To promote their new clothing line, Nishat Linen released a video that features one of the most bewildering raps ever made. The video begins and ends with a partial urdu recital of Iqbal’s poem ‘Aurat’. I’m reminded of a joke my friend told me recently before I had to give a presentation to a group of co-workers: ‘When you don’t know how to start a speech, just quote some Iqbal. People will think whatever you’re about to say will be deep and meaningful.’ And what about the end? I asked. ‘If you don’t know how to end, just quote some Iqbal there too, people will think they just listened to something deep and meaningful.” I’m pretty sure that’s what happened in the brand meeting.
So far so predictable. Rehmat Ajmal enters A Purple Room and begins firing off a rap that is meant to be a translation of the poem. Here’s where things get really bizarre.
Look, Iqbal’s poetry will always be difficult to translate, but this all seems translated by a writer that had 5 minutes left until the deadline with the brand breathing down their throat. It barely makes any sense.
Also, not meaning to in any way disparage Iqbal – ‘Aurat’ is a beautiful poem – but could Nishat not have chosen something more contemporary? Or to have adapted the poem into something new? Iqbal’s shair is a poetic version of ‘behind every great man is a woman’, and a fantastic and progressive poem for the 1930’s. But this is no longer something that is particularly progressive in 2018. If you are going to draw from Iqbal, be inspired to create something different, something that resonates with women today. Both Iqbal and women deserve better than this lazy attempt at modernisation.
In fact, the entire rap reeks of laziness. The first time I watched it I thought I was having a stroke. Why are the words all mixed up? Why is she rapping as if this makes coherent sense? Did she just use the word ‘pleiades’ in a rap flow? Here’s the transcript of the first verse:
“The picture that this world presents,
From woman gets it’s tints and scents.
Her handful clay is superior far,
To pleiades that so higher are.”
The structure has been butchered in order to fit the rhyme scheme. The first couplet is a clunky and jumbled translation of “Wujood-e-Zan Se Hai Tasveer-e-Kainat Mein Rang”. The pleiades are apparently a star cluster near the constellation of Taurus. I had to wikipedia it. It sounds so weird in the flow that it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Here is the next verse:
For every man with knowledge vast,
Like gem out of her cask is cast.
But Plato was a spark that broke
from her fire that blazed like flame.
What does this mean? It’s almost like reading a iPhone autocomplete a text message: Fire – blazed – flame. Who wrote this? I was so intrigued by the translation that I googled the ‘lyrics’. It seems the rap is copied word for word from a translation from a Iqbal Urdu Blogspot website. The brand was so lazy that it seems they even copied the spelling mistake. It’s meant to be ‘Dur-e-Maknoon’.
For a brand trying to be fresh, modern and a bastion of female empowerment, you’d expect more research than a public blog post. Iqbal’s poetry deserves more than that.
Whatever, deadline is in 30 seconds, just send it off.