Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna Lyrics & Translation: Let’s Learn Urdu-Hindi

Manoj Kumar as Bhagat Singh in Shaheed 1965

Manoj Kumar shines as the revolutionist Bhagat Singh who was executed by the British in Shaheed (1965).

In honor of India’s 70th Independence Day celebrations, today we present the lyrics and English translation of “Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna.” An Urdu ghazal written in 1921 by Bismal Azimabadi, “Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna” became a battle cry of freedom fighters through the 1940s. The poem was adapted for the film Shaheed (1965) starring Manoj Kumar about the life of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. Known popularly as Mr. Bharat, Manoj Kumar would go on to make a name for himself glorifying the traditional Indian way of life in other patriotic films like Upkar (1967) and Purab Aur Paschim (1970). In Shaheed, Manoj Kumar settles comfortably into his niche, earning the Best Feature Film award.

Revolutionist Ram Prasad Bismil is sometimes incorrectly attributed with having written the ghazal himself, made more confusing by being a writer himself and sharing part of his name with the real poet. Nonetheless, Bismil, along with many other freedom fighters, helped spread the poem’s popularity.

Prem Chopra as Sukhdev in Shaheed 1965

Prem Chopra breaks from his typecast as the urbane villain to portray freedom fighter Sukhdev Thapur in Shaheed (1965).

In Shaheed, “Sarfaroshi Ki Tamannaa” is sung by Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey, Rajendra Mehta who lend their voices to the characters of freedom fighters Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev Thapur, and Shivaram Rajguru, who were hung for their roles in the Lahore Conspiracy case in 1929. Rich in Urdu ornamentation, “Sarfaroshi Ki Tamannaa” highlights the fighters willingness to die for their country while awaiting execution. The poem describes the gentle, courageous nature of the revolutionists who are proud to rise to the occasion demanded of them by history.

We hope you enjoy the lyrics and English translation of the elegiac ghazal “Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna” below. Follow along here with the music video from the film, and for the Urdu-inclined, the complete original poem can be found here!

Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna Lyrics and Translation:

Ek se kartaa nahii.N kyuu.N duusraa kuchh baat-chiit?
Why does no one make conversation with others?
Dekhtaa huu.N mai.N jise woh chhup terii mehfil mei.N hai
Whomever I see is silent in your company
Woh chhup terii mehfil mei.N hai…
They are silent in your company

Sarfaroshii kii tamannaa ab hamaare dil mei.N hai
The desire to sacrifice is now in my heart
Dekhnaa hai zor kitnaa baazu-e-qaatl mei.N hai
I shall see how much strength is in the arms of my assassin

Waqt aane par bataa de.Nge tujhe, O aasmaan
I will tell you when the time comes, O sky
Hum abhii se kyaa bataaye.N kyaa hamaare dil mei.N hai?
What can I tell you now of what is in my heart?
Kyaa humaare dil mei.N hai…
What is in my heart…
Sarfaroshii kii tamannaa ab hamaare dil mei.N hai
The desire to sacrifice is now in my heart

Khai.Nch kar laayii hai sab ko qatl hone kii ummiid
Everyone has been pulled here by the hope of becoming killed
Aashiqo.N kaa aaj jamghaT kuuchaa-e qaatl mei.N hai
A congregation of lovers is in the street of their murderers today
Kuuchaa-e qaatl mei.N hai
They are in the street of their murderers
Sarfaroshii kii tamannaa ab hamaare dil mei.N hai
The desire to sacrifice is now in my heart

Glossary:

baat-chiit karnaa: to make conversation, chit-chat; chhup: silent; mehfil: company, gathering; sarfaroshii: sacrifice [literally: cutting of the head]; tamannaa: desire; dil: heart; zor: strength; baazuu: arms; qaatl: murderer, assassin; waqt: time; aasmaan: sky; khai.Nchnaa: to pull; ummiid: hope; aashiq: lover; aaj: today; jamghat: congregation; kuuchaa: street

It would be remiss to discuss this beautiful Urdu poem and its meaning for Indian independence without an inclusion of its equally profound legacy in Pakistan. Let us never forget that the movements that would eventually separate Pakistan and India during the partition were once far weaker than the hopes that united Hindu and Muslim freedom fighters in brotherhood against the British Raj. The dark shadow of partition that marred the celebration of Independence for thousands in the summer of 1947 is a subject close to my heart that I discuss more here along with the tragic decline of Urdu in Bollywood films.

The real Bhagat Singh who lived from 1907 to 1931 (left), Manoj Kumar in the film Shaheed from 1965 (middle), and Shammi Kapoor (right) in the film Shaheed Bhagat Singh from 1963.

The real Bhagat Singh who lived from 1907 until his execution in 1931 (left), Manoj Kumar in the film Shaheed from 1965 (middle), and Shammi Kapoor (right) in the film Shaheed Bhagat Singh from 1963.

“Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna” was also adapted for the more recent film The Legend of Bhagat Singh starring Ajay Devgan (2002). A charismatic young man whose terroristic methods clashed with the non-violence advocated by Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh has been the subject of numerous Bollywood films, including a portrayal by Shammi Kapoor in Shaheed Bhagat Singh (1963) and Sunny Deol in 23 March 1931: Shaheed (2002).

In Gandhi’s own words upon Bhagat Singh and his associates’ executions: “These heroes had conquered the fear of death. Let us bow to them a thousand times for their heroism. But we should not imitate their act. In our land of millions of destitute and crippled people, if we take to the practice of seeking justice through murder, there will be a terrifying situation. Our poor people will become victims of our atrocities. By making a dharma of violence, we shall be reaping the fruit of our own actions. Hence, though we praise the courage of these brave men, we should never countenance their activities. Our dharma is to swallow our anger, abide by the discipline of non-violence and carry out our duty.”

As we celebrate our freedoms today, we reflect on these moral dilemmas faced by the oppressed whose sacrifices spared us from knowing them.

-Mrs. 55

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The Art of Urdu in Hindi Films: Losing A Poetic Legacy

Jan Nisar Akhtar and Sahir Ludhianvi

Legendary Bollywood lyricists Jan Nisar Akhtar (far left) and Sahir Ludhianvi (left center) enjoy a birthday celebration.

The language of Hindi films has evolved since the first talkie Alam Ara in 1931, based on a Parsi play.  The Golden Age of Hindi cinema that blossomed with the studio era of the 1950s and ebbed by the late 1970s is one of India’s greatest artistic achievements. During that time, Hindi films could hardly be called Hindi films. Rather, Hindustani, a mixture of Urdu and Hindi, was the lingua franca of the silver-screen—a reflection of a country unified by a fascinatingly diverse heritage with linguistic influences from Sanskrit, Farsi, Bengali, Arabic, Panjabi, and a myriad of others.

To anyone unfamiliar with the distinction between Urdu and Hindi—there are no hard and fast rules. What many call Hindi, others would call Urdu, but most everyone can appreciate their structural and grammatical similarity. Any attempt to divide them is based on the root origins of the vocabulary intermingled with what is generally a highly homologous syntax. “Urdu” vocabulary tends to draw upon words of Farsi or occasionally Arabic and Turkish origin and “Hindi” vocabulary is generally derived from Sanskrit or regional dialects. But don’t be fooled into thinking any word “belongs” to another language (or those of a particular religion)—Hindustani may vary speaker to speaker, community to community, but the language is all-encompassing.

Veteran Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi (left) with his daughter actress Shabhana Azmi (center), who married contemporary lyricist Javed Akhtar, and wife Shaukat Azmi (right).

Veteran Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi (left) with his daughter actress Shabhana Azmi (center), who married contemporary lyricist Javed Akhtar, and wife Shaukat Azmi (right).

The impact of Urdu in the Indian mainstream can be no better summed up by the famous words of our freedom struggle: “Inquilaab zindabaad!” or “Sarfaroshii kii tamanna ab hamaare dil mei.N hai.” Controversial arguments have been made relating the decline in popularity to links with Pakistan, which adopted Urdu as its official language. Yet in Hindi films for decades, the legacy of Urdu poetry continued to flourish in India as the pinnacle of culture and expression.

Indeed, despite enormous gaps in literacy across the country, some of the most popular songs of that era amazingly contain the most complex Urdu-based vocabulary. Perhaps one reason is that the Hindi film song-writers themselves were trained in the art of Urdu poetry. Many of the finest and most successful poets of Hindi film: Sahir Ludhianvi, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Gulzar, Hasrat Jaipuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Kaifi Azmi, Jan Nisar Akhtar, and Majrooh Sultanpuri to name but a few, began their careers in Urdu mushairaas, or poetic symposiums.

Gulzar lyricist

Record-breaking winner of 11 Filmfare awards for best lyrics, poet Gulzar (right) stands with actor Amitabh Bacchan (left) for whom he wrote hits from the dialogue of Anand (1971) to the modern dance number “Kajra Re” from Bunty Aur Babli (2006)

It would seem more than mere coincidence that these artists came to dominate film lyrics. Like many arenas, the Bombay film industry was an old boy network: Sahir Ludhianvi for example was close friends with Jan Nisar Akhtar, who became in-laws with Kaifi Azmi, who was a prominent member of the pre-partition Progressive Writer’s Movement with Majrooh Sultanpuri. And the music directors who often hand-picked their lyricists and made recommendations to film producers were also steeped in similar artistic traditions. Veteran composer Naushad grew up in the heart of Lucknowi culture, and Madan Mohan spent his childhood in the Middle East, eventually getting his break by joining the All India Radio in Lucknow. Yet connections in the film industry account for only part of its success—audiences had to maintain demand as well.

From the epic qawwali “Yeh Ishq Ishq Hai” from Barsaat Ki Raat (1961), the lilting ode, “Aap Ki Nazron Mein Samjha” from Anpadh 1962), to the playful duet “Deewana Hua Badal” from Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), Urdu in films was remarkably accessible—holding a place for any viewer in every genre. True, it is unlikely the entire audience understood each word in those songs. However, in this manner, film and music could be educational for those who did not–a unique way of preserving the culture they reflected back on. As parallel cinema diva Shabana Azmi aptly quipped,

“If you compare today’s songs with the songs of the 1960s and 1970s, then definitely today’s songs are according to the demand. But if you see, Hindi films used to protect the Urdu language as they used it, but it is slowly dying and I feel bad for it.”

The same extended to the dialogues of films themselves–and I don’t refer only to genre films like Pakeezah (1971) or Mughal-e-Azam (1961). Pure Urdu was ubiquitous in classic Hindi cinema, wafting equally through the sets of an urban crime drama and meandering through a village epic. The importance and sheer beauty of Urdu poetry in dialogues is highlighted in one of the most famous film speech’s of yesteryear. The stirring climax of Daag (1973) culminates in a speech given by Rajesh Khanna’s character for an award bestowed to him by his community. Notice how in this and so many other scripts, Urdu is an inextricable poetic catalyst for the Hindi speech:

Rajesh Khanna’s Speech from Daag (1973):

Aap.
Aap kya jaane mujhko samajhte hai.N kyaa?
Mai.N to kuch bhi nahii.N

“You.
I do not know what you make of me
For I am nothing

Is qadar pyaar itnii baDe bheed ka mai.N rakhuu.Ngaa kya?
Is qadar pyaar rakhne ke qaabil nahii.N
Mera dil, merii jaan…
Mujhko itni mohabbat na do, dosto.
Soch lo dosto…
Is qadar pyaar kaise sambhaaluu.Ngaa mai.N?
Mai.N to kuch bhi nahii.N

How can I carry such love from so great a crowd?
I am not worthy of such great love
My heart, my life…
Do not give me so much love, my friends
Think instead.
How will I bear such great love?
For I am nothing.

Pyaar.
Pyaar ek shakhs ko agar mil sake to badii cheez hai zindagi ke liye
Aadmi ko magar yeh bhi milta nahii.n
Yeh bhi milta nahii.n
Mujhko itni mohabbat milii aap se,
Mujhko itni mohabbat milii aap se…
Yeh mera haq nahii.N, merii taqdiir hai.
Mai.N zamaane ki nazro.N mei.N kuch bhi na thaa.
Merii ankho.N mei.N ab tak woh tasveer hai

Love.
If a man can receive love, it is a great thing in life
Yet many men do not even receive this
They do not even receive this
I have received so much love from you,
I have received so much love from you
This is not my right, it is my fate
I was once nothing in the eyes of the world
And in my eyes, that image remains

Izzate.N, shauharate.N, chaahate.N, ulfate.N, koi cheez duniya mei.N rehtii nahii.N
Aaj mai.N huu.N jahaa.N, kal koi aur thaa.
Yeh bhi ek daur hai, woh bhi ek daur thaa…

Respect, fame, desire, love, nothing remains in the world permanently
Today where I am, yesterday there was someone else
This is one generation, that was another generation…

Aaj itni mohabbat na do dosto.
Ki mere kal kii khatir ka kuch bhi rahe
Aaj ka pyaar thoDa bacha kar rakho
Aaj ka pyaar thoDa bacha kar rakho, mere kal ke liye

Today do not give me so much love, my friends
So that there may be some left for me tomorrow
Today, save some of that love
Today save some of that love for my days ahead

Kal.
Kal jo gumnaam hai
Kal jo sunsaan hai
Kal jo anjaan hai
Kal jo viiraan hai

Tomorrow.
Tomorrow which is anonymous
Tomorrow which is silent
Tomorrow which is unknown
Tomorrow which may be barren

Main to kuch bhi nahii.N huu.N
Mai.N to kuch bhi nahii.n”

I am nothing at all
I am nothing at all.”

With every thoughtfully chosen word, the pervasive Urdu “qaaf” is pronounced as delicately as the gentle “khe,” and the lines are delivered with the poetic overtures of a song lyric. These dialogues were written with poetry in mind, and indeed many song lyricists eventually took to writing entire film scripts (the script of Daag was written by immortal Urdu poet Akhtar ul Iman of Waqt and Gumraah fame).

Immortal lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri (right) with music director R.D. Burman and film director Nasir Hussain at a 1983 recording session.

Famed lyricist Majrooh Sultanpuri (right) with music director R.D. Burman (center) and film director Nasir Hussain (left) at a 1983 recording session.

It would be impossible to summarize the incredible work of these poets in one post (hence why we’ve devoted much of our blog to it!). A small sampling of Filmfare award-winning lyrics are below:

“Chaudhvin ka chaand ho, ya aftaab ho? Jo bhi ho tum khudaa ki qasam laa-jawaab ho…” –Shakeel Badayuni (Chaudhvin Ka Chand 1961)

“Chaahuu.Ngaa mai.N tujhe saa.Nj saveN.re. Phir bhi kabhi ab naam ko tere awaaz mai.N na doo.Ngaa…”--Majrooh Sultanpuri (Dosti 1965)

“Bahaaro.N phool barsaao, meraa mehboob aayaa hai. Hawaao.N raagini gaao, meraa mehboob aaya hai…”--Hasrat Jaipuri (Suraj 1967)

“Kabhi kabhi mere dil mei.N khayaal aataa hai ki jaise tujhko baanaayaa gaya hai mere liye…” –Sahir Ludhianvi (Kabhi Kabhi 1977)

“Aanewaalaa pal jaanewaalaa hai. Ho sake to is mei.N zindagii biTaado pal jo yeh jaanewalaa hai…” — Gulzar (Gol Maal 1980)

I was fortunate to have the chance to learn to read and write in Urdu from my grandparents who moved to New Delhi after the partition of Punjab. But this opportunity is so rare that I found after my grandfather passed away, I know few people to whom I can still write in Nasta’liq. Urdu is a language of romance—more beautiful than French and Italian, and more intricate than superficial political divides. The legacy of Urdu will continue to add to the allure and nostalgia of old films for generations to come. For the loss of Urdu is more than the mere loss of vocabulary. Without Urdu in Hindi films, we have lost our own andaaz–the manner with which we once communicated our thoughts and feelings, our decorum, and a rich, meaningful ornamentation in expressing ourselves that can never be replaced.

-Mrs. 55