Engagements With Shama

We must hand it to poets for lending new meanings to situations we normally don’t make much of. In our part of the world, choli and daaman almost always go together, because choli is a midriff-exposing blouse worn by women, and daaman is part of the cloth that veils it. Our poets use the togetherness of these garments and hold them up as examples of inseparable buddies. Phool and bhanwra (flower and bee, respectively) have a symbiotic relationship in which two different organisms benefit from each other. Bees pollinate flowers, in exchange for which they receive the barter of nectar. Our writers turn them into lovers, no problem if one of them has a passive role in that narrative. But the most imaginative case, used hundreds of times in songs, is the hopeless love relationship between shama and parwaana (the flame and the moth). Their case is interesting, firstly because of the rivetting visuals that shama and parwaana offer, not forgetting that their identities emerge when the place is dark. The darker the better, in fact. Secondly, while parwaana is a living being, shama is only a personified one. And yet these two are seen as doomed lovers. The moth gets attracted to the flame, comes dangerously close to it, and burns to his death.

The idea that the moth is a male and not a female is a factor of writers too. From times immemorial, women have been known as the attractive sex. Generally, they also tend to be weaker, while having other attributes, often endorsed by popular culture: of suffering silently, while lighting up the world for everyone. They are also suspected to symbolize greater patience than men. On the other hand, men are seen as hunters who run after women. In such a chase, they are also sometimes seen as mad, unthinking idiots even. This is quite different from the idea of ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ proposition, which furnishes us with several gender stereotypes that are developed after long scientific studies.

But Shama also has other names like Diya, Chirag and Deepak, in which avatars we see her other roles, away from parwaanas. That other roles part does remind me of a song that had vexed me for decades: “Jalte hain jiske liye teri aankhon ke diye, dhoondh laaya hoon wohi geet main tere liye”. This was written by Majrooh Sultanpuri for SD Burman’s music and Talat Mahmood’s voice in Sujata (1959). Among the first things I asked Majrooh saab when meeting him was the meaning of the opening lines. “What is jalte hain aankhon ke diye?” Here’s what he said, with the translation being mine: “When an important guest is expected, we light up lamps to welcome him with respect. In the film’s story, Sunil Dutt was a writer and an intellectual. It was perfectly possible for him to use such imagery. Because he has just found the song that she was waiting for, with her eyes figuratively lit up like lamps-in-wait. The excitement of the song’s discovery turns him on so much he calls her on the phone, right then, without waiting for the morrow. This was Bimal Roy’s greatness.”


This idea of the flame waiting for a guest can be found in these songs too:

  • Diya to jala sab raat re baalam par tum laut na aaye (CH Atma/Saroj Mohini Nayyar/OP Nayyar/Dhake Ki Malmal, 1956)
  • Mera jala raat bhar diya na aaye piya (Sudha/Qamar Jalalabadi/Sardar Malik/Chamak Chaandni, 1957)
  • Ik na ik shama andhere mein jalaaye rakhiye, subha hone ko hai mahaul banaaye rakhiye (Chitra Singh/Tariq Badayuni/Jagjit Singh/ Non-film)

Here’s the moth in a crazed lover’s role:

  • Deewaana ye parwaana shama pe aaya leke dil ka nazraana…with its jaan jalaaye sukh paaye, jalne mein maza aaye (Chitalkar, Lata/Rajinder Krishan/C Ramchandra/Albela, 1951)
  • Shama jali parwaana aaya, pyaar ki aag mein jal jaane ko aaj koi deewaana aaya (Rafi, Lata/Shakeel/Ghulam Mohammad/Amber, 1952)
  • Aaj ki raat mere dil ki salaami le le, Kal teri bazm se deewaana chala jaayega, Shama reh jaayegi parwaana chala jaayega (Rafi/Shakeel/Naushad/Ram Aur Shyam, 1967)

Anup Jalota sang these beautiful lines, hitting out at the flame off-cinema:

Kitne parwaane jale raaz ye paane ke liye

Shama jalne ke liye hai ya jalaane ke liye

But Anand Bakshi sympathized with the flame in Aaya Saawan Jhoom Ke (1969):

Ye shama to jali roshni ke liye

Is shama se kaheen aag lag jaaye to ye shama kya kare

(Rendered by Rafi for Laxmikant-Pyarelal)

Bakshi cemented it beautifully next year for Kishore and RD Burman in Kati Patang (1970):

Pyaar deewaana hota hai mastaana hota hai

Har khushi se har gham se begaana hota hai…

Where the flame issues the moth an advisory:

Shama kahe parwaane se pare chala ja

Meri tarah jal jaayega yahaan naheen aa

Wo naheen sunta usko jal jaana hota hai

Clearly, everyone has to execute his role on this planet, his dharma. It is ordained that the moth must die this way.

But it was writer Mulkraj Bakhri, who decades before the above had wonderful thoughts in this regard. He placed this ‘performing our roles’ issue at the doorsteps of Mother Nature:

Akela ishq ki duniya mein kab deewaana jalta hai

Ke pehle shama khud jalti hai phir parwaana jalta hai…

Na shama ka qusoor na parwaane ka qusoor

Ik jale aur ek jalaaye ye hai qudrat ka dastoor

(SD Batish/Husnlal-Bhagatram/Bansuriya, 1949)

While Shailendra was on his own trip here:

O shama mujhe phoonk de, main na main rahoon tu na tu rahe

Yehi ishq ka hai dastoor

(Mukesh, Lata/Shankar-Jaikishan/Aashiq, 1962)

Now this above sounds more like Mutually Assured Destruction, a concept in which two nuclear powers have what it takes to completely destroy each other.

Remarkable poetry has emerged where the shama parwaana idea has been taken to extraordinary heights. In the following two songs, we find burning happening, but multiple times:

Tu pyaar kare ya thukraaye…

Mit-te hain magar haule-haule jalte hain magar ik baar naheen

Hum shama ka seena rakhte hain, rehte hain magar parwaanon mein

(Lata/Rajinder Krishan/Madan Mohan/Dekh Kabira Roya, 1957)

As also in

Shama mein taaqat kahaan jo ek parwaane mein hai

Lutf jalne mein naheen, jal-jal ke mar jaane mein hai

(Rafi/Hasrat Jaipuri/Madan Mohan/Naya Qanoon, 1965)


Dil ne phir yaad kiya…

Hum wo parwaane hain jo shama ka dum bharte hain, husn ki aag mein khaamosh jala karte hain

(Rafi, Suman, Mukesh/GL Rawal/Sonik-Omi/Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya, 1966)

Exemplary imagination was brought to the table by Majrooh in Phir Wohi Dil Laaya Hoon (1963), Asha Parekh has a photo of Joy Mukherji in her hand and has gone bonkers over it! Majrooh just needed that to invert conventional imagery, of men going after women, to the other way around:

Aankhon se jo utri hai dil mein tasweer hai ik anjaane ki

Khud dhoondh rahi hai shama jise kya baat hai us parwaane ki

(Asha/OP Nayyar)

It is said that with his singing, the great vocalist Mian Tansen could light up the lamps. Raag Deepak it is called. Today any singer can sing raag Deepak. All he needs is a remote control for LED lamps, which are the modern-day equivalents of chirags, shamas and diyas. But it is also believed that Tansen could sing Raag Malhar so well, it would bring down the rains. No singer, or anyone else for that matter, has been able to achieve that feat. Yet.


Originally published in DNA Jaipur (page 13) on 29 April 2018 http://epaper2.dnaindia.com/index.php?mod=1&pgnum=1&edcode=131002&pagedate=2018-04-29

Featured image: from Pyaar deewaana hota hai

12 thoughts on “Engagements With Shama

  1. So beautiful! Almost all your essays set me thinking, replete as they are with new information, connections that I could possibly never make and lists of songs which are a pleasure to go through.
    The shama-parwana story is one of the most romantic and tragic stories that poetry has. You correctly call it Mutually Assured Destruction! Appropriate acronym too, for most of these shamas and parwanas that you talked about :).

    1. Monica, grateful _()_ 🙂 And I wish I could have used the song Shama mein taaqat kahaan jo ek parwaane mein hai…ran out of space for the newspaper 🙂

  2. Shama and Parwaana – a combustible duo, very interestingly expanded upon Manek. And a fair number of beautiful songs to highlight your point. I recalled one more; tu shokh kali main mast pawan, tu sham-e-wafa main parwaana, Rafi and Asha sing Kaifi Azmi’s lyrics to Lachhirams tune in Main Suhagan Hoon. Loved your recall of Majrooh Saabs explanation to your query of the meaning of “jalte hain aankhon ke diye” – bahut khoob! Every para is engaging and the finale is vintage Manek! ???

    1. Glad you liked the ending especially Madhur 🙂 And the words combustible duo, I wish I had used them here! Combustible Dynamics could have been so nice a title 🙂 Trust you with your language _()_

  3. Lovely, as always! I don’t know why, but I am making a wild guess that it was C. Ramachandra who got to compose the maximum ‘Shama-Parwana’ songs. Off-hand I remember ‘mehfilmein jal uthi shama’, ‘mehfilmein meri kaun ye deewana aa gaya … jab shamane pukara to parwana aa gaya’ and the opening of ‘mohabbat aisi dhadkan hai’ (‘ik shama jal rahi hai …). I think you would have hundreds more in mind, but cant list them all.
    Being a buff of old Hindi and Tamil songs in equal measure, I wonder why the Tamil lyricists of that time (Kannadasan, Vaali etc.) did’nt resort to metaphors of ‘shama-parwana’ or even ‘phool-bhanwra’ as frequently as their Hindi counterparts. Frankly I don’t even know the Tamil word for ‘moth’. I hope at least Kannadasan did, but hardly used it. May be the word did’nt sound musical enough. Any Tamil pundit in the group may enlighten on this. Just my thoughts. Thanks

    1. Wow thoughts Nathan, and this could be a study by itself…why Tamil lyric writers did not use this imagery Is there a cultural equivalent, I wonder…

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