Sonam Kachru Presents A Love Song by Habba Khatun

Posted by sepoy on May 14, 2010 · 5 mins read

I want to thank Sonam for allowing CM to publish this (it is scheduled to appear in print in "Another Chicago Magazine"). His translation and his text is haunting. The original Kashmiri verse, by the refrain "chaav myaney daeni posh", appears in T. N. Kaul's "Gems of Kashmiri Literature: Anthology of Kashmiri Verse", (New Delhi: Sanchar Publishing House, 1996): 62-64.

I have threaded flowers for your wrists, my love
       Taste, why don't you, my pomegranate flowers.

We are sky above and earth, my love, my secret hostage beneath. You are
The guest, and I, a feast—
    Taste, why don't you, my pomegranate flowers.

Layla ((A name that ought to be more familiar in English than it is, at least since Eric Clapton's effort with Derek and the Dominoes in Layla and Other Love Songs. Along with the boy Majnun, as he is most widely known, she formed the pair of 'star crossed lovers' beloved in the literature of many languages and places. Some counts have the number of versions of the story well into the hundreds. Layla's lover is properly Qays. 'Majnun', in Persian, means lunatic. (Contrary to some, you do not have to be a sufi to be mad about your beloved). The story is traced back to the unlucky love the poet Qays ibn al-Mulawwah ibn Muzahim bore a girl named Layla and his words that are memorials for it. Tracing the variations of the story, and in particular, the resonances a reference to Layla (as opposed to her lunatic) in 16th century Kashmir enjoys would be more than an honest day's work.
)) found the wick in the dark. Bless the girl,
  She's come apart. I could singe myself this close your too-quick beating flames.

Taste, why don't you, my pomegranate flowers.

Summer walks on by; and my wildflowers will fade. Love, come quick,
Steal in a hurry—
Listen, what more would you have me sell?

I will fuse sound and pain enough.

Don't be cross, my love, don't get mad.
Habba Khotun ((A woman, a singer, accounted beautiful. Born Zoon, that is “Moon” in English, in the village of Chandhara in Kashmir in the sixteenth century. The village—now within sight of a sign that says “World's Best Saffron”—is about six miles outside of Srinagar, city of gardens, city of bridges, and even now, as city of snipers and widows, the capital of the valley. Zoon was renamed after her second marriage to a man who became the last Kashmiri ruler of the valley, Yusuf Shah Chak. Stories have it that he found her moved to song in domestic confinement, under the bows of the ubiquitous flame-red leaves of the Chinar ('Booune', in Kashmiri). Ubiquitous on the ground, and thickly strewn amidst the lines of Kashmir's poets. Thus, Habba Khotun: a poet, and in some legends, a queen. For a time. In 1579 Yusuf Shah was forced to travel to Delhi, at the order of the Mughal Emperor Jalaludin Mohammad, better known to his people as Akbar. Yusuf Shah never returned. (In 1586, Kashmir became part of the Mughal Imperium, beloved of its new emperors). Estranged Habba Khotun's lyrics—the word 'lyric' being a fair approximation for the Kashmiri word 'lol', a technique she is said to have introduced into Kashmiri poetry—remain among the most popular poems in the Kashmiri language, especially in fall. Her lover's grave, featureless, unmarked, if weathered, gave a small town in contemporary Bihar, India, a town far from the valley its name: Kashmiri Chak, a name forgotten after the Partition of the subcontinent. It is only proper, I think, to note that the ubiquitous Chinar under which our lovers are said to have met found its roots in Kashmir only after Akbar had them introduced. Whether this was a fair trade has yet to be decided by Kashmiris.)) will yet stay,
    A wilderness longing.

Taste, why don't you, my pomegranate flowers.

(For Agha Shahid—'Belovéd' in Persian, he liked to say, 'Witness' in Arabic; a Voice—who remembered the women in fall and their rustic fuel: leaves of the Chinar and songs such as these).


Saira | May 14, 2010

Pretty :)

Qalandar | May 14, 2010

The second footnote is as artful and evocative as the translation...thanks for sharing...

gaddeswarup | May 14, 2010

I do not know how authentic the following information is but it casts some doubt on the last sentences of the post. From "As another example, a 627-year-old chinar tree has been found at Chatargam, Chadoora, Badgam district, Kashmir. In repute it was planted in 1374 AD by an islamic mystic, Syed-Abul Qasim Shah Hamdani.[2]" From "The rebuilding of temples and shrines including planting of `Bouin' Chenars and rehabilitation of Hindus was done by the great builder king of Kashmir, Zain-ul-abidin, 1420-1470 A.D. ..... These facts should put at rest the belief that Moguls introduced `BOUIN' into Kashmir. Of course Moguls were great architects and they have made good use of Chinar trees in landscaping and Char-Chinarees."

EH | May 16, 2010

If anyone knows where I can obtain a copy of "Gems of Kashmiri Literature: Anthology of Kashmiri Verse” I would greatly appreciate it.

Altaf Lone | June 10, 2010

The Chaks were descendents of Hindu Chaks such as Pandu Chak, etc. Their physical strength remains a legend and was formidable. Kashmiri language is related to Shina, both languages are very close to the Sanskrit of the Rig-Vedic period. Most Kashmiris were Hindus before Islam was accepted by most of us. Kashmir in the Hindu period had a very strong caste system. Zoon was not only pretty but also very intelligent.

Make Humans Again | July 24, 2010

[...] Kachru, a dear friend and colleague, gave us a beautifully rendered translation of Habba Khatun some days back. He has now finished an essay set [...]