Wednesday, 8 April 2015

G is for Ghalib and his Ghazals

Ghalib, Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan (1797-1869)

Mirza Ghalib was the preeminent Indian poet of the Mughal era, writing in Urdu and Persian.  I think of him as a Shakespeare of Urdu - people quote him in everyday conversations without knowing the exact source, anecdotes about his life and sayings have passed into legends and idioms, and he continues to mesmerise readers and influence poets, songwriters and singers more than a century after his death. His work remains popular among connoisseurs of Urdu poetry not just in the subcontinent, but worldwide among the diaspora.  Here I am responding to his ghazal aah ko chahiye ek umr asar hone tak with a sonnet.  For those who don't follow Urdu, a rough translation of the ghazal is given at the end of the post. 

A different candle

My candle throws off its obligations long before dawn,
the darkest hour circles outside and here a wisp of smoke,
the acrid smell of burnt wax pummels each sharp breath drawn,
and silence hangs in forbidding folds like a heavy cloak.

I had thought all suffering stops once your gaze touches me.
And it’s true enough that you glanced briefly towards my face
too short to make out whether it was in reciprocity.
Nothing self-destructs in love, even when touched by grace.

The candle went out sometime ago, I am burning still -
that flame danced its last dance and fell with its skirts in a heap
one by one the guests stepped out, the dawn winds blew chill,
one by one stars clenched their fists over alleyways still asleep.

And far away the reptile teeth still seethe under the ocean.
A speck rubs into the seashell but nothing pearl is woven.

(You can totally stop reading here if your patience runs out after 300 words. If not, here's the translation of the prompt below)


A sigh needs a lifetime to make its impact felt
Who lives to see your hair finally untangled and dressed?

A hundred mouths of sea-creatures make traps of every wave
See what the speck endures before it becomes a pearl!

Love calls for patience and desire is always a rush
What colour shall I assign my heart till it’s mauled blood red?

I admit that you might not ignore my existence but
I will burn to ashes before the word of it reaches you.

Sunrays teach the dewdrop how to self-efface in love -
I too exist only till the favour of your gaze brushes me.

One flashed glance can be the chance of a lifetime, O remiss one
the warmth and company last but one dance of the flame.

What cures this disease of sorrows of life, Asad, except death
the candle is obliged to burn regardless till the dawn breaks.

G is also for G+.  Much as I love Google, G+ is not one of the Greatest. One wants to return a comment, one clicks on the name, and gets onto a profile without any links, any discernible way to find the blogger. G- more like it. And Gobsmacked! not in a Good way.  Do you know a solution? Please tell me if you do.


According to commenters here yesterday, poetry can be both fact and fiction. It can be a fictional story built around a kernel of truth, or it can be purely imaginary. It can even be wholly true if the poet wishes.  

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2015


  1. Brand new follower here, dropping by from A to Z.

    Nice to meet you, Nilanjana!

    2015 A to Z Challenge Co-Host
    Matthew MacNish from The QQQE

  2. Brilliant poem! And thank you for the translation. :)

  3. Hi Nila - Ghalib sounds like an amazing man ... sometime I'd like to know more. His works and words must be incredible and those days of writing in Urdu and Persian ...

    As for G+ - I hate it .. it's a real struggle to find a blog post ... and is not customer friendly ... I hate using it - and it's worse if you've no idea what you're looking for. If I can't manage something .. I forget it -

    So frustrating .. but Mr Ghalib would soothe me I think .. Cheers Hilary

  4. I love the translation of the prompt, it is very delicate and beautiful :)
    And also agree with the G-. I have been encouraging people to leave links in their comments to make visiting easy...

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Epics from A to Z
    MopDog - 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

  5. Well I have to say you are certainly doing the thinking persons A to Z.. . . . . . Well awesome.

    Thank you for following my rather mad blog you are very kind indeed. I will probably follow your after the A to Z ends it is rare for me to follow new blogs during the A to Z.

    Keep up the great posts.

  6. The flame still burns within.
    I'm on Google+, but it's a difficult way to follow what others are doing.

  7. I am always up to reading a poem. G+ I do not like and I tend to stay away from it as it is too much of a hassle.

  8. It definitely provokes a lot of deep thoughts!

    Smidgen Snippets & Bits

  9. "I had thought all suffering stops once your gaze touches me.
    And it’s true enough that you glanced briefly towards my face
    too short to make out whether it was in reciprocity.
    Nothing self-destructs in love, even when touched by grace."

    SO gorgeous!

    Dropping in from A to Z.

    Can't figure out G+ and don't wanna.


  10. ooh lovely! I had never heard of Mizra Ghalib, but I'm interested now! I liked your response a lot- did the original Urdu rhyme? And I love " see you hair finally untangled and dressed." In your response, I love the thing about falling with skirts in a heap.
    In short: hurrah fellow A-To-Z-er!

    1. Yes, it did. Ghazals have a somewhat complicated and strict rhyme scheme by definition

      Thank you for the hurrah :)


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