Friday, July 16, 2010

Ghalib: apostrophe and translations by John and Tom Alter


Whose passion for writing

implores? The painting dresses in paper.

Loneliness is painful.

Night: a river of milk.

Passion: untamed power.

Sharp, lethal, the sword pierces its own heart.

Understanding: a net.

Truth is an uncaught bird.

In prison, Ghalib, feet

braceleted with fire –Chains: braids of fine flame.


Fate: separation from

the Beloved forever.

Survival is an untrue promise. Truth

would kill me happily.

Frail as the wrists of my beloved, her

promise—easily broken, torn apart.

Half-hearted your arrow

has pierced my heart. Straightforward, there would be no pain.

My friends replace friendship

with lectures. My sorrow: gossip.

If your sorrow had truly burned,

stones would bleed endless blood.

If sorrow destroys life

love’s sorrow destroys hope.

Love’s insomnia is

torture. Forbidden, the solace of dreams.

Last night I drowned the sea.

Grave and funeral: never, nothing.

Neither my funeral would have been, nor my grave would there be!

Who can gaze upon the beloved? There is one, only one –

If there were even a scent of another, then so many would appear

Oh, Ghalib! Your allegories, your wisdom, the wonder of your speech!

We would consider you most holy – if only you did not drink!

Ek ek qatra

Of each drop I had to give an account –

The blood of my heart and my beloved’s tears are one

Now there is only I, and the mourning of a lost city of desires –

For you have broken that mirror which held the wonder of your beauty

Drag my dead body through the winding streets,

For I always gave my life to the wandering ways of the wind

Oh, do not ask of each mirage’s wave on the desert of faithfulness –

Every grain of sand, like jewels on a sword, shimmers and glimmers

So little I also knew of love’s sorrows, but now,

Having known them, they have lessened, but not the sorrows of life –

Na tha kuch

When there was nothing, there was god –

If nothing had happened, god would have been

I have drowned only because I was –

If I had not happened, than what would have happened?

In sorrow my head had become lifeless, so now what sorrow if I am beheaded?

Even if not cut off from my body, it lay dead upon my knee –

Ghalib left us so long, long ago – but yet we remember –

His special way of saying – “if this had happened, than what would have happened!”

Daim para hua

I am not going to prostrate myself at your doorstep forever –

To hell with such a life, I am not some god-forsaken stone

Why should my heart not quake before eternity’s endless turning?

I am a mere man – not some goblet filled with wine!

Oh, god! Why does the world wish to erase me forever?

I am not the letters of fate inscribed upon the tablet of life!

There should be a limit to the punishment given out for sinning!

After all, I am only a sinner, not an infidel!

Why was I never considered precious?

Because I am not a gem, nor pearl, nor gold, nor diamond?

Why do you walk so sadly before my eyes?

I am not less than any sun, any moon!

Why do you refuse to kiss my feet?

Am I any less than the very sky?

Ghalib, you are a mere pensioner, give prayers for the king –

Long gone are those days when you proclaimed – “I am nobody’s servant!”


Oh, my innocent heart, what is tormenting you?

Is there any cure for this relentless pain?

We are waiting, pining – and the beloved is so restless!

Oh, lord, what a strange, strange tale this is!

Even I have a tongue in my humble mouth –

Ah! if only you would ask, “what do you wish to say?”

If without you – except for you -- nobody can be present –

Then, oh god – why this commotion, why all these people?

How are there these angelic ones here?

Such delicate, such fine manners – what are they?

Why the thread so true in a lock of amber hair?

What is the look from her kohl-darkened eye?

From where have the plants and the flowers come?

What is a cloud? What is the wind?

We long for faithfulness from the beloved –

Who does not even know what faithfulness is!

“Yes! Do good unto others, and good will be done unto you!”

What else is the meaning of the dervish’s cry?

I have sacrificed my life for you –

Before this, what is prayer?

I have learned that if nothing, Ghalib –

Comes to hand free, than what is wrong?

Rahiye ab aisi jagah chalkar –

Go and live – now—all alone – in that place where no one else lives –

No one to speak with, no one to understand your words –

A house with no door, no walls – ah!

No companion, no watchman – nobody –

If you fall ill, no one will enquire after your health –

And if you die, no one will mourn your going –

Hazaaron khwahishien aiseen

Thousands of desires, and for each one I would give my life –

So much that I desired did happen, and – yet – I desire so much more.

Why is my murderer frightened? No blame will come upon him --

For taking my blood, which, drop by drop, has fallen forever from my weeping eyes –

We always heard about Adam leaving paradise – but –

With what shame did I leave the gully in which you live

The secret of your great height will be revealed, you devil –

If all the twistings and turnings of your twisting and turning hair should unravel

If someone wants to have a letter written to the beloved, than ask me –

Every morning I leave the house with a pen nestled behind my ear

I am the one whose name stands for true drinking in today’s age –

One again, the era has returned when the ‘elixir of life’ can be enjoyed!

The person from whom I expected praise for my poverty –

He has become even more impoverished by the sword of injustice

In love, there is no difference between living and dying –

I live only to see the beloved, for whom I am willing to die

Where the door of the tavern, ghalib, and where the holy man?

But one thing is for sure – yesterday, as I was leaving, he was entering!

Koi din gar zindagi aur hai –

If life goes on much longer, I have something quite different in mind –

The fires of hell are not nearly so hot – the heat of sorrow is truly unbearable.

I have seen, so many times, their worries and woes – but, this time, the sorrow is so much deeper –

The messenger waits so eagerly, having delivered the letter – a message spoken is always so much more beautiful –

The stars in the heavens are always so final in their judgment – that heavenly curse is not of this world –

All the travails of this world are over, Ghalib –

Only the suddenness of death remains --

Many thanks to John and Tom Alter for sharing with us their translations from the Urdu of poet Mirza Ghalib(1797-1869).

1 comment:

Paritosh said...

Ghalib's poetry is perhaps the best companion for the lonely. It just waits to be discovered by so many of them.
And who isn't lonely, even in a party...especially in a party