Saturday, June 29, 2013

Hurrah to the forktail !!

 If you are seeing too many Wagtails that will be the first impression one gets, the undulating flight and restless waging tail.  It was my last few days in Himalayas and was desperately in search of a Forktail, something that you get to see in these mountains. Favourite haunt being rocky streams in forest or shaded wooded ravines, rarely seen in the open. I was at Uttarkashi town, and out on a very early morning walk, it was still dark as I began my trek from the town to further up the hill where Nation Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) was located, it’s about 5Kms of salubrious sight. As you climb the terrain changes to pine forest. Shifting to pine and destruction of oaks has been detrimental to the region, and has contributed to landslides.
Just about the road on the rocky side heavily shaded in trees I heard rasping calls, and was very soon face to face with the Spotted Forktail aka Enicurus maculatus . A relatively large bird in tidy black and white, a rather busy demeanor and a white cap like pate. For a moment I thought he is going to up his cap and say hello howdoyoudo!!  
The inimitable Ghalib

Mirza Ghalib is inseparable from the collective memory of later medieval period of Delhi. You can say medieval Delhi is Ghalib’s Dhilli.  His prodigious output, candid and dispassionate portrayal of incongruities of human life, converting day to day vagaries into creative excellence interspersed with stimulating metaphors and wit, are much popular to this day.  Very few in this country, indeed the subcontinent, might not have heard about Ghalib. If haven’t then Ghalib has the answer!!

poochte hain ki Ghalib khon hain?
koi bathlawo ki hum bahthlaye kya?
I am asked who this Ghalib is?
Someone tell me, who am I to say

 It’s a wonderful play of words, and if you read again the meaning changes and goes deeper. That in short is greatness of Ghalib. Must add, any translation of Urdu will never ever do justice to the original. Though I had heard about Ghalib in school, intriguingly never taught or part of curriculum, we used to do crap shaiyaridhoor se dekha tho aunty naha rahi thi, pass jakhe dekha tho bais pooch hila rahi thi…kind of nonsense, it is in this context there was a line Ghalib ki gali se a rahi thi awaaz…you say it again to built up the tempo (arz kiya hai!!) and then… kaale kaale jamun lelo !!

Some of Ghalib’s couplets are part of popular imagination, not many maybe aware that the lines like dil-e nadaan tujhe hua kya hai were written by Ghalib!! This was also part of popular Hindi song from Razia Sultan movie made in early 80s

Dil-e nadaan tujhe hua kya hai?
Aakhir is dard ki dawaa kya hai
Hum hain mushtaq aur who bazaar
Yaa ilaahi ye majara kya hai?
O wayward heart, what is your predicament
What for this ailment, is the right medicament
Our fondness is met by beloved’s coldness
Why O god this curious predicament
It is quite long and worth listening to…
Another couplet that readers must have heard many times is

hazaron khwahishen aisi keh har khwahish peh dum nikle
bahut nikle mere arman lekin phir bhi kam nikle
Longings innumerable, longing exquisitely intense
how many, many fulfilled, and yet O god, how few.

I had completely forgotten about this man until I found myself in a seminar in 1998 arranged by Urdu Academy and Sahitya Akademi on Bi-centenary of Mirza Ghalib “Ghalib’s Worlds, Times, Ideas and Contemporaries” at IIC.  Mirza Ghalib was back, and so ended up reading few things. Few months back I happen to attend a program on Ghalib at International Islamic Centre, conducted by Kathak danseuse Uma Sharma -who performed on couplets recited by Pavan Verma. Such was the crowd that there was no space to even stand. A mehfil was also arranged next day. Uma Sharma is also the force behind the restoration work of Ghalib’s residence at Ballimaran in Chandni Chowk, which was reduced to a godown.  
Ghalib original name was Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan(1797-1869)and was the last of the great urdu poet of the Mughal Era. He used pen names of Ghalib (meaning excellent) and sometimes Asad (lion). Ghalib lived during the turbulent times as Mughals were collapsing, the 1857 mutiny and displaced by the British. He too had a turbulent life living mostly in penury. 

In 1809 when Ghalib was just 12, his poetry came in for discussion in the literary annals of the time Umad-e-Muntakhiba, this promising poet was compared with greatest exponents of Ghazal. The detail description of him appear much later in Aab-i-Hayat where his “subtlety of expression, variation of themes, exquisite poetic images, conceit style and satirical quips” where much appreciated. This article though lost its credibility for hyperbolic praise of court poet and contemporary Ustad Zauq, who was quite a mediocre. Incidentally the tiff between Ghalib –a talented mercurial essentially a street poet, and court poet Zauq has reference in an incidence. It so happened that once the palanquin carrying Zauq was passing through the street, Ghalib quipped bana hai shah ka mushahib phira hai ithratha “He is close to crown, is strutting about in town!!”. As people laughed and praised, it surely was humiliating to the court poet. Very soon Ghalib was summoned to the fort, court poet’s public humiliation was sought to be explained. Ghalib submitted most humbly that it was actually a “continuing phrase of the maqta of my new verse”, and to the surprise of everyone present, added …magar na is shehar meh Ghalib ki abru kya hai  “…otherwise Ghalib is a clown in people’s estimation”. Not convinced and rightly reading through Ghalib’s mischief Zauq demands full verse. Ghalib created this verse impromptu that gained appreciation of even Zauq…

harek bhath pe kehthe ho ki thum ki thu kya hai
thum hi kaho ki ye andaaze gufthagu kya hai
ragon meh dhodthe phirne ke hum nahi kayal
jab ankh he se na tapka tho phir lahoo kya hai
For anything I say, you answer with ‘what are you’
Why don’t you say, what is this style of conversation?
Flowing in vein we regard as vain
Unless blood it is that flows from the eyes

Yadgar-e-Ghalib (1896) by Khawaja Althaf Hussain Hali can be called as the first major work that detailed Ghalib’s achievements. Hali stressed that Ghalib’s greatness lies in his amazing range of themes and moods, devoid of melancholic grumblings, and finds new meaning whenever they are read again. This was followed by Kashiful Haqaiq (Imdad Imam Asar) and Yadgar-e-Ghalib (Abdul Rehman Bijnori) while the earlier mentioned was highly critical of Ghalib, latter pretentious. “Ghalib” (Abdul Latif) was the first English book and sought to degrade him by comparing with Shakespeare and other western poets. The much acclaimed book to come out during this time was Shairul Hind (Maulana Abdul Salam Nadvi), a consummate discussion. Ghalib’s influence was such that stress was placed on new metaphors, similes, and resorting to rhetorics became a rage. Ghalib Shikan was another invain attempt to belittle Ghalib.

na tha kuch tho khuda tha, kuch na hotha tho khuda hotha
duboya muche hone ne, na hotha tho meh kya hotha
when nothing was, then god was there
had nothing been god would have been
my being has defeated me
had I not been, what would have been
(this couplet can also be seen at his tomb, located in Nizamuddin, very near to the Dargah)  

Rambabu Saxena’s History of Urdu literature in english bestowed acclaim and cemented his contributions. Saxena divided Ghalib’s poetry into three broad categories. The earlier poetry characterized by judicious and subtlety of expressions, later in sublimity and craftsmanship, “his humanitarian mysticism and astonishing fluency in using evocative language and fresh imagery”. The author also points to Ghalib’s liberal and humanist worldview. The Urdu translation of this book Adabi Khutoot-e-Ghalib (Mirza Mohammed Askari) included letters addressed to literary issues by Ghalib, throwing light on meaning of couplet. Ghalib Nama (Sheikh Mohammed Ikram) threw light on Ghalib’s personality his relation with religion, indeed Ghalib was not religious but wasn’t against. Gulzar’s episode on Ghalib begins with aged Ghalib tottering in the dawn at the steps of mosque, vacillating and returning. Quite compelling, these TV episodes brought a rather subtle, romantic and angst filled side of Ghalib, Ghalib Nama though points to Ghalib being prone to frequent outburst of anger and rage “at times he hurled such harsh and rasping comments at his opponents that cannot be repeated”.  Malik Ram’s Zikr-e-Ghalib tapped some new sources and provides historical perspective to time in which Ghalib lived. Ghalib’s philosophical concepts came in for detailed discussion in Fasal-e-Kalam-e-Ghalib (Shaukat Subzwari) and Afkar-e-Ghalib (Khaleefa Abdul Hakeem). Subzwari makes it clear that “Ghalib was not a philosopher but a philosophical poet”.

hum muwahhid hain hamara kesh hai tark-e-rusum
millaten jab mit gaye ajza-e iman ho gaye
In the oneness of god we believe, we reject custom, tenet and creed
for when they all are effaced, a true faith spring forth indeed.   

1930s onward saw leftist intellectual interest in Ghalib with the formation of Progressive Writers Association. This includes Ghalib:Shakha Aur Shair (Majnoo Gorakhpuri), Ghalib –Ek Mutala (Mumtaz Hussain), but the one that stands out is Ghalib Ka Tafakkur (Ehtisham Hussain). Hussain focused on couplets that reflected the historical realities, though he is critical on contradiction in Ghalib’s worldview and philosophy! Other contributors include Ali Sardar Jafri, Mohammad Hasan, Zoya Ansari, Anwar Azeem, SR Kidwai etc. Prof AA Suroor has written articles on Ghalib and asserts that Ghalib “put premium on wit” and his “couplets exudes meaning slowly”. Prof. Asloob Ahmed Ansari wrote thought provoking books Naqsh-e-=Ghalib and Naqsh-Hai-e-Rang gave the most extensive analysis. Hasan Askari writes that Ghalib is surprisingly closer to romantic poets

husn-e farogh-e sham-e sukhan dur hai Asad
pahle dil-e gudakhtah paida kare koi
It’s true a poet’s words should burn and melt, and glow like candle-flame
But foster first a feeling heart that can, like candle, melt with flame

Ghalib Ka Zauq-e- Tamasha (Wazir Agha), Ghalib Kuan Hai (Salim Ahmed), Ghalib: Life and Letters (Ralph Russell and Kurshid Islam), Ghalib (Gulam Rasool Mehar), Ghalib Aur Ahang-e-Ghalib (Yusuf Huseein Khan), Mushkilat-e-Ghalib (Niyaz Fatehpuri), Mutala-e-Ghalib (Asar Lucknowi), Ghalib-Ek Ashufta Nawa (Aftab Ahmad Khan) etc were other significant contributions on Ghalib.

hai aur bhi duniya mein sukhanwar bahut ache
kehte hain ke ghalib ka hai andaaz-e-bayaan aur.
There are many good poets in the world,
but they say Ghalib’s style (of poetry) is different 

In popular culture there were movies made on Mirza Ghalib, the first one was directed by Sohrab Modi (1954) wherein Bharat Bhushan –the superstar of that era, played the role of Ghalib. The second was nine episodes for TV by Gulzar (1988) with Nasiruddin Shah in the lead. Sohrab Modi’s movie was a runaway success, hugely appreciated it also won President’s Gold medal. Interestingly the story was to be written by Sadat Hasan Manto but due to partition of India and his shifting to Pakistan saw to it that the dialogues/script was written by Rajinder Singh Bedi. Manto was deeply influenced by Ghalib, many of his short story titles were borrowed verses of Ghalib. In a letter to the editor of Urdu journal Naqash (1955) Manto writes “in my own life I was never ashamed of literary creations comparing with my contemporaries, because nobody could compete with me. But when I came here (in mental hospital where he was being treated for alcohol addiction), then Ghalib made me worry a lot. He is taunting. He said to me: you are my thief, you took my verses as title of your story …instead of being thankful to me you wrote a film story about me where you show none of my qualities and, on the contrary all my defects are shown…” . Ghalib had this couplet that probably will clear any misgivings!!

ho gaya koi aisa bhi jo Ghalib ko na jaane,
shayar to who achha hai, magar badnaam bahut hai.
Is there anyone who isn’t aware of Ghalib?
He is a good poet, but quite infamous. 

Indeed Ghalib had no misgivings on his talent and was quite confident about his place in posterity, though in jest… 

hui muddat ke Ghalib mar gaya par yaad aataa hai
woh har ek baat pe kehna ke yoon hota to kya hota.
It has been a long time since Ghalib passed away, but still remembered
for his saying on each event of what if this had happened that way.

Gulzar’s Ghalib I happen to watch again (I have the CD, it takes about 5hours), the renditions are by Jagjit Singh. It starts with a poem by Gulzar, (it is long one, due to paucity of space I have cut it)

Ballimaraan ke mohalle ki wo pecheeda daleelon ki si wo galiyan
saamne taal ke nukkad pe batero ke qaseede
gurhgurhati hui paan ki peekon mein wo daad wo wah-wah
chand darwaaze par latke huye boshida se kuch taat ke parde
Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’ ka patha milta hai

The lanes of Ballimaran so much like the confusing arguments
With partridge stories at the lane’s corner.
The sounds of applause amidst the gurgling sounds of chewed betel leaves.
There, the whereabouts of Asadullah Khan Ghalib are found. 

From my scribble pad...

The Tree
The still tree carries the night in its branches
the way  it spreads and twists into knots
wheeze forbidding thoughts
unfurl frightening strangeness.
It is at the dawn, you hear
the sobs like bird songs
stillness as becoming
dark shapes bearing beaming patterns
scintillating sight lit in the glorious morning.     

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Red-billed Blue magpie: Enchanting bird of Himalayan foothills

 It is difficult to miss this corvid that inhabits along the Shivalik, and rather common in the upper reaches. A striking looking large bird that appears straight out of fairytale. Red-billed Blue Magpie aka Urocissa Eythrorhyncha has everything that is arresting to the sight – a mix of red, purple, blue, white, orange, black and what not, add a long blue white corrugated tail and you get magpie of the hills!

Found this pretty one delectably placed against the faint sun on a morning walk, along the downhill of Dhanpo village that had a patch of jungle. The mountains hills are stripped of trees, I was told that the hills here had huge trees once but were logged and transported to Delhi during colonial period. Wondering how they transported these all the way to delhi? The serpentine river Yamuna, the faint roar that I could hear, hold the key. During monsoon the in spate river was also carrying loads of premium cargo that were properly tagged as it reached the plains. 

Dhanpo: Jaunsari hamlet in the hills

Dhanpo is a quaint little tribal hamlet near to Lakhwad village ensconced in lower Himalayas. It’s about three hours from Dehradun, towards Chakrata. Public transport system is minimal; I had to travel on the top of a jeep on a road that had deep ravines on one side and a determinantly vicious driver on the wheel. Not for faint hearts!! Narayan Singh Tomar is popularly referred to as Netaji, and he surely is one, was the person I contacted over phone. A man who immensely enjoys talking, talking may not be the right word but monologue as if he is addressing a gathering. He needs cue to start during which he will observe you closely from toe to head and may even exchange pleasantry with passerby, to make it worse, can meander away from the issue in focus and return at will.  To his favour I must add the man has zest and energy of a doer, an organizer.  He amply demonstrates these during get together. He introduced me to the gathering “as the man who will take Dhanpo to the world through computer” and performed the enviable task of explaining internet to largely illiterate audience. This included distorting his hand into representation of a globe and moving his finger to and fro as if to explain whereall Dhanpo will be heard, to an awe struck audience. I, in the meanwhile, was making keen attempts to sink into ground via underneath the table!!         

This is Jaunsari-Bawar belt, and Dhanpo is a Jaunsari tribe settlement. Jaunsari is a corrupted name of Jamnapar, as Jaunsar region is on the other side of Yamuna river. I tried my best to know about Jaunsari tribes from the inhabitant but the information is sketchy. Few days later I visited Anthropological Survey of India library at Dehradun and gathered few information from various books.

Jaunsaris are mainly concentrated in Dehradun region; they are combination of various groups of polyandrous community (that includes Koltas, Bajgis and Khasas) living in geographical region. They speak Jaunsari which belongs to the family of Indo-Aryan languages, they also know Hindi. Till recently fraternal polyandry was in practice. What makes Jaunsari tribes interesting is the belief that they are descendent of Pandavas, as fraternal polyandry has been existing for ages until ofcourse the Hindu marriage act!!   They are primarily dependent on agriculture and animal husbandry.  In the pecking order the Khasas are at the top, and acquire Hindu caste influence, therefore play a dominant role in matters. Khasas are land owning, the other sections, in particular Koltas, were treated as bonded labours, indeed till recently prohibited from owning land therefore exploited. I was reading that a study conducted in 1980s found that 31 villages in Jaunsar-Bawar belt had instances of Kolta women trafficked to the plains by Khasas (Dr.DPS Khanna, Garhwal Univeristy). Though patriarchal, women play an important role most likely as an influence of once prominent polyandry. A day later I was up hill at Chakrata talking to Mr Kriparam Joshi, a retired principal of school and a man of immense knowledge about the culture of the place, who informed that Jaunsari tribes are the one of the few tribes in India who actively practices casteism, as Hindus do. He referred to it as bad influence as has happened with Christians and Muslims. Funnily as Jaunsaris are tribes they enjoy the status of ST so we have strange combination of “Brahmin Tribe” while the lower sections of Jaunsaris enjoy the status of both ST and SC. They mostly chose SC status for less competition in jobs, as the reservation is about 17% while ST is only 8%.      

 Though Jaunsaris are classified as Hindu tribes they don’t worship Hindu gods, preferring their own God, principal one being Mahasu. Neither in the characteristic of gods nor in the manner of worship have much semblance with Hindu practices, animal sacrifices are common.  Polyandry now seems nonexistent, though interaction with children at the village I gathered they refer aunts as mothers and so on. The only story that I gathered from the talk on Jaunsari was about their god Kailu, a temple located at the top of the hill. Kailu is a warrior god with sword in his hand. It so happened that many centuries ago a tyrant ruled the region, he asked for human sacrifice. The villagers were fed up and looked for savior. They were prophesized by power from above of a warrior in Kashmir but as they took the journey they realized there really isn’t any help. One day from the ant mound a figurine emerged who was to be their god and savior.     
The older traditional houses are double storey wooden and rather striking, though cavernous they keep the house warm in winter. Dhanpo has to its credit a tradition of what is now described as Organic farming. It is not a concept (which a news report –indeed BBC –was quoted as saying has no much nutrition difference than pesticide induced food!!) but a way of life. It is integrated in the outlook towards life. Every home has cows, buffaloes and goats; these are collectively assigned a space on the outskirts of the village. Each family has a shed called gowshala. It helps in that the village is maintained clean while defecate from the animals are easily collected and converted into manure. This then is distributed to plots that 40 odd families, that consists the village, hold for cultivation. There is also vermiculture pits, I was shown around by Ms Meena Devi who also is the President of SHG, she explained on medicinal values of some plants.   
Women of the village have taken the initiative to create a group called Durga Mahila Swyam Seva Samooh, the guest house where i stayed runs under their aegis. The women are refreshingly open and not unduly alarmed interacting with strangers. Most likely they haven’t really travelled in Delhi metros where the local guardians of government keep blaring every few seconds “not to talk to strangers” and so we have “all strangers” looking up and down with grim faces, no courtesy, no smile…ah back in the city. You will be a dead soul if this enters your being. And so a stranger dying on the street is just a stranger, from this pits also emerge self serving bleeding hearts, the paratroopers of issues! Delhi government is very clear on how to create ideal citizens. Though I understand the risks involved with strangers but these are never norms as is being attempted.    

 For once I too was quite comfortable and relaxed, with trusting people around there is peace in the being. Though initially I too was apprehensive and discomfited by easy nature of people, slowly it dawned that this is real, and I am in a very real world. And so while you have your dinner the women will gather around, ask a line about taste of food, as they discuss among themselves their private matters in jaunsari language. The unfortunate fallout of being on the quieter part of the human spectrum of social skills is that very soon you are nonexistent. But they were considerate to drop in a line like ‘aur kha lo’ ‘acha laga’ and so on. Though must add later I insisted on quieter surroundings and lesser people. On a late night I also had an experience of about a dozen women coming for a visit, they carried grains and lentils as gift. Anyone visiting Dhanpo (and they must) should be open to any kind of surprise. The facilities at the room are minimal but decent, the view is great, food is homely and yes organic. So if you are in Dehradun or Mussorie drop into Dhanpo for a day or two, and enjoy the hospitality of tribes of Himalayas, and ofcourse salubrious climate. 

The video posted at is a night of get together that was arranged at the janmilan hall, wherein the women exhibited their zest for life and rhythm. What is incredible is that they are multifaceted…indeed these words are created. People are hardworking and do their work with dedication so in the morning you see them tending animals, carrying manure, climbing trees to cut leaves so on by mid noon they are cooking some really tasty food and later they are singing and dancing!!

Post script: things go wrong…
The above piece was written on the third day of my stay, I was about to leave but then I extended it by a day. The problem could be that, Indian villages are romantic getaway only for few days then the reality of surroundings barge in. Few kids happen to visit me where I was staying, while the regular kids were around. I asked about them, the kid shrugged, winced and said in appalling manner that they are from harijan basti. Little above Dhanpo is a few metres of no-man’s-land lies Harijan basti. It almost looks the same except that they are smaller and quieter, yes cleaner. Though small children are seen running around but I found teenage children and youngsters quieter lot. Elders subdued and avoided direct eye contact. I informed one of the elderly ladies who served me food and interacted everyday, about the appalling behavior of the kid. Till that moment a charming lady, she spewed “we never take food from them. I will never eat food prepared by them”. I said that is not right. A man who till now rarely spoke, shy manners, was regular presence found his voice and said vigorously “that is how god made them, they are no equals”. No wonder the kids treat these unfortunate children with such dislike, it is the elders who give the cue. Suddenly the pretty village, charming people and tasty food all got bitter for me. I don’t blame Dhanpo, it is only a microcosm of what is nasty India. These are the manners and attitude that is extended and seen in different contexts and views at the national level. The nasty India carries the seeds of incredibly mediocre India. As long as nasty India exists whatever pretensions Indians have at the high table of international relations about their caliber it will be just not enough since it is a byproduct of bias and cruelty. Such demarcations of villages on the basis of castes, these brahminical references should be made illegal. They created egotistic zombies out of otherwise ordinary compassionate people. And yes anyone visiting Dhanpo must also visit this section and enjoy their hospitality. I am sure no one has monopoly on hospitality and humbleness!!  
Despite these problems I reiterate you must visit Dhanpo atleast for the lead women have taken, their incredible passion for life and all the living that surrounds them. There is a quintessential compassion for life that is typically Indian. Dhanpo should be in the itinerary for anyone visiting Gharwal.  And yes in dance and celebration everyone come together…