Posts filed under ‘Agha Shahid Ali’


Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Listen (to Faiz read)

is tarah hai ke har ek peR ko’ii mandir hai
ko’ii ujRaa huaa, benuur puraanaa mandir
DhuunDtaa hai jo Kharaabii ke bahaane kab se
chaak har baam, har ek dar kaa dam-e-aaKhir hai
aasmaaN ko’ii purohit hai jo har baam tale
jism par raaKh male, maathe pe sinduur male
sar-niguuN baithaa hai chup-chaap na jaane kab se
is tarah hai ke pas-e-pardaa ko’ii saahir hai

jis ne aafaaq pe phailaayaa hai yuN seh’r ka daam
daaman-e-vaqt se paivast hai yuN daamna-e-shaam
ab kabhii shaam bujhegii na andheraa hogaa
ab kabhii raat Dhalegii na saveraa hogaa

aasmaaN aas liye hai ke ye jaaduu TuuTe
chup ki zanjiir kaTe, vaqt kaa daaman chhuTe
de ko’ii shanKh duhayii, ko’ii paayal bole
ko’ii but jaage, ko’ii saaNvlii ghuuNGhat khole

Translation by Agha Shahid Ali


The trees are dark ruins of temples,
seeking excuses to tremble
since who knows when–
their roofs are cracked,
their doors lost to ancient winds.
And the sky is a priest,
saffron marks on his forehead,
ashes smeared on his body.
He sits by the temples, worn to a shadow, not looking up.

Some terrible magician, hidden behind curtains,
has hypnotized Time
so this evening is a net
in which the twilight is caught.
Now darkness will never come–
and there will never be morning.

The sky waits for this spell to be broken,
for history to tear itself from this net,
for Silence to break its chains
so that a symphony of conch shells
may wake up to the statues
and a beautiful, dark goddess,
her anklets echoing, may unveil herself.

(from The Rebel’s Silhouette)


May 23, 2008 at 6:42 am 8 comments


Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Listen (to Faiz read)

phir ko’ii aayaa, dil-e-zaar! nahiin, ko’ii nahiin;
raah-rau hogaa, kahiin aur chalaa jaaegaa.
dhal chukii raat, bikharne lagaa taaron kaa ghubaar,
larkharaane lage aiwaanon mein khwaabiida charaagh,
so ga’ii raasta tak takke har ek rah guzaar;
ajnabi khaak ne dhundlaa diye qadmon ke suraagh.

gul karo shamiin, barhaa do mai-o-miinaa-o-ayaagh,
apne be khwaab kivaaron ko muqaffal kar lo;
ab yahaan ko’ii nahiin, ko’ii nahiin aayega!


Someone, finally, is here! No, unhappy heart, no one –
just a passerby on his way.
The night has surrendered
to clouds of scattered stars.
The lamps in the hall waver.
Having listened with longing for steps,
the roads too are fast asleep.
A strange dust has buried every footprint.

Blow out the lamps, break the glasses, erase
all memory of wine. Heart,
bolt forever your sleepless doors,
tell every dream that knocks to go away.
No one, now no one will ever return.

Tr. by Agha Shahid Ali

More Faiz.


May 17, 2008 at 12:57 am 13 comments

Paas Raho

Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Listen (to Faiz read)

tum mere paas raho
mere qaatil, mere dildaar, mere paas raho
jis gha.Dii raat chale
aasamaano.n kaa lahuu pii kar siyah raat chale
marham-e-mushk liye nashtar-e-almaas chale
bain karatii hu_ii, ha.Nsatii hu_ii, gaatii nikale
dard kii kaasanii paazeb bajaatii nikale
jis gha.Dii siino.n me.n Duubate huye dil
aastiino.nme.n nihaa.N haatho.n kii rah takane nikale
aas liye
aur bachcho.n ke bilakhane kii tarah qul-qul-e-may
bahr-e-naasudagii machale to manaaye na mane
jab ko_ii baat banaaye na bane
jab na ko_ii baat chale
jis gha.Dii raat chale
jis gha.Dii maatamii, sun-saan, siyah raat chale
paas raho
mere qaatil, mere dildaar, mere paas raho

Be Near Me

You who demolish me, you whom I love,
be near me. Remain near me when evening,
drunk on the blood of skies,
becomes night, in the other
a sword sheathed in the diamond of stars.

Be near me when night laments or sings,
or when it begins to dance,
its stell-blue anklets ringing with grief.

Be here when longings, long submerged
in the heart’s waters, resurface
and everyone begins to look:
Where is the assasin? In whose sleeve
is hidden the redeeming knife?

And when wine, as it is poured, is the sobbing
of children whom nothing will console–
when nothing holds,
when nothing is:
at that dark hour when night mourns,
be near me, my destroyer, my lover me,
be near me.

Agha Shahid Ali’s translation. From The Rebel’s Silhouette


May 13, 2008 at 5:45 pm 5 comments

On Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali

Agha Shahid Ali


Durga dies in the rains,
her tongue bitter with stolen
fruit. Beyond the field, trains
escape a boy’s dreams, run

into the air. A necklace chains
him to the water’s bones, turns
his reflection sour. Wherever
Apu goes, to the temple or the river,

he carries Durga’s smile to the depths of the air.

Another favorite director, another great film, and another spectacular poet.  Shahid gets it exactly right, as always, his short simple phrases reflecting perfectly the black and white starkness of Ray’s film, a lyrical sparseness that gives it an indefinable and austere beauty, like a smile carried “to the depths of the air”.

To see how well this poem works, just watch this clip, and then come back and read the lines “Beyond the field, trains / escape a boy’s dreams, run into the air.”


July 18, 2007 at 11:55 am 1 comment

The Dacca Gauzes

Agha Shahid Ali

Listen (to Shahid Ali read)

“…for a whole year he sought
to accumulate the most exquisite
Dacca gauzes.”

— Oscar Wilde /
The Picture of Dorian Gray

Those transparent Dacca gauzes
known as woven air, running
water, evening dew:

a dead art now, dead over
a hundred years. ‘No one
now knows,’ my grandmother says,

‘what it was to wear
or touch that cloth.’ She wore
it once, an heirloom sari from

her mother’s dowry, proved
genuine when it was pulled, all
six yards, through a ring.

Years later when it tore,
many handkerchiefs embroidered
with gold-thread paisleys

were distributed among
the nieces and daughters-in-law.
Those too now lost.

In history we learned: the hands
of weavers were amputated,
the looms of Bengal silenced,

and the cotton shipped raw
by the British to England.
History of little use to her,

my grandmother just says
how the muslins of today
seem so coarse and that only

in autumn, should one wake up
at dawn to pray, can one
feel that same texture again.

One morning, she says, the air
was dew-starched: she pulled
it absently through her ring.

Another wonderful poem by Shahid Ali, from the same interview I refer to in the previous post. This one, he recites from memory.

Grandmothers and their stories :), the amazing ‘woven air’, the texture of morning air in autumn and of course the tragic end of these muslins and their weavers. It is near impossible to grow up in India, without having heard about them – the fabled weave from Dacca.

The stories were mythical to us as children, how one could fold up a six yard sari and stuff it in a ring, and this would serve as inspiration for us, as we eagerly volunteered, to help my mother fold her starched Sungidi saris, before handing them over to the Dhobi. An exciting experiment in how many times one could fold a sari, especially a heavy cotton one (also a lesson for mothers, on how to keep active 7 year olds occupied and indoors on sunny summer afternoons ;) ). These stories were always accompanied by a sad lesson in history – the Indigo farms, the famine in Bengal. The catch with the Dacca Gauze of course was, ‘No one now knows,…’


July 28, 2006 at 11:08 pm 5 comments


Agha Shahid Ali

Listen (to Shahid Ali’s brother read)

Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?

Those “Fabrics of Cashmere–“ ”to make Me beautiful–“
“Trinket”– to gem– “Me to adorn– How– tell”– tonight?

I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates–
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.

God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar–
All the archangels– their wings frozen– fell tonight.

Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.

Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.

He’s freed some fire from ice in pity for Heaven.
He’s left open– for God– the doors of Hell tonight.

In the heart’s veined temple, all statues have been smashed
No priest in saffron’s left to toll its knell tonight

God, limit these punishments, there’s still Judgment Day–
I’m a mere sinner, I’m no infidel tonight.

Executioners near the woman at the window.
Damn you, Elijah, I’ll bless Jezebel tonight.

The hunt is over, and I hear the Call to Prayer
fade into that of the wounded gazelle tonight.

My rivals for your love– you’ve invited them all?
This is mere insult, this is no farewell tonight.

And I, Shahid, only am escaped to tell thee–
God sobs in my arms. Call me Ishmael tonight.

How wonderful it is to come upon a ghazal, in its full lyrical glory, in english, where you least expected it, on public radio!

This reading is from one of Shahid Ali’s last interviews (on the National Public Radio (NPR) in July 2001). His health was rapidly deteriorating. As he was unable to read the poem himself, his brother reads it (you can hear Shahid, in the background, appreciating the reading).

An excellent post by Amardeep Singh, in which he talks about Shahid and Ghazals. And a more personal piece by Amitav Ghosh.

An excerpt, from the latter article:

“On one occasion, at the Barcelona airport, he was stopped by a security guard just as he was about to board a plane. The guard, a woman, asked: “What do you do?”

“I’m a poet,” Shahid answered.

“What were you doing in Spain?”

“Writing poetry.”

No matter the question, Shahid worked poetry into his answer. Finally, the exasperated woman asked: “Are you carrying anything that could be dangerous to the other passengers?” At this Shahid clapped a hand to his chest and cried: “Only my heart.”

Shahid Ali was also very popular translator of Urdu poetry, notably Faiz’s poems, which can be found in The Rebel’s Silhouette (, and have been quoted many times on our blog).


July 27, 2006 at 11:46 pm 4 comments

Tum kya gaye ke rooth gaye din bahar ke

Faiz Ahmed Faiz


Dono jahaan teri muhabbat main haar ke
Voh jaa rahaa hai koi shab-e-gam guzaar ke

Veeran hai maykada, khum-o-saagar udaas hai
Tum kyaa gaye ke rooth gaye din bahaar ke

Ek phursat-e-gunah milee, voh bhi chaar din
Dekhe hain humne housle parvardigaar ke

Duniya ne teri yaad se begaana kar diyaa
Tujshe bhi dil-fareb hai, gam rozgaar ke

Bhoole se muskara to diye the voh aaj “faiz”
Mat poocho valvale dil-e-nakardaa kaar ke

Translation (by Agha Shahid Ali):

He bet both this life and the next
and gambled all night for your love
he first lost earth then eternity
Now he departs from his night of grief
defeat visible in his eyes

Oh what a desolation
the taverns deserted each glass disconsolate
Love when you left
even springtime forsook me
you left and that season disowned this world

You made it so brief our time on earth
its exquisite sins this sensation Oh Almighty
of forgetting you
We know how vulnerable you are
we know you are a coward God

This rapture of simple routines life’s common struggles
have surpassed my memory of your love
It’s proved more enticing just to survive
even more than you
my love

Today she forgot herself her usual ways
her face broke as if by chance
into a smile
Don’t ask what happened to the defeated heart
Oh Faiz how it broke once again
into hopeless longing.

Translation (mine):

Craving your love, he gambled away
both this world and the next.
Look – he is leaving now –
having spent the night in grief.

And the taverns are deserted,
and the wine glasses are upset;
hurt by your departure
even the Spring has turned away.

Forgetting you was a reprieve,
but it did not last.
Now we have seen how far
even God can be trusted.

The world seduced us,
made us exiles from your memory;
day by day, the business of living
proved more deceptive than your love.

And then, today, she smiled,
forgetting herself,
and the heart, so long unused,
began to beat with a new urgency.

One of my favourite Faiz ghazals. Such a wonderful and passionate description of the utter abandonment of unrequited love. Such an overwhelming sense of despair, of defeat, of resignation. And then, just when the world seems ruined beyond measure, that one casual smile of a line that revives everything, sets the pulse racing again.

Tennyson writes: “The world were not so bitter / But a smile could make it sweet” (Maud, I. VI). Faiz’s ghazal shows us how desperate a redemption this is. How desperately the heart must long to hope, must long to believe, that it will stake all its happiness on something as fickle as a smile. “Dono jahan teri mohabbat mein har ke” indeed – the game of love is played on precisely so fragile a wager.

May 21, 2006 at 5:37 am 7 comments

Postcard from Kashmir

Agha Shahid Ali


Kashmir shrinks into my mailbox,
my home a neat four by six inches.

I always loved neatness. Now I hold
the half-inch Himalayas in my hand.

This is home. And this the closest
I'll ever be to home. When I return,
the colors won't be so brilliant,
the Jhelum's waters so clean,
so ultramarine. My love
so overexposed.

And my memory will be a little
out of focus, it in
a giant negative, black
and white, still undeveloped.

(falstaff reads the poem)


January 27, 2006 at 10:30 am 16 comments