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Tuesday, 20 September 2011

On Shahryar and the Jnanpith Award

It was with great pride that I watched Shahryar receive the country's highest literary award, the venerable Jnanpith, being conferred upon him on Sunday, 18th September 2011. That the person giving it was Amitabh Bachchan was another matter. In my humble opinion, Mr Bachchan, regardless of his stature in the Hindi film industry, had little grounds for being there. Any grounds he might have had for being present in such an august gathering by virtue of being the son of Harivanshrai Bachchan were lost given his advocacy of Narendar Modi. But the matter of the Chief Guest aside, there is no diminishing the significance of the award itself or, more importantly, of Shahryar as the pre-eminent voice of an entire generation.
We pay tribute to Shahryar and his invincible spirit. May there be more awards, greater recognition and much happiness in store for him.We pray for his health and his long life and for him we say: Allah kare zor-e-qalam aur ziyadah.

As a token of my respect for one of the greatest living Urdu poets, I append some of my translations from his nazms below:

Tonight the night presented me
With a new dilemma

It emptied the basin of my eye
Of all sleep
And filled it with tears

Then, it whispered in my ear:
‘I have absolved you of all sin
And set you free, forever

‘Go, wherever you wish
Sleep, or stay awake
The doorway of dreams is closed for you.’

 A black poem
Let me write a black poem on virgin paper
Let me light up this banquet with unseen, formless silences

The smell of unripe guavas maddens me
It makes my empty eyes brim with wetness

Far away wild animals growl and snap at each other
Between us, lies endless nights

An uncreased bed stares at me
My body half sleeps, half wakes

And I resolve
To write a black poem

 Let me speak
Let me open
Let me open the window of fragrances

Let it fly
Let this bird-like soul fly far, far away

Let it speak
Let the red blood imprisoned in this body speak

Behind the gold and green curtain
Lies an impenetrable silence

Don’t hush me, don’t stop me
Let me speak

Do you remember?
Do you remember
You had sworn
Placing your hand on night’s palm
That the glitter and keen of morning’s sun-sword
Would no longer frighten you
And you would give away
The dream treasures
That you had hidden in your eyes
As gifts
To someone
Braver and stronger
Than you
So, what stops you now

In the defence of sleepless nights

Think, my friend
Open your eyes and see
This barren night
Is the enemy of all your dreams
Don’t sell your sleeplessness
To this night

(The above translations are from Through the Closed Doorway: A Collection of Nazms by Shahryar, translated by Rakhshanda Jalil, Rupa & Co., 2004.)


  1. Its my pleasure to reveal that I could report the presence of Shahriyar in the holy city of Makkah for pilgrimage on the day of announcement of jnanpith award. He spoke in a humble, intended voice and praise Allah for what had happened. Sajith, Jeddah

  2. Really happy to know that Dr.Shahryar got the Jnanpith award.He is the beacon of modern urdu poetry.Moreover urdu literature is being recognised.