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Books > Language and Literature > Celebrating The Best of Urdu Poetry (Text in Devanagari, Transliteration in Roman and English Translation)
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Celebrating The Best of Urdu Poetry (Text in Devanagari, Transliteration in Roman and English Translation)
Celebrating The Best of Urdu Poetry (Text in Devanagari, Transliteration in Roman and English Translation)
Description
Introduction

One summer when on vacation in Kasauli, I was looking for an anthology of Urdu poetry to read before taking my afternoon siesta and before retiring for the night. I laid my hands on Gyaneshwar Prasad's selection of Urdu verse in Devangri script. I read Devangri with some difficulty and my Urdu vocabulary is poor. To my dismay I found the meanings of difficult words in the footnote even harder to understand than he original. Back in Delhi, I asked Gyaneshwar's daughter Kaman Prasad who, though unable to read the Arabic script in which Urdu is usually written, has a sizeable repertoire of Urdu poetry which she reels off by rote. She loves Urdu poetry, and organizes an annual Jashn-e-Bahaar Mushaira of leading Indian and Pakistani poets in the capital. I asked Kamna to help me select what she thought were gems of Urdu verse which I could translate into English as joint offering to lovers of the language.

I have been translating Urdu poetry off and on, and including it in the syndicated weekly columns I write for Hindustan Times ('With Malice Towards One And All…') and The Tribune ('This Above All'). I also included Urdu verse in my novel Delhi. This was followed by a translation of Mohammed Iqbal's 'Shikwa' and 'Jawab-e-Shikwa'. I went on to translate more Urdu verse for the collection Declaring Love in Four here to prove that, despite my shortcomings, I have an abiding passion for Urdu poetry.

Although we have named this collection 'Celebrating the Best of Urdu Poetry', connoisseurs of the language may feel our selection doesn't deserve to be called the best. Urdu is dying a slow death in the land where it was born and where it flourished. There is little to celebrate about the status of Urdu in present-day India. The number of students who take it as a subject in schools and colleges is dwindling very fast. Rashid laments:

Maangey Allah se bas itni dua hai Rashid
Main jo Urdu mein vaseeyat likhoon beta parh ley
All Rashid asks of Allah is just one small gift:
If I write my will in Urdu, may my son be able to read it.

Nevertheless, Urdu continues to be extensively quoted in debates, and it remains the most quotable of all Indian languages. Khurshid Afsar Bisrani put it aptly:

Ab Urdu kya hai ek kothey kee tawaif hai
Mazaa har ek leta hai mohabbat kaun karta hai
What is Urdu now but a whore in a whorehouse
Whoever wants has fun with her, very few love her.

Apart from Kashmir, where Urdu is taught form the primary to the post-graduate levels, in the rest of India it is the second or third language. With the passing of years it has come to be dubbed as the language of the Muslims, which is far from the truth. However, even parents of Muslim children prefer to have their offspring learn Hindi or the language of the region in which they live. Knowledge of Urdu cannot ensure getting jobs either in the government or in private business houses, while knowledge of English, Hindi or regional language does. Besides economic considerations, champions of both Urdu and Hindi refuse to budge from their positions on the scripts to be used. Those who write Urdu in the Arabic script refuse to admit that it can be as easily read in Devanagri or Roman. Hindi purists, likewise, refuse to have selections of Urdu poetry included in school or college textbooks. As a result, while Urdu is dying out in this country, it continues to flourish in Pakistan, where it has been recognized as the national language in preference to the more commonly spoken Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi or Pushto.

Urdu is rich because of its mixed linguistic heritage. It evolved as an argot- a mixture of Turkish, Arabic and Persian that was spoken by the Muslim soldiers in invaders' armies, combined with the Sanskrit, Hindi, Braj and Dakhani spoken by the Indian soldiers in Mughal military encampments.(The word 'Urdu', incidentally, mean 'camp'.) It was also known as Rekhta during the time of Meer and Ghalib. The educated elite, who preferred to write and speak Persian, looked upon the language with some disdain at first. It was the same with poets like Meer and Ghalib, right doen to Mohammad Iqbal. All of them wrote in Persian till they realized that Urdu was more acceptable to the masses and gave them much larger audiences. But the influence of Persian remains dominant to this day in imagery as well as in the use of composite words like qaid-e-hayat-o-band-e-gham (prison-of -life-and-chain-of -sorrows).

It may come as a surprise to reader that while most Urdu poets were, and are, Muslims, to whom wine is haraam (forbidden), they wrote more on the joys of drinking than on any other subject. (Some, like Ghalib, Sahir and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, were also hard drinkers.) Urdu poetry is replete with odes and references to the maikhana (tavern) and the saqi (wine server). However there is no historical evidence of maikhanas in any city. There were wine shops from where hard liquor could be bought and consumed alone, in exclusively male gatherings, or in salons of courtesans who, besides singing, dancing and flirting with their patrons, sometimes filled men's goblets with wine, or got their maids or boy servants to do so. The saqi, too, is as much a figment of the poet's imagination as are the taverns. The saqis in literature not only served wine but could also get men drunk by merely exchanging glances with them.

While high Muslim society was rigidly segregated according to gender, and women covered themselves from head to heel in burqas, it did not deter poets from showering praise on their beauty and proclaiming the joys of making love to them. Much of Urdu love poetry was addressed to courtesans, whose mehfils the poets partronized. Quite a lot of it was also addressed to rosy-cheeked, round-bottomed boys, who on occasion acted as wine servers. Pederasty, though frowned upon by puritans, appears to have been commonly practiced.

Stock images from Arabic and Persian art and literature persist in Urdu poetry. Four of the commonest are the nightingale's (or the bulbul's) lament for the unresponsive rose, moths incinerating themselves on candle flames, Majnu's unending quest for his beloved Laila and Farhaad hacking rock-cliffs to get to his Shirin. Almost all-Urdu verse is overwhelmingly romantic, and there's morbid obsession with the decline of youth into old age and ultimately, death. A mood of despair runs through much of Urdu poetry. Nevertheless, there is also plenty of wit, satire and humour, their chief contributor being Akbar Allahabadi. Later poets made use of them as weapons of social reform, to denounce bigotry and religious hatred. Being largely iconoclasts, the poets frequently lampooned preachers of morality who went under the titles of Sheikh, Zahid, Vaaiz and Naseh. A convention that has been carried on from the middle Ages to the present day is the inclusion of the poets name or pseudonym in the last couplet (maqta). Poets often added the names of the places they belonged to their assumed poetic names. Thus Mirza Asadullah Khan used 'Ghalib' (conqueror) as his pseudonym. Daagh came to be known as Daagh Dehlvi (of Delhi), Akbar was better known as Akbar Illahabadi (from Allahabad) and today we are familiar with Firaq Gorakhpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Agha Hashr Kashmiri and Sahir Ludhianvi.

Urdu poets also owe much of their popularity to the ghazal, the most popular form of Urdu poetry. One interesting aspect of the ghazal is that is not confined to one theme. Although its rhyming pattern is consistent, the thought content in every couplet is often at variance and can be quoted independently. That is why ghazals are rarely given titles or have names to them. All this may suggest that ghazals can be difficult or confusing or obtuse, but this is not case. In fact, this quality (or structure) makes a ghazal very flexible-it isn't always necessary to write or recite the entire ghazal. You can pick and choose any of the couplets, so you may hear different versions of a ghazal by different people. This is what I've done in some of my translations-picked only my favourite couplets from a ghazal.

Hindi films- music composers and playback singers-have had a great role to play in popularizing Urdu verse. In India, there were K.L.Saigal, Mohammad Rafi, Begum Akhtar, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Talat Mahmood and Jagjit Singh; in Pakistan Noor Jahan, Mallika Pukhraj, Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Iqbal Bano and Farida Khanam. These singers have made Urdu ghazals known to millions who do not even know that the language in written from right to left. Above all, it is the unparalleled resonance of Urdu words and their musical content that has got many like me, who are not Urdu speakers, hooked to the language.

I consulted many translations before I embarked on this venture. I wish to acknowledge my debt to the late Gyaneshwar Prasad of Patna, Victor Kiernan, Arberry, Ralph Russell, Issar, Badri Raina, Purshottam Nijhawan, Kuldip Salil, Naseem Muqri, Roshan Chauffle, K.C. Kanda, Zarina Sani, Vinay Waikar and T. N. Raz.

While working on these translations I had Sultan Nathani's Lughatd and Shri Ram Vidharthi's romanized Hindi-Urdu to English dictionaries by my side.

CONTENTS

Introductionix
Mohammad Rafi Sauda1
Meer Taqi Meer5
Sheikh Ghulam Hamdani Mus-hafi17
Bahadur Shah Zafar21
Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq29
Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib35
Momin Khan Momin67
Nawab Mirza Khan Daagh Dehlvi73
Akbar Hussain Akbar Allahabadi79
Shaad Azimabadi85
Mohammad Iqbal91
Mirza Wajid Husain Changezi135
Firaq Gorakhpuri139
Balmukand Arsh Malsiyani145
Abdul Hameed Adam149
Faiz Ahmed Faiz153
Ghulam Rabbani Taban171
Habib Jalib177
Kishwar Naheed181
Zahra Nigaah187
Introduction

One summer when on vacation in Kasauli, I was looking for an anthology of Urdu poetry to read before taking my afternoon siesta and before retiring for the night. I laid my hands on Gyaneshwar Prasad's selection of Urdu verse in Devangri script. I read Devangri with some difficulty and my Urdu vocabulary is poor. To my dismay I found the meanings of difficult words in the footnote even harder to understand than he original. Back in Delhi, I asked Gyaneshwar's daughter Kaman Prasad who, though unable to read the Arabic script in which Urdu is usually written, has a sizeable repertoire of Urdu poetry which she reels off by rote. She loves Urdu poetry, and organizes an annual Jashn-e-Bahaar Mushaira of leading Indian and Pakistani poets in the capital. I asked Kamna to help me select what she thought were gems of Urdu verse which I could translate into English as joint offering to lovers of the language.

I have been translating Urdu poetry off and on, and including it in the syndicated weekly columns I write for Hindustan Times ('With Malice Towards One And All…') and The Tribune ('This Above All'). I also included Urdu verse in my novel Delhi. This was followed by a translation of Mohammed Iqbal's 'Shikwa' and 'Jawab-e-Shikwa'. I went on to translate more Urdu verse for the collection Declaring Love in Four here to prove that, despite my shortcomings, I have an abiding passion for Urdu poetry.

Although we have named this collection 'Celebrating the Best of Urdu Poetry', connoisseurs of the language may feel our selection doesn't deserve to be called the best. Urdu is dying a slow death in the land where it was born and where it flourished. There is little to celebrate about the status of Urdu in present-day India. The number of students who take it as a subject in schools and colleges is dwindling very fast. Rashid laments:

Maangey Allah se bas itni dua hai Rashid
Main jo Urdu mein vaseeyat likhoon beta parh ley
All Rashid asks of Allah is just one small gift:
If I write my will in Urdu, may my son be able to read it.

Nevertheless, Urdu continues to be extensively quoted in debates, and it remains the most quotable of all Indian languages. Khurshid Afsar Bisrani put it aptly:

Ab Urdu kya hai ek kothey kee tawaif hai
Mazaa har ek leta hai mohabbat kaun karta hai
What is Urdu now but a whore in a whorehouse
Whoever wants has fun with her, very few love her.

Apart from Kashmir, where Urdu is taught form the primary to the post-graduate levels, in the rest of India it is the second or third language. With the passing of years it has come to be dubbed as the language of the Muslims, which is far from the truth. However, even parents of Muslim children prefer to have their offspring learn Hindi or the language of the region in which they live. Knowledge of Urdu cannot ensure getting jobs either in the government or in private business houses, while knowledge of English, Hindi or regional language does. Besides economic considerations, champions of both Urdu and Hindi refuse to budge from their positions on the scripts to be used. Those who write Urdu in the Arabic script refuse to admit that it can be as easily read in Devanagri or Roman. Hindi purists, likewise, refuse to have selections of Urdu poetry included in school or college textbooks. As a result, while Urdu is dying out in this country, it continues to flourish in Pakistan, where it has been recognized as the national language in preference to the more commonly spoken Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi or Pushto.

Urdu is rich because of its mixed linguistic heritage. It evolved as an argot- a mixture of Turkish, Arabic and Persian that was spoken by the Muslim soldiers in invaders' armies, combined with the Sanskrit, Hindi, Braj and Dakhani spoken by the Indian soldiers in Mughal military encampments.(The word 'Urdu', incidentally, mean 'camp'.) It was also known as Rekhta during the time of Meer and Ghalib. The educated elite, who preferred to write and speak Persian, looked upon the language with some disdain at first. It was the same with poets like Meer and Ghalib, right doen to Mohammad Iqbal. All of them wrote in Persian till they realized that Urdu was more acceptable to the masses and gave them much larger audiences. But the influence of Persian remains dominant to this day in imagery as well as in the use of composite words like qaid-e-hayat-o-band-e-gham (prison-of -life-and-chain-of -sorrows).

It may come as a surprise to reader that while most Urdu poets were, and are, Muslims, to whom wine is haraam (forbidden), they wrote more on the joys of drinking than on any other subject. (Some, like Ghalib, Sahir and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, were also hard drinkers.) Urdu poetry is replete with odes and references to the maikhana (tavern) and the saqi (wine server). However there is no historical evidence of maikhanas in any city. There were wine shops from where hard liquor could be bought and consumed alone, in exclusively male gatherings, or in salons of courtesans who, besides singing, dancing and flirting with their patrons, sometimes filled men's goblets with wine, or got their maids or boy servants to do so. The saqi, too, is as much a figment of the poet's imagination as are the taverns. The saqis in literature not only served wine but could also get men drunk by merely exchanging glances with them.

While high Muslim society was rigidly segregated according to gender, and women covered themselves from head to heel in burqas, it did not deter poets from showering praise on their beauty and proclaiming the joys of making love to them. Much of Urdu love poetry was addressed to courtesans, whose mehfils the poets partronized. Quite a lot of it was also addressed to rosy-cheeked, round-bottomed boys, who on occasion acted as wine servers. Pederasty, though frowned upon by puritans, appears to have been commonly practiced.

Stock images from Arabic and Persian art and literature persist in Urdu poetry. Four of the commonest are the nightingale's (or the bulbul's) lament for the unresponsive rose, moths incinerating themselves on candle flames, Majnu's unending quest for his beloved Laila and Farhaad hacking rock-cliffs to get to his Shirin. Almost all-Urdu verse is overwhelmingly romantic, and there's morbid obsession with the decline of youth into old age and ultimately, death. A mood of despair runs through much of Urdu poetry. Nevertheless, there is also plenty of wit, satire and humour, their chief contributor being Akbar Allahabadi. Later poets made use of them as weapons of social reform, to denounce bigotry and religious hatred. Being largely iconoclasts, the poets frequently lampooned preachers of morality who went under the titles of Sheikh, Zahid, Vaaiz and Naseh. A convention that has been carried on from the middle Ages to the present day is the inclusion of the poets name or pseudonym in the last couplet (maqta). Poets often added the names of the places they belonged to their assumed poetic names. Thus Mirza Asadullah Khan used 'Ghalib' (conqueror) as his pseudonym. Daagh came to be known as Daagh Dehlvi (of Delhi), Akbar was better known as Akbar Illahabadi (from Allahabad) and today we are familiar with Firaq Gorakhpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Agha Hashr Kashmiri and Sahir Ludhianvi.

Urdu poets also owe much of their popularity to the ghazal, the most popular form of Urdu poetry. One interesting aspect of the ghazal is that is not confined to one theme. Although its rhyming pattern is consistent, the thought content in every couplet is often at variance and can be quoted independently. That is why ghazals are rarely given titles or have names to them. All this may suggest that ghazals can be difficult or confusing or obtuse, but this is not case. In fact, this quality (or structure) makes a ghazal very flexible-it isn't always necessary to write or recite the entire ghazal. You can pick and choose any of the couplets, so you may hear different versions of a ghazal by different people. This is what I've done in some of my translations-picked only my favourite couplets from a ghazal.

Hindi films- music composers and playback singers-have had a great role to play in popularizing Urdu verse. In India, there were K.L.Saigal, Mohammad Rafi, Begum Akhtar, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Talat Mahmood and Jagjit Singh; in Pakistan Noor Jahan, Mallika Pukhraj, Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Iqbal Bano and Farida Khanam. These singers have made Urdu ghazals known to millions who do not even know that the language in written from right to left. Above all, it is the unparalleled resonance of Urdu words and their musical content that has got many like me, who are not Urdu speakers, hooked to the language.

I consulted many translations before I embarked on this venture. I wish to acknowledge my debt to the late Gyaneshwar Prasad of Patna, Victor Kiernan, Arberry, Ralph Russell, Issar, Badri Raina, Purshottam Nijhawan, Kuldip Salil, Naseem Muqri, Roshan Chauffle, K.C. Kanda, Zarina Sani, Vinay Waikar and T. N. Raz.

While working on these translations I had Sultan Nathani's Lughatd and Shri Ram Vidharthi's romanized Hindi-Urdu to English dictionaries by my side.

CONTENTS

Introductionix
Mohammad Rafi Sauda1
Meer Taqi Meer5
Sheikh Ghulam Hamdani Mus-hafi17
Bahadur Shah Zafar21
Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq29
Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib35
Momin Khan Momin67
Nawab Mirza Khan Daagh Dehlvi73
Akbar Hussain Akbar Allahabadi79
Shaad Azimabadi85
Mohammad Iqbal91
Mirza Wajid Husain Changezi135
Firaq Gorakhpuri139
Balmukand Arsh Malsiyani145
Abdul Hameed Adam149
Faiz Ahmed Faiz153
Ghulam Rabbani Taban171
Habib Jalib177
Kishwar Naheed181
Zahra Nigaah187

Celebrating The Best of Urdu Poetry (Text in Devanagari, Transliteration in Roman and English Translation)

Item Code:
IDJ505
Cover:
Hardcover
Edition:
2007
Publisher:
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd
ISBN:
9780670999057
Size:
7.9" X 5.2"
Pages:
191
Price:
$27.50   Shipping Free
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Introduction

One summer when on vacation in Kasauli, I was looking for an anthology of Urdu poetry to read before taking my afternoon siesta and before retiring for the night. I laid my hands on Gyaneshwar Prasad's selection of Urdu verse in Devangri script. I read Devangri with some difficulty and my Urdu vocabulary is poor. To my dismay I found the meanings of difficult words in the footnote even harder to understand than he original. Back in Delhi, I asked Gyaneshwar's daughter Kaman Prasad who, though unable to read the Arabic script in which Urdu is usually written, has a sizeable repertoire of Urdu poetry which she reels off by rote. She loves Urdu poetry, and organizes an annual Jashn-e-Bahaar Mushaira of leading Indian and Pakistani poets in the capital. I asked Kamna to help me select what she thought were gems of Urdu verse which I could translate into English as joint offering to lovers of the language.

I have been translating Urdu poetry off and on, and including it in the syndicated weekly columns I write for Hindustan Times ('With Malice Towards One And All…') and The Tribune ('This Above All'). I also included Urdu verse in my novel Delhi. This was followed by a translation of Mohammed Iqbal's 'Shikwa' and 'Jawab-e-Shikwa'. I went on to translate more Urdu verse for the collection Declaring Love in Four here to prove that, despite my shortcomings, I have an abiding passion for Urdu poetry.

Although we have named this collection 'Celebrating the Best of Urdu Poetry', connoisseurs of the language may feel our selection doesn't deserve to be called the best. Urdu is dying a slow death in the land where it was born and where it flourished. There is little to celebrate about the status of Urdu in present-day India. The number of students who take it as a subject in schools and colleges is dwindling very fast. Rashid laments:

Maangey Allah se bas itni dua hai Rashid
Main jo Urdu mein vaseeyat likhoon beta parh ley
All Rashid asks of Allah is just one small gift:
If I write my will in Urdu, may my son be able to read it.

Nevertheless, Urdu continues to be extensively quoted in debates, and it remains the most quotable of all Indian languages. Khurshid Afsar Bisrani put it aptly:

Ab Urdu kya hai ek kothey kee tawaif hai
Mazaa har ek leta hai mohabbat kaun karta hai
What is Urdu now but a whore in a whorehouse
Whoever wants has fun with her, very few love her.

Apart from Kashmir, where Urdu is taught form the primary to the post-graduate levels, in the rest of India it is the second or third language. With the passing of years it has come to be dubbed as the language of the Muslims, which is far from the truth. However, even parents of Muslim children prefer to have their offspring learn Hindi or the language of the region in which they live. Knowledge of Urdu cannot ensure getting jobs either in the government or in private business houses, while knowledge of English, Hindi or regional language does. Besides economic considerations, champions of both Urdu and Hindi refuse to budge from their positions on the scripts to be used. Those who write Urdu in the Arabic script refuse to admit that it can be as easily read in Devanagri or Roman. Hindi purists, likewise, refuse to have selections of Urdu poetry included in school or college textbooks. As a result, while Urdu is dying out in this country, it continues to flourish in Pakistan, where it has been recognized as the national language in preference to the more commonly spoken Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi or Pushto.

Urdu is rich because of its mixed linguistic heritage. It evolved as an argot- a mixture of Turkish, Arabic and Persian that was spoken by the Muslim soldiers in invaders' armies, combined with the Sanskrit, Hindi, Braj and Dakhani spoken by the Indian soldiers in Mughal military encampments.(The word 'Urdu', incidentally, mean 'camp'.) It was also known as Rekhta during the time of Meer and Ghalib. The educated elite, who preferred to write and speak Persian, looked upon the language with some disdain at first. It was the same with poets like Meer and Ghalib, right doen to Mohammad Iqbal. All of them wrote in Persian till they realized that Urdu was more acceptable to the masses and gave them much larger audiences. But the influence of Persian remains dominant to this day in imagery as well as in the use of composite words like qaid-e-hayat-o-band-e-gham (prison-of -life-and-chain-of -sorrows).

It may come as a surprise to reader that while most Urdu poets were, and are, Muslims, to whom wine is haraam (forbidden), they wrote more on the joys of drinking than on any other subject. (Some, like Ghalib, Sahir and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, were also hard drinkers.) Urdu poetry is replete with odes and references to the maikhana (tavern) and the saqi (wine server). However there is no historical evidence of maikhanas in any city. There were wine shops from where hard liquor could be bought and consumed alone, in exclusively male gatherings, or in salons of courtesans who, besides singing, dancing and flirting with their patrons, sometimes filled men's goblets with wine, or got their maids or boy servants to do so. The saqi, too, is as much a figment of the poet's imagination as are the taverns. The saqis in literature not only served wine but could also get men drunk by merely exchanging glances with them.

While high Muslim society was rigidly segregated according to gender, and women covered themselves from head to heel in burqas, it did not deter poets from showering praise on their beauty and proclaiming the joys of making love to them. Much of Urdu love poetry was addressed to courtesans, whose mehfils the poets partronized. Quite a lot of it was also addressed to rosy-cheeked, round-bottomed boys, who on occasion acted as wine servers. Pederasty, though frowned upon by puritans, appears to have been commonly practiced.

Stock images from Arabic and Persian art and literature persist in Urdu poetry. Four of the commonest are the nightingale's (or the bulbul's) lament for the unresponsive rose, moths incinerating themselves on candle flames, Majnu's unending quest for his beloved Laila and Farhaad hacking rock-cliffs to get to his Shirin. Almost all-Urdu verse is overwhelmingly romantic, and there's morbid obsession with the decline of youth into old age and ultimately, death. A mood of despair runs through much of Urdu poetry. Nevertheless, there is also plenty of wit, satire and humour, their chief contributor being Akbar Allahabadi. Later poets made use of them as weapons of social reform, to denounce bigotry and religious hatred. Being largely iconoclasts, the poets frequently lampooned preachers of morality who went under the titles of Sheikh, Zahid, Vaaiz and Naseh. A convention that has been carried on from the middle Ages to the present day is the inclusion of the poets name or pseudonym in the last couplet (maqta). Poets often added the names of the places they belonged to their assumed poetic names. Thus Mirza Asadullah Khan used 'Ghalib' (conqueror) as his pseudonym. Daagh came to be known as Daagh Dehlvi (of Delhi), Akbar was better known as Akbar Illahabadi (from Allahabad) and today we are familiar with Firaq Gorakhpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Agha Hashr Kashmiri and Sahir Ludhianvi.

Urdu poets also owe much of their popularity to the ghazal, the most popular form of Urdu poetry. One interesting aspect of the ghazal is that is not confined to one theme. Although its rhyming pattern is consistent, the thought content in every couplet is often at variance and can be quoted independently. That is why ghazals are rarely given titles or have names to them. All this may suggest that ghazals can be difficult or confusing or obtuse, but this is not case. In fact, this quality (or structure) makes a ghazal very flexible-it isn't always necessary to write or recite the entire ghazal. You can pick and choose any of the couplets, so you may hear different versions of a ghazal by different people. This is what I've done in some of my translations-picked only my favourite couplets from a ghazal.

Hindi films- music composers and playback singers-have had a great role to play in popularizing Urdu verse. In India, there were K.L.Saigal, Mohammad Rafi, Begum Akhtar, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Talat Mahmood and Jagjit Singh; in Pakistan Noor Jahan, Mallika Pukhraj, Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Iqbal Bano and Farida Khanam. These singers have made Urdu ghazals known to millions who do not even know that the language in written from right to left. Above all, it is the unparalleled resonance of Urdu words and their musical content that has got many like me, who are not Urdu speakers, hooked to the language.

I consulted many translations before I embarked on this venture. I wish to acknowledge my debt to the late Gyaneshwar Prasad of Patna, Victor Kiernan, Arberry, Ralph Russell, Issar, Badri Raina, Purshottam Nijhawan, Kuldip Salil, Naseem Muqri, Roshan Chauffle, K.C. Kanda, Zarina Sani, Vinay Waikar and T. N. Raz.

While working on these translations I had Sultan Nathani's Lughatd and Shri Ram Vidharthi's romanized Hindi-Urdu to English dictionaries by my side.

CONTENTS

Introductionix
Mohammad Rafi Sauda1
Meer Taqi Meer5
Sheikh Ghulam Hamdani Mus-hafi17
Bahadur Shah Zafar21
Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq29
Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib35
Momin Khan Momin67
Nawab Mirza Khan Daagh Dehlvi73
Akbar Hussain Akbar Allahabadi79
Shaad Azimabadi85
Mohammad Iqbal91
Mirza Wajid Husain Changezi135
Firaq Gorakhpuri139
Balmukand Arsh Malsiyani145
Abdul Hameed Adam149
Faiz Ahmed Faiz153
Ghulam Rabbani Taban171
Habib Jalib177
Kishwar Naheed181
Zahra Nigaah187
Introduction

One summer when on vacation in Kasauli, I was looking for an anthology of Urdu poetry to read before taking my afternoon siesta and before retiring for the night. I laid my hands on Gyaneshwar Prasad's selection of Urdu verse in Devangri script. I read Devangri with some difficulty and my Urdu vocabulary is poor. To my dismay I found the meanings of difficult words in the footnote even harder to understand than he original. Back in Delhi, I asked Gyaneshwar's daughter Kaman Prasad who, though unable to read the Arabic script in which Urdu is usually written, has a sizeable repertoire of Urdu poetry which she reels off by rote. She loves Urdu poetry, and organizes an annual Jashn-e-Bahaar Mushaira of leading Indian and Pakistani poets in the capital. I asked Kamna to help me select what she thought were gems of Urdu verse which I could translate into English as joint offering to lovers of the language.

I have been translating Urdu poetry off and on, and including it in the syndicated weekly columns I write for Hindustan Times ('With Malice Towards One And All…') and The Tribune ('This Above All'). I also included Urdu verse in my novel Delhi. This was followed by a translation of Mohammed Iqbal's 'Shikwa' and 'Jawab-e-Shikwa'. I went on to translate more Urdu verse for the collection Declaring Love in Four here to prove that, despite my shortcomings, I have an abiding passion for Urdu poetry.

Although we have named this collection 'Celebrating the Best of Urdu Poetry', connoisseurs of the language may feel our selection doesn't deserve to be called the best. Urdu is dying a slow death in the land where it was born and where it flourished. There is little to celebrate about the status of Urdu in present-day India. The number of students who take it as a subject in schools and colleges is dwindling very fast. Rashid laments:

Maangey Allah se bas itni dua hai Rashid
Main jo Urdu mein vaseeyat likhoon beta parh ley
All Rashid asks of Allah is just one small gift:
If I write my will in Urdu, may my son be able to read it.

Nevertheless, Urdu continues to be extensively quoted in debates, and it remains the most quotable of all Indian languages. Khurshid Afsar Bisrani put it aptly:

Ab Urdu kya hai ek kothey kee tawaif hai
Mazaa har ek leta hai mohabbat kaun karta hai
What is Urdu now but a whore in a whorehouse
Whoever wants has fun with her, very few love her.

Apart from Kashmir, where Urdu is taught form the primary to the post-graduate levels, in the rest of India it is the second or third language. With the passing of years it has come to be dubbed as the language of the Muslims, which is far from the truth. However, even parents of Muslim children prefer to have their offspring learn Hindi or the language of the region in which they live. Knowledge of Urdu cannot ensure getting jobs either in the government or in private business houses, while knowledge of English, Hindi or regional language does. Besides economic considerations, champions of both Urdu and Hindi refuse to budge from their positions on the scripts to be used. Those who write Urdu in the Arabic script refuse to admit that it can be as easily read in Devanagri or Roman. Hindi purists, likewise, refuse to have selections of Urdu poetry included in school or college textbooks. As a result, while Urdu is dying out in this country, it continues to flourish in Pakistan, where it has been recognized as the national language in preference to the more commonly spoken Punjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi or Pushto.

Urdu is rich because of its mixed linguistic heritage. It evolved as an argot- a mixture of Turkish, Arabic and Persian that was spoken by the Muslim soldiers in invaders' armies, combined with the Sanskrit, Hindi, Braj and Dakhani spoken by the Indian soldiers in Mughal military encampments.(The word 'Urdu', incidentally, mean 'camp'.) It was also known as Rekhta during the time of Meer and Ghalib. The educated elite, who preferred to write and speak Persian, looked upon the language with some disdain at first. It was the same with poets like Meer and Ghalib, right doen to Mohammad Iqbal. All of them wrote in Persian till they realized that Urdu was more acceptable to the masses and gave them much larger audiences. But the influence of Persian remains dominant to this day in imagery as well as in the use of composite words like qaid-e-hayat-o-band-e-gham (prison-of -life-and-chain-of -sorrows).

It may come as a surprise to reader that while most Urdu poets were, and are, Muslims, to whom wine is haraam (forbidden), they wrote more on the joys of drinking than on any other subject. (Some, like Ghalib, Sahir and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, were also hard drinkers.) Urdu poetry is replete with odes and references to the maikhana (tavern) and the saqi (wine server). However there is no historical evidence of maikhanas in any city. There were wine shops from where hard liquor could be bought and consumed alone, in exclusively male gatherings, or in salons of courtesans who, besides singing, dancing and flirting with their patrons, sometimes filled men's goblets with wine, or got their maids or boy servants to do so. The saqi, too, is as much a figment of the poet's imagination as are the taverns. The saqis in literature not only served wine but could also get men drunk by merely exchanging glances with them.

While high Muslim society was rigidly segregated according to gender, and women covered themselves from head to heel in burqas, it did not deter poets from showering praise on their beauty and proclaiming the joys of making love to them. Much of Urdu love poetry was addressed to courtesans, whose mehfils the poets partronized. Quite a lot of it was also addressed to rosy-cheeked, round-bottomed boys, who on occasion acted as wine servers. Pederasty, though frowned upon by puritans, appears to have been commonly practiced.

Stock images from Arabic and Persian art and literature persist in Urdu poetry. Four of the commonest are the nightingale's (or the bulbul's) lament for the unresponsive rose, moths incinerating themselves on candle flames, Majnu's unending quest for his beloved Laila and Farhaad hacking rock-cliffs to get to his Shirin. Almost all-Urdu verse is overwhelmingly romantic, and there's morbid obsession with the decline of youth into old age and ultimately, death. A mood of despair runs through much of Urdu poetry. Nevertheless, there is also plenty of wit, satire and humour, their chief contributor being Akbar Allahabadi. Later poets made use of them as weapons of social reform, to denounce bigotry and religious hatred. Being largely iconoclasts, the poets frequently lampooned preachers of morality who went under the titles of Sheikh, Zahid, Vaaiz and Naseh. A convention that has been carried on from the middle Ages to the present day is the inclusion of the poets name or pseudonym in the last couplet (maqta). Poets often added the names of the places they belonged to their assumed poetic names. Thus Mirza Asadullah Khan used 'Ghalib' (conqueror) as his pseudonym. Daagh came to be known as Daagh Dehlvi (of Delhi), Akbar was better known as Akbar Illahabadi (from Allahabad) and today we are familiar with Firaq Gorakhpuri, Shakeel Badayuni, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Agha Hashr Kashmiri and Sahir Ludhianvi.

Urdu poets also owe much of their popularity to the ghazal, the most popular form of Urdu poetry. One interesting aspect of the ghazal is that is not confined to one theme. Although its rhyming pattern is consistent, the thought content in every couplet is often at variance and can be quoted independently. That is why ghazals are rarely given titles or have names to them. All this may suggest that ghazals can be difficult or confusing or obtuse, but this is not case. In fact, this quality (or structure) makes a ghazal very flexible-it isn't always necessary to write or recite the entire ghazal. You can pick and choose any of the couplets, so you may hear different versions of a ghazal by different people. This is what I've done in some of my translations-picked only my favourite couplets from a ghazal.

Hindi films- music composers and playback singers-have had a great role to play in popularizing Urdu verse. In India, there were K.L.Saigal, Mohammad Rafi, Begum Akhtar, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Talat Mahmood and Jagjit Singh; in Pakistan Noor Jahan, Mallika Pukhraj, Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali, Iqbal Bano and Farida Khanam. These singers have made Urdu ghazals known to millions who do not even know that the language in written from right to left. Above all, it is the unparalleled resonance of Urdu words and their musical content that has got many like me, who are not Urdu speakers, hooked to the language.

I consulted many translations before I embarked on this venture. I wish to acknowledge my debt to the late Gyaneshwar Prasad of Patna, Victor Kiernan, Arberry, Ralph Russell, Issar, Badri Raina, Purshottam Nijhawan, Kuldip Salil, Naseem Muqri, Roshan Chauffle, K.C. Kanda, Zarina Sani, Vinay Waikar and T. N. Raz.

While working on these translations I had Sultan Nathani's Lughatd and Shri Ram Vidharthi's romanized Hindi-Urdu to English dictionaries by my side.

CONTENTS

Introductionix
Mohammad Rafi Sauda1
Meer Taqi Meer5
Sheikh Ghulam Hamdani Mus-hafi17
Bahadur Shah Zafar21
Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq29
Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib35
Momin Khan Momin67
Nawab Mirza Khan Daagh Dehlvi73
Akbar Hussain Akbar Allahabadi79
Shaad Azimabadi85
Mohammad Iqbal91
Mirza Wajid Husain Changezi135
Firaq Gorakhpuri139
Balmukand Arsh Malsiyani145
Abdul Hameed Adam149
Faiz Ahmed Faiz153
Ghulam Rabbani Taban171
Habib Jalib177
Kishwar Naheed181
Zahra Nigaah187
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