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Ishq par zor nahin, hai yeh who aatish ghalib, jo lagaye na lage aur bujhaaye na bane” 

If you recognize this piece of poetry, then rejoice. For you have encountered one of life’s most underrated pleasures-that, of reading Mirza Ghalib’s work. Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, known better by his name of choice, Ghalib, was born in Agra in 1797. Choosing to write in Urdu and Persian, Mirza Ghalib was a well-known poet in the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar II, the last Mughal Emperor.

Married at the age of 13, Mirza Ghalib lost seven of his children during their infancy. The sadness that thus began, stayed with him throughout his lifetime and makes an essential ingredient of all his work. Unlike a lot of Urdu poets, Ghalib does not use overly difficult Urdu terms; the beauty of his work lies in their simplicity.

The themes of unrequited love and estrangement from one’s lover remained a favourite with him, along with the occasional joke on humankind, and a penchant for questioning the existence of God. Oh, and did we mention his utmost love for alcohol? One of Mirza Ghalib’s most famous couplets is: “Zaahid peene de sharaab masjid mein baith kar, ya who jagah bata jahan khuda nahi.” “Let me drink in the mosque itself, or tell me a place where God isn’t present.”

Most of his work is hauntingly beautiful, which is probably why it has been adapted into ghazals by various singers.

On his 148th death anniversary, we bring to you some of his best work, along with (attempted) translations:

 1. “Umra bhar Ghalib wahi galti karta raha,
     Dhool chehre pe thi, aur ainaa saaf karta raha”

Throughout my life, I made the same mistake,
It was my face that was dirty, but the mirror that I clean


2. “Humko maalum hai Jannat ki haqiqat lekin,                                                 Dil ko khush rakhne ko Ghalib, yeh khayal accha hai.”

    Even though I’m aware that heaven is a myth and nothing but,
    The thought is good enough to console the heart.

 3. “Hazaaron Khwaishein aisi ki har khwaish pe dum nikle,
      Bohot nikle mere armaan, phir bhi kam nikle.”

I have a thousand wishes, each one potent and equally compelling, Even though a few were fulfilled, my desires remained largely unrequited.


4. “Mohaabat mein nahin hai farak jeene aur marne ka,
     Usi ko dekh kar jeete hain ki jis kafir ko dekhkar dum nikle.”

When in love, life and death are no different;
One lives each day for being able to look at one, who takes their breath away every time.


 5. “Ragon mein daudne phirne ke hum nahi qayil,
     Jab ankhon se nahi tapka toh lahu kya hai.”

      It is not to course through their veins, that I desire
      What good was that blood which didn’t escape from their eyes?


6. “Haathon ki lakeeron pe mat ja ae Ghalib,
     Naseeb unke bhi hote hain jinke haath nahin hote.”

     Do not let the lines of your hand dictate your life
     For destiny is bestowed on those too, who are bereft of hands.


 7. “Yeh na thi hamari qismat ki vasl-e-yaar hota,
     Agar jeete rehte, yahi intezaar hota.”

     It was not in the scheme of things that my love be fulfilled,
     Had I continued to live, such a life would have been unwilled.


8. “Waiz! Teri duaon mein asar ho toh masjid ko hila ke dikha,
     Warna do ghoont pi, aur Masjid ko hilta dekh.”

If indeed be your prayers so potent, shake the towers of the mosque with your will, Or sit with me and take a few sips, and watch the mosque sway as we sit still.


9. “Humne Mohabbaton ke nashe mein aakar use khuda bana daala,
    Hosh tab aaya jab usne kaha ke khuda kisi ek ka nahin hota.”

Intoxicated in love, I gave her the place of the Almighty, It was when she said that God does not belong to one alone, I got back to reality.


10. “Mat pooch ki kya haal hai mera tere peeche,
      Tu dekh ki kya rang hai tera mere aage.”

      Don’t ask of how I suffer in your absence,
      See how you blossom in my presence.


Although Ghalib had attained a substantial amount of fame during his lifetime, his  true success was achieved only posthumously. Ironically, this was something he had said in his own lifetime.

A true genius, the work of Mirza Ghalib lives on, even more than a century after his death.

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