The Dakhnī Poetry of the Everyman

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Dakhniī poetry challenges the notion of poetry being for the elite. Scholar Sajjad Shahid curates a selection.

Poetry has for too long, been the abode of the elite. So goes the ethos of poets who composed in Dakhnī – the mish-mash of Urdu and Hindi (and Persian and Sanskrit, or Marathi, Telugu, Kannada or Tamil, depending on where the speaker lived).

Incorporating phrases, slangs, idioms and pronunciations that were used on the street between the 13th and 20th centuries, it was once a court language of the Mughals, before losing its patrnage. Today, the language has since faded, spoken today mainly by scattered Muslim communities across India.

Historian and scholar Sajjad Shahid gives us a rare glimpse into Dakhnī poetry across the ages, with annotations.

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Poet: Syed Meeran Hashmi, d.1697

Exquisite, vase, porcelain, illustration
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Barah baras kūṇ ghūṛh par āatī dīsā āalam kata;
Yu jīyu kūn apné kar nīshan khushyān gīnānā k laguṇ

The fate of even a rubbish heap turns in twelve years, so says the world;
Consoling my heart thus, I start enumerating the joys to come.

Sajjad: Syed Meeran Hashmi was a court poet of Sultan Ali Adil Shah II of Bijapur. He composed extensively in the Rékhtī genre where the poet speaks as a woman.

Modern thought would never accept the compositions of male Dakhnī poets in rekhtī as being true representations of medieval women. Despite this obvious handicap, even the most discerning critic would find it difficult to deny the inherent feminist manifest in Dakhnī rekhtī.

Hashmi is considered by many to be the master of this genre and a bulk of his compositions testify to his mastery in the form.

The idiom here is ‘Barah baras kūṇ ghūṛh par āatī dīsā’ which is still in wide use.

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Poet: Mulla Wajhi, c. 1609-1636

Mughal, shah, lady, horse, dakhni
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Suhāté thé Shah dhan suṇ us waqt yūṇ;                     
Ké hīrnī kūṇ lé baiṭtā bāg jyūṇ.

With his lady relaxed the Shah thus pleased;
Like a tiger reposing with a doe just seized.

Sajjad: The unabashed use of Sanskrit / Hindwi, and a conscious aversion of Persian in the casting of terminology including the creation of Persio-Hindi mixed vocabulary is a notable trait of Dakhnī.

In the above couplet Suhāna (relax), dhan (lady/woman), hīrnī (deer/ doe) and bāg (tiger) are words of Sanskrit-Hindwi origin. The resolute stand of Dakhnī poets to keep their language simple also compelled them to refrain from the use of complex similes or metaphors. Thus their figures of speech were realistic and closer to life.

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Poet: Sulaiman Khateeb of Gulbarga (1922-1978)

Mother, child, divided
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Yād bole tō takiyé méṇ gajré kī bās,
Jaisé kéwṛe kā kānṭā kalījé ké 

Yād bolé tō bachpan méṇ choṛé sō gāoṇ,
Jaisé panghaṭ ké panī méṇ Rādhā kī 

Yād rōté sō aṇkhyāṇ méṇ gōrī ka rūp,
Jaisé paṛhté sō pānī méṇ halkī sī 

Yād bolé tō ānsu kī ṭuṭi laṛī,
Ghup andhāré méṇ choṛī huī 

Yād bolé tō chilman ké pīché hansī,
Dūr Jangal méṇ jaise kōī raushni.

Yād bolé tō ankhīān jhukāné kā nām,
Ék naqshah bana kō miṭāné kā 

Yād bolé tō dīl méṇ chupāné kī bāt,
Chup zarā sōnch kō muskurāné kī bāt.

Memory is the whiff of her scent in the pillow;
Like a kewda thorn resting close to the heart.

Memory is the village left behind in childhood;
Like the image of Radha in the pool of water.

Memory, the image of a weeping beauty;
Like the Sun shining through an overcast sky.

Memory is the broken stream of tears.
A sparkler lit on the darkest of nights.

Memory is laughter from behind the curtain;
A far away light shining in the wilderness.

Memory, the name given to a lowering of the eyes;
To drawing up plans and then wiping them clean.

Memory is the secreting of words deep in your heart;
And recalling them at random with a smile on your lips.

Sajjad: With the loss of patronage, Dakhnī literature went into a steady decline. Despite random compositions continuing into the early nineteenth century, the slowdown was evident.

It was largely the inherent charm of the Dakhnī idiom that has been responsible for the immense popularity enjoyed by the few poets who continued to compose in the medium. Despite having to take recourse to humour and satire in order to remain relevant and contemporary, they did occasionally come up with some remarkable compositions.

The last of the greats, who overcame the handicap to a certain extent by composing exquisite love sonnets along with trivia in Dakhnī, was the late Sulaiman Khateeb of Gulbarga (1922-1978). With his death, mainstream Dakhnī poetry breathed its last in the very city where it had first gained literary prominence.

The preceding couplets have been randomly selected from the exquisite Dakhnī Ghazal of Khateeb titled Yād (Memory or Remembrance).

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Madras Courier originally ran as a broadsheet with a poetry section. It was a time when readers felt comfortable sharing glimpses of their lives through verse. If you too have a poem you’d like to submit, do mail us at editor@madrascourier.com.

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