Saturday, June 04, 2016

Faiz & Nayyara Noor - "Jab Teri Samandar AankhoN maiN"

"Jab Teri Samandar AankhoN maiN" is a "geet" by the poet Faiz, better known by its first three words, "Yeh Dhoop Kinara". The phrase "Dhoop Kinaray" was made famous by the classic 1980's TV drama of that name directed by the talented Sahira Kazmi, starring Marina Khan and Sahira's debonair husband Rahat Kazmi. (Rahat Kazmi, incidentally went to Government College Lahore which I attended briefly before coming to the U.S. as an undergraduate. Rahat later received his Master's in English Literature from Punjab University. My father was also a Government College alumnus, then taught Urdu there for one year in 1963 before spending the rest of his academic career at Punjab University.)

Sahira Kazmi in a PTV play. Rahat Kazmi (right) & Shafi Mohammed are in the background
A little digression here that may be of interest to some readers. Sahira Kazmi was born to a Muslim woman, "Taji" Mumtaz Qureshi and a Hindu father, Indian film actor Shyam who was famous in the pre-partition era. Sundar Shyam Chadha, born in Sialkot in 1920 grew up in Rawalpindi but is now known mostly (if at all) as one of writer Saadat Hasan Manto's best friends. Shyam died in 1951 (only 31 years old) when he fell off a horse during the shooting of "Shabistan", a film in which he was starring opposite "Paree-Chehra" Naseem Banu. Both Shyam and Naseem Banu, friends of Manto in Bombay, were immortalized by him in two separate sketch essays he wrote about them. The one on Shyam is titled "Murali kee dhun". These essays were later published in his collection, "Ganjay Farishtay", and later translated and published by the late Khalid Hasan in a volume titled "Stars from Another Sky". Naseem Banu also happens to be the mother of actress Saira Banu and was the legendary actor Dilip Kumar's mother-in-law.

Now back to "Yeh dhoop kinaray". Here is Nayyara Noor in 1990 singing a lovely composition of Faiz's geet.

Unlike Faiz's very popular, overtly political poetry, in my opinion, this is an example of Faiz at his finest. This is an elegiac romantic poem set late in the day as the shadows are lengthening. Its neither day nor night and time momentarily seems still, but with an aching recognition in the poet's mind that it will all be over in a moment. (Pal bhar ko amar, pal bhar maiN dhuaN - "for a moment it is eternal but in a moment it will vanish like smoke") 
Faiz Sahib with Nayyara Noor. Faiz's daughter and artist, Salima Hashmi (foreground) and holding a glass is former PTV producer, Tanveer Masood

Jab Teri Samandar AankhoN MaiN 
Faiz Ahmad Faiz
Yay dhoop kinara, shaam dhalay
Miltay haiN donoN waqt jahaN
Jo raat na din, jo aaj na kal
Pal bhar ko amar, pal bhar maiN dhuaN
Iss dhoop kinaray, pal do pal
HontoN kee lapak
BaahoN kee chanak
Yeh male hamara, jhoot na sach
KyuN zaar karo, kyuN dosh dharo
Kis kaaran jhooti baat karo
Jab teri samandar aankhoN maiN
Iss shaam ka suraj doobay ga
Sukh soyeN gay ghar dar waalay
Aur raahi apnee raah lay ga
London (1963) - From the collection "Dast-e-tah-e-sang"

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Sampling of Bengal's Soulful Music

Rabindranath Tagore
In addition to Punjab, Sindh and U.P's folk music, the other sub-continental musical tradition I love is Bengali. Bengal's music is sweet, melodious and distinctive. It is the music of a fertile landscape, abundant rivers and hard-working boatmen. It is the music of political consciousness and is significantly more elegiac than other desi folk traditions. 
Whether you listen to Ravi Shankar's haunting background score for Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (listen to this joyful sitar riff from the movie), hear the influence of Bengal on S.D. Burman's Hindi film music (Sachin Da singing "Sun O Meray Bandhu Ray" from the 1959 film "Sujata"), experience Abdul Halim Chowdhry's "Bhatiali" (the River Boatmen's song) from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) or sample the compositions of Tagore, Bengal's art and music have a beautifully mournful quality.

Here's one of my favorites by Tagore called "Ekla Chalo Re" (Walk Alone). There is a version by Kishore Kumar but I quite like Shreya Ghoshal's rendition as well.
Kishore Kumar:

And here is Shreya Ghoshal:

Bengali lyrics with English translation:
Jodi tor dak sune keu na ashe,
Tobe ekla cholo, ekla chalo, aekla chalo re,
Aikla cholo re,
If no one answers your call,
Then walk alone,
(be not afraid) walk alone my friend.
Jodi kue kotha na koe,
ore o re o obaghaga, keu kotha na koe
Jodi sobai thake muhk phirae , sobai kore bhoye,
Tobe poran khule,
O tui, mukh phute tor moner kotha,
Ekla bolo re
If no one talks to you,
O my unlucky friend, if no one speaks to you,
If everyone looks the other way and everyone is afraid,
Then bare your soul and let out what is in your mind,
(be not afraid) Speak alone my friend.
Jab kali ghata chaye,
Ore o re o andhera sach ko nigal jaye
Jab duniya sari, dar ke age sar apna jhukaye,
Tu shola banja, Wo shola banja, Jo khud jal ke jahan raushan karde,
Ekla jalo re.
When dark clouds cover the sky, When darkness engulfs the truth,
When the world cowers and bows before fear,
You be the flame, The flame that burns you and banishes darkness from the world,
(be not afraid) Burn alone my friend.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Folk Music & the Punjabi Culture that was

Part of the soundtrack of my childhood and adolescence was the rustic notes of Punjabi film and folk music. The great influence here was my mother who hailed from a proudly rural Punjabi Jaat background (from a village near Sialkot). She loved all kinds of popular music including ghazals and Indo-Pak film songs but had a more visceral emotional attachment to the Punjabi folk music that she had heard growing up. It reminded her of her carefree youth and of her days in "Kotli Bhutta" with her mother and her older sisters. My father enjoyed this music as well but his was a slightly more detached appreciation.

Until I started kindergarten at the Sacred Heart School, the only language I spoke was Punjabi. This was quite unusual in the Lahori urban middle class, to which my family belonged. Even when parents spoke to each other in Punjabi, they almost always insisted that their kids speak only in Urdu. Urdu was the respectable language of the educated classes. Punjabi was its crass cousin, fit only for the unwashed masses. After I started school, I switched quickly to Urdu and almost never spoke in Punjabi with my family again. But fortunately for me, given my childhood proficiency, I never lost my natural comfort with the Punjabi language and music continued to re-inforce an otherwise weak link to that neglected native culture.  

My father's record collection (and later tapes) included lots of Punjabi music. I have many favorites from that time by Noor Jehan, Tufail Niazi, Alam Lohar, Reshma, Hamid Ali Bela and others but I particularly love the partition-era folk music of the Lahore-born sisters, Surinder and Prakash Kaur. The language is pure, the melodies beautiful and they represent a Punjabi culture that persisted for hundreds of years before the intrusion of modernity changed it forever in the last half century.

Many common Punjabi words in those folk songs have disappeared from the Urdu-ized Punjabi vocabulary of modern Lahoris. Some of my fondest memories are asking my mother about words I didn't understand and her detailed explanations which often harked back to the stories she had heard from her own mother. Those stories and explanations connected me as a child to an entirely different era of spinning wheels, water wells, milking buffalos, crop seasons, irrigation terminology and the complex web of loving and jealous relationships (daraNiaN, jathaNiaN!) that kept joint families together and tore them apart. It seems astonishing to me that the rural world described in these timeless folk songs, a world that had existed unaltered for countless generations, vanished so quickly in the last half century.

Yesterday, after a long time, I listened again to a song by Tassawur Khanum called "Bari thaani charhya". I remember hearing this song in the 80's and loving it but I don't recall that it struck me as particularly poignant. But listening to it again 30+ years later made me realize that it describes a simple and beautiful rural world that no longer exists. Yes, this is rather clearly a man's world and even the very sweet romanticism has a strong whiff of patriarchy (the last verse in particular galls me), but it has an old-fashioned charm. Today, the innocence and charm are gone but the patriarchy persists.

Now, lets turn to the actual music and words of "Baari thaani charhya". The lyrics and composition are by Mian Shehryar.

Punjabi Lyrics:

Baari thaani charhya
NawaN din arraya
HuN bohti daer na kareeN
Chaiti muR aaweeN gharee

Dudh wee na rirkaN
Sabhna nuN chirkaaN
Duur hoya dil jaaniye
Layee nukray madhaaNiye

KaaN wee nahiN bol da
Dil mera dol da
JeRa wassay watnoN paray
Rab odhi khair karay

KannaN diyaN waaliyaN
Laah kay sambhaliyaN
JadoN mera maahi aaway ga
Aa kay meri kanni paaway ga

Charkha nahiN kat dee
Raah tera tak dee
Jind meri dadhi suk gayee
Charkhay dee nuk muk gayee

VangaN naheeN charohniyaN
GallaN naheeN karoniyaN
Teray baajhoN sunjha vehRa aye
Hor meinooN gham keRa aye

Dupatta vee nahiN rangeya
Sara din langeya
Teri meiN ghulam hoyee
Aaja ghar shaam hoyee

Many of the words and the rhythms of Punjabi life in these lyrics have virtually disappeared. There are almost no 'charkhas' and 'madhanis' anymore and words like 'vangaN' or 'sunjha' or 'jind' have mostly been replaced with their Urdu equivalents.

This piece would be incomplete without sharing two of my favorite pieces by the above-mentioned Surinder and Parkash Kaur. I can never listen to these two songs without thinking of my mother. She still weeps every time she hears these songs as they inevitably remind her of 'ammaN jee", of her 'veers' and a time that is no more. May she live a long, happy and healthy life.

The first song "MaavaN te DhiyaN" is sung by both Surinder and her older sister Parkash. This was the first commercially released duet by the sisters in 1943, and made them overnight stars in the Indian sub-continent.
"KaNkaN lammiaN dhiyaN kyuN jammiaN nee maay"

The second song is "MadhaniyaN" with its plaintive lyrics; "Hai oh meray daadhia rabba kinnaN jammiyaN kinnaN nay lai janiaN". These lyrics are full of long forgotten cultural allusions ("ayna sakkiaN bhaabhiaN nay dola tor kay kachcha dudh peeta") that the vast majority of Punjabis today would find mystifying and there are almost no sources that could help them comprehend a society and culture that existed just a few decades ago.

And here is "MadhaniyaaN": 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

"Horace and Pete" - The Wonderful New Series by Louis C.K.

I just watched the excellent first episode of "Horace and Pete", a new series by Louis C.K., released on his website yesterday without any warning or publicity.
Here's the NY Times review by James Poniewozik  
Louis C.K is a genius. As a fan of his stand-up comedy and his un-categorizable FX series, "Louie", I have come to expect an element of surprise in everything he does. His writing and his comedy is hard to pin down. Like great art, it may entertain you at times, but the primary emotions it evokes are discomfort and a visceral sense of life's tragic absurdity.    
"Horace and Pete" is a dysfunctional family saga that feels like a theatrical production. Alan Alda is brilliant as the foul-mouthed, world weary Uncle Pete and overshadows excellent performances by Jessica Lange, Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco and Louis himself. Amazingly, the episode seems to have been filmed a couple of days ago with references to Donald Trump skipping the most recent Iowa Republican debate. The closing credits with the Paul Simon song, written for the series, is a perfect bookend.
Pay $5 and see it. Can't wait for the second episode. Who knows when the unpredictable Louis will drop it on his fans.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

"Araj Suno" & The Brief Origins of Sufi Music

The shrine of Hazrat Amir Khusrau in Delhi's Nizamuddin quarters
Random musical discoveries have often been the trigger for these posts. The other day I caught Tahira Syed singing a beautifully composed kalam, "Araj suno be-gun kee Khawaja" on Yusuf Salahuddin's PTV show, Virsa. The quintessential Lahori, Salahuddin is poet Allama Iqbal's grandson. To the city "elite" (or what in modern Pakistan passes for it), his walled city home, "Haveli Baroodkhana" is a familiar venue for private musical and cultural events.

Here is Tahira Syed singing "Araj suno". Ustad Nazar Hussain is the composer.

Araj suno be-gun kee Khawaja
(be-gun: "one who does not have any qualities or skills")
Kar do Khawaja hamray kaaj
(hamray kaaj: literally "our work")

Araj suno be-gun kee Khawaja

Mujh aajiz par nazr-e-karam ho
Tumro naam gareeb nawaj
("gareeb nawaj" is a commoner's pronunciation of "ghareeb nawaz" meaning "one who gives generously to the poor")

Araj suno be-gun kee Khawaja

"Araj Suno" are the words of supplication, of imploring, of begging to be heard. The words themselves simply mean "listen to my pleading", but they have a larger sense of also asking for relief. They are a cry of anguish and a plea for help.

The language of this poetry is a street Hindustani patois, not a high aristocratic Urdu (Urdu-e-mualla). Arabic and Persian alphabets like "z'wad", "zay" and "gh'ain" become Hindi sounds like "ja" and "ga". It is meant to represent the sentiments of the common people.

Tahira Syed unconvincingly attributed the lyrics to the 14th century sufi poet and musician Hazrat Amir Khusrau (1253 - 1325 CE). Lots of traditional sufi kalaam is erroneously credited to the legendary Khusrau.

Qawwali music and its lyrical tradition originates with the Chishtiya Sufi order and its South Asian founder Hazrat Khawaja Mueenuddin Chishti Ajmeri (also know as Ghareeb Nawaz). Mueenuddin Chishti was followed by his disciple, Qutb-uddin Bakhtiar Kaaki (also buried in Delhi), who in turn was succeeded by Hazrat Faridiuddin Masud Ganjshakar (buried in Pak Pattan in Pakistan). After Baba Farid, the order split into the Chishti-Nizami and Chishti-Sabiri factions. Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya was the disciple of Baba Farid and Amir Khusrau was Nizamuddin's disciple.

Amir Khusrau is considered the patron saint of Indian-Pakistani sufi and qawwali music. Credited with inventing the tabla, he is also said to have founded the sufi music troupe known as "Qawwal bachoN ka gharana". Farid Ayaz and Abu Muhammad, known to younger audiences through their performances in Coke Studio Pakistan, are from this gharana. Khusrau was an accomplished musician, poet and scholar but most "Hindavi" poetry attributed to him was written much after his death. He is buried near Nizamuddin Auliya's shrine in Delhi.

The influence of this poetry and music is visible in many different places in the sub-continent's culture. Here's perhaps one of the most familiar recent efforts. This is Tina Sani singing the start of Faiz Ahmed Faiz's "Mori araj suno". She then shifts to sing a completely different Punjabi poem by Faiz titled "Rabba Sachheya". Later Arieb Azhar recites the original poem in its entirety.

"Mori Araj Suno" - Faiz Ahmed Faiz (from "Sham-e-shehr-e-yaaraN")

Tina Sani sings:

Mori araj suno, dastagir pir  (O my lord, pay heed to my appeal)

Mairee kahun kaa say mein apnay jiya ki pir  (to whom do describe the anguish of my soul) Arieb Azhar recites: Iss surat seh  (With this grimace) Arz sunatay  (Pleading) Dard batatay  (Sharing the pain) Nayya khaitay  (Rowing the boat) Minnat kartay  (Asking for his blessings) Rasta taktay  (Waiting expectantly) Kitni sadiyaan beet gai hain  (Countless centuries have passed by) Ab jakar yeh bhaid khulla hai  (Only now has it been revealed) Jis koh tum ne arz guzari  (The one who you had appealed to) Jo tha haat pakarnay waala  (The one who held your hand and guided you) Jis jaag laagi nao tumhaari  (Where your boat had docked) Jis say dukh ka daaroo manga  (From whom you had asked for a panacea for your pain) Toray mandir may joh nahin aaya  (The one who did not visit your temple) Woh tau tum heen thay  (It was you only) Woh tau tum heen thay  (It was you only)

(translation: Syed Obaid Hasan Raza on a YouTube comment)

And finally here's Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan singing "Araj suno mori piya" in Raga Kaunsi Kanhra.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Eliza Doolittle & My Idea of the Good Life

Just the other day I was watching Stephen Colbert and Matthew Broderick sing Julie Andrew's famous "My Fair Lady" song "Loverly" live on Colbert's late night show. I sat there on my couch captivated by the melody and for the first time really paying attention to the lyrics. And the more I listened, the happier I felt, drawn to the simple dreams of Eliza Doolittle's life.

All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
Oh, wouldn't it be loverly?

Lots of chocolate for me to eat,
Lots of coal makin' lots of heat.
Warm face, warm hands, warm feet
Oh, wouldn't it be loverly?

Oh, so lovely sittin' abso-bloomin'-lutely still
I would never budge till spring
Crept over me window sill

Someone's head restin' on my knee
Warm and tender as he can be
Who takes good care of me
Oh, wouldn't it be loverly
Loverly, loverly, loverly, loverly...

As I listened to the original song repeatedly over the next couple of days it struck me how closely Eliza's words matched my own idea of a good life: basic comforts, simple pleasures and love. If I could add just one line to the original lyrics, this song would become my life's anthem:

All I want is a room somewhere
Far away from the cold night air
With one enormous chair
Oh, wouldn't it be loverly?

Lots of chocolate for me to eat,
{Lots of books for me to read},
Lots of coal makin' lots of heat.

Someone's head restin' on my knee
Warm and tender as he can be
Who takes good care of me
Oh, wouldn't it be loverly

And here's the beautiful Julie Andrews singing in the original stage version.
(The stills of Julie Andrews in this video are superb)

The role of Eliza Doolittle in the movie was played by Audrey Hepburn but it was still Julie's voice.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

The Delightful E.B. White

Banished to the proverbial desert island and forced to live with one volume for the rest of my life (God forbid!), I would likely take my copy of E.B. White's essays. His exquisitely crafted prose elicits, in me, unadulterated joy and admiration. Whether writing about the streets of New York, the animals on his Maine farm or a summer visit to the lake, he manages to infuse the mundane with extraordinary life and vitality. His lightly-worn avuncular wisdom is timeless.
Yesterday, reading his 1954 essay "A slight sound at evening", written for the hundredth anniversary of Thoreau's Walden, I was again struck by his prophetic voice. It was over sixty years ago that he wrote:
"Thoreau's Walden is pertinent and timely. In our uneasy season, when all men unconsciously seek a retreat from a world that has got almost completely out of hand, his house in Concord woods is a haven. In our culture of gadgetry and the multiplicity of convenience, his cry 'Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!' has the insistence of a fire alarm. In the brooding atmosphere of war and the gathering radioactive storm, the innocence and serenity of his summer afternoons are enough to burst the remembering heart, and one gazes back upon that pleasing interlude - its confidence, its purity, its deliberateness - with awe and wonder, as one would look upon the face of a child asleep."
Here's a nice critical essay on this quintessential New Yorker writer from the January/February 2014 issue of "Humanities" magazine by Danny Heitman.