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Monday, September 1, 2014

Urdu & English - Sensitivity and Sensibility - Part 4

Author: Max Babi

Read more on this series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Qata’a, a popular genre in Urdu poetry, is derived from an Arabic root meaning 'to cut' or 'to cut off' and a qata’a is, literally, a piece, a cutting, a segment or a detached piece. Or a fragment. One can explain the origin of the word qata’a with the help of Urdu, Arabic and Persian dictionaries which inform us that the correct pronunciation in Arabic is qita but in Urdu qata’a has also been validated by several dictionaries. An interesting aside : Urdu script, formally known as ‘nastaliq’ (meaning sophisticated, exalted, so on and so forth) does not really use zeer or zabar or pesh, which are those lovely little twiddles over or below or in front of a letter. This means, a simple word like safar, consisting of just three consonants, s, f, and r, can be written as safar. but can be read as sifar or sofar or sofor etc. This can confuse the newbie no end, of course.

Qata’a, according to Urdu language and poetry scholars, is among the oldest and the longest surviving genres of Urdu, the others being qaseeda and ghazal. Though initially qata’a formed a part of qaseeda or ghazal as an intra-connected or unified segment or a detached piece that could also be read independently from the original work, it established itself as an independent genre. Some began giving qata’a a title, too, and it became a kind of a poem. When considered on the basis of form, qata’a resembles ghazal, qaseeda and rubaai which have a qafiya, or a rhyming syllable, at the end of every line in the first couplet and then at the end of the second line in the each of the following couplet. But for a ghazal and a rubaai, it is must to have a matla, the first couplet with both the lines having a rhyming syllable at the end, whereas a qata’a may or may not have a matla. By the way, matla, an Arabic word, literally means 'a place from where the sun rises' and since the ghazal begins or peeps from the first couplet, hence the name. How poetic!

An example:

Tum na aana waqt k darya main beh kar is taraf.
Main to machli ki tarah uljha huwa hun jaal main

    — Arif Farhad

Transcreation attempt:

Please do not come to this side of the river,
like a fish I am stuck in a net.

Just like qaseeda and ghazal, a qata’a can be composed in any bahr, or metre, but rubaai has to be composed in the predetermined auzaan (the plural of ‘wazan’, literally weights) or poetic measures — which, according to some, are 24 in number. A qata’a must contain a minimum of two couplets. And while there is no restriction on the maximum number of couplets in a qata’a, a good qata’a may not exceed 15 couplets. Another feature considered a must for qata’a is, as opposed to ghazal, the continuity of thought and presentation of a central theme in such a way that the reader's interest is sustained till the very end. Qata’a consists of a beginning, the middle and an end with a logical sequence of introducing the idea, developing the idea and then ending on a startling climax. The art of qata’a is, says the researcher with the help of an oft-repeated Urdu expression that literally means 'enclosing the river in a jar', saying much in a few words. In other words, qata’a demands conciseness and comprehensiveness.

haiN aur bhee duniya meiN suKHanwar bohot achche
kehte haiN ki GHalib ka hai andaaz-e-bayaaN aur.

    — Ghalib

(It is said that there are many others who narrate better
but there’s something different about Ghalib’s style.)

But how Urdu qata’a grew into a genre independent of ghazal and qaseeda and how it had to pass through different stages of evolution and how it chose its own path quite different from Persian and Arabic qata’as, is an interesting area for research.

Qasida (pronounced "quh-see-daa"). which is a panygeric, or poem written in praise of a king or a nobleman, or a benefactor. As in a ghazal, the opening couplet of a qasida, is a rhyming couplet, and its rhyme is repeated in the second line of each succeeding verse. The opening part of the qasida, where the poet may talk in general about love and beauty, man or nature, life or death, is called the 'tashbib' or 'tamheed'

Interestingly, the ghazal has evolved from the qasida. Over time, the tashbib got detached and developed into what we today know as the ghazal. A qasida is usually quite long, sometimes running into more than a 100 couplets. A ghazal is seldom more than 12 couplets long, averaging about 7 couplets. The minimum number of couplets in a respectable ghazal would be 4, though one finds such short ghazals more common in earlier generations. Current poets seem to prefer longer versions. Writing a ghazal is an art by itself, though each she’r is a stand-along she’r, and it may delude the reader that a ghazal is just a collection of disparate ashaar (plural of she’r). in reality a constant thread always runs through the entire ghazal. It is like that indefinable quality we call ‘Indianness’ that runs through each one of us whether we come from Ludhiana, Srinagar, Chennai or Thiruvananthapuram. That quality runs through the entire ghazal, as a whole.

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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