Thursday 30 April 2015

Z is for Zeal...and Zilch...and Zafar

ZafarBahadur Shah (1775-1862)

Bahadur Shah II, (Zafar was his pen name) was the last emperor of Mughal India, who was deposed by the British in 1857, after being reluctantly dragged into supporting an armed uprising against them (the Indians call it a War of Independence, the British call it a Mutiny, insert here the bit about history being written by victors, and also the bit about a rose by other names etc).  (You can, if you prefer, scroll down to the actual poem from here)

Anyways, by the time Zafar came to power, the authority of the Mughals over their once vast Empire had crumbled away, and Zafar’s domain was limited to Delhi and its immediate surroundings.  A puppet Emperor, Zafar did his humiliating job with a certain aloof dignity.  He was a fastidious and retiring man, a Sufi and a poet, recoiling from the exigencies of the Machiavellian politics of the time.  Zafar was a terrible king, you could say he had zilch talent for statecraft, but he was a fine poet.  His zeal was wholly for spiritual introspection and art, and he entertained and patronised poets and singers in his court, hosting ‘mushairas’ where many notables presented their work, Ghalib and Dagh being among the stars of his court, and sometimes the emperor himself would join in.  

That lifestyle came to an abrupt end after 1857, the British stripped him of his remaining powers and exiled him to Burma, where he continued to write.  There is controversy surrounding who wrote the ghazal lamenting his fate – ‘not even two yards were given in his beloved’s neighbourhood’ – but I have grown up on the history that attributed it to Zafar, the controversy has come much later.  This poignant ghazal is my prompt for the last letter.  The ghazal and a rough translation are given after my response.

Settled and burning

Who knew that hearts could settle in every landscape?
arid or lush, made of an ancient dried-up ocean;
find stillness in the dance of deltas, the shimmy shake
of waves and sunlight, even when the rivers were foreign;

and even in places without a single river.
My ashes scattered in them made of them a stream
flowing somewhere beneath the ground, its quicksilver
a sharp-edged mountain brook in a ragged ravine.

Perhaps it would have been pleasanter if the pyre
had been lit in some quiet spot, well trodden woods
or a known bank in a childhood town, familiar
logs kindling, but it was fine - this unknown neighbourhood,

where no rivers flowed, no mountains rose, no palms shivered in the rain.
But hidden within my lashes were the turns of my beloved’s lane.


Lagta nahi hai dil mera ujaDe dayaar mein
Kis ki bani hai alaam-e-naa-payedaar mein

Kah do in hasraton se kahin aur ja basein
Itani jagah kahan hai dil-e-daagdaar mein

Ek shaakh-e-gul pe baith ke bulbul hai shaadmaN
KaaNtein biccha diye hai dil-e-laalaazaar mein

Umr-e-daraaz maang kar laye the chaar din
Do arzoo mein kat gaye do intezaar mein

Kitna badnaseeb hai Zafar dafn ke liye
Do gaz zamin bhi na mili ku-e-yaar mein

My heart can’t settle in a plundered land
Who has made it, in a world of transience?

Tell these wishes to go elsewhere and reside
where is the space for them in a sore heart?

The nightingale exults sitting on a flowering branch
and thorns are sown in the garden of my heart

I begged a great life and got just four days
Two were spent in yearning and two in waiting

How ill-fated is Zafar that for his grave
not even two yards were granted in his beloved’s neighbourhood

So that completes my A-Z on response poems.  I hope you have enjoyed the month as much as I have, reading and writing and going all over the blogosphere, highways and alleys where I have never gone before!  Thank you for coming along with me on this trip!

Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2015.


  1. Thanks for sharing the translation for that second poem. I never heard of Zafar, so thanks also for the history lesson. :)

  2. Shame they forced him to be the Emperor when all he wanted to do was write and focus on the arts.
    Congratulations on completing the Challenge!

  3. Congratulations on finishing the Challenge! Very educational last post. I will definitely read some more.

  4. I am now more educated in Indian history. I'm not sure I would want to rule anything. I'd rather write.

    Congrats on surviving the challenge! :)

  5. You've ended the alphabet with a characteristically beautiful poem, Nila. Thank you for introducing me to Nagore and Paz and a host of other sublime poets I wouldn't have encountered otherwise. It's been a delight moving through the alphabet with you, and I look forward to all your future non-alphabetic posts. Congratulations!

  6. Hi Nila - we did do many things wrong .. but it was the times - and we have changed much, and learnt .. I think I'll leave that there!!

    Zafar sounds a wonderful poet ... and the history is interesting, even if sombre making and sad ...

    Thanks for being so supportive - as well as opening our eyes to the wonderful poets and writings that abound in our world - if we had people to show us ...

    Great A-Z series ... cheers Hilary

    1. Agree with you that it was the times...the Mughals did the general populace no favours either. Not exactly paragons any of them... or their contemporaries anywhere else in the world...for all their patronage of great poets and artists...pretty ruthless kings...occupational hazard. Glad most of us have moved onto different systems of governance...phew!

  7. Congrats on reaching the A to Z finishing line, Nila!
    I’m just sorry that I didn’t get to read all your wonderful poetry.
    So you MAY see me lurking around your blog, trying to play catch-up...
    This was my fifth challenge, but this time round I didn’t get to visit as many blogs as I’d have liked to…
    And I do hope that you are planning on publishing these poems...

    See you next year for another month of “alphabet madness”!

  8. Thank youse for the messages of congratulations. Back to you too. Survived! Yay! and phew! :)