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Saraswati Mela

Amrit Pritam’s Oath to Peace

We don’t know that one someone picks up a stone,
The first wound is not inflicted on a human, but on humanity...

In her autobiography ‘Revenue Stamp’ Amrita Pritam talks about a friend of hers , from across the borders – Sajjad Haider. While talking about Amrita Sajjad says – My love towards Amrita also has devotion in it, a sense of worship..
Today, I would like to repeat the words of Sajjad Haider. My love towards Amrita has devotion in it and a sense of worship..
Amrita Pritam is one of my absolute favourites. She has taught me about love in countless ways, in its most expansive forms. She gave me the courage to live life on my own terms . The amount of respect she had for the pen ,whether it was hers or someone else’s ,was unparalleled. Perhaps this is the reason she translated poems and works of many foreign poets and writers in her own language.


Amrita Pritam was born on 31st August, 1919 in Gujranwala ( Undivided India, now Pakistan ) . Holding freedom as the highest dictum of a wo/man’s life , Amrita lived her whole life like poetry. Idealized in its expansiveness, very near to truth and beauty. Her pen always fought for the rights of humanity irrespective of where the war was raging. It didn’t matter whether it was in Vietnam, Germany or in India with its open wounds of Partition, for Amrita they were all equal. Talking about the sheer strength of the Self, she revered, glorified and celebrated the human spirit. It was only her who could say that the Sun is honoured by the (good) conduct of humanity, dishonoured by its vileness.
She wanted to see the Sun of her country honoured. On her centenary , it would be prescient to read her message to her country which is also true for all of humankind, irrespective of time and place.

Hum nhi jante ki jab koi apne haath mein patthar uthata hai,
We don’t know that one someone picks up a stone,
Toh pahla zakhm insan ko nhin, insaniyat ko lagta hai
The first wound is not inflicted on a human, but on humanity
Dharti par jo pahla khoon bahta hai,
The first blood that gushes out on the earth ,
Wo kisi insan ka nhin insaniyat ka hota hai
Is not of a human , but of humanity
Aur sadak par jo pahli laash girti hai
And when the first body falls on the ground ,
Wo kisi insan ki nhin, insaniyat ki hoti hai..
It is not a human who is dead, but humanity
Firkaparasti, firkaparasti hai.
Communalism , is communalism.
Uskke saath Hindu, Muslim ya Sikkh lafz jod dene se kuchh nhin hoga
Joining it with the words like Hindu , Sikkh and Muslim
won’t change anything
Apne aap mein, inn sab lafzon ki aabroo hai
In themselves, all these words have honour
Inka ek arth hai. Inki ek paakizagi hai
They have a meaning, a sacredness
Lekin firkaparasti ke saath inka judna
But the joining of the word communalism with them
Inka be-aabroo ho jana hai
Is when they lose their honour
Inka arth-heen ho jana hai,
When they lose their meaning,
Aur inki paakizagi ka kho jana hai ,
And is the loss of their sacredness
Jo kuchh galat hai, wo sirf ek lafz mein galat hai
Whaever is wrong , is wrong in a single word
Firkaparasti lafz mein..
In the word communalism
Uss galat ko uthakar hum kabhi
We pick this wrong and sometimes
Use Hindu lafz ke kandhon par rakh dete hain
Place it on the shoulders of the word Hindu ,
Kabhi Sikkh lafz ke kandhon par
Or sometime on Sikkh
Aur kabhi Musalmaan lafz ke kandhon par
and sometimes on the shoulders of the word Muslim .
Iss tarah kandhe badalne se kuchh nhin hoga
Changing shoulders don’t mean anything.
Jahan jo kuchh galat hai , use samjhna hoga
We have to understand where we go wrong.
Jamhuriyat ka arth, lokshahi ka arth
The meaning of democracy , of the people’s rule
Chintansheel logon ka milkar rahna hai, milkar basna hai,
Is thinkers living together, enlightened people living together
Aur chintansheel logon ke haath ,mein tark hote hain, patthar nhin hote hain
And these people have logic in their hands and not stones….

We don’t have Amrita with us today in the physical form. What we do have is this prayer that she wrote for all of us..

Ye khoon – Jo insan ke haathon se bahte ja rahe
This blood- which flows from the hands of humans
Ye zakhm- Jo insan ke haathon par lagte ja rahe
These wounds – which are scarring the hands of humans,
Ye wahi pyare haath hain – Jo phoolon ko bo sakte hain,
These are those lovely hands – which can sow flowers ..
Ye wahi aashiq haath hain – Jo kisi ke ho sakte hain
These are the hands of a lover- who can be someone’s in love
Ye hunarmand haath hain – Jo saajon ko chhed sakte hain
These are the skilled hands – which can make music flow from instruments
Ye kaamgaron ke haath hain- Jo sapne jod sakte hain
These are the hands of craftsmen and women – which can weave dreams together
Ye haath pani, pawan , agni ko bandh sakte hain
These hands can tame water, air and fire
Suraj ka chulha jalakar – uspe haandi raandh sakte hain
Light up the stove of Sun, and cook on it
Ye haath jo dharti ki zulfein sanwar sakte hain
These hands can caress the locks of the beloved Earth
Ye wahi pyare haath hain- Jo duniya usaar sakte hain.
These are those beautiful hands- which can beautify the world
Phoolon aur zulfon ki kasam- Haathon pe zakhm na lagao!
For the sake of flowers and locks of the beloved,
Don’t hurt these hands..
Ye bahut khoobsurat haath hain- inhe kaatil na banao!
These are very beautiful hands – don’t turn them in killers !
Haathon ki hifazat ke liye
Aao haath de do saathiyon!
To protect these hands, My friends! Give your hands!
Saath de do saathiyon..
Come! Join me, my friends!
Kagaz hai taqdeer ka-
This paper is of our fate,
Aur kalam hai tadbeer ki
And the pen is made up of our efforts..
Iss Kalam mein – Aman ki syaahi bharo!
Fill up the pen with the ink of peace !
Dast-khat Karo!
And sign!
Yeh aman ka hai Ahadnama-
This is the Oath of Peace !
Aao duniyawalon! Dast-khat karo!
Come! The people of the world! Sign!

All the letters of Amrita have now turned from black to gold. They are glorious with the light of love and truth, fragrant with Amrita’s generousity of spirit..
Today, on Amrita’s birthday, our Sun stands honoured…

BP

Chandrayan , human tenacity and Gulzar

We conquered the moon too. The success of Chandrayaan- II is not only the victory of science but of every human endeavour which has tried to know the world better and to make the world a better place, since the beginning of time. The Chandrayan is like the corked bottle , floating with a message inside, chasing down the horizon. It has flown with the insignia of the hard-work and tenacity of millions of people, taking it to the Moon.

It is an accomplishment of human inquisitiveness and persistence, and also a celebration of both. Humanity, somewhere also stands for the spirit of not giving up which lends the human life its meaning. Taking this further, we turn to the alchemist of words, Gulzar who is also a relentless celebrator of the human spirit. His human doesn’t shy away from difficulties or the good fight but instead gives it all she has, to honour the meaning of being human . She challenges the cosmos and beyond it, she can challenge God.

In front of the most majestic of supernatural powers, miracles and adversities, a small act of human hope and resistance is all that is needed.
Just like the smallest of plants has it in itself to crack the strongest of walls once it firmly grows its roots. You can feel the pen of the shayar Gulzar pulsate with life as it pens down the history of the battles humankind has fought- where his human and our humanity emerge victorious.

Along with the success of Chandrayaan this poem from the book ‘Yaar Julahe is also a celebration of every human achievement and triumph throughout the ages. Please read and enjoy..

 

Khuda

Poore ka poora aaksh ghuma kar baazi dekhi maine

kale ghar mein suraj rakh ke ,

tumne shayad socha tha, mere sab mohre pit jayenge,

maine ek chirag jala kar

apna rasta khol liya

tumne ek samandar haath mein le kar, mujh par thel diya 

maine nooh ki kashti uske upar rakh di 

kaal chala tumne aur meri janib dekha 

maine kaal ko tod ke lamha-lamha jeena seekh liya 

meri khudi ko tumne chand chamatkaron se maarna chaha,

mere ek pyade ne tera chaand ka mohra maar liya-

maut ki shah de kar tumne samjha ab to maat hui,

maine jism ka khol utaar ke saunp diya

aur rooh bacha li

poore -ka- poore aaksh ghuma kar ab tum dekho baazi

Khuda ( God)

I turned the whole sky to see the game laid out
You kept the Sun in a black square
and thought had all my pieces beat
I lit a lamp
and found my way.

You took a raging ocean in Your hand and pushed it onto me
I kept Noah’s Ark on top of it
You put forward Time and looked at me
I learned to break it down and live moment by moment , in the moment

You tried to vanquish my Self with a few miracles
A single pawn of mine had your Moon beat

You checked with Death and thought it was checkmate
I shed my body
and saved my soul

Turn the whole sky around
and now You see
how the game is laid out.

BP

Rumi on finding oneself with all sacredness and beyond every dogma

Who gets up early 
to discover the moment light begins? 
But don't be satisfied with stories, how things 
have gone with others. Unfold 
your own myth,
Your legs will get heavy 
and tired. Then comes a moment 
of feeling the wings you've grown, 
lifting.

...

Paradise is there, behind that door, in the next room; but I have lost the key. 

Perhaps I have only mislaid it. 

                       –Kahlil Gibran

The eternal quest of humanity has been to unlock the lock to paradise, but perhaps we have not been able to find the key because we have  it too close to ourselves. Creating paradise is essentially being in sync with our true selves and , finding ourselves is actually, creating ourselves. It is a difficult journey to undertake  but one of paramount importance. Throughout the history of civilization we have had poets and philosophers who have stood steadfast, burnt and lighted our paths. The lanterns of ideas and words and thoughts was always kept alight…

Jalauddin Balkhi born on September 30, 1207 in Balkh of Afghanistan was one of these carriers of the tradition of light. Known as Rumi, Jalauddin immersed himself in the dervish Sufism of his time and penned beautiful verses. His poems are the lovesick cry of a lover, the giddying ecstasy of a dervish and the profound wisdom of a saint. Much like the Sufis, Rumi emphasised the need to break the shackles of dogma, convictions and  traditions and experience the truth for oneself . Kahlil Gibran says a beautifully pragmatic thing when he says that – Many a doctrine is like a window pane. We see the truth through it, but it divides us from the truth. Rumi implores the reader and the listener to break this window pane, this glass ceiling ( If i may) and touch and hold the truth in their palms.

Rumi returns age old tales and fables to their rightful place and interpretations . He treats them as symbols, albeit powerful ones at that . He urges us to dive in them and return with a newfound understanding of their meaning, the potent truths they hold and ourselves, unfurling and shaping our destinies on the way.

Swadharma ( One’s own nature and duty ) by S.H Raza

Who gets up early 
to discover the moment light begins? 
Who finds us here circling, bewildered, like atoms? 
Who comes to a spring thirsty 
and sees the moon reflected in it? 
Who, like Jacob blind with grief and age, 
smells the shirt of his lost son 
and can see again? 
Who lets a bucket down and brings up 
a flowing prophet? 
Or like Moses goes for fire 
and finds what burns inside the sunrise?

Jesus slips into a house to escape enemies, 
and opens a door to the other world. 
Soloman cuts open a fish, and there’s a gold ring. 
Omar storms in to kill the prophet 
and leaves with blessings. 
Chase a deer and end up everywhere! 
An oyster opens his mouth to swallow on drop. 
Now there’s a pearl. 
A vagrant wanders empty ruins. 
Suddenly he’s wealthy.

But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things 
have gone with others. Unfold 
your own myth, without complicated explanation, 
so everyone will understand the passage, 
We have opened you.

Start walking toward Shams. Your legs will get heavy 
and tired. Then comes a moment 
of feeling the wings you’ve grown, 
lifting.

Only a poet like Rumi could write a poem of such transcendence where water is not enough to quench one’s thirst but just a step to know, desire and achieve something greater; the moon.Among the tapestry of Biblical, Jewish and Islamic allegories, the last one is a personal narrative of Rumi. Rumi had pursued the life of an orthodox religious scholar when in 1244, he met the mystic and wanderer Shams of Tabriz. In his Sohbet , simply translating to company but meaning a state of blissful spiritual exchange and conversation , Rumi was transformed . The stream in him flew open , gushing forward with all its power and glory. Rumi dedicates his poems to this mighty torrent which swept him off his feet and hurled him into bliss and ecstasy. Thus Shams of Tabriz came to be known as his muse and friend. A beautiful ode to the great journey inwards, this poem, just like its mythical symbolism is elevated by Rumi’s love and wisdom to mythical proportions. 

 

BP

Preserving instruments long lost in the alleys of time – Bygone Beats

We hope that no instrument or music form ever has to pass into oblivion in the minds of people.

...

Yatindra Mishra writes about the long lost instrument ‘Raavanhattha’in his poem ‘Magical Fiddle”

Just mention this bowed fiddle
and even the dead come alive
on its lilting music reaching out
the faraway sands
one finds footsteps of
the Bengali Baul Saint
called Lalon Faqir
This is no mere instrument to
just play out the notes
but a spontaneous part
of life for long years…
…..Just letting it languish alone
we may forget the names of
who knows how many
Fakirs and Kabirpanthis….

The symbols and motifs which  constitute our culture, develop much like their biological counterparts of an ecosystem. They don’t develop in seclusion but in a symbiotic relationship with a multitude of many other things. Losing any part of it is akin to losing a product of thousands of years of evolution. As Yatindra Mishra says, losing a simple instrument is losing a part of our cultural legacy , losing Raavanhattha is also losing the songs of longing and prayer which accompanied it,  the beautiful writings of the poets and bards which were sung on it. It is also losing the philosophy which forms a part of our shared history and only time knows what else with it. 

With this ache in my heart , I recently came across an initiative by the Music Club of BIT Mesra, Dhwani   . They were working on a project titled Bygone Beats where they chronicled the history of seven instruments lost to time. They researched deeply and made invigorating , short videos on them which would familiarize the viewers with these instruments. They also share rare recordings of the instruments. Their choices covered eastern and western music worlds, Hindustani and Carnatic practices of music. The instruments  covered were Rudra Veena, Lituus, Pena, Bassoon, PakhawajMorchang & theNadaswaram.

Deeply appreciative of the initiative I got in contact with the people behind these projects to know about their inspirations, challenges and rewards.

SM: This is such a novel concept digging deep in the love of music, how was the concept of Bygone Beats conceived?

The loss of any instrument is, in a way, like losing a part of our history, our roots. We felt that we, as musicians, should know about these instruments and their value in music and their importance to musicians and audience. It was also important to understand the causes of their extinction so that we may be able to see if a similar fate awaits any more of the existing instruments or art forms, and to preserve and protect them.

SM:With project of such a vast scale, what is the methodology of your research?

We read about instruments which are lesser known or extinct and selected 7 instruments of various types which we were going to feature in our series. We had even asked our spectators to suggest instruments that they would like to be featured in the series and we included those instruments. We then studied the selected instruments extensively, took help from people who had more knowledge about them and listened to audio recordings to understand them better.

         (‘Nadaswaram’, performed by Mambalam M. K. S. Siva)

 SM:Tell us about  the most enchanting experience of the journey so far. 

 When elders and knowledgeable musicians hear of this initiative and the instruments we are covering, they feel surprised and happy that the younger generation knows about these instruments and is making efforts to spread the knowledge

SM: And your learnings from it ?

Working on this series was quite an enriching experience. Not only did we learn about the technicalities of the instruments, but also their origin and how each of them served as a prominent symbol of the culture of the region where they were popular. It is incredible how musicians spent their entire life devoted to the practice of these instruments and how slowly, imperceptibly, these instruments started losing their touch with audience and musicians alike, until very few people remained who could play them and teach them to the younger generations.

(Morchang Maestro- Rais Khan)

 SM:And the difficulties you faced. 

 Since most of these instruments are no longer played, sometimes information about them or recordings are difficult to find.

SM: How does it feel to recover the lost nostalgia?

 The loss of any art form or an instrument associated with it is a huge cultural loss to humanity. It is indeed sad that these instruments could not survive the changing interests of the audience. But we found the series to be a good way to spread knowledge about them. It was gratifying to know that even people who don’t have the technical know-how of music were interested in knowing about these instruments and appreciated our work.

( Reconstruction of the etruscan Lituus )

SM: What are your future plans and hope from it?

 The subject of music is very vast with numerous genres, styles and instruments, all designed to suit different types of audience and artists. Each of these holds some connection to our deepest emotions and is equally important. We hope that no instrument or music form ever has to pass into oblivion in the minds of people.

The Dhwani Team

Despite all the difficulties and the challenges faced in uncovering the long lost history and performances , Team Dhwani did a commendable job . They have shared various videos and text posts which are available on their Facebook page providing an insight into the times and beauty of these instruments.

To summarise this truly noble preservation initiative , I would again like to quote Yatindra Mishra from his poem In the Boat of Poetry and Music’-

Carrying on their shoulders
the boat of poetry and music
who knows how many
minstrels and mendicants have
been walking piercing the
mist of long centuries
Even they would not know that
what difference they made to
our lives by walking in thus
They were the ones who saved
in their dinghy a tune
of the endless music of life
that had fallen out of our palms
just as though it had slipped from
musical repertoire of the formless one……

Much like the Derveshes and the minstrels of the poem, the Dhwani team brought for us a glimpse of different hues and melody of life’s infinite music which had been previously lost to us. We hope that like the etrenal nature of their name ( Dhwani stands for sound) they lend a new life and renewed spirit to the music, expressions and art which have been buried in the sands of time and oblivion .

 

Note: All images and video courtesy –  Dhwani – Music Club, BIT Mesra.

 

BP