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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Urdu & English - Sensitivity and Sensibility - Part 3

Author: Max Babi

Read more on this series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4

In the last instalment we saw the definitions of sensibility and sensitivity, let us continue with this topic, for the sake of clarity. Interestingly Jane Austen’s novel Sense & Sensibility, drew a line finer than we have drawn here. Let us see how scholars have distinguished between sense and sensibility first.

Sense – possessing judgment and intelligence.
Sensibility – capacity for refined emotional response to feelings and experiences, involving delicate sensitivity to moral and aesthetic issues.
Sensitivity – Sensitivity Meaning in Urduدرجہ  کا  حسّیت (hassiat ka darajjaa) which is derived from the Urdu word Hassaass meaning sensitive. 

Let’s now see their equivalents in Urdu, confining ourselves first only to sense and sensibility:
Sense is sha'oor
شعور -which need not be confined to a single interpretation, as most Urdu words have multiple meanings and these meanings often change in association with other words, for instance raah means the path, the road, the way. Rehnuma means one who shows the way; raahbar means almost the same; but raahzan means a robber, a highwayman.

Sha’oor can also imply, awareness or the state of being aware, consciousness, alertness, courage, even gumption. These meanings surf dangerously close to foolhardiness too. Thus we can see the beauty of multiple meanings: on the one hand we have sober meanings like sense and at the other end of the spectrum we have foolhardiness! Little wonder, lawyers can easily tie up ill-prepared witnesses into yogic knows that result in public embarrassment. Lawyers are trained to manipulate the interpretation of words, juxtaposition of words, and slow but steady changes in meanings whenever words come associated, with the inherent capability to be interpreted in multiple ways.


(v.t.) That which is felt or is held as a sentiment, view, or opinion; judgment; notion; opinion.
(v. t.) Sound perception and reasoning; correct judgment; good mental capacity; understanding; also, that which is sound, true, or reasonable; rational meaning.
(v. t.) Perception by the sensory organs of the body; sensation; sensibility; feeling.
(v. t.) Meaning; import; signification; as, the true sense of words or phrases; the sense of a remark.
(v. t.) Perception through the intellect; apprehension; recognition; understanding; discernment; appreciation.
(v. t.) A faculty, possessed by animals, of perceiving external objects by means of impressions made upon certain organs (sensory or sense organs) of the body, or of perceiving changes in the condition of the body; as, the senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.
(v. t.) Moral perception or appreciation.
(v. t.) To perceive by the senses; to recognize.

Related words are Common sense, Feel, Gumption, Sensation, Sentience, Sentiency, Signified, and many more to list here due to space constraints.

Sensibility also implies : the mental responsiveness and awareness. In Urdu it is احساس قوت (quwwat-e-ehsaas) or the power to sense or feel. Sensibility could also imply:

  1. The ability to feel or perceive. 

    1. Keen intellectual perception: the sensibility of a painter to colour.
    2. Mental or emotional responsiveness toward something, such as the feelings of another. 
  2. Receptiveness to impression, whether pleasant or unpleasant; acuteness of feeling. Often used in the plural: "The sufferings of the Cuban people shocked our sensibilities" (George F. Kennan). 
  3. Refined awareness and appreciation in matters of feeling. 
  4. The quality of being affected by changes in the environment. 

There are scientific shades, legal meanings, biological implications much more:

  1. Capacity for feeling; responsiveness to sensory stimuli. 
  2. Mental susceptibility or responsiveness. 
  3. Often, sensibilities. acute capacity to respond to blame or praise. 
  4. Often, sensibilities. capacity for intellectual and aesthetic discrimination: a person of refined sensibilities. 
  5. The property, as in plants or instruments, of being readily affected by external influences. 
Now let us focus on some poetry in Urdu and try and ‘transcreate’  it in English, keeping in view these definitions of sense and sensibility.

I have chosen one of the greatest, most graceful and incisively poignant poets of our time, the late Parveen Shakir of Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan. She was a powerful poet, a feminist and one who honestly believed in woman power despite living in a country where it would be ridiculed.

Let’s see this she’r first:

Wo tau khushbu hai, hawaon main bikhar jaye ga
Masla phool ka hai,  phool kidher jayega?

He is fragrance and would waft in the air
the problem lies with the flower - where shall the flower go?

Focusing first on the Urdu she’r, or the couplet, we find that she has used the allegory of aroma for her man, expressing her terror that he is merely a whiff of fragrance, and he will disperse away forever, never to come back again, or be traced or found. But, she asks, what about the flower? This question hides beneath its innocent exterior an agonizing set of questions. The flower that housed the fragrance, the flower in a way produced the aroma, sustained it and finally helped in distributing it too, what else but to wither away, pining away for an integral part of her own existence. There are undertones of eroticism because the poet herself symbolises the flower, and she suggests that the wayward whiff of fragrance, once a very integral part of her own existence has suddenly chosen to get friendly with the breeze and ditch her.

Firstly the metaphor of the male lover being a mere fragrance, transient, unreliable and likely to be whisked away by the first mischievous breeze that happens to come by, is a potent one. By making herself the flower, the poet actually reduces the overall worth of the fragrance that will be spreading well for a day or two and then desert her. Thus she seems to exult in her permanence, her rootedness and her expanses -for she is the life-giver, she has produced the fragrance by very complex biological and biochemical reactions, most of all, she has known what lies in store, and yet she has merrily discharged her own duty, and allowed nature to take its ugly course. She is doomed to a slightly longer life of loneliness.

About Max Babi:

Mushtaque Ali Khan Babi AKA Max Babi is a multilingual writer, poet who likes a wide variety of formats - whose life is full of oxymoronic shades, a polymath who went from being a specialist to a generalist to a versatilist. Mentoring by being a catalyst enthralls him, writes on serendipity and intuition, conducts workshops a range of subjects and topics. A very friendly Santa Claus.

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