Aah ko chahiye
aah ko chaahiye ik umr asar hone tak
kaun jiitaa hai tirii zulf ke sar hone tak
daam-e har mauj mein hai halqah-e sad kaam-e nihang
dekhein kyaa guzre hai qatre pah guhar hone tak
aashiqii sabr-talab aur tamannaa betaab
dil kaa kyaa rang karuun khun-e jigar hone tak
ham ne maanaa kih tagaaful na karoge lekin
khaak ho jaaeinge ham tum ko khabar hone tak
partav-e khur se hai shabnam ko fanaa ki taaliim
main bhii huun ek inaayat kii nazar hone tak
yak nazar besh nahiin fursat-e hastii gaafil
garmii-e bazm hai ik raqs-e sharar hone tak
gam-e hastii kaa asad kis se ho juz marg ilaaj
shamma har rang mein jaltii hai sahar hone tak
Translation (by Sarvat Rahman):
The sighs of love a life-time need, their object to attain,
Who lives long enough for your dark mysteries to attain?
In the net of each ocean-wave open a hundred dragon mouths,
To be a pearl, a water-drop what ordeals must sustain!
True love calls for patience, desire’s of impatience made,
Till suffering consumes me quite, how should my heart remain?
You will not be indifferent, I know, but nevertheless,
Dead and in the dust I’ll be when news of me you obtain.
The morning sun’s ardent rays spell death to each dew-drop,
I, too, exist only until, to glance at me you deign.
A single glance, no more, is the space of life, unaware!
For no longer than the spark’s dance does the gathering’s warmth remain.
The suffering that is life, ASAD, knows no cure but death,
All through the night must the candle burn, no matter what its pain.
Translation (mine) :
It takes a lifetime for a sigh to take effect
Who lives to see your hair perfectly arranged?
A hundred mouths whisper the net of every wave
Look what the speck endures till it becomes a pearl.
Love demands patience, desire is restless
What color shall I paint the heart, until you savage it?
You shan’t ignore me when the time comes, I know, but
I may turn to dust before the news reaches you.
Each drop of dew learns death from the rays of the sun
I too await release at a glance from you.
One glance, no more, fills the span of my life
The dance of a single spark that keeps the company warm.
Life is suffering, Asad, and has no cure but death
The flame burns in every color until the dawn.
The problem with posting Ghalib is a problem of translation. So compressed is Ghalib’s imagery, so rich in sound and nuance his language, that it is almost impossible to render his ghazals in English without mauling them beyond recognition. I admire Sarvat Rahman’s courage in taking on the entire Diwan-e-Ghalib – translating all 234 ghazals while retaining their form – but I have to say that the results, as with the translation above, make me cringe. I’ve tried to provide my own rendition, but even that doesn’t come close to the original. How does one begin to translate a line as brilliant as “dil ka kya rang karoon, khoon-e-jigar hone tak”? How does one convey the richness of its color (the word incarnadined springs to mind), the quality of the sentiment, the sense of quasi-paradox – all without losing the shortness, the simplicity of Ghalib’s original?
Trying to translate Ghalib, I am always reminded of these lines from Byron:
“To such as see thee not my words were weak;
To those who gaze on thee what language could they speak?”
Still, here it is. For those of you who speak Urdu, this ghazal should require no introduction, and its gloriousness should sing from every line. For those who don’t know the language, hopefully there’s enough in these butchered translations of ours to convey the exquisite intelligence that moves through this poem, the sheer lyricism of a master whose every couplet stands as a poem in its own right, and whose words, a century and a half after they were written, continue to be quoted by millions.
 Begum Akhtar only sings couplets 1,3,4 and 7. Another, perhaps more familiar version of the same couplets as sung by Jasjit Singh can be found (also on YouTube) here.