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Pakistani Poets Killing Lions

Popularity 3Viewed 746 times 2015-1-29 09:02 |Personal category:StoryTeller|System category:Life| Shaayari, form, poetry, Pakistan


If the title evokes mental images of poets in Pakistan going around like the British did in the Indian subcontinent in the past few centuries - packing guns, riding into the forests and killing hundreds of thousands of wildlife, helpless against weapons against which they really never had a chance - lions, tigers, deer, elephants, birds to bring back as trophies, then wipe them away. This article is not about such uncultured cruelty. 


This is about a refined, traditional, sophisticated, and evolved high culture that developed over many centuries, in the merging of Indian, Persian, Arab and Afghan cultures of northern India.


The killing of a lion (Sher, pronounced like 'share') in ancient days, before guns came around, if it had to be done because it became a menace to too many human lives near a village, required someone very skilled in shooting arrows. They usually had just one chance at the predator if they could sneak up on it, or when faced with it, to kill it dead or immobilize it, before they became its prey themselves. Lesser animals could be dealt with multiple arrows and many hunters. Lions or tigers were so good that, only a single lone hunter could hope to get past its defences or awareness. 


When that skilled hunter shot a powerful arrow that hit the mark, and directly pierced the heart, it would do the job, stop even a lion in its tracks, dead or dying. This is the analogy used by poets and of poets. 


To kill a lion was termed 'Sher Maarna'. Obviously, 'Maarna' meaning 'to kill'.


It is even more a beautiful metaphor when one considers that an arrow that pierces the heart, 'kills', which is also viewed as 'liberating the soul'. The soul is believed to be attached to the body and set free when a creature dies, according to ancient Indian philosophy and beliefs.


So, when a poet 'fires' off or 'shoots' a piece of verse that pierces the 'heart' of the listener and touches the soul (liberates it), it is applauded with a spontaneous exclamation, a clutching of the heart and high praise. The listener who is affected by the poet's rendition naturally reacts like a stricken, dying creature. The audience or critics would exclaim,"Kya Sher maaraah!" - meaning "What a lion he has slain!" 


One can hear scores of listeners all react in this manner and instead of clapping hands, the applause 'Waah! Waah!" comes from everyone. As an aside, in case you did not know, the English word expressing wonder and appreciation, 'Wow" is derived from this very word. Even the ending of "Waah", the "aah!" is an apt and perfect reflection of the reaction and exclamation of any creature that is suddenly shot. 



It is just that one verse, said right in the right context, right tone and right mood that was the powerful arrow that could slay a lion. It was not appreciation for long-winded descriptions, many weak verses or arrows. The poetic Sher had the elements of release that perfect arrow. There was the initial picking the arrow from the quiver, the setting of the arrow on the bow, aiming it right, the pulling back and tensing of the string and finally releasing it at the perfect time! The punch line was the release!



In this area and culture of such rich language and expressions of poetry - just  one look (or glance) of a woman was described as an arrow. It might be a look of surprise, anger, love or even annoyance, but like an arrow, it would pierce the heart and conscience and reach the soul of one it was directed against. 


To die, metaphorically, was to feel something in your soul or feel a liberation of your soul from something that struck it. It was considered such a feeling of high, that the term for being in love with someone was "Kisee par marna". Kisee meaning 'someone', par meaning 'upon' and Marna meaning 'to die'.


To die or death was not considered morbid or unpleasant in the context of poetry. It was used as an analogy to meeting God, a spiritual goal and a liberation of the soul with a feeling. Hence, being in love was considered a spiritual goal. Sufism, which contributed many famous poets to this region preached love in all its forms as the true religion in practice.


So, from the killing of Sher,  we have a perfect, poetic match for the very word for a form or 'poetry' in Urdu and Hindi - "Shaayari".  Even if it was not intentionally derived, it is just 'perfect' poetic sense. The beauty of many Asian languages lies in such richness that is often lost in translation to English, though a lot of it is still seen in French and Latin based languages of Europe which had a great mixing with the Arab and Persian cultures.


It might surprise most westerners to note that in the culture of Shaayari, in Pakistan, Iran and India, there was much egalitarianism. The language was rich, but mixed with common, simple street language. The point was not to be exclusive, but convey the deepest thoughts and feelings to everyone. Women were equally famous and appreciated as poets. The most common topics were those of love, liquor, lover's torments, rejections, mischief and hurdles by those of jealous nature. Even drinking liquor, intoxication and the 'pub' were metaphors for the deep comfort and relaxation that the soul seeks.


There was often talk of changing moods and preferences of women in their love and lovers. It was a very liberal and cultured way of expressing all the human feelings, accepting and honouring them in everyday life. Women could express desire, attraction and even disgust openly towards their chosen targets. It was done in beautiful poetic form that ultimately preserved the dignity of all involved.


There were many competitions and large gatherings to recite poetry, trade poetic barbs, with musical accompaniments, judges, prizes and challenges with people from all walks of life, equal when it came to the stage or performance. The wealthier and powerful people often hosted such in their homes and invited the whole neighbourhood or village. They were the patrons of such art. Even paupers who were good poets became legends and are still, in the history of that region. One can see many examples of these in old Indian and Pakistani movies.



Now, do you wonder why Indian movies seem to show a whole bunch of people suddenly break into song and dance? The present depiction in movies is disjointed and hence seems a bit odd. But if one knew what kind of a culture of the heart and language it was, one can understand this. These songs, musicals and poetry are traces remaining of one of the world's finest cultures and actual way of life that seems to be vanishing.


The overwhelming theme of media coverage in the west, of Pakistan and the region around it, is one of negative imagery, often created with deliberate contribution from the west. Western media and values are slowly killing and strangling the best of ancient cultures and their wonderful traditions. There seems to be a desire to mask and wipe out any positive truths and brand it as barbaric and primitive. It is for the people in these cultures to take up the job of preserving the best themselves.


I am no Shaayar, but I will take a stab and pen this composition along with it translation in English, to hopefully provide a crude feeling for this form of poetry for those who know even less about it than I do. I apologise to those who know and understand real Shaayari and might be purists who are outraged at my violation of most of the formal rules of this form. I am just making an attempt to share something in English.


"Qaathil ki ek nazar ne kiya ghayal,

Dil thaam kar dher ho gaye.

Dum nikalte huey muskurakar kahe,

Yeh marna hi mere liye jeena hai!"


Translated into English, not entirely literally, but to convey the meaning and feeling of a lover who must have got one meaningful glance of acceptance from the object of his love:


"The Killer's one look/glance smote and wounded him,

He fell down in a heap clutching his heart,

As the last breaths slipped away, he smiled and said,

Such dying, is for me, living!"


(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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