Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The evolution of a couplet (she'r) from first draft to last

This is going to be a long post describing the evolution of a she’r (in this case an Urdu she’r yours truly composed)—meaning that I’ll take you through what I began with and how it evolved to become its final version. As always, this whole thing was, in the first place, possible only because of the ever-so-fantastic guidance from Roshan—"a friend who, fortunately, had some prior experience with Urdu poetry to share" (this introduction of Roshan's is per his own request, which I will honor; though the next time I won't let him choose how I introduce him, but let's not tell him, ok? :)).

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate THE KIND OF EFFORT that goes into writing a single innocuous little she’r, which comprises all of just two lines. I’m estimating that the effort that I have described in this article is spread over 12ish hours. To write two lines of poetry. Yes, seriously.

But first, for the people who do not sufficiently know what a ghazal exactly is, I’m quickly going to quote only the most important parts of this article: http://smriti.com/urdu/ghazal.def.html. There’s more to ghazal but this should serve as a good primer. It’s hardly of any length, so please read it, or you’ll not understand why all the fuss in the rest of the article.

A ghazal, in short, is a collection of she’rs which follow the rules of 'matla', 'maqta', 'beher', 'qaafiyaa' and 'radif'. So to know what ghazal is, it's necessary to know what these terms mean. To understand these terms easily, we will take an example:

      1.    koi ummid bar nahin aati
            koi surat nazar nahin aati
      2.    aage aati thi haale dil par hansi
            ab kisi baat par nahin aati
      3.    hum wahan hain, jahan se humko bhi
            kuchh hamaari khabar nahin aati
      4.    kaabaa kis munh se jaaoge 'Ghalib'
            sharm tumko magar nahin aati

What is ‘she’r’?
 It's a poem of two lines. This definition is deceptively simple. Please note that, every she’r is a poem in itself ! A she’r does not need anything around it to convey the message.  All the 4 stanzas in our example are independent poems, she’rs. So ghazal is necessarily a collection of two-line-poems called she’rs.

What is 'beher'?
  'beher' is the 'meter' of the she’r—the structure over which the words of a misra (line) of a she’r (verse) are arranged.  Both the lines in the she’r *MUST* be of the same 'beher'. And all the she’rs in one ghazal *MUST* be of the same 'beher'. There are 19 (!!) kinds of 'beher'.

So ghazal is a collection of she'rs of the SAME 'beher'.

What is 'radif'?
    In a ghazal, the second line of all the she'rs *MUST* end with the *SAME* word/s. This repeating common set of words is the 'radif' of the ghazal. In our example, the 'radif' is "nahin aati".

What is 'qaafiyaa'?
    'qaafiyaa' is the rhyming pattern which all the words before 'radif' *MUST* have.
In our example the 'qaafiyaa' is "bar", "nazar", "par", "magar" etc. This is a necessity.

So ghazal is a collection of she’rs of same 'beher', ending in same 'radif' and having same 'qaafiyaa'.

What is 'matla'?
    The first she’r in the ghazal *MUST* have 'radif' in its both lines.  This she’r is called the 'matla' of the ghazal and the ghazal is usually known after its 'matla'. There can be more than one 'matla' in a ghazal. In such a case the second one is called 'matla-e-saani' or 'husn-e-matla'. In our example, the first she’r is the 'matla'.

What is 'maqta'?
    A poet usually has an alias ie. 'takhallus' eg. Mirza Asadullakhan  used 'Ghalib' as his 'takhallus' and is known by that. Other examples are 'Daag' Dehlvi, 'Mir' Taqi Mir, Said 'Rahi', Ahmed 'Faraz' etc. There is a she’r in a Ghazal, the last one, which has the poet’s 'takhallus' in it.

To summarize, ghazal is a collection of she’r s (independent two-line poems), in which there is at least one 'matla', one 'maqta' and all the she'rs are of same 'beher' and have the same 'qaafiyaa' and 'radif'.

Ok. So a few months ago, I felt like writing Urdu poetry after a long time. The last time I wrote Urdu poetry was in 2010, so I was super rusty. But a nice little thought had struck me, and I wanted to convert that into a she’r. Now, the above article did not highlight one attribute of a she’r—generally it is desirable to have the first line of the she’r put forth a proposition or ask a question and the second line “respond” to it in an unexpected manner. So here’s the thought that had struck me: in the first line I say something like “I had wished that her face be in front of my eyes all the time”, which will almost intuitively (and correctly too) make the reader think that they are about to discover in the second line that in some manner or the other I must not have been granted my wish. And in the second line I say “The reason her face is not in front of my eyes is because she, for the longest time, is in my arms!” How’s that for pulling a fast one on the reader?

I had been listening to सुना था कि वो आएंगे अंजुमन में, a ghazal sung by Jagjit and Chitra Singh, so the meter containing sets of SLL SLL SLL SLL (where S=short syllable and L=long syllable) was fresh in my mind. 

I desperately hope you were able to follow how the meter works, from the above example. (The एं isn't a short syllable, but it can pass as one; “मन्” scans as a long syllable.)

So since this meter was fresh in my mind, verses began forming in my mind in accordance with this meter. After a few attempts, my cringe-worthy first draft read thus:

दुआ थी हो रुख़ सामने उन का हर पल
पे वो हैं कि कब से गले मिल खड़े हैं

पे = but

This remarkably terrible thing had lots of stuff wrong with it to begin with, but I wanted to have a working version which I could hopefully improve upon. Roshan has probably not read this version (notice particularly the you-got-to-be-kidding-me मिल खड़े हैं construct), and I quickly changed the मिल खड़े हैं to से लगे हैं, now making the she’r read thus:

दुआ थी हो रुख़ सामने उन का हर पल
पे वो हैं कि कब से गले से लगे हैं

पे = but

Now, even after this improvement, there were two major things wrong with this she’r:

1. The visual equivalent of the first line is a contortionist having got all tangled up with himself/herself.

TIP: Such use of inversion is completely unacceptable in Urdu poetry. The more conversational the line sounds, the better.

In Roshan’s own words:

The best couplets are usually the ones that read like prose. What I mean is that the word order should, as much as possible, conform to the word order of natural idiomatic speech. Thus,

"सब कुछ ख़ुदा से माँग लिया तुझ को माँग कर"

will just sound idiomatically off if stated as below (never mind meter etc.)

"सब कुछ ख़ुदा से लिया माँग तुझ को माँग कर"

even though the second line is 'technically correct' in terms of grammar and semantics. Another e.g.; the couplet I made up on the fly yesterday ("तमन्ना- आग़ोश दुगनी हुई है वॊ जब जब हमारे गले से लगे हैँ !") could very well have been a line in a prose letter. In general, that's the principle to follow; it makes the words flow easier.

(Please note that I have formatted Roshan's comments as done above, so you can easily pick them out.)

In fact, I suspect that this very feature of great poets (to be able to write in a perfectly conversational manner) fools the uninitiated reader into not realizing that the line has been set to a meter. Consider this cute little she’r: 

आपको देखकर देखता रह गया
क्या कहूँ और कहने को क्या रह गया

Isn’t this exactly how you would speak even as part of normal conversation? But, well, these lines have been set to the meter LSL LSL LSL LSL.

Now let’s return to the egregious दुआ थी हो रुख़ सामने उन का हर पल. At best, an acceptable order would be something like दुआ थी उन का रुख़ हर पल सामने हो. Of course, it makes a mockery of the meter.

2. I had written a note to Roshan on Facebook where I had shared this she’r, but he probably hadn’t seen it. The note went like this: “I wanted to use और instead of पे, but didn't because it's a (rather!) long syllable. But may I?”

To point 1, I set out to take the inversion out of the first line, and came up with this version:

दुआ थी हो दीद--रुख़--यार हर दम
पे वो हैं कि कब से गले से लगे हैं

दीद--रुख़--यार = the sight of the beloved's face
पे = but

Notice the subtle replacement of हर पल with हर दम. There were a lot of facial parts flying around in the she’r: दीद, रुख़, गला; so I threw in दम (which means breath too) instead of पल, without changing the intended meaning.

TIP: You cannot use the and as you please. Meaning that any random X--Y and P--Q and so on combination doesn’t work unless it is an established idiom. In this case, दीद--रुख़--यार is indeed an established idiom. And yes, the way I have used it makes it conform to the meter.

Please note that till date this she’r would likely read as it’s reading above if not for Roshan.

Here’s what he had to say about this version:

The opening line is a bit awkward. What you're trying to say is something along the lines of "Here I am praying that I get to see her, and there she is already hugging me". For that you'll need the first line in the present tense, and the second line to start with और (not metrically possible in the location of the "पॆ")

So my suspicion about the पे वो हैं कि not working was correct.

He found a couple of other she'rs that I had written alongside the one currently in question, to be okay:

जो ख़त उनको मशग़ूल होकर लिखे थे 
उन्हें वो किसी मशग़ले-से लगे हैं

मशग़ूल = engaged (in); wholly dedicated (to), diligent; anxious (about)
मशग़ला = pastime

He accepted the above one instantly and the one that follows, after one revision (which I won’t go into the details of):

उन्हें देखते ही जो खाए हैं दिल ने
वो झटके किसी ज़लज़ले-से लगे हैं

ज़लज़ला = earthquake

I mentioned these because since these were greenlighted by Roshan, my Radif-Qaafiyaa scheme was fixed, and I’d have to stick to it if I wanted the दुआ थी हो दीद--रुख़--यार हर दम she’r to be part of the same ghazal.

Based on Roshan’s comments, I started working on the she’r. I think I considered the following "first lines":

दुआ थी कि उन को नज़र भर के देखेँ

This doesn’t work because there is no space for the “but” in the first line.

दुआ थी कि जी भर के देखेँ उन्हें पर

This doesn’t work because technically जी भर के देखना is not idiomatic. It should be आँख भर (के) or नज़र भर के.

(Latest update: Roshan just said:

 "jii bhar ke dekhnaa" is perfectly idiomatic; e.g.
na jii bhar ke dekhaa, na kuchh baat kii
baRii aarzuu thii mulaaqaat kii

The statement I made above about जी भर के देखना, which now appears with a strikethrough formatting was an incorrect assumption made by me.)

Additionally both the above “first lines” are still in the past tense.

I finally turned in the following to Roshan:

उन्हें आँख भर देखना है मगर वो 
पधारें हैं तबसे गले से लगे हैं

Roshan commented thus:

This one has promise. I'm not sure though whether the "आँख भर" works here without an accompanying के (i.e. "आँख भर के").

We later established that आँख भर does work (how? Because http://dsal.uchicago.edu/dictionaries/platts/, our favorite Urdu/Hindi dictionary, says so; it says āṅkh bhar or bhar-ke dekhnā or dekh-lenā (-kī t̤araf), To look (at) till (one's) curiosity is fully satisfied; to stare steadily and long (at); …), but in any case, it did sound awkward without the के, so I decided to revise it.

I changed it to the following:

उन्हें आँख भर के तकें भी तो कैसे 
वो जब से मिले हैं गले से लगे हैं 

(Here’s when I remembered the word तकना, which was such a superb thing because it takes one fewer syllable than something like देखना (तकना is LL and देखना is LSL) AND means not just “to look at” but more, as described in the above definition. For an Urdu poet, the smallest of syllables is gold dust! You are always missing that one extra syllable. या ख़ुदा, एक extra syllable देदे, तेरी ही तारीफ़ में शे' कह दूँगा :P)

For this version, Roshan said:

This one works as it is. From a technical standpoint I have no quibbles. To enhance this, in the first line you'd ideally specify that the 'seeing' is not of the person perse but of the person's face specifically. That will make the first line contrast better with the second.

Now, getting at least a technical greenlight from Roshan, I could’ve closed this she’r right here, but his comments made perfect sense. Besides, that is what I had first set out to say in any case.

Meanwhile, Roshan followed up with the following comment:

Somehow the "आँख भर के" just doesn't click for me; perhaps it's a personal preference. My inclination would be something along this for the first line (as it stands): "नज़र भर के देखूँ भी उन को तो कैसे

And thus began the grind.

Look at all the “first lines” I considered and discarded for some reason or the other, such as non-idiomatic usage, inversion, inability to find something good enough to replace the metrical placeholders, awkward construction, etc. The following comes straight out of my “rough work”. Note that all of these (hopefully) are in accordance with the meter, which means changing the word order will break the meter. Also note that if I had an extra syllable or two to play with, most of the following could be made to work by choosing the best words and their permutations. But where's the fun in that?Talk about “tantalizing.

रुख़--यार आँखों में कैसे बसाएँ

नज़र भर के तकना था रू--हसीँ को

नज़र भर के दीद--रुख़ हो भी तो कैसे

SLL रुख़--जाँ तकें भी तो कैसे

नज़र भर के रुख़ उन का कैसे तकेंगे

नज़र भर के देखेंगे रू--हसीँ को

तके जाएँ रू--हसीँ L SLL

रुख़--यार जी भर तकें भी तो कैसे

नज़र भर के कैसे रुख़--यार देखेँ

नज़र भर के रू--हसीँ कब तकेंगे

नज़र भर के रू--हसीँ कैसे देखेँ

तरसते हैं रुख़ उन का जी भर के देखेँ

रुख़--यार तकने को तरसे हैँ कबसे

रुख़--यार जी भर के तकने को तरसे

SLL SLL SS कब नसीब हो

वो मिलते ही LL उन्हें देखना था

वो मिलते ही LL SLआरज़ू थी

उन्हें देर तक ताकने की SL थी

SLL अभी L तका ही कहाँ है

नज़र भर उन्हें तकते रहना है लेकिन

And, finally, after ALL that, I turned it this:

रुख़--जाँ बराबर तकेँ भी तो कैसे
वो जब से मिले हैँ गले से लगे हैँ

(I had liked the variations in meaning afforded by the word बराबर: continuously, without break or intermission, directly, immediately, without delay.)

Roshan had the following comments:

The बराबर is "sticking" out ... I wish there were some other way to do this, but otherwise it works if you are happy with it.
What do you think about replacing "बराबर" with "को, या रब!," to give a sense of desperation?

Wow! Just like that, Roshan opens up a whole new possibility with the "desperation" angle, which is so, so welcome in this she’r. Look suddenly how much stronger the first line becomes!

रुख़--जाँ को, या रबतकेँ भी तो कैसे 

And then, phew, this from me:

"Your suggestion sounds much better :) Trying to do something similar, here's a variation:

ख़ुदा! उनका रू--हसीँ कब तकेंगे
वो आए नहीँ और गले से लगे हैँ

The two things I have tried doing here are

1. Keeping the "desperation" part alive, I've also tried to include the fact that her face is very pretty, which I would like to think adds to the desperation
2. You have previously spoken about mushaira she’rs where the later the "reveal", the better. When one reads the first line, one has no clue that she is already in my arms or even that she met me recently. The original first half of the second line वो जब से मिले हैँ indicates that she has, so the गले से लगे हैँ might come as less (pleasantly) shocking than it might when we have no clue where the she’r is going for the whole duration of ख़ुदा! उनका रू--हसीँ कब तकेंगे; वो आए नहीँ और. Umm, does this make sense at all?"

And then? Ok, drumroll………………

Roshan writes THIS:

Absolutely love it. This version works the best of the lot.

You have NO clue what hearing that from Roshan feels like. It feels something like this scene from the Will Smith movie:

“This part of my life; this little part...is called Happyness.”

Thank you, Roshan!!!