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Friday, October 27, 2006

Oh, shit!

Cleaning up my clothes cupboard today I came across a plastic bag hidden away under some winter-clothing, presumably as the first step to it's 'disappearance', by my wife. She does these things. Checks out to see if I have not remembered some stuff for months (I am a terrible hoarder, I admit!) and, once satisfied, zaps it with a raygun or something since i never see it again. Generally this last act takes place about two days before the time that I absolutely need the stuff, of course, and sets the scene for a 60-second replay of WWII, but I quickly take solace in the fact that there are other things strewn all over that she hasn't quite got to. Yet.
A quick look in the bag revealed a rather faded and stained photocopied document gifted to me by an Indian friend (a scholarly gentleman who has been an Ambassador in several countries and a Vice Chancellor in a well-known university. Name and other details will be revealed, unless he agrees to cough up money in unmarked bills). It's an edition of Deevaané Chirkeen.
For those of you unaware of this great poet, he was a grand-master of the Hazal - a term now loosely applied to all humorous verse forms. Originally the Real McCoy was poetry with 'unprintable' content. Often explicit and sexual in nature - but always satirical - every major poet has tried his hand at it. Allama Iqbal included. In recent years the greatest of all poets in that tradition was Rafi Ahmad Khan, friend and contemporary of Josh Malihabadi who, himself, had several verses of this nature to his credit - but, for once, accepted someone else as his superior (at least in this niche field).
Being unprintable, such poetry is generally passed - with obvious difficulty - to the next generation (hardly the kind that fathers share with sons) via stages of 'in-betweeners'. Young uncles to eldest nephews is how it seems to usually flow. The problem is that most people today can't tell between a correct or incorrect shayr. A quick run through even the best of Urdu poetry websites will reveal tons of couplets/poems, wrongly attributed, misquoted, without any sense of metre, qaafiah or even radeef ... Vazan to khaer door ki baat hae! (For this situation to have been reached, our Education system must bear part responsibility --- but that calls for another post.) Even the Al-Hamra Calendar that contains a ghazal for each day of the year, brought out with much love, contains scores of mistakes. And this is when there are printed deevaans and recordings and videos available to check many of them against. But in the case of Chirkeen and Rafi Ahmad this is an obvious impossibility.
While sexual explicitness is slowly losing some of its taboos, Allama Chirkeen's speciality seems to still be unacceptable. A poet from Lucknow, he rarely, if ever, used sexual content in his verses. His great love was excreta! Legend has it that, in earlier days, he wrote beautiful 'regular' ghazals, but his bayaaz was stolen by some people who had some of the poems published under their names in Hyderabad and elsewhere. At one mushaaerah in the Deccan capital, unaware of this fraud, he recited a ghazal and was booed by some people who assumed he had stolen the ghazal from one of the books. In anger, he swore never to write a line of verse that any persons would steal and be willing to call their own ... and went on to write hundreds of shayrs, each one containing some scatological term.
I do recall seeing a reference or two to him on Chowk a while ago ... and a few 'giggly' references among some internet groups which did not really appreciate the technical perfection of his shaaeree, despite the constraint he had placed on himself. I also realize that many will turn their noses away from this post (although smells are not yet easily embedded into eDocs, since the only ones seemingly ready to pay for it are Japanese aromatherapy enhusiasts) ... but the fact is that all languages have a great tradition of such humour. Mark Twain, Rabelais, and many Victorian writers revelled in it just as much those in our region. The difference is that the West has printed a lot of these works but - a pity - that such works of our classics in this genre will get lost.
One note before I close. Please do not add hazals/shayrs in the comments section. If you really think you have a good example - and only from from either of the above poets, checked for authenticity - email me and we can set up a website to honour them.
Oh ... and in case you are wonderiing what got me thinking about such an oddball topic today, get a load of this serious shit!

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Blogger Sidhusaaheb said...

Oh sh**!

It'll be too bad if all of the poetry in that unique genre is lost forever!

27 October, 2006 15:12

Anonymous rayhan said...

As part of the traditional battle between Delhi and Lucknow, Chirkeen is claimed by both. My youngest mamoo was really knowledgeable about him and had us in stitches when he recited some of the verses. (Proves your theory, zakintosh, about uncle-to-nephew transmission.) Anyway, Mamoo once told us that Chirkeen was from a Lucknow Shia family but was born and brought up in Delhi ... which does not clear matters but, at least, explains the roots of the disputed claims. We were also told that he travelled to Rampur and Hyderabad and managed to annoy both, the Shia Nawab and the then Sunni Nizam, with extremely blunt verses. Put up the site and I will contribute them.

Rafi Ahmad I only know of from the mention in Josh Sahab's Yadon Ki Barat but have heard none of his poetry. A Google search did not bring up anything, either.

27 October, 2006 16:39

Blogger the olive ream said...

ZAK, perhaps a site to highlight his work should be in order...especially for the uninitiated like myself.

27 October, 2006 22:21

Anonymous Rashid Latif Ansari said...

When you mention the lack of sense of metrer or rhythm of a ghazal, I was shocked that in Mirza Ghalib a film by Gulzar, acted by Nasiruddin Shah, (all Urdu speaking and producing a film on one of the greatest Urdu poets)  he recites, "Bana hai Shaaah ka masahib phiray hai itraata"

Although, as you lament, the sense of metre has almost completely disappeared, yet it was too much when Shah was recited as Shaaah in Mirza Ghalib.

28 October, 2006 01:26

Anonymous Anonymous said...

yo so decent man, ur comments tell that about you, are ya making love to ya macintosh ?

28 October, 2006 04:09

Blogger Zakintosh said...

u jealous? of me or of my mac?

28 October, 2006 07:23

Blogger Zakintosh said...

Continuing to browse through my blog to find stuff by Rayhan, I reached this and wished he had told us the Chirkeen-Nizam story. If someone else knows it, please do recount it here. Meanwhile, I'll share the Chirkeen bit I know about the run-in with Rampur's Shia Nawab:

It seems that the Nawab had a son born to him in the month of Muharram and wrote a barjastah misrah in celebration: Daykha hae ham ne chaand Muharram meñ Eed ka ...

In the traditional way, he wanted a 'taareekh' written.

(For the unititiated, this is generally a phrase, a shayr, often a whole qatah, in which certain words are underlined to indicate that the letters that make up a part which, when totalled under a method that assigns each of them a value, numerically equal the year of the event. These are most frequently written for Births, Marriages, Deaths & so on. A difficult but, amazingly, not an uncommon skill in the old days. Examples abound in the works of Ghalib and others. Many of you are familiar with a non-year related example reached the same way: 786 for Bismillah.)

Being thrilled with his own 'clever' misrah, an announcement of reward was made by the Nawab to the poet who would write a taareekhi second misrah and complete the shayr. Angered by the Nawab's fiippancy with reference to Muharram, Chirkeen, a devout Shia, shot back the misrah that did what it was supposed to but was hardly usable :-)

Here's the full shayr with Chirkeen's second misrah:

Daykha hae ham ne chaand Muharram meñ Eed ka.
"Navvaab Rampur hae bayta Yazeed ka!"

13 May, 2007 19:49

Anonymous the olive ream said...

Thank you for all the gems you highlight on your blog. They truly are a treasure and such a pleasure to read, and your latest comment on your old article is deserving of its own post.

14 May, 2007 06:37

Anonymous Makanchoo said...

Impressive stuff. when was the man born?

08 February, 2008 11:29

Blogger CHANDRA SHEKHAR said...

Definitely a research needs to be conducted on Mian Chirkeen. The internet is not a sufficient or satisfying source for Chirkeen lovers. Let's dedicate a website on him, portraying his unique andaaz-e-bayaan and nom de plume. Cheerz guys for bringing up this blog and discussion.

07 December, 2009 19:02


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