the forest spread into cities.
    From the civilized countries of the west
    came some uniformed officers—
    boasting, cheering, and swaying.
    Ropes of tents were thrust
    into the heart of the silent fi elds.
    Soft paths were scarred
    from people walking wearing heavy boots.
    The horrifying military bands
    overwhelmed the delicate sound
    of the spinning wheel.
    The fiery dust raised by the passing jeeps
    drowned the apparel of flowers.

    Human beings became cheap,
    produce became expensive.
    Traditional meeting places got empty,
    the lines in front of recruiting offi ces
    became longer and longer.
    The graceful and bright youth of the village
    left aft er they were recruited as soldiers.
    The paths that did not return many
    became well worn.
    The friends who left
    lost their conscience and their adolescence.
    Mothers’ grown-up sons
    and sisters’ adorable brothers—
    they all left .

    The village was gripped by sadness,
    the spring that usually came with the festivals
    The swings tied to the delicate branches
    of mango trees vanished too.
    Bazaars were covered with dust,
    and hunger started to sprout in the fi elds.
    Everything of value
    flew from the shops
    into underground storage.
    The plight of distressed homes
    increased to troubling levels.
    The rise in prices brought famine.
    The shepherds lost their way,
    water maidens left their water holes.
    Weak and helpless virgins
    left their parents’ homes.

    Poverty-stricken peasants
    sold their implements, their bullocks,
    and their fields.
    The desire to survive drove them
    to sell the means
    by which they could have made a living.
    When nothing was left to sell
    then the flesh trade started.
    What was not allowed in private
    was now encouraged in crowded places.
    Shadows arise in my imagination.

    You are coming with your head bare,
    your hair tousled,
    carrying the burden
    of thousands of accusations,
    stripped naked by lustful eyes,
    trying to cover your body’s nakedness.
    Shadows arise in my imagination.

    I have been to the city
    looking at several possibilities.
    No one valued what I had to off er.
    From the gambling places
    of the political oppressors,
    there was no fair off er
    for the skills I had to off er.
    Shadows arise in my imagination.

    In your home there is clamour
    of the Day of Judgement.
    The mailman has brought a telegram
    from the front.
    The one who was dearer to you
    than your own life,
    that brother has perished
    in the ‘enemy’s hell’.
    Shadows arise in my imagination.

    Every step of the way
    there is a crowd of ill fame.
    Every bend in the way
    opens doors to infamy.
    There is no friendship, no courtesy,
    no loveliness, no sincerity.
    No one belongs to anyone.
    Everyone seems to be a loner.
    Shadows arise in my imagination.

    I don’t know this pathway
    that is deserted like my heart
    is going to take you anywhere.
    You are being slain
    by the killers of ethics and morality.
    The redness seen in the horizon
    is coming from the bleeding
    of my heart’s desires.
    Shadows arise in my imagination.

    I remember the evening
    wrapped in the sun’s blood.
    I remember how the glowing dreams of love
    came to an end.
    That evening reminded me
    that in this world
    the smile of maidens
    is traded the same way
    as a farmer’s field.
    That evening reminded me
    how in the capitalist system
    the relationship between two innocent souls
    is also put up for sale.

    That evening I came to know
    that when a father’s assets are sold,
    a mother’s gleaming dreams
    go up for sale too.

    That evening I came to know
    that when the brother is killed in a war
    then the sister’s youth is traded
    in rich men’s pleasure houses.
    I remember the evening
    wrapped in the sun’s blood.
    I remember how the glowing dreams of love
    came to an end.

    Today, while sitting alone
    or being an object of desire in an assembly
    several thousand miles away from me,
    you are weaving dreams of me
    sitting in someone’s lap.

    And I work very hard day and night
    carrying love’s agony in my heart.
    I die for the sake of living.
    I make fun of my talent
    while making a stranger feel good.

    I am helpless.
    You are helpless.
    Helpless is this whole world.
    My inner pain
    is weighing on my mind.
    The price of living
    is either the gallows or disgrace.

    I could not get to the stakes
    and you could not get
    to the end of your struggle.
    You could not embrace
    what you wanted.
    We are two souls
    that have failed to reach
    their goals.

    We are living with pyres
    flaming out from our breaths.
    Our commitments burn silently.
    For those affl icted by the realities of life,
    even the garbs of their dreams are burning.
    I see two shadows lurking
    in the midst of trees once where we met.
    Once again two hearts have come forward
    to mingle and to blend.
    Once again I see the hurricane of death rising,
    the clouds of war appearing.

    I am wondering
    whether these two would meet
    the same end as ours.
    Their passion too would be defamed.
    Who knows whether their future
    also holds a blood-soaked evening.

    I remember the evening
    wrapped in the sun’s blood.
    I remember how the glowing dreams of love
    came to an end.

    Our love could not stand against
    the forces of misfortune,
    but I wish these two will achieve
    the night of their deeply held desires.
    We were given the task of dying endlessly,
    but we wish these two lovers the melodious
    and playful gift of life.

    For a long time now
    the game of politics is played this way:
    kids get killed
    when they grow up.

    For a long time now
    rulers have been obsessed
    with sowing the seeds of famine
    in faraway lands.

    For a long time now
    the dreams of youth are treated
    like a wasteland.
    For a long time now
    love has been frantically searching
    for a place of its own.
    For a long time now
    the beauty of life
    is looking for ways
    to save its honour
    walking oppressive trails.

    Let us address
    all those devastated souls
    that they should give their wounds
    a voice and let them speak.
    Our secret is no longer strictly ours.
    It is shared by all.
    Let us include the whole world
    as partner in this mystery.

    Let us rise up
    and tell the political players
    that we hate these games of war.
    If the apparel of life
    comes only in the colour of blood
    then we don’t want it.

    Let us say
    clearly and loudly
    that if any assassin came our way
    then with every step approaching
    the ground underneath
    would shrink.
    Each wave of breeze
    will change its direction,
    and every branch
    will take the colour of stones.

    Let us rise
    and tell every warmonger
    that we need implements
    to do our work.
    We do not wish to possess
    anyone else’s land,
    but we need ploughs
    for tilling the land that we own.

    Let us say
    that we do not want to see a trader
    come our way.
    We are not going to put up
    any more virgins for sale.
    Our fields have woken up,
    our crops are standing upright.
    In this place,
    we are not going to sell
    even a small patch of land.
    This land is the land of
    Gautam and Nanak.
    On this sacred soil
    no savages would be allowed
    to walk again.
    Our blood is held in trust
    for the new generation.
    No garrisons will feed
    on our blood once again.

    If we failed to raise our voice
    then this dazzling mound of dust
    shall not be safe again.
    Our land will not be safe,
    our sky will not be safe
    from the evil spirits brought to life
    by the madness of atom.

    During the last war
    our homes were burnt,
    but this time
    don’t be surprised
    if our moments of solitude
    are burnt, too.
    During the last war
    forms and figures were burnt
    but this time
    don’t be surprised
    if our shadows are burnt, too.

    Shadows arise in my imagination.



    javaan raat ke siine p duudhia aanchal
    machal raha hai kisi khwaab-e marmariin ki tarah
    hasiin phuul hasein pattiyaan hasein shaakhein
    lachak rahi hain kisi jism-e nazniin ki tarah
    faza mein ghul se gaye hain ufaq ke narm khatuut
    zamiin hasiin hai khwaabon ki sarzamiin ki tarah

    tassuvaraat ki parchhaaiyaan ubharti hain
    kabhi gumaan ki surat kabhi yaqiin ki tarah
    voh per jin ke tale ham panaah lete the
    khare hain aaj bhi saakat kisi amiin ki tarah

    unhien ke saaye mein phir aaj do dharakate dil
    khaamosh honton se kuchh kehne sunne aaye hain
    n jaane kitni kashakash se kitni kaavish se
    y sote jaagte lamhe chura ke laye hain

    yahi faza thi yahi rut yahi zamaana tha
    yahin se ham ne mohabbat ki ibtda ki thi
    dhadakte dil se larzti hui nigaahon se
    hazuure ghaib mein nanhi si iltja ki thi
    ke arzu ke kanval khil ke phuul ho jayein
    dil o nazar ki duuayein qabuul ho jayein

    tassuvaraat ki parchhaaiyaan ubharti hain
    tum aa rahi ho zamaane ki aankh se bach kar
    nazar jhukaaye hue aur badan churaaye hue
    khud apne qadmon ki aahat se jhonpti darti
    khud apne saaye ki junmbush se khauf khaye hue
    tassuvaraat ki parchhaaiyaan ubharti hain

    ravaan hai chhoti si kashti havaaon ke rukh par
    nadi ke saaz p mallaah giit gaata hai
    tumhaara jism har ik lahar ke jhakole se
    meri khuli hui baahon mein jhuul jaata hai
    tassuvaraat ki parchhaaiyaan ubharti hain

    main phuul taank raha huun tumhaare juude mein
    tumhaari aankh massarat se jhukti jaati hai
    n jane aaj main kya baat kahne vaala huun
    zabaan khushk hai aavaaz rukti jaati hai
    tassuvaraat ki parchhaaiyaan ubharti hain

    mere gale mein tumhaari gudaaz baahein hain
    tumhaare honton p mere labon ke saaye hain
    mujhe yaqiin k ham ab kabhi n bichhrein ge
    tumhein gumaan hai k ham mil ke bhi paraaye hain
    tassuvaraat ki parchhaaiyaan ubharti hain

    mere palang p bikhri hui kitaabon ko
    adaaye a’jzo karam se utha rahi ho tum
    suhaag raat jo dholak p gaaye jaate hain
    dabe suron mein vohi giit ga rahi ho tum
    tassuvaraat ki parchhaaiyaan ubharti hain

    voh lamhe kitne dilkash the voh ghariaan kitni pyari thein
    voh sehre kitne naazuk the voh lariaan kitni pyaari thein
    basti ki har ik shaadaab gali khawaabon ka jaziira thi goya
    har mauj-e nafas har mauj-e saba naghmon ka zakhiira thi goya

    n gaaha lehkte kheton se taapon ki sadaayein aane lagien
    baruud ki bojhal bu le kar pachham se havaayein aane lagien
    taa’miir ke raushan chehre par takhriib ka baadal phail gaya
    har gaanv mein vahshat naach uthi har shehr mein jangal phail gaya
    maghrab ke muhazzab mulkon se kuchh khaki vardi posh aaye
    idhlaate hue maghruur aaye lehraate hue madhosh aaye
    khaamosh zamiin ke siine mein khaimon ki tanabein garne lagien
    makhan si mulaayam raahon par buuton ki khraashein parne lagien
    faujon ke bhiyaanak band tale charkhon ki sadaayein duub gayein
    jiipon ki sulagati dhuul tale phuulon ki qabaayein duub gayein

    insaan ki qiimat girne lagi ajnaas ke bhao chadhne lage
    chaupaal ki raunak ghatne lagi bharti ke daftar badhne lage
    basti ke sajiile javaan ban ban ke sipahi jaane lage
    in jaane vale daston mein ghaiirat bhi gai barnai bhi
    maaoon ke javaan bete bhi gaye bahnoon ke chahete bhai bhi

    basti p udaasi chhane lagi mailon ki bahaarein khatam huien
    aamon ki lachakti shaakhoon se jhuulon ki qataarein khatam huien
    dhuul urne lagi baazaron mein bhuukh ugne lagi khilyaanon mein
    har chiiz duukanon se ur kar ruuposh hui tehkhanon mein
    badhaal gharon ki badhaali badhte badhte janjaal bani
    mehngaaii badh kar kaal bani saari basti kangaal bani
    charvaahiaan rasta bhuul gaaein panhaariaan panghat chhor gaaein
    kitni hi kanvaari ablaaein maan-baap ki chaukhat chhor gaaein

    aflaas zada dehqaanon ke hal-bel bike khaliaan bike
    jiine ki tamanna ke haathon jiine hi ke sab saamaan bike
    kuchh bhi n raha jab bikne ko jismon ki tajaarat hone lagi
    khalvat mein bhi jo mamn’u thi vo jalvat mein jasaarat hone lagi
    tassuvaraat ki parchhaaiyaan ubharti hain

    tum aa rahi ho sar-e aam baal bikhraae hue
    hazaar gona malaamat ka baar uthae hue
    havas-prast nigahoon ki chiira-dasti se
    badan ki jhenpti uriyaaniyaan chiipaae hue
    tassuvaraat ki parchhaaiyaan ubharti hain

    main shehr ja ke har ik dar ko jhaank aaya huun
    kisi jagah meri mehnat ka mol mil n saka
    sitam garon ke siyaasi qimaarkhanon mein
    alam-nasiib farasat ka mol mil n saka
    tassuvaraat ki parchhaaiyaan ubharti hain

    tumhaare ghar mein qayaamat ka shor barpa hai
    mahaaz-e jang se harkaara taar laya hai
    k jis ka zikr tumhein zindagi se pyaara tha
    voh bhai narg-e dushman mein kaam aaya hai
    tassuvaraat ki parchhaaiyaan ubharti hain

    har ek gaam p badnaamioon ke jamghat hain
    har ek mor p rusvaaion ke mele hain
    n dosti n takaluff n dilbari n khaluus
    kisi ka koi nahien aaj sab akele hain
    tassuvaraat ki parchhaaiyaan ubharti hain

    voh rahguzar jo mere dil ki tarah suuni hai
    n jaane tum ko kahan le ke jaane vaali hai
    tumhein khariid rahe hain zamiir ke qaatil
    ufaq p khuune-tamaanaaye-dil ki laali hai
    tassuvaraat ki parchhaaiyaan ubharti hain

    suraj ke lahu mein lipti hui voh shaam hai ab tak yaad mujhe
    chaahat ke sunehre khwaabon ka anjaam hai ab tak yaad mujhe
    us shaam mujhe maa’luum hua kheton ki tarah is duniya mein
    sehmi hui doshiizaaon ki muskaan bhi bechi jaati hai
    us shaam mujhe maa’luum hua is kaargahe zardaari mein
    do bholi bhaali ruuhon ki pehchaan bhi bechi jaati hai

    us shaam mujhe maa’luum hua jab baap ki kheti chhin jaaye
    mamta ke sunehre khwabon ki anmol nishaani bikti hai
    us shaam mujhe maa’luum hua jab bhai jang mein kaam aaye
    sarmaaye ke qahvakhane mein bahnon ki javaani bikti hai
    suraj ke lahu mein lithri hui voh shaam hai ab tak yaad mujhe
    chaahat ke sunehre khwabon ka anjaam hai ab tak yaad mujhe

    tum aaj hazaron miil yahaan se duur kahiin tanhai mein
    ya bazm-e tarab aaraai mein
    mere sapne bunti ho gi bethi aaghosh paraii mein

    aur main siine mein gham le kar din raat mushaqqat karta huun
    jiine ki khatir marta huun
    apne fun ko rusva kar ke aghiaar ka daaman bharta huun

    majbuur huun main majbuur ho tum majbuur y duniya saari hai
    tan ka dukh man par bhaari hai
    is daur mein jiine ki qiimat ya daar o rasan ya khvaari hai

    main daar o rasan tak ja n saka tum jahd ki hadd tak aa n sakien
    chaaha to magar apna n sakien
    ham tum do aaisi ruuhein hain jo manzil-e taskiin pa n sakien

    jiine ko jiye jaate hain magar saanson mein chitaaein jalti hain
    khaamosh vafaein jalti hain
    sangiin hakayak zaari mein khwabon ki ridaein jalti hain

    aur aaj in peron ke niiche phir do saaye lehraaye hain
    phir do dil milne aaye hain
    phir maut ki aandhi utthi hai phir jang ke badal chhaaye hain

    main soch raha huun in ka bhi apni hi tarah anjaam n ho
    in ka bhi junon badnaam n ho
    inke bhi muqaddar mein likhi ik khuun mein lithri shaam n ho
    suraj ke lahu mein lithri hui voh shaam hai ab tak yaad mujhe
    chaahat ke sunehre khwabon ka anjaam hai ab tak yaad mujhe

    hamaara pyaar havaadis ki taab la n saka
    magar inhein to muraadon ki raat mil jaaye
    hamein to kashmakash-e marg-e beimaan hi mili
    inhein to jhuumti gaati hayaat mil jaaye

    bahut dinon se hai y mashghala siyaasat ka
    ke jab javaan hon bachche to qatal ho jaaein
    bahut dinon se hai khabat hukam raanon ka
    ke duur duur ke mulkon mein qahat bo jaayein

    bahut dinon se javaani ke khwaab viiraan hain
    bahut dinon se mohabbat panaah dhundhati hai
    bahut dinon mein sitam diid shaahraaon mein
    nigaar-e ziist ki ismat panaah dhundhuti hai

    chalo k aaj sabhi payamaal ruuhon se
    kahein k apne har ik zakham ko zubaan kar lein
    hamaara raaz hamaara nahien sabhi ka hai
    chalo ke saare zamaane ko raazdaan kar lein

    chalo ke chal ke siyaasi mukamaron se kahein
    ke ham ko jang o jadal ke chalan se nafrat hai
    jise lahu ke siva koi rang n raas aaye
    hamein hayaat ke us perhan se nafrat hai

    kaho k ab koi qaatal agar idhar aaya
    to har qadam p zamiin tang hoti jayegi
    har ek mauj-e hava rukh badal ke jhapte gi
    har ek shaakh rag-e sang hoti jaye gi

    utho k aaj har ik jangju se y kah dein
    k ham ko kaam ki khatir kalon ki hajat hai
    hamein kisi ki zamiin chhiin-ne ka shauq nahien
    hamein to apni zamiin par halon ki hajat hai

    kaho k ab koi taajar idhar ka rukh n kare
    ab is ja koi kanvaari n bechi jayegi
    y khet jaag pare uth khari hui faslein
    ab is jagah koi kayaari n bechi jayegi

    y sarzamiin hai Gautam ki aur Nanak ki
    is arz-e paak p vahshi n chal sakein ge kabhi
    hamara khuun amanat hai nasl-e nau ke liye
    hamaare khuun p lashkar n pal sakein ge kabhi

    kaho ke aaj bhi ham agar khmosh rahe
    to is damakte hue khaakdaan ki khair nahien
    junuun ki dhaali hui atomii balaaon se
    zamiin ki khair nahien aasmaan ki khair nahien

    guzashta jang mein ghar hi jale magar is baar
    a’jab nahien k y tanhaaiyaan bhi jal jayein
    guzashta jang mein paikar jale magar is baar
    a’jab nahien k y parchhaaiyaan bhi jal jayein
    tassuvaraat ki parchhaaiyaan ubharti hain

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    The other side of the line of Hinduism
    Talking Translation : Revisiting Anis Kidwai’s Azadi Ki Chhao Mein

    Surinder Deol has translated Ghalib's verses in The Treasure: A Modern Rendition of Ghalib's Lyrical Love Poetry and Gopi Chand Narang's classic treatise on Ghalib as Ghalib: Innovative Meanings and the Ingenious Mind. He lives in Potomac, Maryland, USA.

    This is an excerpt from Surinder Deol's Sahir: A Literary Portrait, published by Oxford University Press. Republished here with permission from the publisher.

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