By Khaled Qayum
What is your favorite song?
My new friend in US asked me this question. A pretty simple question. I had recently joined this American University and this guy was my class fellow. We were in the process of befriending and getting acquainted.
“Oh, let me think”. I said. “Yeah, I like this one song and it goes like this”.
“Jadoon Holli Jai laina mera Naan, mein thaan marr jaani haaan.” I mentioned Madam Noor Jehan’s song which was a big hit in those days and was on everybody’s lips.
“What does it mean?” He wanted to know.
“When you whisper my name, I die on the spot”, I translated the song for his benefit.
“Man, bad breath! Lack of oral hygiene I should think”.
I was a bit surprised as this angle had totally escaped me until then. Somehow the emotions and the depth of feelings which Madam Noor Jehan had tried to convey in her song was totally amiss. The missing of heart beat at meeting of beloved had been reduced to a question of oral hygiene.
This led me to think how some of the other songs would fare. Another very popular song also by Madam Noor Jehan, which readily comes to mind is:
“Aa seenay naal laag ja thaa kaar ke”.
A reasonable translation of the song would be:
“Come hit my chest with a boom”.
This raises many questions. What kind of boom? What does she really mean? Why should there be a boom? Is the beloved supposed to be wearing an explosive suicidal jacket? Has the singer fallen in love with one of the Taliban, and now she is having suicidal thoughts. This here is a very dangerous idea these days when we are plagued with issues of terrorism.
These Punjabi women and their fantasies! One has to safeguard against them.
Let’s talk of another song which goes like this:
“Saanoo Nehar waley pull te bulla ke, hare mahi kithay rahe gaya…”
This would be translated to:
“After summoning me to the bridge on the Canal, wonder where the beloved decided to be.”
He must not be an engineer, otherwise the curiosity regarding the bridge design, construction and current condition would have compelled him to come. Or, there may even be the possibility that he is trying to test how deep the canal and how fast the water current is. And, again may be he wants the singer to jump in the canal and finish the life’s problems once and for all. Wake up woman, he wants to get rid of you.
Let’s consider an older song which is well embedded in the culture.
Latthay di chaddar, uttay salhety ranng mahhia.
It would translate to:
Cotton sheet and having color of slate.
Why would any woman sing song about grey colored bedsheet? And, what is the lady trying to communicate? Is she in the process of choosing the bed linen? Has she already made up her mind or she wants the beloved to choose for her. Good question.
A very popular Punjabi song has been:
“Tere Mukhray te kaala kaala til wey, mundia sialkotia, Sada kadd ke lay gia dil way mundia sialkotia.”
A worthy translation would be:
On your face there is a black mole, O boy from Sialkot. The mole has managed to take my heart O boy from Sialkot.
Very interesting the dame is singing about a black mole which has managed to steal her heart and is adorning the face of the young man. Well again, there is no accounting for taste. She is not giving any credit to the man for any other attribute, except the black mole on his face. She does not sing about the things which should really be matter, such as the boy’s ancestry, or, his education, or, his ability to blow dough on the wishes of the dame singing the song.
Now there is another one, which has been very popular with crowds.
Sun we bilori akh walia, assaan dil tere naal la lia.
If translated this would turn out to be:
Hear ye of glassy / fake eyes, we have attached our heart with you.
First of all what is the glassy or a fake eye? These are fake eye balls made of glass or plastic, which a person inserts in his eye socket, if he is unfortunate enough to lose an eye. This looks like a real eye, but of course does not work. Now the singer has lost her heart to a fake eye ball made of glass. Why is she fond of fake glass eyes? This requires a psychiatric analysis. Again, there is no accounting for taste.
A story about these fake eye balls comes to mind which I came across long time ago. This is a story of a British gentleman who was in Africa at the turn of the previous century, around early 1900s. People were not so knowledgeable at the time. TVs and all other modes of communication were yet to be invented. He was one eyed and used a fake glass eye ball. He would insert the eye ball in his eye socket every morning so that he would look like an average normal person, and take it out and place it his bed side table when he was going to sleep.
He hired a young guy to do the house chores. At night he would take out the glass eye, put it on the side table, while asking the servant to fan him, in hot nights so that he may fall to sleep. The poor servant would keep fanning the air to the master through the night. The servant would got very tired due to lack of sleep and complained to his friends. His friends asked him as to why would he not leave when his master would fall asleep. To this the poor chap replied, I would do that but his eye keeps watching me when he falls asleep.
After having tried translating a number of songs into English, I can safely say there is a big cultural divide and it would be very hard to communicate the same emotions into the other language such as English. I find it especially difficult to let any foreigner know my favorite song, which happens to be in Punjabi.