Every love song is different. We all have our favourites. The MBRB editors share their favourite few in Part 2 of our Gupshup about Love Poems
Last week we shared snatches of our favourite love poems in English. That prompted us to ruminate over the meaning of love as expressed in Urdu and Hindi poetry. So here is another trip down memory lane, this time in the dizzying world of old world romance and all-consuming passion.
Our discussions about the poetry of love last week segued in beautifully into Imtiaz Ali’s Highway this weekend. Imtiaz Ali may just be our greatest chronicler of love at the moment. And however problematic his last movie Rockstar was (I have to confess that the second half didn’t work for me at all), the poetry of love in it was undeniable.
Imtiaz’s characters feel such sustained peaks of emotion that it is impossible for me to take them too seriously (maybe I am just too cynical) but I can’t help flowing along with their passion while the movie is still on. I mean, I see their madness, appreciate it, but know that my ishq is not quite as sufiyana
In celebration of him and his flawed lovers, thought I’d start today’s discussion with Rumi- the poet he seems most inspired by:
Your love lifts my soul from the body to the sky
And you lift me up out of the two worlds.
I want your sun to reach my raindrops,
So your heat can raise my soul upward like a cloud.
It seems to me that the Islamic poets experience love so much more deeply than their English counterparts – be it the desire to get closer to their sweetheart by etching their heart on a tree in the hope that she wears the henna from that tree on her wedding night, to the celebration of longing and separation (“And ever has it been that love knows that its own depth until the hour of separation”, observed Kahlil Gibran), and finally the wisdom of conceding that wine is the best cure for an absent lover! Who can challenge the right of the lover to a solitary folly when he claims:
Har Nazar Ko Ek Nigaah Ka Haq Hai
Har Rooh Ko Ek Aah Ka Haq Hai
Hum Bhi Dil Lekar Aaye Hain Dunia Mein
Humein Bhi Ek Gunaah Ka Haq Hai..!
I’ve always felt that the heart of Islamic poetry is escape – not escapism, but it’s happier twin who is forever on a journey to find love in even the most evil circumstances, and in doing so get closer to the heart of God. And before Imtiaz Ali set off on this mystical journey with Socha Na Tha, there was Muzzafar Ali with Umrao Jaan. The movie just wouldn’t have been the same without Khayaam’s cadences and Shahryar’s incantations, and this one in particular always sends me walking down the boulevard of half remembered memories:
Yaad teri kabhi dastak, kabhi saragoshi se
Raat ke pichhale pahar roz jagaati hai hamen
Har mulaqat ka anjaam judai kyun hai
ab to har vaqt yahi baat satati hai hamen
I don’t know if their fervor is more ardent, or just their language more beautiful. Couldn’t agree more with what you say about the difference between escape and escapism, though. Sufi poetry’s love is all about losing oneself wholly. Love doesn’t just complete you, it also annihilates you.
Imtiaz Ali’s movies wouldn’t be half the movie they are without Irshad Kamil’s poetry- a poet who confesses that he thinks in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi at the same time,and who is clearly inspired by both Punjabi boliyan and Sufiyana poetry (Tune Maari Entriyaan notwithstanding). Here’s what he says about love:
I feel we have limited the definition of love, particularly in urban areas. Earlier, what was ‘Love is God’ has become ‘I’m God’. All the clichéd love statements popularised by greeting card companies have become the benchmark for the current generation. A gift for someone you love — what does it even mean? Youngsters are fed these commercial ideas of love which they go around chasing.
No wonder that when you listen to his poetry without context, you are not quite sure whether it is his lover or his God his addressing ( or even if they are the same):
Tum tak tum tak arzi meri
Phir aage jo marzi
Tum tak tum tak arzi meri
Phir teri jo marzi meri
Har dushwaari bas tum tak
Meri har hoshiyaari bas tum tak
Meri har taiyari bas tum tak
Tum tak tum tak tum tak tum tak
Meri ishq khumaari bas tum tak
And while it is almost Hollywood-fashionable these days to profess an admiration for Rumi (Madonna apparently is a big fan!), can we also hear it for Ghalib and his poetry of resignation? What does it say about us that a cynical-too-clever-by-half poet appeals more to the heart than the one who ‘lives’ love.
Mohabbat mein nahin hai farq jeenay aur marnay ka
Usi ko dekh kar jeetay hain, jis kaafir pe dam nikle
When in love, there is little difference between life and death
We live by looking at the infidel who we are willing to die for
I remember reading somewhere that in Persian sufi poetry, God is the “Beloved” and the word “lover” means a lover of God. I also have to confess here that I discovered Rumi while reading an English novel – I’m sure the Islamic poets would have laughed and asked the saki for another round of wine to celebrate this irony! So much has been written about Rumi that I sometimes wonder if he is a figment of our fragmented imagination. Real or not, I always get the urge to do a Jonathan Livingstone Seagull when I read these lines by him:
This is love: to fly toward a secret sky,
to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment.
First to let go of life.
Finally, to take a step without feet.
But what do I understand of getting closer to God, me who is an avowed agnostic? I – I understand life and living, I get pleasure and pain, I experience loneliness and camaraderie…and more than anything I value the supremacy of remembering and forgetting. Which brings us to my all time favourite verse from this ghazal by Faiz Ahmad Faiz:
Raat yun dil mein teri khoyi huyi yaad aayi
Jaise veerane mein chupke se bahaar aa jaye
Jaise sehraaon mein hauley se chale baad-e-naseem
Jaise beemar ko bewajah karaar aa jaaye
Countless poets and authors have attempted to render these redolent lines in English, but my favourite interpretation is this one by Vikram Seth:
Last night your faded memory came to me
As in the wilderness spring comes quietly
As slowly, in the desert, moves the spring
As, to a sick man, without cause, comes peace
Hina, That’s beautiful .
I think we should stop here – not because we’ve run out of love poetry (we still haven’t talked about Shakespeare or William Blake or Sahir Ludhiaanvi or …Rainer Maria Riilke). In the same way that love means different things to different people, I believe everyone’s favourite piece of poetry is also different. Whether it is Ondaatje’s evocative and erotic “The Cinnamon Peeler”
(If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow);
or Ghalib bemused by love’s cruel ironies
(Hum Ne Mohbaton Ky Nashe Me Aa Kr Use Khuda Bana Dala,
Hosh Tab Aaya Jab Us Ne Kaha Ky Khuda Kisi ek Ka Nahi Hota)
there is a love poem for every season; and every kind of love. I just hope that between you and me talking about some of our favourite couplets, we’ve prompted some of our readers to dust off their old poetry books and revisit some of theirs!