Posts filed under ‘Mirza Ghalib’

Aah ko chahiye

Mirza Ghalib

Listen (to Begum Akhtar sing) [1]

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.


[1] 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.

November 4, 2007 at 4:14 pm 21 comments

Meherban hoke bulalo mujhe



Meherbaan hoke bulalo mujhe chaho jis vaqt
Main gaya vaqt nahin hoon ki phir aa bhi na sakoon.

Zauf mein taanah-e agyaar ka shikvah kya hai
Baat koi sar to nahin hai ki utha bhi na sakoon.

Zahar mujhko milta hi nahin sitamgar varna
Kya kasam hai tere milne ki ki kha bhi na sakoon.

Empson writes: "Thus a word may have several distinct meanings; several meanings connected with one another; several meanings which need one another to complete their meaning; or several meanings which unite together so that the word means one relation or one process." (William Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity). He might as well be talking about Ghalib.

This is a poem so full of multiple meanings and subtle resonances that I won't even try to translate it. Even if I could convey the overall sense of the poem (and that in itself is difficult, because words do not have the same multiple meanings in one language as they do in another), I couldn't even begin to capture the sound of Ghalib's verses – the fact that all that verbal brilliance comes packaged in lines that have the authentic simplicity of the speaking voice.

Charles Simic, in his review of Gluck's Averno in the current issue of the New York Review of Books [1], quotes some forgotten source as saying that to read a poem you need to know at least two languages: the language the poet is writing in and the language of poetry itself. The trouble with Ghalib is that he's not just writing in a different language, even the language of his poetry is a different dialect. You either speak it, or you don't.

At any rate, this is one of my favourite Ghalib pieces – not least because it's short enough and simple enough for even someone with my limited Urdu to get it. But it's that compression, and that simplicity, that make this poem miraculous as well. One of the incredible things about Ghalib is that each couplet of his can stand as a poem by itself, and these three couplets are a wonderful illustration of that.

You can find the rest of Ghalib's poems here.


[1] A review notable chiefly for the fact that it spends at least as much time quoting Gluck's poems as it does talking about them. Simic says almost nothing about the book he's supposedly reviewing, and very little of value about Gluck more generally, but at least he has the decency to let her poems talk for themselves.

June 14, 2006 at 1:21 pm 5 comments

Hazaaron khwahishen aisi

Mirza Ghalib


HazaaroN KHwahishaiN ‘eisee ke har KHwahish pe dam nikle
bohot nikle mere armaaN lekin fir bhee kam nikle

nikalna KHuld se aadam ka sunte aayaiN haiN lekin
bohot be_aabru hokar tere kooche se ham nikle

magar likhwaaye koee usko KHat, to hamse likhawaaye
huee subah aur ghar se kaan par rakhkar qalam nikle

mohabbat meiN naheeN hai farq jeene aur marne kaa
usee ko dekh kar jeete haiN jis kaafir pe dam nikle

KHuda ke waaste parda na kaabe se uThaa zaalim
kaheeN ‘eisa na ho yaaN bhee wohee kaafir sanam nikle

kahaaN maiKHaane ka darwaaza ‘GHalib’ aur kahaaN waaiz
par itana jaante haiN kal wo jaata tha ke ham nikle

(da black mamba reads the poem)

Translation from here

A thousand desires such as these,that each takes a lifetime (an eternity)
I found many desires and yet they aren’t enough

I have heard of Adam coming from Heaven
Disgraced a lot I came from your street (home)

If someone wants to write (her) a letter, let me write it
It is morning and I have started from home with a pen on my ear

There is no difference between living and dying in love
I live by the sight of that unfaithful (infidel) taking whose name I die

For God’s sake don’t remove the curtain from Kaaba tyrant
Lest that unfaithful (infidel) sweetheart appear from there too

Where a door to the tavern ‘Ghalib,’ and where the preacher
All I know is yesterday he was going (in) when I stepped out

The complete version can be found here . (Thanks Anubhav!)


January 5, 2006 at 11:14 pm 34 comments