Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Umrao Jaan: A Mughal Courtesan

Umrao Jaan, The Mughal Courtesan is a story of a girl called Ameerun who was kidnapped at a young age and sold as a courtesan. She was given the name of Umrao Jaan. Umrao Jaan fell in love with her courters, especially Nawab Sultan but he rejected her. In the end she is left alone. This is a song from the latest adaptation of the highly acclaimed Urdu book by Mirza Hadi Ruswa. I found a few translations of the song but none really satisfied me so I decided to translate this ghazal myself. I wanted to offer the full flavor of the lyrics. Enjoy!



Urdu and English Translation by Amanullah De Sondy
Salaam sung by Alka Yagnik, Lyrics by Javed Akhtar

laakh is dil ko humane samajaayaa
dil yahaa phir bhi humako le aayaa
salaam salaam


A million times I explained to this heart,
...in hope that it would be controlled in reason
Alas, it did not, and so it has led me to here

Salaam Salaam
I offer you an abundance of peace, I offer you an abundance of peace

tumhaari mehfil main aa gaye hai
to kyun naa hum ye bhi kaam karle
salaam karne ki aarzoo hai
idhar jo dekho salaam karle


I have arrived in your gathering
So why should I fail to undertake another task too
To offer you an abundance of peace is my true desire
Just turn my way to experience all that I have to offer

ye dil hai jo aa gayaa hai tum par
magar naa sach hai ye bandaa parwar
jise bhi hum dekhale palat kar
usiko apanaa gulaam karle
salaam karne ki aarajoo hai
idhar jo dekho salaam karle


This heart has truly fallen for you
Isn’t it true that we are but human and not God?
Whosoever we turn our glances to
Surely we take them as our slaves
To offer you an abundance of peace is my true desire
Just turn my way to experience all that I have to offer

bahot si baate hai tumako kehani
bahot si baate hai humako kehani
kabhi jo tanahaa milo kahi tum
to baate hum ye tamaam kar le
salaam karne ki aarajoo hai
idhar jo dekho salaam karle


You have so much to tell me
I have so much to tell you
If you were to meet me in isolation
We will surely be able to say this and so much more
To offer you an abundance of peace is my true desire
Just turn my way to experience all that I have to offer

wo lailaa majanu ki ho muhobbat
ke shirifarhad ki ho ulfat
zaraasi tum jo dikhao jurrat
to hum bhi un jaisaa naam karle


The passion, the love between Laila and Majnun*
Or the intimacy and affection between Shireen and Farhad**
If you were to show even a little ambition
Surely we could also emulate their fate and honour

tumhaari mehfil main aa gaye hai
to kyun naa hum ye bhi kaam karle
salaam karne ki aarzoo hai
idhar jo dekho salaam karle


I have arrived in your gathering
So why should I fail to undertake another task too
To offer you an abundance of peace is my true desire
Just turn my way to experience all that I have to offer


Laila and Majnun

*Wikipedia: The Story of Layla and Majnun in the Ummayad era during the 7th century. There were two versions of the story at the time. In one version, Majnun spent his youth together with his cousin, Layla, tending their flocks. In the other version, upon seeing Layla he fell passionately in love with her. In both versions, however, he went mad when her father prevented him from marrying her; for that reason he came to be called Majnun Layla, which means "Driven mad by Layla". To him were attributed a variety of incredibly passionate romantic considered among the foremost examples of the Udhari school. One quote from Majnun, “I pass by these walls, the walls of Layla And I kiss this wall and that wall. It’s not Love of the houses that has taken my heart. But of the One who dwells in those houses”


Shireen and Farhad

** Shirin and Farhad; From Sidar Ikbal Ali Shah

This is a Persian love story where there was a brave man named Farhad, who loved a Princess named Shirin, but the Princess did not love him. Farhad tried in vain to gain access to the love-cell of Shirin's heart, but no one would dare betray the fact that a stonecutter loved a lady of royal blood. Farhad, in despair, would go to the mountains and spend whole days without food, playing on his flute sweet music in praise of Shirin. She saw him once, and love which lived in his bosom also began to breathe in hers. It was not long, however, before the Shah himself heard some rumor of this extraordinary exchange of sentiment. He was naturally indignant at the discovery, but as he had no child other then Shirin, and Shirin was also pining away with love, he proposed to his daughter that her lover, being of common birth, must accomplish a task such as no man may be able to do, and then, and only then, might he be recommended to his favor.

The task which he skillfully suggested was that Shirin should ask her lover to dig a canal in the rocky land among the hills. The canal must be six lances in width and three lances deep and forty miles long!

The Princess had to convey her father's decision to Farhad, who forthwith shouldered his spade and started off to the hills to commence the gigantic task. He worked hard and broke the stones for years. He would start his work early in the morning when it was yet dark and never ceased from his labor till, owing to darkness, no man could see one yard on each side.

Shirin secretly visited him and watched the hard working Farhad sleeping with his taysha(spade) under his head, his body stretched on the bed of stones. She noticed, with all the pride of a lover, that he cut her figure in the rocks at each six yards and she would sigh and return without his knowing.

Farhad worked for years and cut his canal; all was in readiness but his task was not yet finished, for he had to dig a well in the rocky beds of the mountains. He was half- way through, and would probably have completed it, when the Shah consulted his courtiers and sought their advice. The Viziers suggested that an old woman should be set to Farhad to tell him that Shirin was dead; then, perhaps, Farhad would become disheartened and leave off the work.

It was an ignoble trick, but it promised success and the Shah agreed to try it. So an old woman went to Farhad and wept and cried till words choked her; the stone-cutter asked her the cause of her bereavement.

"I weep for a deceased," she said, "and for you." "For a deceased and for me?" asked the surprised Farhad. "And how do you explain it?"

"Well, by brave man," said the pretender sobbingly, "you have worked so well, and for such a long time, too, but you have labored in vain, for the object of you devotion is dead!"

"What!" cried the bewildered man, "Shinin dead?"

Such was his grief that he cut his head with the sharp taysha(spade) and died under the carved streamed into his canal was his own blood. When Shirin heard this she fled in great sorrow to the mountains where lay her wronged lover; it is said that she inflicted a wound in her own head at the precise spot where Farhad had struck himself, and with the same sharp edge of the spade which was stained with her lover's gore. No water ever flows into the canal, but two lovers are entombed in one and the same grave.

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