Saturday, May 12, 2012

Malayalam's Ghazal : Poem in Your Post

Listen! Someone’s saying a prayer in Malayalam.
He says there’s no word for ‘despair’ in Malayalam.

Sometimes at daybreak you sing a Gujarati garba.
At night you open your hair in Malayalam.

To understand symmetry, understand Kerala.
The longest palindrome is there, in Malayalam.

When you’ve been too long in the rooms of English,
Open your windows to the fresh air of Malayalam.

Visitors are welcome in The School of Lost Tongues.
Someone’s endowed a high chair in Malayalam.

I greet you my ancestors, O scholars and linguists.
My father who recites Baudelaire in Malayalam.

Jeet, such drama with the scraps you know.
Write a couplet, if you dare, in Malayalam.

                                 - Jeet Thayil, author of Narcopolis

A ghazal is poem composed of five to fifteen couplets, often a meditation on love or melancholy or the metaphysical, in which each couplet stands independently yet offers another "puzzle piece" on the theme established in the first couplet.  You might also notice that the last 'bit' - this could be a phrase or word - of the second line in the first couplet is repeated in the second line of all succeeding couplets. 

It's a form that "has roots in seventh-century Arabia, and gained prominence in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century thanks to such Persian poets as Rumi and Hafiz" ( ghazal).  The form migrated - as so often happens - into neighboring lands and language communities over the centuries, so that today it's truly gone global. 

For more ghazals, you might begin at the Poetic Form: Ghazal page on 

What's Malayalam?  It's the language spoken in Kerala on the southwest coast of India.  Malayalam boasts an alphabet with the greatest number of letters of all Indian languages, and it can express all the sounds in both Sanscrit and Tamil, from which the language is derived.

I just read and reviewed Kerala-born cosmopolitan poet Jeet Thayil's first novel, and grew intrigued about his work.  Hence this poem from Salt Magazine, and likely a few more soon. 


1 comment:

Sidne said...

whoa, I wasn't ready for that one.
Hope all is good with you. I just finished a A-z challenge in which I posted poems the entire month of april. cool!

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