Category Archives: Ghazal

Mehfil Mein Baar Baar


Love was in the air in February, thanks to Valentine’s Day. The shops were full of chocolates and other goodies. Television stations ran endless soppy chick-flicks. Though I happily watch the films when I can, I don’t really buy into the Valentine’s day hype. My husband and I mark our marriage anniversary which falls close to Valentine’s day and that seems more than enough. This year we celebrated our 33rd year as a married couple –it sounds like a big number but time just flew by..

Though our marriage came by from our having fallen in love, we both will be the first to admit that our ‘mixed’ marriage was quite a challenge. I didn’t speak his language then, he still doesn’t speak mine. I love the arts. He swears by sports. I hoard my art magazines. He hoards his car magazines. I am fascinated by history but am bored speechless by politics or current affairs. He is the exact opposite. I like fiction and fantasy. He likes biographies and business tales. I am a dedicated vegetarian, I eat to live. He eats anything, he lives to eat. I anger rarely but forgive with difficulty. He angers quickly but forgives the next moment. I am careful with money. He is generous and extravagant. I find peace in temples. He won’t step into them. If we have lasted 33 years, I don’t give credit to love – instead I think of everything else which makes a marriage work, like respect and understanding, compassion and forgiveness, acceptance and compromise – these seem far more important to me than love.

And yet…it all resulted from having fallen in love. All of us (I hope!) have this as a common life experience – that heady, uncomfortable, exciting, joyful, miserable state that we call being in love. So a month late, I am going to concentrate on love-themed music for March.

My first choice is this beautiful ghazal in Urdu written by Agha Bismil. I loved the song from the very first time I heard it sung by Ghulam Ali; years later I still love it! It is very popular and you might well know it already but this time, walk with me to enjoy the nuances of the poetry.

As is the norm, Ghulam Ali starts with a few  couplets to set the stage before he commences on the song (Note: authorship of couplets unknown to me). Here is a young man grieving a lost love. He clings to hope, remembering the few moments of joy they had shared. Meeting her is a bitter-sweet experience, his happiness in glimpsing her is followed by sadness afterwards. Hoping that she has come to regret casting him out, he comes once more to a gathering where he hopes to meet her.

चंद कलियाँ निशात की चुनकर |
मुद्दतों महर-ए-आस रहता हूँ ||
तेरा मिलना ख़ुशी की बात सही |
तुझसे मिलकर उदास रहता हूँ  ||
नज़र नज़र से मिलाओ बहार के दिन हैं |
ग़मो को भूल भी जाओ बहार के दिन हैं ||
शायद मुझे निकाल के पछता रहे हो आप |
महफ़िल में इस ख़याल से फिर आ गया हूँ मैं ||

chand kaliyA.n nishAt kI chunkar
muddatO.n mehr-E-As rehtA hU.n
tErA milnA khushI kI bAt sahI
tujhsE milkar udAs rehtA hU.n
nazar nazar sE milA-O bahAr kE din hai.n
.gamO.n kO bhUl jA-O bahAr kE din hai.n
shAyad mujhE nikAl kE paCHtA rahE hO Ap
mehfil mE.n is .khayAl sE phir A gayA hU.n mai.n

Having chosen (chunkar) a few (chand) flowers (kaliyA.n) of happiness (nishAt), I have remained (rehtA hU.n) in expectation (As) of kindness (mehr) for a long time (muddatO.n).
Meeting you (tErA milnA) may well be (sahI) a matter of joy (khushI kI bAt), yet (implied) I remain (rehtA hU.n) sad (udAs) after meeting you (tujhsE milkar).
Meet my eyes (nazar nazar sE milA-O), it is spring time (bahAr kE din hai.n). Forget (bhUl jA-O)  your sorrows (.gamO.n), it is spring time (bahAr kE din hai.n).
Perhaps (shAyad) you (Ap) regret (paCHtA rahE hO) having sent me away (mujhe nikAl kE)? On this thought (is .khayAl sE), I (mai.n) have again (phir) returned (A gayA hU.n) to the gathering (mehfil mE.n).

The first couplet of the song is my very favourite. The poet expresses that helplessness of attraction so very perfectly!! Again and again his eyes land on her. He tries so hard to avoid it, but no, his eyes have a will of their own. I love how Ghulam Ali renders ‘bAr bAr’..gentle and perfect! And his skills with the harmonium….Oooooooh!

महफ़िल में बार बार किसी पर नज़र गई |
हमने बचाई लाख मगर फिर उधर गई ||

mehfil mE.n bAr bAr kisI par nazar ga-I
humnE bachA-I lAkh magar phir udhar ga-I

In the gathering (mehfil mE.n), my eyes fell (nazar ga-I) again and again (bAr bAr) on somebody (kisI par). I tried hard to avoid it (humnE bachA-I lAkh=I saved a hundred thousand times), but (magar) again (phir) my eyes fell (ga-I) there (udhar).

She has cast a spell on him, it seems. He wonders if there is some magic in her eyes which make all those on whom she casts her eyes to fall for her.

उनकी नज़र में कोई तो जादू ज़ुरूर है |
जिस पर पड़ी, उसी के जिगर तक उतर गई ||

unkI nazar mE.n kO-I tO jAdU zurUr hai
jis par paDI, usI kE jigar tak utar ga-I

Surely(tO) her eyes have (unkI nazar mE.n) some (kO-I)  magic in them (jAdU hai)! On whomever (jis pas) they land (paDI), it goes straight into (utar ga-I) their (usI kE) hearts (jigar).

But wait! His longing glances haven’t been in vain! Are those tears which spill out of her eyes? Does that mean she loves him still? The poet is very successful in expressing that hope which every unrequited love has, that somehow that love is reciprocated. Did you note how Ghulam Ali presents the word ‘paDE’ to show the falling of tears?

उस बेवफा की आँख से आँसू छलक पड़े |
हसरत भरी निगाह बड़ा काम कर गई ||

us bE-wafA kI Ankh sE A.nsU CHalak paDE
hasrat bharI nigAh baDA kAm kar ga-I

Tears (A.nsU) spill  (CHalAk paDE) from (sE) the eyes of (kI Ankh) that unfaithful one (us bE-wafA). My longing (hasrat bharI) looks (nigAh)  have achieved something (kAm kar ga-I) important / big (baDA)!

Until now the poet hasn’t mentioned her beauty. Is it because now that she has shown emotion, he can once more allow himself to be enraptured by her radiance? Don’t foget to note Ghulam Ali’s little demo of his three-Octave voice range..

उनके जमाल-ए-रुख पे उन्ही का जमाल था |
वोह चल दिए तो रौनक-इ-शाम-ओ-सहर गई ||

unkE jamAl-E-rukh pE unhI kA jamAl thA
woh chal diyE tO raunak-E-shAm-O-sahar ga-I

She was beautiful (jamAl thA) with the radiance (jamAl=beauty, here radiance fits better) of her own (unhI kE) face (rukh). When (tO) she (wOh) went (chal diyE), even the brilliance (raunak) of dawn (sahar) and dusk (shAm) faded (ga-I).

Those tears, does it mean she still cares for him? Shall he send a message? Tell her, he says, that Bismil is close to death. I assume this is metaphorical! Surely, he says, she will come if she knew? This is a verse of hope, a hope which has revived on seeing an emotional response from her.

उनको खबर करो के है बिस्मिल करीब-ए-मर्ग |
वोह आयेंगे ज़ुरूर जो उन तक खबर गई ||

unkO khabar karO ke hai ‘Bismil’ karIb-E-marg
wOh AyEngE zurUr  jO un tak khabar ga-I

Give him the news (unkO khaba karO) that (ke) Bismil (name of poet) is close (karIb) to death (marg). She (wOh) will surely (zurUr) come (AyEngE) once (jO) news reaches her (un tak khabar ga-I).

We don’t know what happens next. Did the friend take the message? Did she come? Did they get together once more? If he sang with Ghulam Ali’s voice, which woman could resist him? Not this one….

Enjoy this wonderful live presentation (from the start, 18:06 mins) by the master of the art of Ghazal singing. The accompanying artists are excellent; unusual but lovely to see a violinist on the dais with Ghulam Ali. The best quality is not allowed to be embedded, so follow this link to view it on YouTube.


Filed under Ghazal, Ghulam Ali


AwargiA long drive. A quiet road. A peaceful landscape streaming by. A full moon rising.  Time slowing down. Body, mind, spirit all at peace. What music would I choose? A Ghazal, every time!

Ghazals are familiar to a wide audience in India; after all, there are so many wonderful Ghazals which the Hindi film industry has presented us with. I love the sound of Ghazals, the restful, slightly melancholic air, the smoothness of the melodies and especially the language. Surely anyone who likes poetry loves Urdu, for isn’t the language just perfect for poetry? The sound of the language itself is music; its syllables fall like ripples of a stream! Today I have chosen a wonderful old favourite to present to you.

In India we have a tradition which runs from Vedic times, that of the wandering monk, sanyasi or vairagi. Unfettered by the bonds of life, their minds are detached and dispassionate, seeking spirituality. It is not disillusionment with life; quite the contrary. When Maya drops her veils, it is surely a state of illumination? To my mind, this mental state is related to the word Awargi in Urdu. A complicated word, it has many shades of meaning from vagrancy, waywardness, carelessness to licentiousness and even wantonness. In this song, I interpret it to mean the state of mind of the vairagi, a mind which seeks a solitude,  which is neither happy nor unhappy.  Though vairagya is a Hindu word and this Ghazal is of Islamic origin, the sense is the same. To see the word related to Islamic thought, read Hazrat Inayat Khan’s discourse here.

In this lovely song, the poet Mohsin Naqvi describes his mental journey to the state of vairagya, which, for the purpose of brevity, I will call detachment.

ये दिल ये पागल दिल मेरा, क्यों बुझ गया? आवारगी ।
इस दश्त में इक शहर था, वो क्या हुआ ? आवारगी ॥

Why did it get subdued, this crazy heart of mine? Detachment! There used to be a city in this barrenness, what happened to it? Detachment!

The poet likens his heart to a ruined city which once may have bustled with life but now is no more than a barren wasteland. How did it come about, he wonders? I wonder, was detachment the cause or the result?

This has not been a planned journey into his new sense of detachment. In fact he is quite startled to find himself there.

कल शब मुझे बे-शक्ल की आवाज़ ने चौँका दिया ।
मैं ने कहा, तू कौन है ? उस ने कहा, आवारगी ॥

Last night, I was startled by a formless voice. I asked, ‘Who are you?’. It said ‘Detachment’!

But, of course, detachment doesn’t come suddenly.

इक तू कि सदियों से मेरे हमराह भी हमराज़ भी ।
इक मैं कि तेरे नाम से ना-आश्ना, आवारगी ॥

There was you, who, for centuries, has been both my fellow-traveller and confidant! And there was me, unaquainted with your name – Detachment!

He acknowledges that the detachment has always been a silent presence at the back of his mind.  Do we not all sense a part of us which often stays apart, remaining a witness to events?  What do we call that presence? And when something terrible happens of which you can speak to no-one, do you not silently look at that presence for an acknowledgement, for the sharing of the pain? This is a very cleverly written couplet, I like this personification of that silent witness as ‘हमराह’ and ‘हमराज़’.

यह दर्द की तनहाइयाँ, यह दश्त का वीराँ सफ़र ।
हम लोग तो उकता गये, अपनी सुना, आवारगी ॥

We all are tired of this loneliness of pain, this desolate journey in a barren land! Tell me of yourself, O Detachment ?

Is the poet asking the question of his alter-ego, his dispassionate self, or is he asking us ?

इक अजनबी झोंके ने जब पूछा मेरे ग़म का सबब ।
सहरा की भीगी रेत पर मैं ने लिखा, आवारगी ॥

When a strange gust of wind asked me the reason for my sorrow, I wrote ‘Detachment’ in the wet sands of the desert.

This couplet puzzled me for a bit; surely the cause of sorrow is not detachment? Would not the cause of detachment be sorrow? But thinking of the poet’s alter-ego, the detachment which has always accompanied him, I think perhaps it was also the cause of his failure with relationships in life?

ले अब तो दश्त-ए-शब की सारी वुस’अतें सोने लगीं ।
अब जागना होगा हमें कब तक बता, आवारगी ॥

Now that the expanse of the desert-night has started sleeping, tell me, O Detachment, how long have I to still keep awake?

The poet repeatedly refers to his heart as a barren land. In this couplet he seems to say that even the last of the bonds have died down. He seems to be tired of life, of living; he asks how long he still has to keep awake i.e.. keep alive.

कल रात तनहा चाँद को देखा था मैंने ख़्वाब में ।
‘मोहसिन’ मुझे रास आयेगी शायद सदा आवारगी ॥

Last night I saw a lonely moon in my dreams. It said to me ‘Mohsin, perhaps detachment will always agree with me’.

The poet finishes on a positive note by suggesting that he finds the state of detachment quite agreeable. The moon is detached from both the sun and the earth yet it is there, reflecting the light of the sun to enlighten the darkness of the earth. Likewise a vairagi, a sanyasi, is detached from the world but is still there, reflecting the light of God to enlighten the darkness of unawakened mind.

To present this song, I have a rendition by the wonderful Ghazal singer, Ghulam Ali. I have had the privilege of being in his audience a number of times. His voice quality, his enunciation, his impeccable pitching, the ease with which he traverses the scale, his musicality all added to a great stage presence make him one of the greatest performers I have seen. As the uploaded does not permit embedding of the video, watch it on YouTube by clicking here.


Footnote (Lyrics) :

Language : Urdu (transcribed in Devanagari script)

ये दिल ये पागल दिल मेरा, क्यों बुझ गया? आवारगी ।
इस दश्त में इक शहर था, वो क्या हुआ ? आवारगी ॥
कल शब मुझे बे-शक्ल की आवाज़ ने चौँका दिया ।
मैं ने कहा, तू कौन है ? उस ने कहा, आवारगी ॥
इक तू कि सदियों से मेरे हमराह भी हमराज़ भी ।
इक मैं कि तेरे नाम से ना-आश्ना, आवारगी ॥
यह दर्द की तनहाइयाँ, यह दश्त का वीराँ सफ़र ।
हम लोग तो उकता गये, अपनी सुना, आवारगी ॥
इक अजनबी झोंके ने जब पूछा मेरे ग़म का सबब ।
सहरा की भीगी रेत पर मैं ने लिखा, आवारगी ॥
ले अब तो दश्त-ए-शब की सारी वुस’अतें सोने लगीं ।
अब जागना होगा हमें कब तक बता, आवारगी ॥
कल रात तनहा चाँद को देखा था मैंने ख़्वाब में ।
‘मोहसिन’ मुझे रास आयेगी शायद सदा आवारगी ॥


yE dil yE pAgal dil mErA, kyO.n bujh gayA? AvArgI
is dasht mE.n ik sheher thA, wO kyA huA? AvArgI
kal shab mujhE bE-shakl kI avAz nE chau.nkA diyA
mainE kahA tU kaun hai? usnE kahA, AvArgI
ik tU ki sadiyO.n sE mErE hamrAh bhI hamrAz bhI
ik mai.n ki tErE nAm sE nA-AshnA, AvArgI
yE dard kI tanhA’iyA.n yE dasht kA vIrA.n safar
ham log tO uktA gayE, apnI sunA, AvArgI
ik ajnabI jhO.nkE nE jab pUCHA mErE .gam kA sabab
sehrA kI bhIgI rEt par mainE likhA, AvArgI
lE ab tO dasht-E-shab kI sArI vus-atE.n sOnE lagI.n
ab jAgnA hOgA hamE.n kab tak batA, AvArgI
kal rAt tanhA chA.nd kO dEkhA THA mainE khwAb mE.n
mohsin mujhE rAs AyEgI shAyad sadA AvArgI

Why (kyO.n) did it get subdued (bujh gayA), this (yE) crazy (pAgal) heart (dil) of mine (mErA)? Detachment! (AvArgI) There used to be (thA) a city (sheher) in this barrenness (dasht), what happened to it (kyA huA) ? Detachment (AvArgI)!

Last night (kal shab), I was startled (mujhE chau.nkA diyA) by a formless (bE-shakl) voice (AvAz). I asked (mainE kahA), ‘Who are you?’ (tU kaun hai). It said (usnE kahA) ‘Detachment’ (AvArgI)!

There is you, who (ik tU ki), for centuries (sadiyO.n sE), has been both my fellow-traveller (hamrAh) and confidant (hamrAz)! And there was me (ik mai.n), unaquainted (nA-AshnA) with your name (tErE nAm sE) – Detachment (AvArgI)!

We all (hum LOg) are tired (uktA gayE) of this loneliness (tanhA-iyA.n) of pain (dard), this desolate (vIrA.n) journey (safar) in a barren land (dasht)! Tell me of yourself (tErI sunA), O Detachment (AvArgI)?

When (jab) a strange (ajnabI) gust of wind (jhO.nkE) asked me (pUCHA) the reason (sabab) for my (mErE) sorrow (.gam), I wrote (mainE likhA)  ‘Detachment’ (AvArgI)  in the wet (bhIgI) sands (rEt) of the desert (sehrA).

Now that the (ab tO) expanse (vus-atE.n) of the desert-night (dasht-E-shab) has started sleeping (sOnE lagE), tell me (batA), O Detachment (AvArgI), how long have I (kab tak) to still keep awake (jAgnA mujhE) ?

Last night (kal rAt) I saw the moon (chA.nd) in its solitude (tanhA) in my dreams (khwAb mE.n). It said to me ‘Mohsin, perhaps (shAyad) detachment (AvArgI) will always (sadA) agree with me (rAs AyEgI)’.


Filed under Ghazal, Ghulam Ali, Mohsin Naqvi