The loss of meaning

The poet Shahryar (pronounced ‘Sheharyaar’) was recently awarded the Jnanpith Award, considered the highest literary award in India. Since I read the news, this song he wrote for the film Gaman (1978) has come to me often. It expresses a stark reality about the human condition, one that is marked by the loss of meaning. Over the years, I have marvelled at its honesty and its soul-scorching portrayal of an important part of the modern human experience.

In the last three centuries, the developments of modernity have made the world more different from how it ever has been. Religion holds less sway over people, family matters little, the gadgets of technology keep our attention firmly hooked to to themselves. The individual is free, but this freedom comes with responsibility to choose. This choice is marked by angst – an unspecified fear that we are alone, and fully responsible for what happens to us. God is dead and so is the meaning of life, which has to be revived again in each and every human life by each individual himself, and many fail.

This remarkable poem is one of the best expressions of these aspects of the Existentialist worldview, reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s painting ‘Scream’. Like all poems, it is untranslatable – and more difficult than most I have tried so far. I first decided to not translate it. Yet, I have decided to make a humble effort although it is far from satisfactory.


seene mein jalan, aankhon mein toofaan sa kyun hai

is shehr mein har shakhs pareshaan sa kyun hai


dil hai to dhadakne ka bahaana koi dhoonde

patthar ki tarah be-his-o-bejaan sa kyun hai


tanhai ki ye kaunsi manzil hai rafeeqon

ta-had-e-nazar ek bayabaan sa kyun hai


kya koi nai baat nazar aati hai hum mein

aaina humein dekh ke hairaan sa kyun hai



Rendered beautifully by Suresh Wadkar and also shot interestingly :


a burn in the chest, a storm in the eyes

an anxiety on each one’s face…why?


a heart there is, but it hasn’t a reason to throb

a stone it is, without feeling, without life…why?


a desert of loneliness we stand amidst, my friends

a desolate wilderness it is, till as far as the eye reaches…why?


do you find something different about me today?

for my mirror – stunned and stupefied it is, at my sight…why?


a burn in the chest, a storm in the eyes

an anxiety on each one’s face…why?

~ by tdcatss on September 20, 2011.

5 Responses to “The loss of meaning”

  1. Thank you for translating, Kaif . . .even when you feel that it is really untranslatable. Because of you, I am able to experience writing that otherwise I would never get to . . .and am blessed. :) This is so powerful . . .kind of heart stopping.

  2. Very well written, and I must agree, poems as beautiful as these really are untranslatable! We can simply pen down our perspective on it according to the knowledge we’ve gained, which in turn is based upon our experiences in life so far. Yet you’ve done a stirling job of portraying the emotions in it :)

  3. Thank you Nikhil! Yes, our poems and our translations are conditioned by our own experiences. I guess it shows how some things are universal (and hence we relate to the poet’s feelings) but also manifest in their unique ways (and hence our translations convey something of our selves).

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