Monthly Archives: April 2015

The Kafka Dozen

Franz_Kafka_1910Grave_of_Kafka         TrialKafka

      Photo taken in 1910               Kafka’s Gravestone                 Cover of “The Trial”                                  

Although taken four decades ago from the diary of Franz Kafka, the reason why I post “The Kafka Dozen” now in a poetic format of my own crafting is mainly because of the Czech writer’s book “The Trial” (Ger. Der Prozess) that was published 90 years ago in 1915; and also due to my own enduring fascination with it – and his other writings – over the past 40 years.

It was in September 1974 in my native India that I came up with the idea of delving into Kafka’s most personal work in a way that would help any reader of the day to plumb his creative depths and insights. He was such a seminal writer of ‘old’ Europe that his name gave birth to the term ‘Kafkaesque’ in English and other European languages.

Readers of this blog will be interested to learn that the measure of Kafka’s appeal and value as a writer was quantified in 1988, when his handwritten manuscript of The Trial was sold at auction for $1.98 million, at that point the highest price ever paid for a modern manuscript. The buyer, a West German book dealer, gushed after his purchase was finalized: “This is perhaps the most important work in 20th-century German literature,” he said, “and Germany had to have it.” Then in 1999 The Trial was listed in Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century and as No. 2 of the Best German Novels of the Twentieth Century.

My own memorable journey, accompanied by my wife Lolita, took place in February 2012 when we flew from New York to Prague, where during our active week’s vacation there we visited the Franz Kafka Museum in addition to attending a host of musical events – concerts and recitals – devoted to Dvorak and other famous Czech composers. It was a dream come true! But we did take some quality time off to visit the New Jewish Cemetery, a beautiful idyllic area, where we saw Kafka’s gravestone inscribed with his name along with those of some of his deceased family members.

Kafka Visit1

Kafka Visit2

With all that said and done, I now go ahead to append below at some length my presentation of The Kafka Dozen for your discernment and, I hope, enjoyment!

1. Mornings & Evenings

And those mornings,
You look out of the window,
Move the chair
away from the bed
And sit down to coffee.

And these evenings,
You prop up your arm
And hold you ear
in your hand.
Yes, if only that weren’t all!

2. He Has Only
He has only the moment,
the everlasting moment
of torment;
He has only one thing
always: his pain;
He has only as much ground
as his two feet take up
……..only as much of a hold
as his two hands encompass.

3. This Bachelor
This bachelor
with his thin clothes,
his art of prayer,
his enduring legs,
his lodgings
that he’s afraid of,
with his otherwise patched-up existence
now brought out again after a long period –
This bachelor holds all this together –
with his two arms………..

4. As If
It is as if I were made of stone
as if I were my own tombstone.
There is no loophole
for doubt or for faith
for love or repugnance,
for courage or anxiety,
in particular or general,
Only a vague hope lingers on,
but no better than
the inscriptions on tombstones.
Almost every word I write
jars against the next.
I hear the consonants rub
leadenly against each other
And the vowels sing
an accompaniment
Like Negroes
in a minstrel show.
My doubts stand
in a circle around every word,
I see them
before I see the word,
But what then!
I do not see the word at all,
I invent it.

[Note: Contrast II & III above with Matthew
12:36-37, paraphrased below:
That every idle word that men shall speak,
They shall account for on the day of judgment.
For by thy words thou shalt be justified,
And by thy words thou shalt be condemned.]

5. His Breathing
His breathing was loud
like sighs in a dream,
Where unhappiness is
more easily borne
_ Than in our world! –
so that
Simple breathing can serve
as sighs.

6. The Fishermen
Who could deny
that the fishermen
Sit there in their boats
like pupils
Who’ve been taken out
to the river from school.
Good, their immobility
is often incomprehensible,
Like that of flies
on windowpanes.
And over the bridge
go the trams,
Naturally as always
with a roaring rude as the wind’s,
And they sound
like spoiled clocks.

7. Distance
Distance already holds this life
firm in tranquility,
These diaries set fire
to it. The clarity
Of all the events
makes it mysterious,
Just as a park fence
rests the eye
When looking at
broad tracts of turf,
And yet inspires
inadequate respect in us.

8. Lucubration
It is midnight, but since I have slept
very well, that’s an excuse only
to the extent that by day
I would have written nothing.

The burning electric light,
the silent house, the darkness outside,
the last waking moments, they give me
the right to write even if it be
only the most miserable stuff.

9. My Education
My education has done me great harm:
A little dweller in the ruins,
burnt by the sun
Which woyuld have shone form me
there on the tepid ivy
This reproach twists
through society like a dagger.
Forgotten energy may hold
these persons fast in memory
I make of my reproach
and laughter a drumbeat
Sending into the world beyond.

10. Corruptor of Youth
Yes, a good racing chariot
is the first to be pursued
And overtaken by dust and wind
And its wheels fly over obstacles
So that one might almost
believe in love.

11. Whether Or No
Whether I lie here in the gutter
And stow away the rain water
Or drink champagne with the same lips
Up there under the chandelier makes
No difference to me.

12. You
‘You’, I said,
and gave him a little
shove with my knee.
But who’ll take you under the arm,
strengthen you with wine
in a nearby tavern?
And then lead you
to his room which,
miserable as it is,
Still has a few
panes of glass
between itself and the night.

 Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

The Elise Engima – Who was She?

Elisabeth_Röckel julianeTherese_Malfatti_Anonymus

Top: Elizabeth
Middle: Juliane
Bottom: Therese
 The Three Faces of “Elise”
Who was She?

“Who was she?” is still an enigma because of competing theories, but of the three pictured above, Theory I below seems to me to be the most plausible.

Theory I: She was reputed to be Therese Malfatti (1 January 1792 – 27 April 1851), who was an Austrian musician and a pupil of Ludwig van Beethoven. He fell in love with her and decided to propose marriage to her. His plans came to naught. On her death, the original manuscript was found in her effects. It was taken to a music publisher, who immediately recognized the notation as being in Beethoven’s hand and decided to publish it posthumously. He published it under the title Bagatelle, but apparently misread the dedication. “Für Elise” appeared on the top of the title page, and the piece – quite possibly the most famous piano music Beethoven ever composed, probably because practically anyone can play it! – has been known by that name ever since.

Theory II – According to a 2010 study by Klaus Martin Kopitz, there is evidence that the piece was written for the German soprano singer Elisabeth Röckel (1793–1883), later the wife of Johann Nepmuk Hummel.  “Elise” – as she was called by a parish priest (she also called herself “Betty”) – had been a friend of Beethoven’s since 1808.

Theory III – In 2012, the Canadian musicologist Rita Steblin suggested that Juliane Katharine Elisabet Barensfeld, who used “Elise” as a variant first name, might be the dedicatee. Born in Regensburg and treated for a while as a child prodigy, she first travelled on concert tours with Beethoven’s friend Johann Nepomuk Malzel, also from Regensburg, and then lived with him for some time in Vienna where she received singing lessons from Antonio Salieri. Steblin argues that Beethoven dedicated this work to the 13-year-old Elise Barensfeld as a favour to Therese Malfatti who lived opposite Mälzel’s and Barensfeld’s residence and who might have given her piano lessons. Steblin admits that question marks remain for her hypothesis.



An MP3 version of the piece can be found here, performed by Valentina Lisitsa:

The score of Für Elise was not published until 1867, 40 years after Beethoven’s death in 1827. The discoverer of the piece, Ludwig Nohl, affirmed that the original autographed manuscript, now lost, was dated 27 April 1810.

Then, along came German organ scholar Johannes Quack, who proffered the idea that the letters that spell Elise could be decoded as the first three notes of the piece. Because an E♭ is called an Es in German and is pronounced as “S”, that makes E–(L)–(I)–S–E: E–(L)–(I)–E♭–E, which by enharmonic equivalents sounds the same as the written notes E–(L)–(I)–D♯–E.

So there you have it! Three plausible theories of which only one can be truly authentic, or authenticated by musicologists.

Why not weigh in with your own determination – Theory I, II or III! – by e-mailing me at when you feel that you do have a definitive answer.

– Multiple sources used, including Wikipedia and Encyclopedia of Concert Music –

100th Death Anniversary of Scriabin – April 27, 1915


Alexander Scriabin
[Born Moscow, Jan. 6, 1872; died there, April 27, 1915]

Despite his creative and personal eccentricities, I have always found Alexander Scriabin to be one of the most fascinating composers of the 20th century, mainly because of his passion for the unusual and sometimes bizarre.

As the late musicologist, David Ewen, wrote in his Encyclopedia of Concert Music, the young Russian’s “early musical education was so haphazard that for a long time he was unable to read music. Nevertheless, so pronounced was his talent that when, in his seventh year, he played the piano for Anton Rubinstein, the latter said: ‘Let the child develop in freedom. Everything will come out in time.'”

In 1888 Scriabin entered the Moscow Conservatory, where he proved to be a brilliant student under, among others, Arensky. Despite an affliction that affected his right hand, he won the gold medal in piano playing and went on to become a piano virtuoso and accomplished composer. From 1898 to 1903 he taught piano at his alma mater, and in the last year there completed The Divine Poem, a symphonic work, followed in 1908 by another symphony, The Poem of Ecstasy, which won the Glinka Prize for composition.

Besides his symphonic output and a piano concerto, Scriabin’s principal works were for piano solo: 10 sonatas, 89 preludes, 26 etudes, and impromptus, waltzes and other pieces. However, while those compositions demonstrated that he was one of Russia’s most important figures in the world of piano music, his writing began to become episodic, atonal,  and indeed mystical. One of his chord inventions was constructed in fourths, namely, C, F-sharp, B-flat, E, A, D, and became known as the “Mystery Chord.”


Later on, he aspired to have his  own expanded version of “Mystery” – a summation of man’s history from the dawn of civilization to its final destruction – performed in a temple  especially built for it in India. He never realized that dream, and now only a few random sketches of that music remain.

That was not all! When visiting the United States in 1906, where he made his debut in New York on December 21 with the Russian Symphony in his piano concerto, his subsequent tour of the country  was cut short to avoid the U.S. government’s charge of moral turpitude: the composer was then traveling with his common-law wife.

In 1914 Scriabin played in England. His last performance took place in St. Petersburg on April 15, 1915. He succumbed to an infection which brought on a fatal gangrene twelve days later.

On a personal note, after my early immersion in New Delhi, India, in Chopin’s 24 Etudes as a budding concert pianist, I came across Scriabin’s Etudes Opus 8, 42, 65 as a revelation for me into a new tonality: of course, my favorite Etude Op. 8 No. 8 (the tattered copy of which I still treasure in my possession) along with some of his earlier pieces owe a great deal to Chopin – they are poetic, sensitive, and beautifully crafted. But he struck out thereafter, charting hitherto unknown pianistic realms outside the classical norm and accepted romantic formulae.

One aspect of the composer’s life that resonated with me was his enduring belief and innate conviction that sound had color as manifested in ones indescribable perception while performing a piano work in a particular key. As a child, I was gifted with ‘perfect pitch’ but, over and above that, I personally ‘knew’ instinctively that because D flat major ‘meant’ or ‘conveyed’ to me a shade of red that I adored, any composition in that key I would play or compose myself had a hidden, esoteric meaning that I couldn’t quite explain. All I knew was that such a work absorbed my complete attention and helped no end in my interpreting it to my fullest satisfaction.

How did that come about? I didn’t have a clue in India, but I have learned only in recent years about synesthesia, or the strange phenomenon  of the nexus between those two primary senses of the human brain – using the ear for sound and the eye for color – that in a few rare cases among human beings transcends the obvious and reaches into another ethereal universe of living in a world that their musical peers cannot comprehend.

For instance, why does a C-major  key induce a striking blue in some creative types that transfers into  a martial piece of music in a composer’s mind? Why does an E-major key evoke in others a calm and melodic expression? And what about an A-minor key, which often brings about a feeling of sadness that few other minor keys do? And so on and on.

In my eighth decade on this planet I am still not quite sure I have the answer as an avowed synesthete……….]

Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

Youri Egorov – Fond Remembrance of His “Fleeting Brilliance”

It was on April 15, 1988 that Youri died in Amsterdam,
Holland, of AIDS.  His meteoriYouri Egorovc career was cut short tragically by – as a reporter of The Philadelphia Inquirer  put it – “bad habits.”

All I know, having hosted him down in Miami and West Palm Beach, Florida, for a week in 1979, that he was truly rising to be one of the few young classical pianists of his age to encompass both the romantic and modern idioms with equal ease – at least on the surface!

Beneath that youthful exterior lay a determination to conquer the most profound and difficult scores of the era he lived in. His plan of action was clear: first the romantics, then the Russian composers, and only then the likes of the ‘old’ classics such as Beethoven. In 1981, seven years before his untimely death, he is reported in an interview as saying: “I am not nearly ready for the late sonatas of Beethoven. I will not play them for another ten or twenty years.” On another occasion, he was asked about what the music he played meant to him. His frank response: “I can’t explain this. That is why I play the piano.”

Fortunately for music lovers,  Canal Grande has bequeathed to our generation a series of three Legacy Recordings memorializing his playing when he was at his peak. The third one, which I treasure in my CD collection, includes Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 8, Op. 84 in B Major and Shostakovich’s Sonata No. 2, Op. 64. Youri was always sparing about his personal feelings, even with his closest friends, but on the middle movement of The Eighth Sonata he did write to one of them: “When I play the middle of the third movement, I get goose flesh. I find it terrifying. And then you don’t really know whether it will end in the major or the minor key. In the end I believe that it is minor.”

Youri Egorov

Youri as a Young Man.

In remembering Youri on his death anniversary, we must take comfort in the fact that beside his fleeting brilliance in the Western musical world, he left behind an enduring legacy around the planet of his phenomenal technique and scintillating performances.

Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

[Youri’s Background taken from Wikipedia:
Born in Kazan, USSR,  Youri Egorov studied music at the Kazan Conservatory from the age of 6 until age 17. At the age of 17, in 1971, Egorov took 4th Prize in Paris at the Marguerite Long-Jacques Thibaud Competition. He next studied at the Moscow Conservatory with Yakov Zak. Egorov remained at the Moscow Conservatory for six years. In 1974, Egorov won the Bronze Medal at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. In 1975, he was awarded the 3rd Prize at the Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition of Belgium.

Egorov defected from the Soviet Union in 1976 while on a concert tour in Rome, Italy and travelled to Amsterdam where he was to meet his long-term partner.

In 1977 Egorov participated in the Van Cliburn Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. He became an audience favorite. When he was not chosen as a finalist, a group of patrons and Cliburn board members formed an ad-hoc committee led by Cliburn trustee Beverley Taylor Smith and American impresario Maxim Gershunoff, which raised money equal to the Van Cliburn top prize of $10,000 to further Egorov’s career by funding a New York debut. The South African Steven DeGroote took the first place award that year. Gershunoff as Egorov’s American manager presented his New York recital debut in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on January 23, 1978. Three months later to the day, he appeared in Chicago and a critic there dubbed his performance “the debut of the decade.” In July, 1978, Musical America Magazine selected Youri Egorov as their “Musician of the Month”. He made his Carnegie Hall debut on December 16, 1978 once again under the aegis of Gershunoff. The concert was recorded live. Writing for The New York Times, Harold Schonberg said Egorov played “…in a free, romantic style, and his approach is quite different from that of so many competition winners.”

In August 1979, two of Egorov’s albums appeared on Billboard Magazine’s Best-Selling Classical LP chart. Throughout the 1980s Egorov played primarily in Europe. His last American appearance was in Florida in 1986.

Egorov was featured in the book “Great Contemporary Pianists Speak for Themselves” compiled by Elyse Mach. In it, he spoke candidly on the topics of rehearsal, pre-concert nervousness, artistic restrictions in Russia, and homosexuality. Sviatoslav Richter, Dinu Lipatti, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, Vladimir Horowitz and Glenn Gould are among the pianists Youri Egorov cited as having influenced him.

Egorov died at his home in Amsterdam from what was believed to be complications of AIDS. Egorov was 33 years old. At the time of his death 14 recordings of his had been commercially issued, and several more were awaiting release.

Parallels have been drawn between the playing styles of Youri Egorov and Dinu Lipatti. Additionally, both men gave their final concert performances at the age of 33, each knowing at the time that he was afflicted with a fatal illness and had but months to live.

Egorov’s posthumously released CD, “Legacy 2: Youri Egorov”, received the “Perfect Five-Star Rating” from CD Review Magazine.]


“Call me Ed – We’re off to Auschwitz!”

So began an unforgettable – but, in the end, horrific – Edward_Gierek_1980experience for me on my first visit to Poland. Ed was Edward Gierek, the No. 2 in the governing Communist Party, the Deputy Prime Minister who was to be my host for a week, and he had offered to drive me to Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi death camp. [Ed’s picture alongside was taken in 1980.]

I was taken aback, but Ed assured me that it was essential I should see for myself what his country and its Jewish population had suffered under the Nazi regime before we got down to the business of my company in India purchasing vitally needed mining machinery. Fortunately, the weather was benign and our stopover at Katowice permitted Ed to relate to me his and his family’s connection to that city’s mining industry. Indeed, his father had been killed in a mining accident, and he had therefore vowed to use his present powerful position to improve safety conditions in the industry nationwide.

After the hustle and bustle of a major mining center, the chilling all-pervading silence on our arrival in Auschwitz was in stark contrast. Ed encouraged me to spend time there alone and abruptly left me to myself and my own thoughts. Without any interruption, I walked and walked taking in one harrowing scene after another, that the world seemed to have abandoned, until I couldn’t take it any more. Indeed, it was at that point that I sank to my knees in the corner of one of the austere buildings and was utterly still…..

[Background: To put the above into historical context, I had invited Mr.  Gierek in his capacity as the Minister of Mines to visit my Sijua headquarters in the State of Bihar, as the Government of India was in dire need of increasing its energy and steel production capacity. I knew from my research that his country was the only one that manufactured the deep-mining equipment that we needed to deploy in our 1,200 ft. deep mines in Bihar, in order to exploit the rich seams below with reduced labor costs and high output.

I picked Mr. Gierek up from Calcutta’s Dum Dum International Airport off his flight from Warsaw via New Delhi, and we flew together in my company plane directly to Dhanbad. During his visit over several days I was impressed by his technical knowledge and eye for detail, and he in turn grasped the fact that our mining engineers were more than capable of using the modern equipment to good effect after suitable training underground.

He, therefore, invited me to visit him in Warsaw, and shortly thereafter, I did so and was picked up at the airport by a Ministry official,  who took me directly to his superior. On entering his office,  the Minister welcomed me warmly and his opening words were: “Call me Ed – we’re off to Auschwitz via Katowice, as soon as you’ve freshened up after your long air journey from Calcutta!”]


How I Haiku

BashoMatsuo Basho (1644-1694)

Since posting a number of blogs that mention and, indeed, highlight haiku – one of the most popular Japanese forms of poetry – I’ve received feedback inviting me to describe how  I haiku. It’s no easy task, as going back to 1958 no less an authority than Harold G. Henderson, who authored “An Introduction to Haiku”, wrote in despair about translating the sixth poem (shown below among others) of Matsuo Basho, the most famous of all Japanese poets of haiku. “I wish that some genius could find the proper English for this haiku. I myself have not been able to do so after twenty-five years of trying……”
I’m no genius, but I gave it my best shot 16 years later in 1974 with the opening line: Grasses summer-ripe.

To my mind, the true haiku operates  at two levels, as it were, and much of the effect is lost in translation. However, in order to salvage something of the original three-line syllabic verse (17 syllables arranged 5, 7, 5) most of the 10 poems I’ve chosen from Basho’s collection have been translated using the same number of syllables.

On the other hand, some of those poems would have become too verbose and unwieldy had I stuck to the traditional Japanese formula. I’ve therefore rendered them with brevity, my substitute for form being rhyme and half-rhyme. Examples below are found in the second, seventh and ninth poems.

To be quite honest, I’ve injected the longer forms of the remaining seven poems with medial and internal rhymes or assonance – albeit as unobtrusively as possible but with un-Japanese metric accents, without which the English rendering would in my opinion have been pallid and prosaic.

Henderson’s bête noire that is the sixth poem, and perhaps the equally if not more difficult  fifth one because it can mean so many different things, are in startling contrast to the tenth and last one, with which Basho bowed out of this world at the age of only fifty.

The famous “crow” poem,
which was the forerunner
in exploiting the “principle
of internal comparison.”

On a blighted bough
a crow lights for a shakedown –
fall of autumn night. [1679]


Spring, all hail!
A nameless hill
In morning-veil. [1685]

Harvest Moon
Now and then the clouds
unload men of a burden –
looking at the moon.

Thus begins the Fall:
the ocean and the rice-field –
both the selfsame green. [1688]
So begins all art:
remote inland, a sing-song
midst the rice-planting. [1689]

Grasses summer-ripe:
the pipedreams of old warriors –
all that’s left to them.

How still!
A rock-drill –
The locust’s shrill.

Blows the autumn wind:
behind yet stays a greenness –
husk of the chestnut. [1691]

Lightning gleam:
Into the gloom
a heron’s scream. [1694]

Travel-sickness dreams:
on drought-struck fields they still go
wandering about.

Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

Günter Grass – Blunt and Forceful in Calcutta!

Gunter Grass

Günter Grass
AP Photograph 2007

It was, by West Bengal standards, a cold January morning 40 years ago in 1975 that I responded to an invitation from my good friend, Prof. P. Lal, who single-handedly ran the Writers’ Workshop in Lake Gardens, Calcutta, to attend his monthly poetry symposium: the once-in-a-lifetime event that winter season was the special guest – and provocateur – Günter Grass, the West German novelist/poet/dramatist, who was in the City for a few days.

Herr Grass had not arrived at the appointed time of ten a.m. that Sunday, but the poetry reading was called to order and some of those in attendance read out their poems to sounds of appreciation. Eventually, the honored guest turned up – a burly gentleman with long hair and a walrus moustache – and seated himself without any formality midst the audience.
Gunter Grass 1972                                                             Photo taken 5 years earlier in 1970

A few more poems were read out – sweet and mellifluous – about Nature’s fruits and flowers, etc. etc. And then, in sheer exasperation, I got up and asked Herr Grass if he would like to say something…. My word! He had a lot to say – bluntly and forcefully!

He said, to wit, that he’d read in advance about the City’s woeful statistics on poverty, corruption and squalor, but that shock of the people’s suffering had been compounded this morning by the poetry reading session, which was completely divorced from the surrounding social context and its brutal reality.

He spoke quite dispassionately, but his words stunned the audience of would-be Bengali poets and they were quite vociferous in making their feelings known. However, after the tumult had died down, Gunter Grass’s own poetry in English translation was read out by Prof. Lal – to good and lasting effect.

Later on, I had the opportunity of having a one-on-one session with Herr Grass and was able to share with him my interest in his published works, including the iconic The Tin Drum, as well as his plays, The Plebeians, Rehearse the Uprising, Flood, Onkel Onkel, Only Ten Minutes to Buffalo and The Wicked Cooks. My particular favorite book, Dog Years, he was gracious enough to autograph for my library (see below):

Dog Years Autograph 001NB: The English date I wrote on the inner cover of Dog Years would in America read 2/9/75

Günter’s aficionados will sorely miss him now that he has departed us earthlings for the Elysium fields this sad day – April the 13th.

 Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

Lief Ove Andsnes


Lief Ove Andsnes

Ever onward and upward – as Lief’s photograph suggests! Norwegians are known world-wide for their questing explorers of old plying oceans for territories unknown. Yet, on a more mundane earth-bound plane, Lief’s no shirker, play-it-safe pianist, in today’s international competitive concertizing. For example, he waited patiently over a couple of decades until he felt that he could do justice to performing all of Beethoven’s five piano concertos according to his sensibilities before bedazzling us with his new recordings of them that were awarded by the BBC with its best prize for  2015 on his birthday today, April 8, 2015. What an astounding achievement, which is memorialized in this website:

For the past four years award-winning filmmaker Phil Grabsky has journeyed with Leif Ove Andsnes as he and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra undertook to play and record the five Beethoven piano concerti in top venues around the world.
The film captures what became a series of 5-star reviewed performances and then CDs. It also offers Leif Ove’s articulate and fresh insight into some of the greatest music ever written and its composer Ludwig van Beethoven. You can sign up for the newsletter at and check out the trailer here:

Urdu Poet Allama Mohammed Iqbal

IqbalPART IIntroduction

I’ve received a spate of inquiries from the Indian subcontinent and elsewhere about the poet Sir Muhammad Iqbal, widely known in his beloved homeland as Allama Mohammed Iqbal (b.  November 9, 1877, d. April 21, 1938.) It was his poem I featured in my last blog that I entitled “Tulips – The Beginning of Spring” in my transcreation into English of his original Urdu verses.

PART IILawyer and Politician

Be it noted that Iqbal was also a lawyer and politician: he was highly educated in universities and law schools in both England and Germany.

On the political front, it was Iqbal – back in British India – who mooted the two-nation theory to up-and-coming lawyer and nationalist Mohammad Ali Jinnah;  and, yet, it was Iqbal who came up with the popular sloganeering phrase:

“Our India is the Best Country in the World!”
That sounds much better in Urdu, because it is so poetically conceived:
Thus, in Roman Urdu it reads as:
“Sare jahan se achcha hindustan hamara!”
(literally, “Our Hindustan is better than the Whole World!”)
and the original Urdu is shown below.

سارے جَهان سے اَچّها هِندوستان هَمارا

PART IIIThe Poet of the East

I’m closing this week’s blog on Easter Day – April 5,  2015 – with an apolitical, lyrical description of nature entitled “God’s Creation” by Iqbal, who was labeled by the literati of the subcontinent as “The Poet of the East.”

In the following four lines Iqbal has wrought a miracle by employing economy of expression to achieve immensity of impression: the alliteration in the first and third lines, though using the same labial consonant m, gives rise to movements which seem quite different – one of grandeur, the other of power. In metapoeia the voice has been preserved, and I do believe that the feel of the original movements is likewise kept intact and transmitted through the majestic flow of the iambic pentameter.


Tiri dunya jahan-i murgh o mahi.
Miri dunya fighan-i subhagahi.
Tiri dunya men main makhkum o majbur,
miri dunya men teri padsahi.

The world of fish and fowl is God’s creation.
The world of man is daybreak lamentation.
Subjected and subdued am I in Thine,
But Thou has dominion over mine.

تِری دُنیا جَهانِ مُرغ و ماهی
مِری دُنیا فِغانِ صُبحگاهی
تِری دُنیا میں مَیں مَخکوُم و مَجبُور
مِری دُنیا میں تیری پادشاهی

One may perhaps conclude that the school of poetry inaugurated by Hali – one of the great masters of the Urdu ruba’i or quatrain – came to an end with Iqbal. Yet, there is nothing to prevent the progressive poet of today from finding inspiration in, say, modern English poetry and ushering in a vital new era in the history of the Indian ruba’i.

 Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

Tulips – The Beginning of Spring!

Tulip Fields
[Tulips herald the beginning of the spring season. The flowers are at their peak in the month of April. But due to changes in weather conditions, the dates of the full bloom usually change by a week or two each year.
Tulip Festivals are one of the most popular tourist attractions of the host cities and surroundings.  For instance, the festival in Albany, New York, is one of the largest annual events held in the city. It attracts thousands of spectators to Washington Park where the festival is organized.
Every year it is celebrated on Mother Day’s weekend, and in 2015 that is, May 9th and 10th. Thousands of blooming tulips in a wide variety of colors will be on display.]

Tulips have a long history preceding their appearance in these United States. The celebrated Urdu poet, Iqbal, wrote the following poem, which was inspired by his witnessing the spring miracle in the upper reaches of his Indian homeland. The transcreation below of his lovely verse is mine, followed by the original Urdu for those familiar with its poetic fantasy:

The hills and dales are alight
with tulip bulbs again
The nightingales have roused
me anew to this refrain:

Are these wildflowers,
are they fairies, row upon row?
Dressed in robes of rampant
purple, blue and yellow?

پهِر چِراغ لاله سے روشَن
هوُےُ کوه و دَمَن
مُجکو  پهِر  نَعمون پر اُکسانے
لَگا مُرغِ چَمَن
پهوُل هَیں صَنِحرا میں یا
پَرِیان قطار اَندَر  قطار
اُودے اُودے، نیلے نیلے،
پِیلے پِیلے پَیرَ هَن

 Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas