“When these high mountains of tyranny and oppression turn to fluff and evaporate, and we oppressed, beneath our feet, will have this earth shiver, shake and beat…”
Irrespective of the language in which these lines are sung - be it its Urdu original or in its Tamil, Malayalam or Kannada translated versions - its meaning is one that resonates with the spirit of rebellion. These lines are from Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s soul-stirring Urdu poem ‘Hum Dekhenge’ translated in English by writer Maniza Naqvi.
While the poem itself was written in Pakistan in 1979 and published in 1981, its usage in 2020 in India comes as a testament to the people's persistent dissent against a government that's not listening to their voices. Across the country, anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protesters are using this poem set to tune, sometimes translating it into their own language, to express the spirit of their protest, repeating “We shall see” in defiance.
'Hum Dekhenge' was first sung by students in anti-CAA protests at IIT Kanpur earlier this month, and has turned into a battlecry since then. On January 9, at Town Hall in Bengaluru, singers MD Pallavi and Bindhu Malini performed the Kannada version of 'Hum Dekhenge'. A small crowd joined them. The song was translated by Kannada poet and writer Mamta Sagar, following the Bhojpuri version that was done a few days earlier.
'Hum Dekhenge' by Faiz is a powerful nazm (poetry style) in the Urdu language. The poem’s refrain “We shall see” is an expression of hope that the people will one day witness the end of oppression and cruelty, and was composed in protest against Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s oppressive rule in Pakistan.
Theatre person A Mangai who worked on the Tamil version tells TNM that when she began working on the translation, the strangeness of the situation was more apparent.
“It is strange that a protest song in Pakistan in Zia’s regime, when it was declared an Islamic State, feels relevant today. The way protest songs travel across the border is ironic,” she explains. Pakistani Ghazal singer Iqbal Bano had sung this poem when there was a ban imposed on Faiz’s poems by General Zia-ul-Haq.
“Tamil Nadu has a very unique history of nationalism, always at loggerheads with the Centre on Hindi imposition. When we started translating 'Hum Dekhenge', we could see a lot of echoes of this tradition (in poetry) in history,” she continues, referring to Vallalar’s Thiruvarutpa, a compilation of his teaching on universal love and peace, and Bharathi’s poems. “There is that tradition that runs across borders and what we have done is to just invoke it and make it relevant,” she adds.
Mangai worked with her daughter, academician and activist Ponni, on the translation of the song since the latter was acquainted with it from her college days. “Ponni has been in Delhi from her college days and 'Hum Dekhenge' is part of all the protests there. She has sung it and was in tune with that song already. She is also friends with Urdu speaking scholars and she got in touch with her friend Dr Kyla Pasha, a Pakistani Urdu poet who knew Faiz. She’s now teaching in the US and so we called her to understand the nuances of the song,” she adds.
Singer-composer Bindhu Malini, who had performed the song in Kannada and Tamil along with MD Pallavi in Kannada and Anjana in Tamil respectively, says, “I always felt that the translations are not meant to showcase talent or art. It is more of a contribution and a response, an artistic expression that is meant to be spread.”
The video of the Tamil song was released in Chennai on January 24 during which singer Anjana performed it to an audience.
The Malayalam version of Hum Dekhenge was worked upon, keeping in mind the human chain demonstration planned in Kerala for Republic Day on January 26 by the Left Democratic Front (LDF).
The song translated by Santosh Perali was rendered by Revathy and Arun Kumar. A video showing powerful visuals from protests across the country was put together by Jerin James Joe and was widely shared by many.
Prahas, who was part of the team that worked on the translation, says, “We took some liberties with respect to the translation and this song is now being used by the Malayalam diaspora across the world. The song was worked upon for about 10 days before it could be performed and released right in time for the demonstration."
In Telugu, there’s another popular song that’s doing the rounds. 'Bella Ciao', a popular Italian protest song in folk style, which later became the anthem against fascism, is the war cry used by people in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Written and performed by members of the Food Sovereignty Alliance, India, the tune of 'Bella Ciao’ was chosen for this song called 'Vekuvai Vastamu!' since the song is about a fascist regime. “The words were written to call out the threat to the Constitution of India and to uphold it,” says Madhoo, one of the members.
First released on December 23, 2019 the song was performed at Sangareddy district and also in Hyderabad at LaMakaan.
The song that was written in just half an hour calls for justice, fraternity, liberty, and equality. “Our anger, our song, We shall sing till you get out…” it begins.
“The basic concept is CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act). The anger of the person becomes the tune and we shall keep singing until you get out is what the first line means. For ‘Ciao ciao’ in Italian we’ve used ‘po po' in Telugu meaning 'get out',” explains Madhoo.
The team that also praises Tamil rapper Arivu’s latest song ‘Sanda Seivom’ is now working on translating 'Hum Dekhenge' in Telugu.
Journalist Sugata Srinivasaraju, who worked on the Kannada version of the ‘Bella Ciao’ song, says it was an impulsive response to the Telugu version.
A friend and former colleague has put images to the #BellaCiao inspired song sung with great commitment for justice by @MDPallavi and #BindhuMalini. Lyrics by Rosy & Sugata. #CAA_NRCProtests pic.twitter.com/caDFxOHqDJ— Sugata Srinivasaraju (@sugataraju) January 24, 2020
“It was impulsive. We heard the Telugu version of 'Bella Ciao' doing the rounds, and we thought it was infectious. The children enjoyed it, and the next day, we found that they were humming it at the breakfast table. So my wife Rosy D'Souza and I began writing the lyrics. The lyrics are independent of the original 'Bella Ciao', we only used the tune as a starting point for our context,” he says.
(With inputs from Alithea, Charan and Cris)