Monday, May 19, 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Grey Jungle fowl

 I have been hearing Grey Jungle fowl (Gallus sonneratii) for some years now, their loud calls reverberates the mornings of the Western Ghats. These are extremely shy fowls, I have had very few and fleeting sightings in the last many years. So it was a pleasant surprise that not only did I get to see them but also had the opportunity to observe for long time. A wild relative of domestic fowls, Grey Jungle fowl are found only in the jungles of Indian peninsula, and are quite a vocal presence in the mornings and dusks of these dense forests.

Faiz Ahmad Faiz: hum dekhenge, laazimhaike hum bhi dekhenge, hum dekhenge

We will see
It is certain that we too will see
We will see

Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984) evokes strong fervour among the listeners, the simplicity of words and universality of theme, that binds the oppressed into hope, is what gets hold of you. The above line is an example; it’s a call for rebellion against the oppression. It was a protest against Zia ul Haq’s policies that were quite detrimental and led to intolerance, and ultimate moral decline of a society called Pakistan, the mess you see now has seeds in these. Here is the translation of the poem…

We will see
It is certain that we too will see
We will see

That day which has been promised
Which has been written in the divine tablet

We will see
When the cruel mountains of injustice
Will blow away like cotton-wool
Beneath the feet of us oppressed
The earth's heartbeat will pound
And above the heads of the rulers
The lightening will roar

We will see
From the kabah of God's earth
All the idols will be lifted
We of-the-pure who are labeled haram
On high cushions will we be seated
All crowns will be hurled
All thrones will be brought down

We will see
The only name remaining will be that of Allah
Who is absent but present
Who is the spectacle and the beholder
The cry “I am truth” will arise
Of which I am and so are you
And the creation of God will rule
Of which I am and so are you

We will see
It is certain that we too will see
We will see

Faiz was a powerful voice from the subcontinent, and no longer restricted to the region. He gave voice to the problems that assail the oppressed. “His poetry continues to inspire people of all political persuasions from the far left to the far right and everyone in between” (A.M. Hashmi). Faiz used his position to limelight the matter of land reforms, problems of workers and other pressing issues that concerned the masses. He had an amazing sense of empathy and camaraderie with dispossessed. His perceptions on these matters were built during the time when his father died leaving a huge debt, Faiz writes “…suddenly transferred us from one class to the other. This sudden transformation posed a question before me: Why are there classes? Why are some people wealthy and the others poor?”

To this day
The anguish of this day
The anguish of this day, displeased with life’s flower garden
This wilderness of yellowing leaves, my homeland
This carnival of suffering, my homeland
To the melancholy lives of clerks
To moth-eaten hearts and tongues
To postmen, tonga-wallahs, rail men
To innocent factory workers    
Faiz considered Mohammed Iqbal as his poetic mentor, the relation was deeper and dates back much earlier, when as a student Faiz recited a poem on Iqbal -in his presence as a chief guest, later it was Iqbal who recommended Faiz.
A impromptu elegy on Iqbal's death

There came to our land a sweet singing beggar
Sang his song and moved on
Desolate pathways and deserted taverns sprang to life
Far away is he now, that regal beggar
And forlorn once again are the streets of our land
The Second World War presented a dilemma for the intellectuals in India, in the meanwhile the brutality of Hitler and imperial Japanese forces were being known to the outside world, the difficult decision about which side to choose was finally over and Faiz decided to join the propaganda department of British Indian army as a Captain and eventually rose to the rank of Colonel and was even awarded for his services. He resigned the Army and headed The Pakistan Times newspaper. It was around this time as subcontinent was being divided, and Pakistan was carved out that he wrote Subh-e-Azadi (Independence Dawn)

This blemish light, this night stung dawn
This is not the morning we waited so long
In whose fervour we set off
Hoping to at last, find
The stars final repose in the sky’s desert
Somewhere, surely, night’s sluggish tide would find shore
Somewhere, the ship of heartache would drop anchor
And now, we hear, the birth of dawn from darkness has occurred
That our final sanctuary has been reached

I was reading Faiz Ahmed Faiz His Life, His Poems: The Way It Was Once (Ali Madeeha Hashmi) “Salima, his older daughter, had her first child, a son, in 1970 in Karachi. She remembers that Alys went out to announce to Faiz, Salima’s husband ShoaibHashmi and Shoaib’s older brother that a son has been born. The men started cheering and celebrating and Alys came back fuming, mumbling that they probably would not have cheered so loudly if it had been a daughter. The boy was named ‘Yaseer’ by Faiz, in honour of his friend, Yaseer Arafat. A few years later, in 1974, Salima did have a daughter. Faiz named her ‘Mira’ in honour of his friend Mira Salganik. Salima was concerned that ‘Mira’ might make people think of hindu mystic, ‘Meerabai’, the devotee of Krishna, possibly causing some raised eyebrows in ‘Muslim’ Pakistan, until Faiz assured her that Mira was a constellation in the heavens and was also an Arabic word (emphasis mine)”. 

What kind of argument is this, I am appalled. It reeks of siding with dogmatism. If Faiz is what is being claimed then he should have said something on the line ‘…good if it means Meerabai, the name therefore represent devotion, that is quite positive, anyway a name is in the beauty of how it sounds, further it also means constellation….” But our man couldn’t think on these lines. I have observed that the so called liberals too get into mullah’s (read rigid fundamentalist Muslims, who give misery wherever they roost) framework as and when it suites them and easily slip through to claim ‘secular’ and egalitarian without much scrutiny. It is unacceptable, and these lapses should be dealt sternly. This instance, as also his response to creation of Bangladesh, put serious question mark on Faiz as an “aggressive humanist”. I am also deeply concerned that though he married a European lady, he gave her a muslim name and is clear that the children carry muslim names which means conversion of religion, and as is the case, to the requirements of male, thus consolidating patriarchy, grossly feudal. I fail to see any humanistic values here. Having faith in a religion is a personal choice but then to be driven by its deviant norms and ways as matter of expression cannot be condoned, particularly when the person concerned is placing himself as humanist poet and torchbearer of conscience. We all have blemishes but to include this incident in the biography that too by his grandson (and a psychiatrist!) is not only puzzling but disappointing, maybe the society has become so regressive that these are seen as normal. Nevertheless it is quite a readable book and very significant contribution on Faiz (though I cannot stop thinking that with so many pictures of smokers, the book maybe sponsored by a cigarette company!! In a feudal-liberal construct it is a possibility). I also happen to watch a play Kuchh Ishq Kiya Kuchh Kaam in Mysore based on the life of Faiz by MS Sathyu. It covered his romantic period, as also scenes from Rawalpindi conspiracy so on. It is around this time i thought of writing Faiz in my blog. Apart from many website I also happen to read Faiz aur unki shayari (Prakash Pandit) as also listen to Rooh-e-Faiz (Saba Prateeksha). 

Faiz’s legacy of humanism, peace and social justice endure and remain a definitive standpoint for struggling and marginalised millions across the world. Here are some of his poems, due to paucity of space i am putting only one (from A Song For This Day: 52poems)  

Tell Us What to Do

We floated the little rowing boat of life
Upon the waters of affliction
And what strength was there in the arms
What a tumult in the blood
It seemed that all that was needed
Was a few strong strokes
And the shore would be ours

But that is not how it was
Each little eddy hid an unseen maelstrom
And the oarsmen were untried
And now we have tried all the tacks
And handed out all the blame
And the waters are afflicted
And the rowboat still the same

Now you must say what we are to do
And show the way to the shore
And when we felt the wounds of this land
And found them embedded in the heart
And there was faith in the faith healers
And their recipes for elixir
And it seemed it would be but a little time
And the pain would be forgotten
And the wounds would all be healed

But that is not how it was
The malady was old as time
And the healers never knew
And the elixir never worked

And now you are free to do as you will
And lay the blame where it will lie
But the heart is the same as ever
And the wounds are all the same
And you must tell us what we are to do.

Weaver ants at work..
From my scribble pad…

Waiting for time to or is it to waiting time for  
The beggar at the street corner asked ‘What’s the time?’
I replied ‘9.30’
‘Will it be 10.30 after an hour?’ 
‘Yes, that’s how it is’
That is how it is.

At a tourist place

They take pictures of everything and anything
And them with them and it, it with them and it
The group, the couple, the individuals and children  
Smiling, hugging, slanting against the wonder
What they miss they capture
and what they capture they don’t see.
It’s a trapeze of worth against moment  
Moment against yearn.
It is when you watch
You see. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Purple-rumped Sunbird: In search for the nectar

A bird endemic to Indian peninsula, Purple-rumped Sunbird (Leptocoma zeylonica) is another of charming bird that I get to see quite often these days. So much so he has started to pose for me…well this is one bird that seem to know the value of good pictures! The acrobat they perform to get to the nectar, and the ensuing commotion is worth the time. Sunbirds are the closest to Hummingbirds we can see in this part of the world.  

Sometime back I bought this book Books That Changed the World (Andrew Taylor), quite an interesting collection. From Indian subcontinent the only book find mention is Kamasutra, so you can gather how trivial the compilation is. There is no mention of Marquez while JK Rowling is very much there. I am wondering which world the book has changed. So did I waste my 450R? Well not really, I wouldn’t undermine the collection, there are some insightful books I wasn’t aware of. So I would say, though I was quite disappointed by absence of Kafka, Dostoevsky so on but there is fair amount to chew on.  About fifteen years back I had another of similar sought by Osho, that one too introduced me to new writings and ideas, the prominent being Nietzsche!! You never know what can come from where? That makes it quite exciting. So coming back to the above mentioned book, I was riveted to Poems by Wilfred Owen. Quite a find that one, though I must add Yeats didn’t think much of him (“…however if I had known it I would have excluded him just the same. He is all blood, dirt and sucked sugar stick”. Clearly Yeats got it absolutely wrong as he was of Tagore, indeed Yeats is passé). Wilfred Owen is an amazing find, and I am quite taken in by the lines he wrote. At this instance I would also like to point out two movies, that comes to mind, that showed devastating effects of war, Stanley Kubrick’s (Dr. Strangelove, is a stand out movie) Full Metal Jacket and Kurosawa’s Dreams (my favorite movies of Kurosawa is too long to be listed here!). There are other movies too but these two stands out in its impact and influence. 
Wilfred Owen (1893 – 1918): What passing bells for those who die as cattle?

Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.
My subject is War, and the pity of War.
The Poetry is in the pity.

The tag that is associated with Wilfred Owen is ‘greatest of the war poets who have written in the English language’. Owen fancied himself to be poet and man of letters, reading Shelley and Keats, but eventually enrolled himself in the Army due to the demands of the time, during the First World War. Very soon the mild mannered, shy youngster was facing the full horror of the war, he tried to play his part and even won gallantry award. He wrote “I lost all my earthly faculties, and I fought like an angel . . . I captured a German Machine Gun and scores of prisoners . . . I only shot one man with my revolver . . . My nerves are in perfect order”. But the traumatic sights and experience left an indelible mark on him. He describes himself as "a conscientious objector with a very seared conscience."

Merry it was to laugh there -
Where death becomes absurd and life absurder.
For power was on us as we slashed bones bare
Not to feel sickness or remorse of murder.

He was soon to be consumed by the war and was killed by a bullet. He was only twenty five. During all those years at war he kept a long correspondence with his mother, in the meanwhile he also wrote some searing poems that has become a standpoint on morality of war and jingoism that comes with it.
Owen was aware of the opportunity to write about something very important. He wrote to his mother: "Do you know what would hold me together on a battlefield? The sense that I was perpetuating the language in which Keats and the rest of them wrote!" There are moments of regrets too, writing to mentor Sasoon and blaming him for his predicament. ‘You said it would be a good thing for my poetry if I went back. That is my consolation for feeling a fool. This is what the shells scream at me every time: "Haven't you got the wits to keep out of this?"’
Over the years significance of Owen has only increased, I read somewhere "Dying at twenty-five, he came to represent a generation of innocent young men sacrificed - as it seemed to a generation in unprecedented rebellion against its fathers - by guilty old men: generals, politicians, war profiteers. Owen has now taken his place in literary history as perhaps the first, certainly the quintessential, war poet." Here are some his well known poems, must add I couldn’t understand few words.

Anthem for doomed youth
What passing bells for those who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in the eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds

Dulce et decorum est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in.
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

(Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori is a famous ode by Horace claiming, "Sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country.")


Happy are men who yet before they are killed
Can let their veins run cold.
Whom no compassion fleers
Or makes their feet
Sore on the alleys cobbled with their brothers.
The front line withers,
But they are troops who fade, not flowers
For poets’ tearful fooling:
Men, gaps for filling:
Losses, who might have fought
Longer; but no one bothers.

And some cease feeling
Even themselves or for themselves.
Dullness best solves
The tease and doubt of shelling,
And Chance’s strange arithmetic
Comes simpler than the reckoning of their shilling.
They keep no check on armies’ decimation.

Happy are these who lose imagination:
They have enough to carry with ammunition.
Their spirit drags no pack.
Their old wounds, save with cold, can not more ache.
Having seen all things red,
Their eyes are rid
Of the hurt of the colour of blood forever.
And terror’s first constriction over,
Their hearts remain small-drawn.
Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle
Now long since ironed,
Can laugh among the dying, unconcerned.

Happy the soldier home, with not a notion
How somewhere, every dawn, some men attack,
And many sighs are drained.
Happy the lad whose mind was never trained:
His days are worth forgetting more than not.
He sings along the march
Which we march taciturn, because of dusk,
The long, forlorn, relentless trend
From larger day to huger night.

We wise, who with a thought besmirch
Blood over all our soul,
How should we see our task
But through his blunt and lashless eyes?
Alive, he is not vital overmuch;
Dying, not mortal overmuch;
Nor sad, nor proud,
Nor curious at all.
He cannot tell
Old men’s placidity from his.

But cursed are dullards whom no cannon stuns,
That they should be as stones;
Wretched are they, and mean
With paucity that never was simplicity.
By choice they made themselves immune
To pity and whatever moans in man
Before the last sea and the hapless stars;
Whatever mourns when many leave these shores;
Whatever shares
The eternal reciprocity of tears.

From my scribble pad…

It may not matter that you are there or not
The calls will go on from one tree to another
You may listen you may understand
It isn’t in the scheme of things
Nor does it matter
That the moments are songs that rise and fall
In the fancy of little thing that dress in feathers 

Snippet: the other day I was taking this lady for Nature walk, frustrated at not able to have long sighting of birds, she says “birds should be put in cages so that we can have good look!!” People are transforming into aliens, I reckon.
Darwin was wrong in many ways about competition in animal world leading to evolution. That has been hijacked by market to justify its incursions, which is essentially weak validation of entitlement driven accruing, that characterizes Indian society. I understand it is cooperation led adaptation than competition that is driving nature towards evolution. Lichens are such amazing example.