"Hazaron Khawaishen Aisi: The Wonderful World of Urdu Ghazals" | FURTHERING the charm of Ghazals
Delicately studying the nuances of ghazals through the ages, Anisur Rahman has accomplished a challenging task of translating delicate languages while preserving traditional essence, discusses Arif Mohammad
Ghazal has its roots in the Arabic language and literally means ‘talking to the lady love’. In Hazaaron Khwahishein Aisi, Anisur Rahman has beautifully illustrated the background and richness of this literary genre. The recent decades have witnessed an increase in engagement with ghazals in English – both as a product of translation and as a borrowed genre.
As a translator, Rahman has done a commendable job in covering 65 prominent poets; from Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah to modern poets like Aftab Husain across seven ages of evolution – metaphysical beginnings, enlightenment, realism, modernism, progressive poetics, new poetics and modern poetics. But, translation itself is a problem, given the nature of the two languages – Urdu and English. Urdu stands as a language of nuance without being policed by rigid punctuations. Whereas, English is sustained in regular punctuations – often breaking the very essence of ghazals. For instance, this particular couplet by Ghalib, when translated, seems to lose its rhythmic meaning:
Na tha kuchh to khuda tha kuch na hota to khuda hota
Duboya mujhko hone ne na hota main to kya hota
When there was nothing, there was God; had there been nothing there would’ve been God.
I was destroyed (sunk) by coming into being; had I not been, what would have been?
This translated verse clearly illustrates how English reduces the nuances of the original couplet (sher). The tyranny of punctuation cannot be denied completely in English translation, but Rahman has made an admirable attempt in reducing it.
Unlike the trajectory of other literary forms, ghazals have a history of traversing beyond spatial confines. The book provides a brief tour through the passages of this poetic form, revealing its uniqueness and global appeal.
Though originating in Arabia and maturing in Persia, ghazal found its most hospitable destination in India. Ghazal in India can be traced back to the works of Amir Khusrau in the 13th century. However, literary history records the beginning of Urdu poetry since the Deccan rulers of Golconda after the decline of Bahmani Sultanate in 1527. Two significant Deccan poets, Qutub Shah and Vali Deccani, initiated the great tradition of Urdu poetry. After the decline of the Mughals towards the end of the 17th century, Persian remained the language of the court, nobility and the poets.
Looking back, one can observe the journey of ghazals through several stages of development in form, content and language. One remarkable aspect of ghazal in India is that the poets of various linguistic, regional and religious affiliations come together to broaden the thematic and stylish frontiers and, at the same time, impart a unique resilience.
Ghazal in English acquired its definite face and form with Agha Shahid Ali. Ever since its origin, ghazals have been immensely popular with poets, readers and audiences. But, at the same time, it has also been subject to severe criticism. There is a view that it offends healthy minds as it thrives on unbridled imagination and creates disunities. It is a form of poetry where the poet roams in the realms of fancy and takes readers away from reality. Many defend it exactly for the reasons purists choose to malign it.
Since the 1980s, Urdu ghazal has shown remarkable variations. The contemporary ghazal has grown out of the modernist need to establish it as a prominent and individual tradition of literary expression. It has acquired certain stability and speaks in much more sober and serious tones. The newest of the new ghazals has shown infinite passion for life and art; perennially positive.
Instead of engaging with the problem of identifying themselves as modern or post-modern, today’s poets have grown calmer and composed. They have chosen to engage with the philosophical and mystical aspects of existence, despite being rooted in history and heritage.
The book is a fascinating anthology of ghazals and gives readers a chance to perceive the vivacity and vigour of poets belonging to different eras.