Here is a joke about who wrote the Ramayana.
A school teacher asks his pupils, ” Who has written The Ramayana?”
The students stare at him with blank faces.
The teacher spots the hefty and tall son of the local bigwig politician. He now directs the question at him.
The VIP is indignant. He does not stand up. He spits out scornfully, ” I haven’t done it.”
The teacher is indignant and vexed. But he decides it was prudent to take up the matter, up with his father. The suave politician is reputed to be more cool-headed than his unruly offspring.
After the school is over, he goes and meets the VIP-boy’s VIP-dad.
He complains, ” Sir, I asked your son as to who had written Ramayana and he replies that he had not done it.”
The doting father is at his courteous best. He says, ” Sir, he is a child still. I will ascertain as to why he had to do the mischief . Don’t worry, I will revert to you..”
In the feature,”Printpick”, of today’s The Hindu, I find a short review of a book, ‘A life in Words’ . The book is a translation of the memoirs of the famous Urdu story writer, Ismat Chugtai, ” Kagazh hai Pairahan”
I remember to have read a translation by Khuswant Singh in The Illustrated Weekly of India long years ago, of her short story, Lihaaf. This rib-tickling and hilarious story was iconoclastic ( well, in a figurative sense), and Chugtai was hauled before the Lahore court, for obscenity, but she came out unscathed.
I have a book of a short collection of the bold feminist writer’s Urdu short stories in Deva Nagari script, entitled, ” pratinidhi kahaaniyaa”. I remember to have bought the book, published by Raj Kamal Prakashan, New Delhi, in 1995 from the Higginbothams at Kanpur Railway Station.. I remember that I was at the IiT Kanpur then, attendjng a course on , Artificial Neural Networks.
The collection includes such celebrated stories as , Chauthi ka Johra, and Lihaaf touching on subjects considered touchy and taboo even today in some sections of the society, coming especially, as they were from a lady. I will try to write a bit more about her work in some other post later.
But for the present, I will limit to the original Urdu title of her memoirs, ” Kagazh hai Pairahan” , which literally means, ‘The raiment is made of paper’ , a very apt title for a bold autobiography of a writer.
This phrase is borrowed from the opening verse of Mirza Ghalib’s great book of Urdu Ghazals. I find that the opening verses of epics of most cultures start with an invocation to The Almighty.
Ghalib, the fierce individualist stands out even in this. His obscure invocation is replete with snides on the Great Writer of Destinies. Some thing akin to a Ninda Stuti,( laudatory invocation veiled in feigned accusations).
Here is the meaning in English, of the opening stanza of the opening lyric, as I understand it. The original Urdu stanza follows it.
“The sketch complains against its Author, ‘ Whose mischievous doodle is this?
For, every countenance within it wears a raiment of papyrus.’ ”
Naqsh faryaadi hai kis ki shokee -e-tehreer kaa
Kaagazee hai pairahan her paikar-e-tasvir kaa.
Thank God ! , flimsy clothes of paper are better than the divine new clothes of the fabled emperor. Or, on second thoughts, are they, really ?
The Gita (2/22 to 2/25) advises me, that is it better to cast off the old tattered temporal clothing once and for al, duly seeking and finding my own effulgent divine self, rather than seeking to get another flimsy set of new clothing. The choice is mine.
Here is the url for a rendering of the Ghalib’s verse by Mahendra Kapoor