Saturday, July 04, 2015

Celebrating Independence Day!

A very Happy Independence Day to all Americans!

America declared its independence 239 years ago today with Thomas Jefferson's soaring words that " we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal". However, the institution of slavery which most visibly contradicted the declaration's Enlightenment rhetoric remained intact, only to be abolished 89 years later after the Civil War.

As a naturalized American, I take the greatest pride in America's history of expanding the umbrella of constitutional liberties for all its people, starting with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution through to the Emancipation Proclamation, Equal Protection under the 14th Amendment, Women's Suffrage and the Civil Rights Act. There have been bitter fights and innumerable setbacks along the way but, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, the arc of American history has bent toward justice.

In my mind, the representative scenes of American independence are of Washington crossing the Delaware or hunched-over participants at the Constitutional Convention. But I also think of the image of the exhausted and prematurely aged Abraham Lincoln, standing on the East Portico underneath the completed Capitol Dome, after taking the oath of office the second time. The greatest struggle for the advance of liberty in America was to end slavery and its signature moment was Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address on March 4th, 1865, barely more than a month before he was assassinated.

It is the most powerful work of oratory and literary genius in American political history. Here are some excerpts:

"Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged."...

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."...

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

A very happy 4th to you!

Saturday, January 03, 2015

A Tribute to Peshawar Massacre's Victims - Faiz Sahib & Zehra Nigah

Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote the introduction to "Dast-e-Saba", his second volume of poetry, in Hyderabad's Central Jail in September 1952. The volume was published that same year and includes several of Faiz Sahib's iconic verses; the poem Do Ishq ("Har daagh hai iss dil maiN ba-juz daagh-e-nidamat"), the famous ghazal "Tum aaye ho na shab-e-intezaar guzri hai" sung by Farida Khanum, Noor Jehan, Mehdi Hassan AND Iqbal Bano and the moving verses mourning the passing of his beloved older brother, Tufail ('Mujh ko shikwa hai meray bhai keh tum jaate hue' / 'Lay gaye saath meri umr-e-guzashta kee kitab').

The volume also includes a slightly lesser know poem called "Irani Talaba Kay Naam" with the sub-heading 'jo amn aur azadi kee jiddojehad maiN kaam aaye". (Translation: "Dedicated to Iranian Students" who died fighting for peace and independence). Like all first-rate poets, Faiz Sahib's best poetry is universal and timeless. Reading this poem a few days ago, it occurred to me that Faiz Sahib could have written these exact words for the children slain in Peshawar.

This post is a tribute to those lost lives in the words of Faiz Sahib and the voice of Zehra Nigah! 

Zehra Nigah, an eminent poet herself who was a good friend of Faiz Sahib, has done wonderful recitations of several of Faiz Sahib's poems, including "Irani talaba kay naam". Here is Zehra Nigah reciting the poem in her inimitable "tarannum". The words (in Roman Urdu) are transcribed below. My apologies to those who don't know Urdu but even a half-decent translation is beyond my abilities. I have included a glossary at the end for some of the more difficult words.

Irani Talaba Kay Naam

Yeh kaun sakhi haiN
jin kay lahoo kee
ashrafiaN chhan chhan, chhan chhan
dharti kay paiham pyaasay
kashkol maiN dhaltee jaatee haiN
kashkol ko bhartee jaati haiN

yeh kaun jawaN haiN arz-e-ajam
yeh lakh lut
jin kay jismoN kee
bharpoor jawani ka kundan
yooN khaak maiN reza reza hai
yooN koocha koocha bikhra hai

Aye arz-e-ajam, aye arz-e-ajam!
kyuN noch kay hans hans phaink diye
in aankhoN nay apnay neelam
in hontoN nay apnay marjaaN
in haatoN kee be-kal chaandi
kis kaam aayee, kis haath lagee

aye poochnay waalay pardesee!
yeh tifl-o-jawaN
uss noor kay nauras moti haiN
uss aag kee kachchi kaliyaN haiN
jis meethay noor aur karwee aag
say zulm kee andhee raat maiN phoota
subh-e-baghawat ka gulshan

aur subh huee man man, tan tan
in jismoN ka chaandi sona
in chehroN kay neelam marjaaN
jug-mug jug-mug, rakhshaaN rakhshaaN

jo dekhna chaahay pardesee
paas aaye dekhay jee bhar kar
yeh zeest kee rani ka jhoomar
yeh amn kee devi ka kangan!

sakhi: generous
ashrafiaN: gold coins
paiham pyaasay: always thirsty
kashkol: begging bowl
arz-e-ajam: non-Arab land (in this case Persia, but also Pakistan)
kundan: gold
neelam: sapphire, blue
marjaaN: deep pink or red
be-kal: restless
tifl-o-jawaN: children and youth
zeest: life