Monday, November 28, 2005

On Khayyam (...continued)

Anthony's reminiscing on Khayyam takes Amar on a reverie as well. The verses Anthony quotes or composes give us not just a brief overview of the central themes of Khayyam's Rubaiyyat; they also replicate faithfully the type of verse he employs.

A Rubaiyyat is simply a collection of Rubais. A Rubai in turn is a quatrain, a self-contained verse of four lines, but with the additional burden that the first, second and fourth lines must rhyme. Khayyam's verses were all rubais, and both of Anthony's summary verses are as well, in homage and imitation.

The Rubai does not appear to have found much popularity among the persian and urdu poets of Desh, who seemed to prefer more challenging, restrictive structures like the ghazal which posed a sterner test of their technical and linguistic virtuousity. But there were exceptions.


You have heard perhaps of the thabri-nama? An admittedly minor work by a failed poet of a forgotten age, the name means "the history of the mocked", a work of an autobiographical nature. Laughed at and scorned by fortune, society and love, the poet, who went by the takhallus "the mocked" committed his rather poor poetry to paper before committing suicide at a young age. Both his existence and death seem to have largely gone unnoticed subsequently, though there is an occasional mention in contemporary sources. But what interests us is the structure and content of his poems. His poems are all written in the traditional rubai form, with the a-a-b-a rhyme scheme, and accompanied by his narratives, they tell us of a life lived within the cliches of classical poetry. The poems are arranged in four sections: love, wine, despair, death, and this is also effectively the chronology of the poet's life.

Of course, while thabri is amusing for his unconsciously cliched emotions and behaviour, and for living his life as if it were an unoriginal classical poem, there are no doubt superior Desi poets for the enthusiast to study. I am too illiterate to have read any of them, but one internet site recommends Yagana, Firaq, Josh and Anis among the urdu ones if you are interested.

ps: more on thabri-nama here