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Malika PukhrajMalika Pukhraj's iconic rendition of Hafeez Jalandhari's urdu nazm ‘Abhi Toh Main Jawaan Hun’ made them both legends in Indian sub-continent.


Lyrics explained.

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"Turn the TV on for me," Dev said, "and sit with me for half an hour, so it doesn't play up while I'm watching."

"But I'm going to play with my friends," Rosh complained. "It's my play time."

"I know," Dev said. "I wouldn't have asked you if your father was home. And I don't know how to use this new-fangled technology."

Qosh had just bought a Black and White TV. Theirs was the only house around with a TV in the neighborhood. Other than Qosh, only Rosh knew how to operate it.

"But my friends are waiting, Grandpa," Rosh pleaded. "I'll be back later."

"No!" said Dev. "By then, it would be too late."

"But you never watch TV anyway," Rosh pouted. "What's so special today?"

"Malika Pukhraj is visiting India," answered Dev. "Doordarshan is telecasting her live performance today. She is an extremely popular Pakistani singer and her singing is enjoyed by millions. Not only in Pakistan, but also in India. I haven't seen her since I left Pakistan decades ago."

"Doesn't Malika mean a Queen?" asked Rosh, suddenly interested. "Is she a real Queen?"

"She is a Queen," affirmed Dev. "Not of nations, but of hearts. And she's going to sing Abu-Al-Asar Hafeez Jalandhari's poem. He is a Pakistani Urdu poet."

"Was he born in Jalandhar?" asked Rosh. "In the Indian Punjab?"

"Yeah, in 1900," answered Dev, "four years before I was. It was part of British India then. When Pakistan became a separate nation in 1947, he moved to Lahore, and came to be known as Jullundhri because he hailed from Jullundhr. Another of his kalaam "Pak Sarzameen Shad Baad" is now the National Anthem of Pakistan."

"But I don't understand Urdu," Rosh argued. "I'll be bored."

"No, you won't," Dev promised. "You don't realize how much Urdu you know already. There are many Urdu words used in Hindi. Tell me what you don't get and I'll translate."

Rosh had never seen a Queen before. So he stayed back with his grandfather and turned on the TV for him.

"She's wearing no tiara," Rosh accused, when the camera focused on Malika.

"Great people don't show off," Dev explained. "They are humble and grounded. They are bowed low, like the branches of a fruit-laden tree. Now be quiet, and let me enjoy."

Rosh watched her and listened carefully, but he did not understand. Watching his grandfather though, who sat enthralled, he knew not to disturb. When the program ended, Rosh turned off the TV, and came and sat beside the old man he dearly loved.

"Many people think this nazm (Urdu: नज़्म - melody) is about vices," Dev started speaking. "About alcohol drinking and uncontrolled passion. The world can appear rosy, when you are wearing rose-tinted goggles. Beauty after all, is in the eye of the beholder."

"It can be perceived as a hedonist crying out for more sensual pleasures. Or as a Sufiana Kalaam (Urdu word, meaning mystical poetry), where a soul is yearning to be united with God. To each their own poison. But both relish what they want so much, they are never ready to leave."

"My glasses are different. To me, this poem is a celebration of life. Of youth. Of living in the moment. You may be too young to judge yet, but are probably old enough to begin to understand."

"Let me introduce you to its lyrics, then transliterate. Your understanding today will depend on your imagination and experience. But given time, perhaps you may get from it the same enjoyment it has given me today."

"Abhi toh Main Jawaan Hun. Meaning, I am still youthful."

Hawaa bhi khush gavaar hai, gulon pe bhi nikhaar hai
Tarannum-e-hazaar hai, bahaar pur bahaar hai
Kahan chalaa hai saqiyaa? Idhar to laut, idhar to aa
Arey ye dekhta hai kya? Utha subuu, subuu uthaa
Subuu utha, pyaala bhar, pyaala bhar ke de idhar
Chaman ki simt kar nazar, samaan to dekh bekhabar
Vo kaali kaali badaliyaan, ufaq pe ho gayi ayaan
Vo ik hujoom-e-maikashaan, hai su-e-maikadaa ravaan
Ye kya gumaan hai badgumaan, samajh na mujh ko naatavaan
Khayaal-e-zohd, abhi kahaan? Abhi to main javaan hun!

"The air is exhilarating, flowers are in bloom
A thousand melodies, in lusty spring everywhere
Why do you go, wine giver? Return to me, come back here
What are you waiting for? Pick up the goblet, pick it up
Pick it up and fill the cup. Pass me the filled up cup
Gaze at the garden, behold the bliss, you Ignoramus
Those swirling dark clouds, appearing on the horizon
Like a mob of swaying drunks, showing taverns sully the soul
Spare me the doubts and ill-will, you think I'm feeble
Thoughts of abstinence, why so soon? I am still young!"

"How can this be mystical poetry?" asked Rosh. "Seems like lustful poetry to me."

"It is what you think it is," answered Dev. "Either perception is relevant to life. But don't you think it is brilliant advice to all of us who are caught up in life's push and pull to pause a moment and witness the wonder enfolding around us. Chaman ki simt kar nazar, samaan to dekh bekhabar."

When Rosh didn't argue, Dev continued:

Ibaadaton ka zikr hai, nijaat ki bhi fikr hai
Junoon hai sawaab ka, khayaal hai azaab ka
Magar suno to Sheikhji, ajeeb shai hain aap bhi
Bhalaa shabaab-o-aashiqi, alag huay bhi hain kabhi?
Haseen jalvaa rez hon, adaayen fitna khez hon
Havaayen itr bez hon, toh shauq kyon na tez hon?
Nigaar hai-fitanaagar, koi idhar, koi udhar
Ubhaaratey ho aish per, toh kya karey koi bashar?
Chalo ji kissa muktasar, tumhaara nuktaa-e-nazar
Durust hai! To ho - magar, abhi to main javaan hoon!

"All this talk of prayers, these worries of redemption
Obsession with heavenly rewards, warnings of hellish torments
Listen up Admonisher, you are a bit strange
Have Passion and Youth ever been separated?
When graceful youth abounds, resplendent and mischievous
And winds are fragrant, wouldn't desires be inflamed?
Provocative lovers, some here, others there
When they arouse sensuously, what power can a preacher have?
It's sorted then, your point of view
is right. Nevertheless, I'm as yet rather young!"

"Gosh, it is beautiful!" sighed Dev. "Pregnant lyrics, powerful logic, poignant mausiqi (music). The singular most iconic rendition that got me interested in Urdu poetry and ghazals."

Rosh listened attentively. Dev continued:

Na gham kashoud-o-bast ka, buland ka na past ka
Na buud ka, na hast ka, na vaada-e-alast ka
Ummiid aur yaas goom, havaas goom, qayaas goom
Nazar sey aas-paas goom, hamaa-bajuz gilaas goom
Na mai may kuchh kamii rahey, kadaa sey humdumi rahey
Nishast yeh jami rahey, yahi hamaa humii rahey
Vo raag chherh mutribaa, tarab-fizaa, alam-rubaa
Asar sadaa-e-saaz kaa, jigar may aag dey lagaa
Har ik lub pay ho sadaa, na haath rok saqiyaa
Pilaaye ja, pilaaye ja, pilaye jaa, pilaye ja

"I grieve not for openness or closeness, zenith or nadir
Existence - past or present, nor for promises of future creation
I have lost hope and despair, logic and presumptions
I see nothing around me, nothing except my goblet
Let there be no dearth of wine, my friendship with pub unstrained
Let the gathering live on, forever young and hectic
Sing such a melody, Lady singer, my soul surges, sorrows wane
Effect of instrumental music, sets my heart on fire
Let everyone implore, don't stop your hand bartender
Pour more, Pour more, Pour more, Pour more."

Rosh gazed silently back at him. Dev continued:

Yeh gasht kohsaar ki, yeh sair juu-e-vaar kii
Yeh bulbulon kay chah-chahey, yeh gulrukhon kay qah-qahey
Kisi say male ho gayaa, toh ranj-o-fikr kho gayaa
Kabhi jo bakht so gayaa, yeh hans gayaa vo ro gayaa
Yeh ishq kii kahaaniyaan, yeh ras bhari javaaniyaan
Udhar say mehrbaaniyaan, idhar say lantaraaniyaan
Yeh aasmaan yeh zameen, nazaara hai-dilnashiin
Unhey hayaat aafariin, bhalaa main, chhod doon yaheen
Hai maut is qadar qariin, mujhey na aayegaa yaqiin
Nahin nahin, abhi nahin, nahin nahin, abhi nahin

"This stroll on the mountain, this trek by a stream
Chirping nightingales, guffaws from lovely faces
Chancing upon your love, casts off grief and worries
According to their luck, some laugh, some weep
These tales of passion, these juicy youths
Some graciousness there, some boasting here
This sky, this earth, how heart-pleasing views
This praiseworthy life, how can I, renounce here
That death could be so near, I cannot believe
No no, not yet, no no, not yet)."

"She keeps repeating that she's still young," Rosh couldn't contain himself any longer, "but she's not javaan anymore."

"She knows she's in a race against time," said Dev, "but her spirit is not beaten yet. That's why such emphasis on 'Abhi', which literally means 'right now'. In the end, she concedes that youth is temporary. But for her it becomes everlasting, as she never accepts that she's lost it yet - not even at her last breath."

"She's in denial," Rosh blurted, then apologized quickly, "Allah maaf karey (begging God's forgiveness)!"

"She's young at heart," Dev smiled, "which any person can be, regardless of their age. She is allowed to be that, even in the evening of her life. Bodies have limitations, but mind obeys no boundaries. That's why it repeats - Abhi toh Main Jawaan Hun. I'm still young. So let me be."

"Magar kab tak (for how much longer)?" Rosh was baffled.

"Hope that mind can say it till the last breath," Dev said and got up to finish his evening chores.

Author note: Interestingly, Hafeez Jalandhari, the lyricist, died in 1982 at the age of 82. Dev, the fan, died in 1990, at the age of 86. Malika - the singer (born near Jammu, British India in 1912), outlived them both. She died in 2004 at the age of 93. Her various live renditions of this song are on YouTube. Notable amongst these include the one embedded in this story, which was a recording done by Doordarshan when Malika revisited India in mid 1980s. Doordarshan had also done an earlier recording with her in late 1970s. This is the one talked about in this story.

Other earlier renditions include audios only, one uploaded by Amjad Qureshi, which contains lyrics translated in english, and another uploaded by Tariq Akbar with lyrics shown in Urdu. Yet another is a 1962 recording done for BBC in Birmingham, when Mallika Pukhraj sang with her daughter Tahira Syed, then 15 and already a prodigy. Another notable is a slightly later rendition with Tahira, recorded in Pakistan by Pakistan Television, PTV. There is also a blog post containing Hafeez's legendary Urdu lyrics translated beautifully in english poetry by Harish Puri. Hindi translation of this story and the song lyrics can be found on TaleTown.Org here: अभी तो मैं जवान हूँ

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