Monday, January 18, 2016

Ghalib: Oblivion

Remembering Ghalib around his birthday (which passed a few weeks ago):

"My friend, the way your mind works beats me! When did I say that your poetry was not good? When did I say that you will find none in the world to understand it and appreciate its worth? 

But it is true that you are intent on poetry, while all my faculties are intent on attaining oblivion. To me the learning of Avicenna [Ibn Sina] and the poetry of Naziri are alike wasted, and pointless and illusory. To pass one's life one needs a little ease - and all the learning and power and poetry and magic are nothing. What of it if an avatar comes to the Hindus? And what of it if a prophet arises amongst the Muslims? What of it if a man wins fame in the world? And what if it if he lives out his life unknown? Let a man have something to live on, and physical health, and the rest is nothing, my dear friend. As a matter of fact, these too are nothing, but I have not yet reached the stage where I realize it. Perhaps in due course this veil too will fall from my eyes, and I shall pass beyond the stage where getting a living, and enjoying health and pleasure mean anything to me, and pass into a world where sensation ceases.

In the desolation in which I live I am lost to the whole world, indeed to both worlds. I go on giving my answers to suit the questions I am asked, and behave with every man as our relationship warrants; but it is all illusion in my sight - not a river, but a mirage; not reality, but fantasy. You and I are not bad poets. Suppose I grant we win the same fame as Saadi and Haafiz. What did their fame bring them? And what would ours bring us?"

Extract from a letter to Hargopal "Tufta", Ghalib's closest shaagird (student), written on 1st October 1859 in one of the most challenging times for Ghalib. His earnings (stipend from the Mughal court) were stopped, and most of his associates and friends were not yet allowed back into Delhi as part of the severe repression of British forces in response to the Indian revolt of 1857.
[From the translated and edited work "Ghalib: Life and Letters" by Ralph Russel and Khurshidul Islam].

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Dil se dil

Ek dil se dil tod liyaa apna,
Na saaghar rahaa na tishnaa-e-lab.

- Siyaah.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Main jahaan...main jisey...

Main jahaan bhi rahaa hoon,
Wahaan nahi rahaa hoon.
Main jisey bhi milaa hoon,
Usey nahi milaa hoon.

- Siyaah.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Teri umeed tera intezaar jab se hai: Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Teri umeed tera intezaar jab se hai...
By Faiz Ahmed Faiz
[Interpretive Translation by Siyaah]

Teri umeed tera intezaar jab se hai,
Na shab ko din se shikaayat, na din ko shab se hai...

This hope, this wait for you - that I now have,
The night and the day no longer complain about each other...[1]

Kisi ka dard ho karte hain tere naam raqam,
Gilaa hai jo bhi kisi se tere sabab se hai...

The pain from one and all - in your name I register,
You are the reason for all my complaints about any other...[2]

Huwaa hai jab se dil-e-naa'saboor be-qaaboo,
Kalaam tujh se nazar ko bare adab se hai...

Ever since this impatient heart has turned unrestrained,
This gaze addresses you with a new respect altogether...[3]

Agar sharar hai to bharke, jo phool hai to khile,
Tarah tarah ki talab tere rang-e-lab se hai...

That which is a spark - turns wild, the blossom - blooms,
Your lips' color arouses desires of one kind or another...[4]

Kahaan gaye shab-e-furqat ke jaagne-waale,
Sitaara-e-sahari hum kalaam kab se hai...

Where are those gone - who would stay awake through the night of separation?
The morning star alone converses - it seems forever...[5]

Translator's Notes:

Finished a translation after a long time - one that had been growing at the back of my mind for long. My favorite in terms of the uniqueness of Faiz's idea here is couplet [2]. The last couplet was the most difficult to translate - the last line has to be written in a way that it can capture two meanings: the morning star as the only conversation companion left for the poet; but also perhaps the morning star conversing with none but itself (in this sense the poet may identify with the star).

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has sung this is a way that I really like- lending it a strange and very slight melancholy quality - that is always there in every line but never goes out of if one is resigned to this fate; the singing is an interpretation in itself.

A different style - surprisingly lesser known - is enjoyable in the older rendition by Ustad Amaanat Ali Khan.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Ab ek dosti si hai usse,
Bas ek zindagi si hai usse...

Na uske saath hoon na tanhaa,
Ajab dillagi si hai usse...

Khoye un aakhon mein zamaane guzre,
Ab talak bekhudi si hai usse...

Kaun hua kiska baqaul-e-Firaaq,
Ummeed aakhri si hai usse... [4]

Is zindagi-e-gunaah ke beech,
Ek paakeezgi si hai usse...

Zindagi yoon bhi guzar hi jaati,
Haan ek dilchaspi si hai usse...[6]

Main kahaan khatam wo kahaan shuru,
Kaisi be-takallufi si hai usse...[7]

Hain sitaare kab se gardish mein,
Meri duniya thami si hai usse...

Har taraf dard dhoondhta hai mujhe,
Dil mein par ek khushi si hai usse...

Ab jo hosh hai to us hi se hai,
Jo hai deewaangi si hai usse...

Masjid-o-mandir se kya lagaaein dil,
Qurbat roohaani si hai usse...[11]

Kya sitaare nazar mein tikte,
Jab aisi chaandni si hai usse...

Mujhko maaloom hai sab hai to wahi,
Par har ek shay nayi si hai usse...

Wo jo ek mod par gayaa chhod kar,
Har taraf ek kami si hai usse...

Wo mila jo baad-e-pyaas-e-umr,
To ek tishnagi si hai usse...

Hai ek silsilaa-e-naummeedi,
Kadi jiski bandhi si hai usse...

Ab duaon mein hi naam hai uska,
Namaaz ki paabandi si hai usse...[17]

Chalo is janam jo hua so hua,
Aakhirat to bani si hai usse...[18]

Hain us hi raah-e-siyaah par hum,
Duur wahi roshni si hai usse...[19]

[4] "Baqaul-e-Firaaq": As stated by Firaaq. References the lament by Firaaq Gorakhpuri "Kisi ka yoon to hua kaun umr bhar phir bhi", which I translated quite a while back.

[6] Dilchaspi: interest / curiosity.

[7] Be-takallufi: frankness / informality.

[11] Qurbat: continual approach and coming nearer, implying a connection / link

[17] Pabandi: regularity. Roohaani: spiritual.

[18] Aakhirat: hereafter / afterlife.

[19] Sometimes an entire ghazal can be held up for long because the right maqtaa (closing couplet) does not manifest itself...finally it did - how many interpretations are possible for this?