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Majaaz on Wall Street


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GHALIB was possibly the greatest Urdu poet India ever produced. He died in penury though not before being thrown into prison for six months.

The humiliation involved the charge that he hosted gambling sessions in his house for a fee. Despite the severe financial problems, Ghalib didn’t let his pride get crushed. He refused to accept a job as a teacher all because the British college principal would not come out to his palanquin to receive the literary magician.

Kabir the legend of pre-Mughal Avadhi poetry (now spuriously described as a dialect of Hindi) was a poor weaver of Benares advocating the joys of simple living. Guru Nanak, who founded the Sikh religion, borrowed generously from Kabir.

Goswami Tulsidas, whose 16th century epic on the life and exploits of Lord Rama unwittingly helped the launch of a pro-business political party in modern India slept in a mosque.

Urdu and Hindi poets have come from different layers of society. From the last Mughal emperor Zafar to the railway gang man Shailendra, whose poetry adorned several major musical hits in the Hindi/Urdu cinema, their contributions have rarely been influenced by their class origins.

But it is difficult to describe a starry night in June in St Petersburg where the sun doesn’t set in summer. Similarly, it is impossible to conjure the romance of the monsoon while living in England. Poets and writers who lived in penury wrote beautiful verse or prose. Would they be able to keep the beauty if they were to become rich?

The question was prompted by Javed Akhtar, a fabulous raconteur and wit. Everyone believes he inherited his ready repartee or haazir jawabi from his maternal uncle Majaaz Lucknavi who was a darling of his contemporary Urdu poets in the 1940s and 1950s. But this is where the similarities appear to wane.

Majaaz was an unsuccessful lover who lived in penury and died while in his 40s on a freezing morning at a country liquor shop in Lucknow. Javed Akhtar married two well-known film actors.

Unlike his uncle, or even his father, the much-admired poet Jan Nisar Akhtar, Javed Akhtar was fortunate to make lots of money writing scripts and screenplays for Amitabh Bachchan movies.

He then reincarnated himself as a successful songwriter, a public speaker and a vociferous campaigner for the restoration of secular ideals in politics. Recently, he was nominated to the Rajya Sabha for all his impressive skills.

He gave his maiden speech in parliament last week, which was about how film songwriters and musicians are deprived of their legitimate earnings through royalties. I think he announced himself as a creature of the market. It’s not his fault. There is no revolution on the horizon for him to emulate his peers, many of them Marxists, or in any case wholeheartedly with the poor.

As a critique of Javed Akhtar’s support for ‘cash nexus’ in creative art, I have attempted a quick translation of Majaaz’s poem on capitalism called Sarmayadari, which he wrote in 1938. Here are excerpts from the poem. I believe it would be of interest to many protesters on Wall Street.

Kaleja phunk raha hai aur zabaan kehne se aari hai Bataoo’n kya tumhe kya cheez ye sarmayadari hai (My heart is singed by its flame Capitalism is its name)

Ye wo aandhi hai jiski rau mein muflis ka nasheman hai Ye wo bijli hai jiski zad mein har dehqaan ka khirman hai (When it turns into a storm it uproots many a cobbled tent As lightening it destroys the harvest of the peasant)

Ye apne haath mein tehzeeb ka fanoos leti hai Magar mazdoor ke tan se lahoo tak choos leti hai (It dazzles the world with its cultural pedigree But thrives on the workers’ blood, it’s free)

Ye insaani bala khud khoon e insaani ki gaahak hai Waba se badhke mohlak maut se badh kar bhayanak hai (Created by man, capitalism trades in man’s sweat Is there an antidote to the epidemic? Not yet?)

Bala e be aman hai taur hi iske hi niraley hain Ke isne ghaiz mein ujdey huey ghar phoonk daley hain (Ever so often it takes the form of an ominous curse It rides through burning homes on a macabre hearse)

Ye aksar loot kar masoom insanon ko raahon mein Khuda ke zamzame gaati hai chhup kar khan qahon mein (It lurks and loots the innocent wayfarer And sings paeans at any religious altar)

Garajti goonjti ye aaj bhi maida’n mein aati hai Magar badmast hai har har qadam par ladkhadati hai (We stop to watch as it roars past on its daily round But watch out, it looks drunk. About to fall to the ground?)

Mubarak doston labrez hai ab isk paimana Uthao andhiyan kamzor hai buniyad a kashana (Let’s celebrate O friends, let’s raise a toast A new storm is brewing to end capitalism’s boast).

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi. 

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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (13) Closed

Majaz Amin May 24, 2012 06:33am
Kaleja phunk raha hai aur zabaan kehne se aari hai Bataoo’n kya tumhe kya cheez ye sarmayadari hai well said.
Osman Rashid May 24, 2012 05:47am
Mr Naqvi its better not to try and rhyme the translation as the extra effort devoted to it can be spent on conveying the essence of a poem.
Parineet May 24, 2012 10:14am
Javed Akhtar can teach secularism to Hindus - but dare not do it to muslims of Pakistan or India
Asadullah May 24, 2012 11:50am
Good effort in translation. The last verse though has been translated completely wrong. the correct translation is as follows Congrats o friends, its days are counted. Raise a storm that destroys the foundation of its house.
alan May 24, 2012 12:32pm
what a boring article !
Vasan May 24, 2012 01:26pm
I am no fan of either of the two Javeds - Akhtar or Naqvi, but I fully agree that it is a great travesty that has happened in India that these great songwriters and musicians don't get any money for those old, immortal melodies they wrote. I don't listen to any Hindi movie song of movies made after 1990 because they are such garbage, in stark contrast to the older songs that were so marvelous. Sadly the post-1990 musicians and lyricists have made millions for the garbage they churn out, where as the real gold of Hindi cinema is given away for free.
manas May 24, 2012 06:37pm
M.D.Bhasin May 24, 2012 07:22pm
The new storm has lifted capitalism up. Ab woh sar par chadkar bolti hai.
Onkar sharma May 24, 2012 08:17pm
I have great respect for Mr. Naqvi and I am a regular reader of his articles. His articles are an eye-opener for both Indians and Pakistanis. Javed Akhtar doesn´t teach secularism, he simply reminds Muslims and Hindus of the Indian sub-continent of our heritage and culture.
Imran May 25, 2012 08:04am
Nice job Mr. Naqvi.
Malone May 25, 2012 07:34pm
South Asians have a Devdas-fascination, for the poor drunk megalomaniac claiming to be a poet or a singer. The greatest poet from the subcontinent was Rabindranath Tagore, the first Nobel prize winner from Asia (1913). The man was a landlord; invented Bengali short stories; visited Europe, Japan, USA, Argentinaand Indonesia and wrote about these countries; knew Romain Rolland, Einstein and Victor Hugo personally; was knighted and turned down the knightship after the Jalianwalabagh massacre; but still did not drink himself to death. Instead, he singlehandedly created the first University in India that was not created by the British. There is something to be said for hard work too.
NASAH (USA) May 26, 2012 12:23am
May I ask Vasan -- why you are not a fan of the 'two' Javeds -- how about other Javeds?
Caz Aug 08, 2012 07:51am
Excellent article. Very poignant the words of Majaaz given the neo liberal crisis I read your articles with great interest. Keep them coming.