Oh memories of my beloved haunt me! Alas, I cannot bear this grief! I am yet young but my bed is forlorn; my youth is passing by – Alas! The cuckoo, my enemy, coos his song. Bereft of my beloved, my heart burns. Yes, I am kept awake all night without my beloved! Alas!
Does grief bring forth song? The answer is yes, it can and does! Laments and dirges are expressions of grief in many societies. These are old ways from time immemorial; the bible refers to laments, as do the Vedas and ancient Greek books like the Iliad and Odyssey. I have read some death poetry of the Japanese, almost surreal and other-worldly. I have heard haunting Irish laments. I have heard Scottish dirges played on mournful bagpipes; a sound which makes the hair at the back of my neck stand! In India too, death can lead to song. In some Tamil communities, they (used to?) sing Oppari lamenting the dead. Do you remember the Hindi film Rudaali? That too featured a story of the professional mourners of Rajasthan who cried and sang laments for the dead. So yes, indeed, grief can bring forth song.
Today I present just such a song. It is a Thumri but in essence, it is a lament. Written by the great Maestro Bade Ghulam Ali Khan on the death of his wife who passed in 1932, it has certainly stood the test of time! This is in the Punjabi Thumri style, which is faster paced and sounds generally ‘lighter’ than traditional Thumris. Translated with a bit of artistic license, he says ‘Oh memories of my beloved haunt me! Alas, I cannot bear this grief!’. He was only 30 when his wife died. ‘I am yet young but my bed is forlorn! Alas, my youth is passing by!’. Was he crying for himself or his wife? A bit of both, I think. ‘Bereft of my wife, my heart burns’ he says. See footnote for lyrics and translation. The song is set to the Hindustani raag Bhinna Shadaj. For those interested in the intricacies of this raga, there is an excellent article here.
Let us first hear the great Maestro himself who was and will always remain an iconic presence in the world of Hindustani Classical music. As the uploaded does not allow embedding, listen from 3:32 in the following link.
I was reminded of this song today by a live performance by Ustad Rashid Khan that I happened to watch on youtube recently. He has such an amazing voice! For me, this is the perfect classical male voice – rich and resonant, full-bodied with the undertones of a certain kharash, a certain texture. I could listen to him all day!
And lastly a very ‘light’ sounding version by another Ustad whom I have featured before, an Ustad who enchants me with his magical control over his voice. Here is Ajoy Chakrabarty with almost a playful rendition of this lament (listen to him cooing!) Note how beautifully he weaves in Basant Bahar towards the end. [Edit – Sigh, this video has disappeared from YouTube, I am saving this paragraph in the hope of finding it again]
Footnote (Lyrics) :
Composer : Bade Ghulam Ali Khan
Raga : Bhinna Shadaj
Language : Hindi
याद पिया की आये
यह दुःख सहा ना जाये- हाये राम
बाली उमरिया सूनी रे (alt: री ) सजरिया
जोबन बीतो (alt: बीता) जाये- हाये राम
बैरी कोयलिया कूक सुनावे (alt: सुनाये )
मुझ बिरहन का जियरा जलावे (alt: जलाये )
हाँ पी बिन रैन जगाये (alt : पी बिन रहा ना जाये) – हाये राम
yAd piyA kI AyE
yeh dukh sahA na jAyE – hAyE rAm
bAlI umariyA sUnI rI sajariyA
jOban bItO / bItA jAyE – hAyE rAm
bairI koyaliyA kUk sunAyE
mujh birhan kA jiyarA jalAyE
hA.n – pI bin rain jagAyE (alt: rahA nA jAyE ) – hAyE rAm
Oh memories (yAd) of my beloved (piyA kI) haunt me (AyE = come)! Alas (hAyE rAm), I cannot bear (sahA na jAyE) this grief (dukh)!
I am yet young (bAlI umariyA) but my bed (sajariyA) is forlorn (sUnI);
my youth (jOban) is passing by (bItO jAyE) – Alas (hAyE rAm)!
The cuckoo (koyaliyA), my enemy (bairI), coos (kUk sunAyE) his song (implied).
and burns (jalayE) the heart (jiyarA) of (kA) me (mujh), the bereft (birhan).
Yes (hA.n) – I am kept awake (jagAyE) all night (rain) without (bin) my beloved (pI) ! Alas (hAyE rAm)!
(Alt: I cannot bear to be without my beloved!)