My heart, a hidden flame, burned unequivocally
Like burning coal that speaks, so to speak, silently
In this heart now, neither the pleasure of union nor its memory
The fire that embraced this house has turned every is into isn’t
I’m beyond nonbeing: nonetheless, not heeding time and being
my raging sighs have charred the wings of the bird of not-there-ness
Let your awareness cast the net of listening however far and wide
Meaning is the bird that cannot be snared when I style words
Would it ever be that the fervour of thought reveals its prodigal breadth?
I conjured such a desert of thought that the wilderness went up in smoke
I’ve no heart to bare – else I’d display a grand spectacle of scars
What would I do with this show of lights – the light-maker is torched
I, and the desire for coldness, but remain – and Ghalib’s heart,
having witnessed the warm ways of the world, just burns away
— Translated by S Anand

Why these verses

Ghalib’s words sometimes burn with such fervour that they char themselves in a darkened light, and when they seem to make sense after a delicious wait, they burn the listener too. One has to listen to these ghazals – both in Urdu and in the English where I make the asseveration of equivalence – listen to the breath rising from words inflamed by music (mere reading is not enough), and while at it, the quieted breath seeks the light of old words made new.
The couplet in bold – 1.4 – is from the opening ghazal of the Divān-e-Ghalib, “Naqsh faryādī hai….” With the benefit of hindsight, we are obliged to invoke the poet’s starkly dissimilar evocation of the ʿanqā bird here, which the Urdu scholar Frances Pritchett annotates as “a bird from Arabic story tradition, whose single defining trait is his not-there-ness. Whenever you try to catch him, he’s gone.” (A question asks itself: why he and his for a bird that is not?)
Ghalib summons as witness this bird of exquisite inexistence in completely unique ways in 1.4 and 5.3 – suggesting, in an act of overreaching self-reflexivity, that the very attempt to capture in words the thisness of the ʿanqā bird would only result, each time, in the lie of meaning: in an experience missing from itself. In other words, all words, even those of Ghalib that you read now, shall come to nothing.
This ghazal, listed as 5 in the Divān by Pritchett, blazed through me and left me lit in darkness between October 8 and 14, 2016 in Nagpur, where 60 years ago Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar affirmed his faith in the nonexistence of soul and god, and embraced the impermanence around us after steadying the lamp of his consciousness upon nothingness.
Hence this Ghalib ghazal for Babasaheb, commemorating his canonising himself a Bodhisatta.

The original verses

dil mirā soz-e nihāñ se be-muḥābā jal gayā
ātish-e ḳhāmosh ke mānind goyā jal gayā
dil meñ żauq-e vaṣl-o-yād-e yār tak bāqī nahīñ
āg is ghar meñ lagī aisī kih jo thā jal gayā
maiñ ʿadam se bhī pare hūñ varnah ġhāfil bār-hā
merī āh-e ātishīñ se bāl-e ʿanqā jal gayā
āgahī dām-e shanīdan jis qadar chāhe bichhāʾe
muddaʿā ʿanqā hai apne ʿālam-e taqrīr kā
ʿarẓ kīje jauhar-e andeshah kī garmī kahāñ
kuchh ḳhayāl āyā thā vaḥshat kā kih ṣaḥrā jal gayā
dil nahīñ tujh ko dikhātā varnah dāġhoñ kī bahār
us chirāġhāñ kā karūñ kyā kār-farmā jal gayā
maiñ hūñ aur afsurdagī kī ārzū ġhālib kih dil
dekh kar t̤arz-e tapāk-e ahl-e dunyā jal gayā
— The original verses, in Roman text

From the poet of ‘We Sinful Women’, two poems for the times

Kishwar Naheed, one of Pakistan’s best known feminist poets, translated from the Urdu.

Translated by Rakhshanda Jalil
Kishwar Naheed (b. 1940) moved from her home in Bulundshahr, in western Uttar Pradesh, to Lahore in 1949. Her first poetry collection, Lab-e Goya (published in 1968) marked her as a bold new voice and a welcome addition to the country's fledgling feminist movement.
Naheed’s poem Hum Gunahgaar Auratein (We Sinful Women) became an anthem of protest during the worst excesses of General Zia's dictatorship and has remained an enduring symbol of resistance in the decades since. Each successive collection of poetry has bolstered her reputation as a fearless crusader for human rights and progressive thinking.


Like Manto
I want to write my own epitaph
He had written
He was the greatest storyteller on this earth
And it is true
He was too
He wrote stories on the injustices heaped upon women
At a time when women the world over
Had not woken up to their own rights
Pakistan threw so many spatters of abuse on him that
He got angry 
And began to sell his stories for ten rupees each
The spatters of abuse have turned
My dress too into undress
But I can’t call myself
The greatest poet of my age
I want to write my epitaph before my death because
My sons
Busy in other countries
May not have the time, or else
May not even think of writing one
Why am I thinking of
Making myself permanent!
Is an epitaph a sign of timelessness?
In London, seeing the tombstone of Marx 
You can’t forget his writings, or Marx himself
There were some great poets
Who never had an epitaph
Zahoor Nazar – a great poet
He lies alone as he lived 
Khushwant Singh left a will 
His ashes to be strewn in the rivers of Pakistan
My heart too wants to be turned into ashes
But my religion does not allow it
A person turns to dust
After burial too
The epitaph serves to keep alive 
Not you
But your age

Tragedy: Karachi, 13 May

Every day nameless people get killed
In the streets of Karachi
To add to the torment of those who have been killed
Government officials put a price on the dead
And peel the scab on the wounds of the orphaned families
So that the bereaved may forget the loss of their dead
And instead run after the promised compensations
God had never promised
Such a sudden and heartless death
It is these defenders of the faith who
After every tragedy
Open their mouth as though 
They are distributing the treasure of Croesus
Can there be a greater disrespect of the dead than this
Self-respecting nations don’t do this
They search for the culprits
Surely there must be a limit to helplessness