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Ghalib - On Ephemeral Nature of Life


आह को चाहिए एक उम्र असर होने तक
कौन जीता है तेरी ज़ुल्फ़ के सर होने तक

दाम-ए-हर मौज में है हल्का-ए-सद काम-ए-निहंग
देखें क्या गुज़रे है क़तरे पे गुहर होने तक 

(दाम ए हर मौज- Maze of waves;  हल्का-ए-सद काम-ए-निहंग- Gaping mouths of Crocodiles; क़तरे- Droplet; गुहर- Pearl)

आशिक़ी सब्र तलब और तमन्ना बेताब
दिल का क्या रंग करून, खून ए जिगर होने तक

हमने माना के तग़ाफ़ुल न करोगे लेकिन
खाक़ हो जाएंगे हम तुमको ख़बर होने तक (तग़ाफ़ुल: ignore)

परतव-ए-खुर से है शबनम को फ़ना की तालीम
मैं भी हूँ एक इनायत की नज़र होने तक
(परतव-ए-खुर- The light of the Sun, तालीम- education. इनायत- Kindness, benefactor's glance)

यक नज़र बेश नहीं फुर्सत ए हस्ती ग़ाफ़िल
गर्मिये बज़्म है एक रक़्स-ए-शरर होने तक
(यक नज़र बेश - Not more than a moment, फुर्सत ए हस्ती- Spare time in life ग़ाफ़िल- ignorant, careless, गर्मिये बज़्म- Charm in life रक़्स-ए-शरर- A dancing spark)

ग़म ए हस्ती का 'असद' किस से हो जुज़ मर्ग इलाज़
शमा हर रंग में जलती है सहर होने तक.
(जुज़- Except for मर्ग- Death)

My translation:

A wail of desire, will need a lifetime to become something worthwhile,
Who will survive the spells of indifference till your love eventually smiles?

A sea of gaping alligators await, expectantly among the maze of sea waves
We will see what fate the droplet seeking to transform into a pearl, braves.

My love wants me to be patient, my passion is impatient, refuses waiting
Don't know which way my heart to be, till eventually it stops beating.

I do know you can't ignore the news of my demise,
alas, it will be too late by then and in ashes, I would rise.

In the scorching light of the sun, is dying lesson for the dew-drops
My spirit, similarly lives only till your wandering eyes on me as a blessing stops 

Not more than a careless moment is there in the interval of the lifetime,
It takes not more than a dancing spark to put an end to the life sublime. 

The tragedy of life has no solution till death comes our way
Like a candle of the night, we burn, until the arrival of the day. 


Ghalib is master of Ghazals, but what makes him a master-thinker is the fact that his writings rise above the standard definitions of a Ghazal (Verses of communication between lovers). He delves into the intricacies of the spiritual queries, and no one can dispute him when he writes about himself that had he not been taken to drinking, he would have been considered a philosopher and a sage. 

Couplet #1

Every sigh of despair, every wail of desire, needs whole lifetime to come real. In fact, turning it on its head, every desire, every wish, every emotion, goes along with us through our life. It is something of Richard Bach's contention couple of century later when he contends,  "This is a test to see if your mission in life is complete. If you are still alive, it isn't." in his book The Adventures of A Reluctant Messiah". Ghalib says the same thing here. You cannot rest and do nothing at any point. Every ambition of yours, every relationship needs constant work, which will go with you for all your life. To presume that you will some point in your relation, reach the end of it, is misplaced. You won't be alive till the time the love's hard work is finished. 

Couplet #2

This is one less known couplet of Ghalib, which draws from the belief that the pearls are formed out of dewdrop falling into the oyster on the moonlit night. This is a masterpiece of imagery. He says that the dewdrops fall onto the ocean and the maze of the waves on the sea is filled with gaping, hungry mouths of alligators. Who knows what the droplet will have to go through before it becomes a pearl? Love needs complete submission, try not to guide the ways of love, for you cannot. Surrender to the love, be love. One is as helpless as a falling droplet, and beneath you would be gaping crocodiles but that is the way of transformation from a droplet to a pearl. Another interpretation is that all the glory and success will be the outcome of total surrender to a dream, an idea, an ambition. We only look at the outcome, shining, bright in its glory, little do we know the moments of excruciating self-doubt and danger of perishing without a trace a droplet goes through before it becomes a pearl.

Couplet #4

This one is more popular of all the couplets here. It refers to the dilemma every lover is faced with. Here the object of love could be another person, an idea, a dream or a hope. Love, is subtle, patient and unhurried, but passion at the same time, is impatient, and wants to achieve, conquer and own. Both are so intermingled that it is an eternal dilemma as to which one to follow. All the while one knows that in the end only certainty it the heart that is left bleeding. Ghalib points to the futility of defeated wisdom which we at times use as crutches to bear the pain and sadness of life, to be patient, the set the one you love free kind of thought. On the other side of the spectrum is the virulent, audacious idea of conquering the love. Both, says Ghalib will end in the inevitable, loss of self and bleeding of heart. Saddening, but true. Every love will mean losing a little bit of your self. Not a bad bargain, but a sad truth, nevertheless. 

Couplet #5

This is another more popular couplet. Here the poet speaks of his beloved (it may  be taken as God), that I do know you cannot ignore the news of my death (no matter how you pretend indifference). But I will be already turned into charred ashes by the time you get to hear about me. The moment of love is now. You will lament my demise, but by then I'd be gone. It will be too late by then. Do not postpone love, thus Ghalib admonishes the beloved.

Couplet #6

"The world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players.They have their exits and entrances." said Shakespeare.  This is one of the more philosophical couplet. The world is transitory. We are merely passing through it. And Ghalib says, every morning, this is the eternal lesson which the rays of Sun, impart to the dew-drop. But then as Ghalib often tends to be, he brings in another message in, which turns the mystical couplet into a multi-dimensional one. In the second line he says, I exist only till the time I am blessed with one benevolent glance. In the traditional sense of a love verse, one can say that the poet, in love, awaits the look of his beloved, which is the purpose of his life and his life ends with one look of love. But if you considered the layered truth in Ghalib's verses and his life, you will find he could have meant, that just as the beauty of dewdrop ends with one benevolent view of the Sun, an artist's vigor and liveliness of art withers and dies, once the power that may be loot at him with benevolence. An artist thrives on opposition, and lack of love. Artists lament not being understood and this sad indifference of the masses, but out of this pain and solitude the best of art emerges. The first glance of benevolence from the authority, the touch of luxury marks the end of creative life. That is the lesson. 

Couplet #7

One moment of careless ignorance in life is not possible, we say. And we keep on waiting for such a moment to arrive, until life is there no more. Life, which on the other hand doesn't play a fair hand, doesn't give us enough time, slips away slowly, while we keep on waiting for that one moment. And then suddenly, a swift dance of a speck of light, life is gone. 

Couplet #8

This search for a life without struggle and strife and pain is so futile. It is absolutely impossible. We go back to the Richard Bach's point. The life is constant learning, constant struggle, constant movement. It never ends. It is not meant to end before death. How can one find, says Asad (Ghalib), how can find a cure to the pain of life but in death. Even a candle lit at night, burns through the night, whatever might come its way. He doesn't hide away from the grief, the sadness, the pain which is a part of a sensitive life. He almost like Nietzsche's Zarathustra says, "Was that life? Well then, Once more." 

PS: These are my translations and interpretations. Will be happy to make amends if pointed out. The object is to share the wisdom of great poet, beyond the cursory. A brief Sketch of Ghalib by clicking here. 

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