Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Poem for this Eid - Faiz's "Dua" or Prayer

The Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Fitr (celebration at the end of the month of Ramazan) is being celebrated in North America on August 19th. In Pakistan, Eid will be celebrated on August 20th. For Muslims, Eid is a joyous occasion and I wish everyone a "Eid Mubarak" but would like to quote a friend who has channeled my feelings this year: "May this Eid usher in more peace, less extremism, and some common sense in the Muslim world".

Pakistan's great poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote a beautiful poem called "Dua" or "Prayer". This poem is in his collection titled "Sar-e-Waadi-e-Seena" and was written on August 14th, 1967 (the 20th anniversary of Pakistan's independence). I often read this moving poem and listen to poet Zehra Nigah's soul strirring tarannum ("a capella") rendition. (Unfortunately Zehra Nigah's reading of this Faiz gem is not on youtube even though there are postings of several other beautiful verses of Faiz she has sung). For a wonderful sample, here is Faiz's poem "Dareecha" read by Zehra Nigah preceded by a verbal tribute.

On this Eid, Faiz's "Dua" is my prayer. 

From left: Iftikhar Arif, Jameela Dehlavi, Shohrat Bukhari, Gopi Chand Narang, Faiz, Zehra Nigah and Ahmad Faraz at a  BBC Mushaira in London
Poet: Faiz Ahmed Faiz (1911 - 1984) 

Aaiye hath uthaiyeN hum bhi
Hum jinheN rasm-e-dua yaad nahiN

Hum jinheN soz-e-mohabbat ke siwa
Koyee butt koyee khuda yaad nahiN

Aaiye arz guzaraiN keh nigaar-e-hasti
Zehr-e-imroz meiN sheereeni-e-farda bhar de

Woh jinheN taab-e-garaaN baariye ayyam nahiN
Un kee palkoN peh shab-o-roz ko halka kar de

Jinn kee aankhoN ko rukh-e-subh ka yaara bhi nahiN
Un ki raatoN meiN koi shama munawwar kar de

Jin ke qadmoN ko kisi reh ka sahara bhi nahiN
Un ki nazroN pe koyee raah ujaagar kar de

Jin ka deeN pairawi-e-kizb-o-riya hai un ko
Himmat-e-kufr milay jurrat-e-tehqeeq milay

Jin ke sar muntazir-e-tegh-e-jafa haiN un ko
Dast-e-qatil ko jhatak dainay ki taufeeq milay

Ishq ka sirr-e-nihaN jaan tipa hai jis se
Aaj iqrar kareiN aur tapish mit jaye

Harf-e-haq dil meiN khatakta hai jo kaante ki tarah
Aaj izhaar kareiN aur khalish mit jaye

Here is Iqbal Bano singing "Dua". This is not my favorite version. I don't particularly like this composition and Iqbal Bano is not at her best. However, those who want to see the words in Urdu can read them in this video.

Following is a (modified) English translation of the poem combining the translation from the Faiz Centenary website and a translation by Tariq Akbar who has uploaded, read and translated this poem in a youtube video. I have made modifications where, in my view, the meaning of the original felt distorted. Its a familiar lament but the translation doesn't don't do justice to the beauty and cadences of the original.

Come, let us raise our hands, as well - 
We, the ones who do not remember the ritual of prayer

We, the ones who [do not remember] anything other than the
warmth of love,
do not know of any idol, nor any God. 

Come, let us beseech that the Creator of existence may
fill sweetness in the morrow from the poison of today

Those who cannot bear the burden of passing day,
May their eyelids be unburdened of the day and night

They, whose eyes don't have the strength to see the face of dawn,
May someone light a lamp in their night

They, whose feet have nowhere to go, no path
May someone illuminate a way to their sight

They, whose religion is lies and deceit
May they get the courage to be heretics, and the audacity to question

They, whose heads await the swords of cruelty... to them
The power to ward of the hands that slay

The hidden secret of love is a burning soul... with which
Let's affirm today so the burning is eased

The words of truth.. which rankle the heart like a thorn
Let's proclaim them today to relieve the affliction

Saturday, August 11, 2012

David Rakoff - There Is No Answer As To "Why Me"

David Rakoff, the Canadian-born, American writer and humorist died of cancer in Manhattan on August 9th at age 47. He was the author of three books of essays (Fraud, Don't Get Too Comfortable and Half Empty) and widely known for his contributions to the popular National Public Radio show "This Amercian Life".

On NPR on August 10th, Terry Gross's interview program Fresh Air played excerpts of two interviews that Terry did with David Rakoff in 2001 and 2010. These excerpts provide a glimpse of Rakoff's personality and wit but it is his equanimity in the face of death that reveals the quality of the man. When asked if he ever asks himself "Why Me" about getting cancer he responds:

"Writer Melissa Bank said it best: 'The only proper answer to 'Why me?' is 'Why not you?' The universe is anarchic and doesn't care about us, and unfortunately, there's no greater rhyme or reason as to why it would be me. And since there is no answer as to why me, it's not a question I feel really entitled to ask.

"And in so many other ways, I'm so far ahead of the game. I have access to great medical care. My general baseline health, aside from the general unpleasantness of the cancer, is great. And it's great because I'm privileged to have great health. And I live in a country where I'm not making sneakers for a living, and I don't live near a toxic waste dump.

"You can't win all the contests and then lose at one contest and say, 'Why am I not winning this contest as well?' It's random. So truthfully, again, do I wish it weren't me? Absolutely. I still can't make that logistic jump to thinking there's a reason why it shouldn't be me."

In the interview with Terry Gross, David Rakoff beautifully reads Elizabeth Bishop's (1911 - 1979) poem "Letter to NY". After reciting the poem Rakoff wistfully says that "in my life I will never achieve anything this beautiful". (In the interview link above the recitation is from 37:40 - 38:53)

Letter to N.Y.

In your next letter I wish you'd say
where you are going and what you are doing;
how are the plays, and after the plays
what other pleasures you're pursuing:

taking cabs in the middle of the night,
driving as if to save your soul
where the road goes round and round the park
and the meter glares like a moral owl,

and the trees look so queer and green
standing alone in big black caves
and suddenly you're in a different place
where everything seems to happen in waves,

and most of the jokes you just can't catch,
like dirty words rubbed off a slate,
and the songs are loud but somehow dim
and it gets so terribly late,

and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field of wheat.

—Wheat, not oats, dear. I'm afraid
if it's wheat it's none of your sowing,
nevertheless I'd like to know
what you are doing and where you are going.