‘Agar firdaus bar ruye zameen ast,
Hameen asto, hameen asto, hameen ast.’
(If heaven is on earth, it is this, it is this, it’s this).
A poignant way to end the last session: a couplet by poet Khusro shared with us by a very knowledgeable fellow student who explained that this was recited by a Mughal emperor when he first saw Kashmir and was overwhelmed by its heavenly beauty.
Known to be the language of mystics and sufis, it is one of the languages which has poetic metre, rhyme and imagery embedded in it. Interestingly, I have also found it to be a ‘literal language’ where words are put together as phrases for something: discovering that ‘khargosh’ (rabbit, also an Urdu word which I have always known) literally means ‘donkey ears’ was interesting 🙂 Another example would be ‘hamsar’ (partner) which literally means ‘heads together’ and is actually a metaphor if you think about it which carries a soft poetic quality; the list is endless. For me, theoretically speaking, this indicates the age and purity of words which have been created and left to exist in their purest form, with little evolution. These words speak logic and simplicity.
Moving onto songs, which I don’t segregate from poetry: music for me IS poetry. I have learnt lines from songs which our tutor encouraged us to listen to (initially we were singing along in every session) and this reinforced words for me, especially nouns and prepositions and although it was fun, I found myself downloading a full playlist including all my favourite tunes I discovered myself which I would play during household chores, as homework I set for myself! I was able to understand Gogoosh more: someone I always enjoyed listening to. Before learning Persian I could just hear sounds that I liked but now I could feel the depth of pain of being away from the home country or the madness of love when I heard the intensity of metaphors for absence from the loved one. This gave me further insight into cultural attitudes towards love, patriotism and many more subjects and themes common to us all as human beings.
During the course I made a trip to Turkey to visit Rumi’s shrine and during the last couple of days back in Istanbul while I was waiting in the queue outside a mosque toilet (!) I met an Iranian lady from Tehran whom I very quickly became friends with. This was the first time I sensed the enormity and gravity of connecting with someone in their language – all I said was ‘khoshvaghtam’ (pleased to meet you) and the friendship bells began to ring. We face time and text whenever we get a chance or the timings allow but we have talked when she has been up until 1am waiting for a call 🙂 This has helped me enormously, being able to use words I know in different contexts and creating new sentences myself, with the odd correction and edit sent back to me, courteously 🙂 Of course, it’s a must to listen to the spoken word and hear the nuances of an accent or slang.
I am able to understand Persian poetry a bit more and don’t have to rely too heavily on translation. I have made great friends I will always cherish . Our group bonded extremely well and it was like we had always known one another: everyone brought a unique quality to the sessions and I feel grateful for having a very open minded tutor who allowed me to interrupt now and then with ‘that is the same in URDU!!’
Talking of Urdu, what could be better than learning a language which has had a significant role to play in the evolution of your mother tongue? As expected, in terms of lexical quality many words in Persian are exactly the same as in Urdu which made the whole process of assimilating words easier, but phonetically speaking the pronunciation is often slightly different to Urdu and I have found this to be the case particularly in the vowel ‘a’ whereas in Persian the ‘a’ is a lengthened vowel almost fused with an ‘o’ and this has been a very difficult process for me because a lifetime of saying ‘a’ is hard to undo and change into an ‘a:o’ in just a few months. Also, having been brought up on a diet of Arabic and Urdu script, I found some of the writing in Persian to bring me face to face with the same problem where certain letters are different, the sound being the same. Even my own name is written with a different ending ‘aa’ which is actually the same sound but as we have many letters for the same sound the use of these can differ from one language to the next. I think it would be nice to end on the point that not all words mean the same: ‘daroo-khana’ in Persian doesn’t mean ‘booze-store’ but drug store’! 🙂