Issues

Don’t tinker with Ghazal

In a recent interview, ‘ghazal singer’ Jagjit Singh stated that he tried to come out with an album of Marathi ghazals two years ago but the music company owner thought it wouldn’t work. Music company owner was right. With due respect to Marathi and other Indian languages, ghazal can be rendered only in Persian (the finest base for it), Arabic or Urdu. Every language or a linguistic group has its certain merits and demerits. Sonnet (14-line poem) sounds best in English because it fits into the structure of English language (octave and sestet) or Ottava Rima (an Italian poetic genre of eight lines) loses its mystique in other European languages. Even French and English cannot capture its mojo the way Italian renders it. The late Aga Shahid Ali, professor of English at Chicago University, introduced ghazal to English and wrote a few memorable ones, but soon lost the tempo and appeal. Now, very few try to write English ghazals. Persian, Arabic and Urdu are tailor-made for ghazals, because barring Arabic, the other two are predominantly feminine languages. Despite being robust in its linguistic spirit, Arabic expiates this ‘shortcoming’ by its vast scope of accommodative flexibility. Ghazal itself is an Arabic word which connotes ‘lovers’ conversation’. While studying Marathi’s phonetics as well as Semantics, I was surprised to find thousands of Persian and Arabic words in its vocabulary but in an assimilated and almost naturalised form. For example, the word ‘aazaar’ (malady, illness) is there in Marathi but written and pronounced as ‘aajaar’ or ‘faqat ‘ (only, mere) is written and pronounced as ‘fakt’. The fricative and guttural sounds are not found in Marathi and other Indian languages, whereas most of the Urdu words of Persian and Arabic origins are deep-sounding. Marathi is basically a ‘zabaan-e-benuqt’ (a language sans dots). On this count, not just Marathi but Bangla (Nazarul Islam’s failed ghazals, Subhash Mukhopadhya’s pedestrian endeavour and modern poet Jay Goswami’s inadequate attempts), the two closest languages to Sanskrit, also failed to capture the essence of Urdu-Persian ghazals. Granted, Suresh Bhatt and Madhav Julian wrote some ‘good’ ghazals. But frankly speaking, these ‘ghazals’ fall more aptly in the category of romantic poems with a borrowed structure of Persian ghazals. Ghazal is much more than ‘radeef’ and ‘kaafia’. Marathi somewhat lacks felicity and fluidity of Urdu. Urdu’s an ultra-refined language. Moreover, you shouldn’t experiment with an established pattern. Rabindra Sangeet can never sound even half-good in any other language, except for Bangla. Similarly, Marathi Bhav Geet can never evoke the same feelings in Urdu or any other language. So don’t tinker with an exclusive genre of music and fine arts. 

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 July 2011 on page no. 2

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