Monday, December 21, 2015

To G.N.Balasubramaniam, The Love Of My Life.. ~ From M.S.Subbulakshmi


To the love of my life..
To my love who has taken over my life, body and soul..
To the person who had taken hold of my life and yet allowed me to languish..

All I want is to feast my eyes upon you. You on the other hand would not even raise your head to look at me. Can you fathom how this torments my mind? I simply wither away.

I hug your photograph and weep. Would that photograph speak to me, my kanna?

In my house there is no happiness for me. There are only problems … My mother is likely to be alive only for a few more years. My elder brother is my enemy. The younger sister is all right … I will not hide anything from you. I have not been happy so far. But I am alive because I am here. 

Kanna, to write all this I found some time only today … One thing is the absolute truth. Your happiness is mine, kanna … You may ask me what I was doing earlier. I suffered.

Even when the film is over,I will not get separated from you. Please do not unnecessarily test me. After the film is over, we will be together … The love I have for you will never change. After I die, you will realize that. My life from birth has been one of travails … Naan paavi.. I must have committed great sins to suffer like this. If I had stayed in Madurai, I would have died long ago … there is nobody to whom I can speak and cry out. I dream of you daily. Do you? … When you happen to touch me in the course of our acting together, I think to myself, ‘This is my Lord’ and then feel elated. I don't want anything else in life. I only want your love. 

If you are generally happy with me, that will give me the greatest pleasure. I do not know what people back at home would do to me. It was predicted by the astrologer that the immortal Pushpavanam would have a long life. Yet he died at a young age. I will go in the same manner. It is better that I am dead.

At least now, when the duet is picturised will you avoid the natural inclination of physical contact?

The kutchery was no good. No music other than yours gets into my ears. This is the unvarnished truth. I must sing exactly like you. Even after the film is over, I am sure you are going to continue to teach me music.

Henceforth even for a moment I will not be separated from you.

From Kunju, who worships you..
My love, my very life, I kiss your handwriting and your music..
I will never leave you, en Kanna..

~ M.S.Subbulakshmi

(Excerpted from the Appendix of the Book, “M.S. : A Life in Music” by T.J.S. George, published by HarperCollins, 2004) 

(G.N.Balasubramaniam was born in 1910 and died at the age of 55 in 1965.

M.S.Subbulakshmi was born in 1916 and died at the age of 88 in 2004.)

G.N.Balasubramaniam and M.S.Subbulakshmi in the movie "Shakuntalai" 
Directed by Ellis R.Dungan in 1940

Thursday, December 17, 2015

To Véra, With Love.. ~ From Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir with Véra in 1924

Prague, 13 August 1924

To  Véra..

My delightful, my love, my life,

I don’t understand anything: how can you not be with me? I’m so infinitely used to you that I now feel myself lost and empty: without you, my soul. You turn my life into something light, amazing, rainbowed—you put a glint of happiness on everything—always different: sometimes you can be smoky-pink, downy, sometimes dark, winged—and I don’t know when I love your eyes more—when they are open or shut. It’s eleven p.m. now: I’m trying with all the force of my soul to see you through space; my thoughts plead for a heavenly visa to Berlin via air . . . My sweet excitement . . .

Today I can’t write about anything except my longing for you. I’m gloomy and fearful: silly thoughts are swarming—that you’ll stumble as you jump out of a carriage in the underground, or that someone will bump into you in the street . . . I don’t know how I’ll survive the week.

My tenderness, my happiness, what words can I write for you? How strange that although my life’s work is moving a pen over paper, I don’t know how to tell you how I love, how I desire you. Such agitation—and such divine peace: melting clouds immersed in sunshine—mounds of happiness. And I am floating with you, in you, aflame and melting—and a whole life with you is like the movement of clouds, their airy, quiet falls, their lightness and smoothness, and the heavenly variety of outline and tint—my inexplicable love. I cannot express these cirrus-cumulus sensations.

When you and I were at the cemetery last time, I felt it so piercingly and clearly: you know it all, you know what will happen after death—you know it absolutely simply and calmly—as a bird knows that, fluttering from a branch, it will fly and not fall down . . . And that’s why I am so happy with you, my lovely, my little one. And here’s more: you and I are so special; the miracles we know, no one knows, and no one loves the way we love.

What are you doing now? For some reason I think you’re in the study: you’ve got up, walked to the door, you are pulling the door wings together and pausing for a moment—waiting to see if they’ll move apart again. I’m tired, I’m terribly tired, good night, my joy.

Tomorrow I’ll write you about all kinds of everyday things. My love.

~ Vladimir Nabokov

    Véra with Vladimir in 1968

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bulleh Shah : Enough of Learning, My Friend!

Bulleh Shah

Enough of Learning, My Friend!

Enough of learning, my friend!
An alphabet should do for you

To it there is never an end
An alphabet should do for you
It’s enough to help you friend
Enough of learning, my friend!

Enough of learning, my friend!

You’ve amassed much learning around
The Quran and its commentaries profound
There is darkness amidst lighted ground
Without the guide you remain unsound

Enough of learning, my friend!

Learning makes you Sheikh or his minion
And thus you create problem trillion
You exploit others who know not what
Misleading them with wild opinion

Enough of learning, my friend!

You meditate and you say your prayers
You go and shout at the top of the stairs
You cry reaching the high skies
It’s your avarice which ever belies

Enough of learning, my friend!

The day I learnt love’s lesson
I plunged into the river of divine passion
An overwhelming gale. I was confused and lost
When Shah Inayat cruised me across

Enough of learning, my friend!

~ Bulleh Shah Qadri 

(Syed Abdullah Shah Qadri : 1680 ~ 1757)

(Translated from Punjabi by Kartar Singh Duggal)

The Mausoleum of Hazrat Baba Bulleh Shah at Kasur, Pakistan

The Tomb of Hazrat Baba Bulleh Shah

Ilmoun Bas Kari Oo Yaar :  Enough of Learning, My Friend!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Faiz Ahmad Faiz : A Letter of Love

Faiz Ahmad Faiz with Alys and their daughter Salima Hashmi

(Letter dated May 23, 1952, Faiz wrote from Hyderabad Jail to his wife Alys)


I am sorry I was not able to write last week. We were all rather busy as Manzoor Qadir was here and lots of things had to be gone into. It was nice to see him even though we could hardly exchange a word beyond legal discussion of the case. I could not even send my greetings to our friend Asghari and you can do it for me.

I am very much behind in my correspondence with you because I have had three letters from you but that leaves me feeling richer and happier although a trifle ashamed. I shall try to make myself even if I can. One reason for not writing, strange as it may seem, is the intense nostalgia that the present here inspires for things that one holds and has held dear. These nostalgic day dreams are so tender and pleasant and warm that one does not feel like disturbing their flow. You will say that this is my typically mean way of justifying laziness and self-indulgence and I know that you are right. I think I have written before that prison life does accentuate petty selfishness. I have never understood that psychology of purdah women as well as I do now. It is the normal psychology of a prisoner.

I understand the pettiness, the preoccupation with small grievances that seem to occupy the whole universe, the oblivion to larger impersonal issues, the selfishness and the self-pity, the spitefulness and the temper, the silliness and the servility, spells of paralysis and feverish activity – all this is the usual concomitant of suppressed and confined living and not very easy for free people to understand.

Life has its surprises, however, even here. The other evening I switched on the Radio to listen to some Indian music from Delhi (what our own Radio calls music is no more than a collection of amateur screechings because real talent like Rafiq, Pukhraj, and Anwar etc: seems to be banned) and do you know what I got? You can never guess. Yehudi Menuhin, perhaps the greatest violinist of all times, playing Bach and Pagannini in the auditorium of the Indian Film Festival. It made me angry and jealous and sad when I thought about it later. This country is now nearly five years old and in five years we have not given the people one real exhibition of anything of beauty, of culture, of ennobling pleasure. And yet there has been no dearth of ‘tamashas’. But all that we can think of is to collect some silly old grey-beards from all over the world, make them talk a lot of bilge that no one cares a damn farthing about, give a few people an opportunity for lots of eating and lots of shouting and then forget all about it. India may be a bigger country but culture is not a matter of size but of the ways of living and thinking, and why should the people of this country not be given a chance at least to look at culture even if they can’t live in it. Anyway it will all come some day perhaps and perhaps I shouldn’t be talking about it.

I was talking about surprises. Last week one of the youngsters with us whom we have been teasing for eating sweets in secret received ‘gajar ka halwa’ from his village which he had ordered in pique. Do you know how much it was – literally a cartload, 3 big canisters of about 20 seers each. Over a maund of ‘halwa’! Just think of it! And it must have taken many more maunds of carrots and sugar and ghee to make, for it is very condensed. We have been trying to imagine the scene of preparations in the village, wagons of carrots undulating, cauldrons of ghee, mountains of wood and the whole countryside astir! It will probably go down in history as a legend, perhaps songs and stories will be written about it, for never in the history of mankind has 1.5 maunds of ‘gajar ka halwa’ been made in one go and for no more than 15 people! So we eat in morning, noon and night.

It is again cloudy and windswept and cool. I hope it holds until you come because it is really pleasant, but for the regrets. But it is silly to regret what was and might have been. What was and might have been, might have been better or it might have been worse but it can be no different now by wishing. What is and will be can be different and better, depending on ourselves, and we shall make it so. Everything else being the same my astrologer and the old woman (who is she?) should not be far out. So let us wait for a few days more.

I am glad of the friendliness of my geisha girls (your accounts of them were a source of constant amusement here and I swagger about it a lot. The chaps here think you must be a hell of a guy to stand all this nonsense and not mind. I don’t put them wise because that will make both of us go down in their estimation a lot) and it is also good to find that there are at least one or two people like ‘the smile’ – besides one’s wife and children – to whom one’s presence or absence matters a little. It is surprising to find how few friends one really has but even one or two is a great wealth in times like the present. I am talking of purely personal friends, for of friends in general the whole world is full.

Janjua’s child is o.k. now. She had bronchial pneumonia but is quite recovered and the family has gone to Karachi for a few days. He has asked me to thank you for the enquiry which he will convey to his wife.

I have got the missing P.T. The audience here has a criticism of the children’s page in the last two issues: too much of the Commonwealth and too little of the rest of the world. I know the reason, of course – availability of material but I am forwarding the opinion to show you that people are interested in your doings. So you have met Mrs. FDR. I think the remark you quoted is a compliment to her, not to you. She certainly never managed to earn her living in a foreign land and her writing, from what I see of it in the Dawn, does not come within a hundred miles of yours. (I don’t think I intend letting you return to the dish washing now. I propose being ‘Mrs Sheikh Ahmed’s’ husband sort of thing for a change. I felt rather upset by the news of her return, by the way. If I have to see her in Lahore again it will take away half the pleasure of being back home).

So old Hashmi is going to the States. It is a pity I am in the jug or I could have given him some nice introductions. Incidentally Zelma Brandt is the nice old America woman who came to Lahore 3 or 4 years ago and I took her round the town. I think you met her because I brought her home for lunch. Please do write to her returning the ‘love’ and tell her I wouldn’t mind hearing from her if she cares to write. I hope your fears about old Steve are ill-founded. In fact this is precisely why I want to write to him – to see if he is still there. I thought of him because I was very upset to hear of the death, first of old Dickinson and then young Latif – such pleasant, good and loveable persons both of them.

Apart from the books I mentioned, if you can borrow I. A. Richards (any of his three books Principles of Criticism, Practical Criticism or Meaning of Meaning) and any book on Indian history, please being them along too. Otherwise it doesn’t matter. Re table-cloths, I meant ordinary small teapot covers. I don’t think there is anything else that I want except you and the pigeons. And I am now waiting for you happily and content.

I am glad Apa had the goodness not to mention your illness and you did not write about it until after. But my heart tells me now when something is wrong and I have begun to worry as much as you used to. Only I always pin my faith on the light beyond the dark. I know it is there and it will come and so one must wait, however hard the waiting.

My love and kiss and fondest thoughts.


P.S. Regarding the poem asked…Can’t you give them my love poem unless it has been disposed of? I haven’t seen it anywhere yet. I think here is…Ghazal in my manuscript with you which is unpublished. It begins yad ke jab zakhm bharnay lagay. I shall also try to send … something in my next letter. Faiz.

Courtesy : Two Lovers ~ Faiz’s Letters from Jail

                (Compiled by Salima Hashmi and Kyla Pasha)

Faiz and Alys

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Saadat Hasan Manto : Letter to Uncle Sam

Saadat Hasan Manto

First Letter to Uncle Sam
31 Laxmi Mansions,
Hall Road,
16 December 1951

Dear Uncle,
This letter comes to you from your Pakistani nephew whom you do not know, nor does anyone else in your land of seven freedoms.
You should know why my country, sliced away from India, came into being and gained independence, which is why I am taking the liberty of writing to you. Like my country, I too have become independent and in exactly the same way. Uncle, I will not labour the point since an all-knowing seer like you can well imagine the freedom a bird whose wings have been clipped can enjoy.
My name is Saadat Hasan Manto and I was born in a place that is now in India. My mother is buried there. My father is buried there. My first-born is also resting in that bit of earth. However, that place is no longer my country. My country now is Pakistan which I had only seen five or six times before as a British subject.
I used to be the All India’s Great Short Story Writer. Now I am Pakistan’s Great Short Story Writer. Several collections of my stories have been published and the people respect me. In undivided India, I was tried thrice, in Pakistan so far once. But then Pakistan is still young.1
The government of the British considered my writings pornographic. My own government has the same opinion. The government of the British let me off but I do not expect my own government to do so. A lower court sentenced me to three months hard labour and a Rs 300 fine. My appeal to the higher court won me an acquittal but my government believes that justice has not been done and so it has now filed an appeal in the High Court, praying that the judgment acquitting me be quashed and I be punished. We will have to see what the High Court decides.
My country is not your country which I regret. If the High Court were to punish me, there is no newspaper in my country that would print my picture or the details of all my trial.
My country is poor. It has no art paper, nor proper printing presses. I am living evidence of this poverty. You will not believe it, uncle, but despite being the author of twenty-two books, I do not have my own house to live in. And you will be astonished to know that I have no means of getting myself from one place to the other. I neither have a Packard nor a Dodge; I do not even have a used car.
If I need to go somewhere, I rent a bike. If a piece of mine appears in a newspaper and I earn twenty to twenty-five rupees at the rate of seven rupees a column, I hire a tonga and go buy locally distilled whiskey. Had this whiskey been distilled in your country, you would have destroyed that distillery with an atom bomb because it is the sort of stuff guaranteed to send its user to kingdom come within one year.
But I am digressing. All I really wanted to do was to convey my good wishes to brother Erskine Caldwell. You will no doubt recall that you tried him for his novel ‘God’s Little Acre’ on the same charge that I have faced here: pornography.
Believe me, uncle, when I heard that this novel was tried on an obscenity charge in the land of seven freedoms, I was extremely surprised. In your country, after all, everything is divested of its outer covering so that it can be displayed in the show window, be it fresh fruit or woman, machine or animal, book or calendar. You are the king of bare things so I am at a loss to understand, uncle, why you tried brother Erskine Caldwell.
Had it not been for my quick reading of the court judgment I would have drunk myself to death by downing large quantities of our locally distilled whiskey because of the shock I received when I came to know of the Caldwell case. In a way, it was unfortunate that my country missed an opportunity to rid itself of a man like me, but then had I croaked, I would not have been writing to you, uncle. I am dutiful by nature. I love my country. In a few days, by the Grace of God I will die and if I do not kill myself, I will die anyway because where flour sells at the price at which it sells here, only a shamefaced person can complete his ordained time on earth.
So, I read the Caldwell judgment and decided not to drink myself to death with large quantities of the local hooch. Uncle, out there in your country, everything has an artificial façade but the judge who acquitted brother Erskine was certainly without such a façade. If this judge – I’m sorry I don’t know his name – is alive, kindly convey my respectful regards to him.
The last lines of his judgment point to the intellectual reach of his mind. He writes: “I personally feel that if such books were suppressed, it would create an unnecessary sense of curiosity among people which could induce them to seek salaciousness, though that is not the purpose of this book. I am absolutely certain that the author has chosen to write truthfully about a certain segment of American society. It is my opinion that truth is always consistent with literature and should be so declared.”
That is what I told the court that sentenced me, but it went ahead anyway and gave me three months in prison with hard labour and a fine of three hundred rupees. My judge thought that truth and literature should be kept far apart. Everyone has his opinion.
I am ready to serve my three-month term but this fine of three hundred rupees I am unable to pay. Uncle, you do not know that I am poor. Hard work I am used to, but money I am unused to. I am about thirty-nine and all my life I have worked hard. Just think about it. Despite being such a famous writer, I have no Packard.
I am poor because my country is poor. Two meals a day I can somehow manage but many of my brothers are not so fortunate.
My country is poor, but why is it ignorant? I am sure, uncle, you know why because you and your brother John Bull together are a subject I do not want to touch because it will not be exactly music to your ears. Since I write to you as a respectful youngster, I should remain that way from start to finish.
You will certainly ask me out of astonishment why my country is poor when it boasts of so many Packards, Buicks and Max Factor cosmetics. That is indeed so, uncle, but I will not answer your question because if you look into your heart, you will find the answer there (unless you have had your heart taken out by one of your brilliant surgeons).
That section of my country’s population which rides in Packards and Buicks is really not of my country. Where poor people like me and those even poorer live, that is my country.
These are bitter things, but there is a shortage of sugar here otherwise I would have coated my words appropriately. But what of it! Recently, I read Evelyn Waugh’s book ‘The Loved One’. He of course comes from the country of your friends. Believe me, I was so impressed by that book that I sat down to write to you.
I was always convinced of the individual genius found in your part of the world but after reading this book, I have become a fan of his for life. What a performance, I say! Some truly vibrant people do indeed live out there.
Evelyn Waugh tells us that in your California, the dead can be beautified and there are large organisations that undertake the task. No matter how unattractive the dear departed in life, after death he can be given the look desired. There are forms you fill where you are asked to indicate your preference. The excellence of the finished product is guaranteed. The dead can be beautified to the extent desired, as long as you pay the price. There are experts who can perform this delicate task to perfection. The jaw of the loved one can be operated upon and a beatific smile implanted on the face. The eyes can be lit up and the forehead can be made to appear luminous. And all this work is done so marvellously that it can befool the two angels who are assigned to do a reckoning once a person is in the grave.
Uncle, by God you people are matchless.
One had heard of the living being operated on and beautified with the help of plastic surgery – there was much talk of it here – but one had not heard that the dead can be beautified as well.
Recently one of your citizens was here and some friends introduced me to him. By then I had read brother Evelyn Waugh’s book and I read an Urdu couplet to your countryman that he did not follow. However, the fact is, uncle, that we have so distorted our faces that they have become unrecognisable, even to us. And there we have you who can even make the dead look more beautiful than they ever were in life. The truth is that only you have a right to live on this earth: the rest of us are wasting our time.
Our great Urdu poet Ghalib wrote about a hundred years ago:
If disgrace after death was to be my fate,
I should have met my end through drowning
It would have spared me a funeral and no headstone would have marked my last resting place
Ghalib was not afraid of being disgraced while he was alive because from beginning to end that remained his lot. What he feared was disgrace after death. He was a graceful man and not only was he afraid of what would happen after he died, he was certain what would happen to him after he was gone. And that is why he expressed a wish to meet his end through drowning so that he should neither have funeral nor grave.
How I wish he had been born in your country. He would have been carried to his grave with great fanfare and over his resting place a skyscraper would have been built. Or were his own wish to be granted, his dead body would have been placed in a pool of glass and people would have gone to view it as they go to a zoo.
Brother Evelyn Waugh writes that not only are there in your country establishments that can beautify dead humans but dead animals as well. If a dog loses its tail in an accident, he can have a new one.
Whatever physical defects the dead one had in life are duly repaired after death. He is then buried ceremoniously and floral wreaths are placed on his grave. Every year on the pet’s death anniversary, a card is sent to the owner with an inscription that reads something like this: In paradise, your Tammy (or Jeffie) is wagging his tail (or his ears) while thinking of you.
What it adds up to is that your dogs are better off than us. Die here today, you are forgotten tomorrow. If someone in the family dies, it is a disaster for those left behind who often can be heard wailing, “Why did this wretch die? I should’ve gone instead.” The truth is, uncle, that we neither know how to live nor how to die.
I heard of one of your citizens who wasn’t sure what sort of a funeral he would be given, so he staged a grand “funeral” for himself while he was very much alive. He deserved that certainly because he had lived a stylish and opulent life where nothing happened unless he wished it to. He wanted to rule out the possibility of things not being done right at his funeral; as such, he was justified in personally observing his last rites while alive. What happens after death is neither here nor there.
I have just seen the new issue of ‘Life’ (5 November 1951, international edition) and learnt of a most instructive facet of American life. Spread across two pages is an account of the funeral of the greatest gangster of your country. I saw a picture of Willie Moretti (may his soul rest in peace) and his magnificent home which he had recently sold for $55,000. I also viewed his five-acre estate where he wanted to live in peace, away from the distractions of the world. There was also a picture of his, eyes closed, lying in his bed, quite dead. There were also pictures of his $5,000 casket and his funeral procession made up of seventy-five cars. God is my witness, it brought tears to my eyes.
May there be dust in my mouth, but in case you were to die, may you have a grander farewell than Willie Morrity. This is the ardent prayer of a poor Pakistani writer who doesn’t even have a cycle to ride on. May I beg you that like the more farsighted ones in your country, you should make arrangements to witness your funeral while you are alive. You can’t leave it to others; they can always make mistakes, being fallible. It is possible that your physical appearance may not receive the attention it deserves after you have passed away. It is also possible that you may already have witnessed your funeral by the time this letter reaches you. I say this because you are not only wiser, you are also my uncle.
Convey my good wishes to brother Erskine Caldwell and to the judge who acquitted him of the pornography charge. If I have caused you offense, I beg your forgiveness. 
With the utmost respect,
Your poor nephew,
Saadat Hasan Manto.
Resident of Pakistan

Translated from Urdu by Khalid Hasan 
Courtesy : Letters to Uncle Sam ~ Saadat Hasan Manto, Alhamra, Islamabad