1. For some time now, the party line in career advice has been to “find your passion” and follow it with everything we have. Passion is supposed to be singular. Everything else is a distraction. How can you beat the competition if you’ve spread yourself out across multiple pursuits? Some of which are only for fun? Isn’t your calling supposed to give you everything? In one of his letters, Seneca — himself a busy political advisor and writer — spoke of how difficult it is for ambitious, career-focused people to take time off to pursue other interests because they are worried about falling behind in their world. The same people who are willing to take great risks to advance their careers will not risk anything for the sake of personal happiness or even mental balance (even if the latter would indirectly help the former)…
  2. Stutman…often asks these very busy executives how they recharge, given the all-consuming nature of their work. The best, he found, have at least one hobby that gives them peace — things like sailing, long-distance cycling, listening quietly to classical music, scuba diving, riding motorcycles, and fly fishing. There is a surprising commonality between all the hobbies: An absence of voices. For people who make countless high-stakes decisions in the course of a day, a couple hours without chatter, without other people in their ear, where they can simply think (or not think), is essential…
  3. It’s in our leisure, Ovid observed, that “we reveal what kind of people we are.” What we’re seeing right now is that for many people, our leisure is revealing a streak of self-loathing and self-destruction…We spend all day in front of a screen, it’s not healthy to relax in front of one too…
  4. I am often asked by friends and fans why I don’t compete in races or triathlons. My answer is that I’m not trying to “win” my hobby. If I’m being honest, I’m really not even interested in getting much better at them, my goal is mainly to just do more of them. Churchill wasn’t trying to make a living from his paintings, he was improving his living through them. It was fun. It was relaxing. The only purpose is the process. It’s so easy to forget that…
  5. Sitting alone with a canvas? Reading a book for book club? A whole afternoon for cycling? Chopping down trees? Laying bricks. What’s the point? Who has the time?
    You do. If Churchill did, we all do. And if we don’t make the time–to be restore our minds and body, to get a sweat going, to tune or our tune in, to seek out alternately the absence of voices or the delightful sound of them–we risk collapsing under the weight of our obligations and exhaustion.


Friday Poem – 26-July’19

Grief is a powerful emotion. Losing someone can make us question whether life has any meaning. Poets & writers deal with grief using the same tool they wield so effectively in other situations: their pen.

Today’s poem is one such. Written by the poet Naresh Saxena on the death of his wife in 2001. It doesn’t have a melancholy tone though. I think of it as a love letter to someone you hope to meet again. Let me know what you think.

सुनो चारुशिला

तुम अपनी दो आँखों से देखती हो एक दृश्य
दो हाथों से करती हो एक काम
दो पाँवों से
दो रास्तों पर नहीं एक ही पर चलती हो

सुनो चारुशिला !
एक रंग और एक रंग मिलकर एक ही रंग होता है
एक बादल और एक बादल मिलकर एक ही बादल होता है
एक नदी और एक नदी मिलकर एक ही नदी होती है

नदी नहीं होंगे हम
बादल नहीं होंगे हम
रंग नहीं होंगे तो फिर क्या होंगे
अच्छा ज़रा सोचकर बताओ
कि एक मैं और तुम मिलकर कितने हुए

क्या कोई बता सकता है
कि तुम्हारे बिन मेरी एक वसंत ऋतु
कितने फूलों से बन सकती है
और अगर तुम हो तो क्या मैं बना नहीं सकता
एक तारे से अपना आकाश

Friday Poem – 12-July’19

​Hello All

It seems I missed sending out a poem last Friday because I was traveling.

Well, to make up for missing out last week, and to contrast with the poem I last posted (20 words), today’s poem is a long one. I have loved it since a kind soul recited it a few months back. It’s a lovely exercise in nostalgia brought on by visiting once familiar places again. It’s a love poem. It’s a poem about a city, about nature, about loss. (And I’m sorry there are no translations available for this one, since there is no way I could do half-way justice to something like this.) I would request you to read this aloud for full effect.

The poem is by Sahitya Academy award winner Gyanendrapati, who was born in 1950 in a small village in Jharkhand, and now resides in Varanasi. He is known as a fearless poet, who takes chances in his poems. On to the poem now, titled “ट्राम में एक याद”

चेतना पारीक कैसी हो?
पहले जैसी हो?
कुछ-कुछ ख़ुुश
कुछ-कुछ उदास
कभी देखती तारे
कभी देखती घास
चेतना पारीक, कैसी दिखती हो?
अब भी कविता लिखती हो?

तुम्हें मेरी याद तो न होगी
लेकिन मुझे तुम नहीं भूली हो
चलती ट्राम में फिर आँखों के आगे झूली हो
तुम्हारी क़द-काठी की एक
नन्ही-सी, नेक
सामने आ खड़ी है
तुम्हारी याद उमड़ी है

चेतना पारीक, कैसी हो?
पहले जैसी हो?
आँखों में अब भी उतरती है किताब की आग?
नाटक में अब भी लेती हो भाग?
छूटे नहीं हैं लाइब्रेरी के चक्कर?
मुझ-से घुमन्तूू कवि से होती है टक्कर?
अब भी गाती हो गीत, बनाती हो चित्र?
अब भी तुम्हारे हैं बहुत-बहुत मित्र?
अब भी बच्चों को ट्यूशन पढ़ाती हो?
अब भी जिससे करती हो प्रेम उसे दाढ़ी रखाती हो?
चेतना पारीक, अब भी तुम नन्हीं सी गेंद-सी उल्लास से भरी हो?
उतनी ही हरी हो?

उतना ही शोर है इस शहर में वैसा ही ट्रैफ़िक जाम है
भीड़-भाड़ धक्का-मुक्का ठेल-पेल ताम-झाम है
ट्यूब-रेल बन रही चल रही ट्राम है
विकल है कलकत्ता दौड़ता अनवरत अविराम है

इस महावन में फिर भी एक गौरैये की जगह ख़ाली है
एक छोटी चिड़िया से एक नन्ही पत्ती से सूनी डाली है
महानगर के महाट्टहास में एक हँसी कम है
विराट धक-धक में एक धड़कन कम है कोरस में एक कण्ठ कम है
तुम्हारे दो तलवे जितनी जगह लेते हैं उतनी जगह ख़ााली है
वहाँ उगी है घास वहाँ चुई है ओस वहाँ किसी ने निगाह तक नहीं डाली है

फिर आया हूँ इस नगर में चश्मा पोंछ-पोंछ कर देखता हूँ
आदमियों को क़िताबों को निरखता लेखता हूँ
रंग-बिरंगी बस-ट्राम रंग बिरंगे लोग
रोग-शोक हँसी-खुशी योग और वियोग
देखता हूँ अबके शहर में भीड़ दूनी है
देखता हूँ तुम्हारे आकार के बराबर जगह सूनी है

चेतना पारीक, कहाँ हो कैसी हो?
बोलो, बोलो, पहले जैसी हो?

Friday Poem – 28-Jun’19

There are descriptive, long poems that tell of the battles of kings & gods. And then there are short poems that say everything there is to say in 20 words. The poem I’m sharing today is of the latter group, and is among my all time favourite ones. (and believe me it will work for you even if you only understand a few words of Hindi/Urdu)

But first, a few words about the poet:
Parween Shakir was a scholar, teacher & public servant. She held 3 MA degrees, in English literature, linguistics, and Bank Administration, and a PhD.
In a short life of 42 years, she blazed a new path in Urdu poetry, coining new metaphors, and taking on the establishment with her bold imagery & words. She wrote about her life & love with a unique candor.

She wrote ghazals, as well as free verse. Her ghazals mainly deal with the feminine perspective on love and romance. Her free verse is actually bolder & made many in the establishment uncomfortable (in fact it continues to do so in conservative circles today). In her free verse poems, she explores social issues and taboos, and uses word & phrases from pop culture & English language.

On to the poem:

मैं क्यूँ उस को फ़ोन करूँ!
उस के भी तो इल्म में होगा
कल शब
मौसम की पहली बारिश थी!

Why should I call him?
I’m sure he knows too
Last night
it rained, for the first time this season.

Friday Poem – 14-Jun-2019

Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor was a complicated man. A weak ruler, with his authority limited to the walled city of Old Delhi, known as king of Delhi to Palam. He became king only because the British exiled his elder brother after his father’s death. And in one of strange twists of fate that plagues history, he himself was exiled & died pining for his country in a strange land.

However, he is remembered today far more fondly for his invaluable contributions to Urdu poetry. He was a prolific urdu poet, who gave space in his durbar to a number of leading poets of his time, some of whom continue to be recognised for their verse even today. These included Zauq, Momin, Dagh, and of course, Ghalib. Possibly his most famous poem is the one he wrote as his own epitaph:
लगता नहीं है जी मेरा उजड़े दयार में
किसकी बनी है आलम-ए-नापायेदार में.

The last verse of this poem is particularly poignant:
कितना है बदनसीब “ज़फ़र″ दफ़्न के लिए
दो गज़ ज़मीन भी न मिली कू-ए-यार में

O, how unfortunate is Zafar, that for his grave
Two yards couldn’t be found in his beloved land

My favourite Zafar poem is a romantic one. I first heard it in the voice of Mehdi Hassan saab (whose death anniversary was yesterday). I present it below, with a translation I found on the web.

बात करनी मुझे मुश्किल कभी ऐसी तो न थी
जैसी अब है तिरी महफ़िल कभी ऐसी तो न थी

ले गया छीन के कौन आज तिरा सब्र ओ क़रार
बे-क़रारी तुझे ऐ दिल कभी ऐसी तो न थी

उस की आँखों ने ख़ुदा जाने किया क्या जादू
कि तबीअ’त मिरी माइल कभी ऐसी तो न थी

अक्स-ए-रुख़्सार ने किस के है तुझे चमकाया
ताब तुझ में मह-ए-कामिल कभी ऐसी तो न थी

चश्म-ए-क़ातिल मिरी दुश्मन थी हमेशा लेकिन
जैसी अब हो गई क़ातिल कभी ऐसी तो न थी

क्या सबब तू जो बिगड़ता है ‘ज़फ़र’ से हर बार
ख़ू तिरी हूर-शमाइल कभी ऐसी तो न थी


It wasn’t so difficult for me to talk in your presence before
Being in your company never confused my sense before

Have you stolen all my peace and patience?
My heart has never felt this anxious before

There was this unknown magic in your eyes
I have never lost myself in such attraction before

Your face shines bright like a moon reflecting my love
This heat that you emanate now was not there before

I have always fell victim to the spell cast by beautiful eyes
But the deadly spells you cast I have never faced before

Why do you torture me so mercilessly now?
My angel, your love for me was kinder before

Friday Poem – 7-Jun’19

While translating is a fairly difficult task, translating poetry is, IMHO, quite possibly, among the most difficult human enterprises.

I recently came across a wonderful translation of Gayatri Mantra in urdu. The original, as quite a few of you are aware, reads:
ॐ भूर्भुवः स्वः
भर्गो देवस्य धीमहि
धियो यो नः प्रचोदयात् ॥

The general meaning is along the lines of “We meditate on that most adored Supreme Lord, the creator, whose effulgence (divine light) illumines all realms (physical, mental and spiritual). May this divine light illumine our intellect.”

The urdu translation i came to, is from the movie Nakkash:
बख्शा मुझे तूने वजूद मेरे खुदा मेरे खुदा
हर दर्द की तू है दवा मेरे खुदा मेरे खुदा

Among the poetry translators I enjoy reading are Akhil Katyal & Geet Chaturved. Both of them translate for the sheer joy of poetry. I selected a translation by each of them (For Akhil I have also included the original). Enjoy!

This Be The Verse
By Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

यही छंद, यही झंड
अखिल कत्याल

तुम्हारी ले लेते हैं तुम्हारे मम्मी-डैडी
जानबूझ कर नहीं, बस उनसे हो जाता है
दोष भर देते हैं तुममें, कुछ जो आलरेडी है
उनमें, कुछ नए का इंतज़ाम भी हो जाता है

पर उनकी भी पहले किसी ने ली थी
वो उनके अपने मम्मी-डैडी थे
जिनकी खुद आधे टाइम फटी हुई थी
आधे टाइम मरने-मारने को रेडी थे

इंसान इंसान को सिर्फ दुःख सौंपता है
जो गहराता है, बस एक अंतहीन झरना
इसलिए भई, निकल लो, जब भी टाइम मिले
और खुद के बच्चे कभी पैदा न करना


जब मैं मरूँगा
अपने साथ अपनी सारी प्रिय किताबों को ले जाऊँगा
अपनी क़ब्र को भर दूँगा
उन लोगों की तस्‍वीरों से जिनसे मैंने प्‍यार किया
मेर नए घर में कोई जगह नहीं होगी
भविष्‍य के प्रति डर के लिए,

मैं लेटा रहूँगा। मैं सिगरेट सुलगाऊँगा
और रोऊँगा उन तमाम औरतों को याद कर
जिन्‍हें मैं गले लगाना चाहता था,

इन सारी प्रसन्‍नताओं के बीच भी
एक डर बचा रहता है:
कि एक रोज़, भोरे-भोर,
कोई कंधा झिंझोड़कर जगाएगा मुझे और बोलेगा
“अबे उठ जा सबीर, काम पे चलना है।”

सबीर हका (अनुवाद – गीत चतुर्वेदी)