Buoy the population of the soul
Toward their destination before they drown
~ Robert Pinsky
October 2011
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Saturday, 29. October 2011

Ghazal - a translation

Who is this, who comes into my longing carrying a goblet,
Casting shadows of a moonlight night across my heart?

When the vine of memory drips all night in the heart,
Carrying in their gaze, spring’s morning and evening - who is this?

The breeze’s fragrant caresses kept waking him all night,
Carrying on its lips the essence of someone’ name – who is this?

The scent of a thought and the fragrance of a body,
Which stand at my body’s door with a message – who is this?

In the distance, someone was playing a shehani. And I woke to
Find in my eyes a perfected dream of someone – who is this?

Note: This is my translation from the Urdu of Makhdoom Mohiuddin's "Ye kaun aata hai tanhaiyon mein". I just happened to stumble upon Makhdoom's body of work and (think of a Hyderabadi Faiz Ahmed Faiz or a Nazim Hikmet, with the same aesthetic of revolutionary romanticism - why didn't I know of him!!) last night, as I was searching for movies of Irrfan Khan. Irrfan Kan played Makhdoom in an Indian TV series on Urdu poets called Kahkashan (created by Ali Sardar Jafri) - which I plan to watch in full before my Indian sojourn is over.


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India Notes - 2

The gaze as a sepia photograph. A tracery of memory in everything the eye sees. That summer evening at the end of an year of sadness, when he escaped to these hills of black basalt with an empty sketchbook and a box of watercolors (nothing came of that experiment – excepts few washes of burnt brick and charcoal; few years later his sister threw away the watercolors), thinking of Arles, with the warm evening wind whistling among the straggly trees reminding him of the sirocco that made mad Vincent sever his ear as a gift. In this return to what is a crowded and much diminished landscape, that evening full of despairing rush at returns to mind.

He slowly remembers that year as he looks out at a frenetic horizon of dust. That was when he was discovering art at college (where he was supposedly studying engineering), squirreled away in the dark and dusty stacks, form which books were last checked out in the late seventies, thumbing yellowing paper, starting with the Impressionists and going back to the old masters (the density of Breughel’s villages so much like those of his childhood) and going forward to the fractured beauty of Picasso’s bulls and horses.

A decade or more in between – he has seen those paintings, which his eye hungered for in that library, since then in many great museums. But in the column of loss (there is always one, right next to that of gain), he has to post the missing years since he has seen those few (or should he say two) that kept his spirit alive in those striated, adolescent days. What are they now to him, once most beloved, now at the periphery of time but at the center of this longing? Between them now three countries, a marriage and two divorces, and more money than before to feed the great fires (“Everything is burning”, said the Enlightened one at Gaya).

As he descends the (now dystopic) ancient temple hill, and walks away from the mounds of rubbish and troops of langurs cavorting with torn newspapers and plastic wrappers, few lines from Agha Shahid Ali’s poem “Farewell” surface:

“At a certain point I lost track of you.
They make a desolation and call it peace.”

Perhaps that line should read: they make a desolation and call it progress.

Date: Dec 3, 2010

My Daily Notes

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India Note - 1

A metaphor for the future Indian cities: sumptuous traffic jam

"Why aren’t there more flyovers built to bypass the traffic? But for the last 10 kilometers we have traversed four of them."

Reading Alberto Manguel on Homer at Landmark Books in Hyderabad, he thinks if there were a few of these stores a decade ago, perhaps, he would have never left

On the old Bombay highway, what happened to the distant views of the hillocks and the lakes? Then he was too small to go explore. Now everything has vanished under a carpet of concrete

Posters of godmen next to posters of movie stars – two pathways to getting at the same kind of solace

A novel he must find and read just for its resonant title: Thomas Hardy’s “Far From The Madding Crowd”

On the second day after arrival, on a jetlagged morning walk with his father, he hears the song of dueling temples

Subbu’s Bhaja Govindam heard distantly over the early morning calls of iterant vegetable sellers is like real filter coffee – how different than hearing it on headphones in an autumn American morning

There goes a Porsche dealer. But here come Jaguar, BMW, and Harley offering their shiny, and completely impractical, wares. Should they begin with the question: where to drive these toys?

Joy is scoring four Hero fountain pens for a dollar each. There was a time when these were the default writing instruments, filled with Chelpark Royal Blue ink

Many who he grew up with have left for that far country. Few lines from Shahid Ali’s “A Country Without a Post office”: One begins: “These words may never reach you.”/Another ends: “The skin dissolves in dew/ without your touch.”

The last yellow blossoms on the amalta tree. And four cabbage butterflies hovering like white memories from his childhood Novembers, which were spent chasing them through the schoolyard brambles

Date: Dec 1, 2010; Hyderabad India

My Daily Notes

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