Archive for the poetry Category

What is a Ghazal?

Posted in poetry with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2013 by salaamreaders

Ghazals evoke mixed reactions among music lovers now. The younger generation do not seem to be particularly enthused by the genre. However, they are still popular. A lot of credit for this popularity must be given to singers like Begum Akhtar, Mehdi Hasan, Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi  whose soulful and melodious renditions have brought the beauty of these lyrics to our hearts. Many of us may not even know the meaning of all the words of a ghazal, yet we know, almost instinctively, that these are poems mostly about love. It may be love for a person or even mystical love. The poets ache for a meeting with the beloved but know that their love must always remain unrequited and unconsummated. Ghazals are, therefore, poems about the pain of longing, separation and waiting. Of course, these are not the only subjects, but they are the most popular ones without any doubt. 

A ghazal is a collection of two-line verses. Each verse is called a sher. Their plural is ashaar. Interestingly, the collection need not have a central idea or unity of thought as each verse is actually an independent poem in itself. This makes them eminently quotable and, therefore, popular. Each line of a sher is known as a misra

Yeh na thi hamari kismet ki wisal-e-yaar hota

Agar aur jeete rehte, yehi intezar hota

This sher which is the first verse is called the matla. It may be noticed that both the lines(or misra) end with the same word which is known as radeef. It is also repeated as the last word of the second line of each successive couplet as in the following:-

Tere waade par jiye hum, toh yeh jaan jhoot jaana 

Ki khushi se mar na jaate, agar aitbaar hota

Koi mere dil se pooche, tere teer-e-neemkash ko

Yeh Khalish kahaan se hoti, jo jigar ke paar hota

Kahun kis se main ki kya hai, shab-e-ghum buri bala hai

Mujhe kya bura tha marna, agar ek baar hota

We may also note that each sher follows the same metre or baher which refers to its length. It make its recitation so much more enjoyable. One would also notice another interesting feature that the words immediately preceding the radeef in each verse have a rhyming pattern (yaar, intezaar,aitbaar,paar, ghumgussar & baar). This is known as qafiaa. Once the listeners pick this patternthey are able to guess the last words of the other verses. This makes them active participants of the mushaira  rather than just being its spectators. The last sher is called the maqta if it contains the poet’s takhallus or nom de plume, as in the following:- 

Yeh masail-e-tasawuff, yeh tera bayaan ‘Ghalib’

Tujhe hum wali samajhte, jo na badakhwaar hota.

The above ghazal is a typical example only. There are as many rules of composition as there are exceptions. For instance, there may be a ghazal even with out a radeef. The poet’s takhallus may be missing from the last verse and so on. This is because ghazal writing has evolved over a period of time. They were originally composed in Arabic and Persian from whence they came to Urdu. They are now being composed in other Indian languages also. Their subjects have also changed. They were mainly about love earlier but later poets like Iqbal and Faiz wrote about political ideas- of freedom, revolution etc. also. Their form and structure has also undergone changes. It is now acceptable to write free or azaad verses which do not follow the traditional restriction on metre. Further evolution of the ghazal is also inevitable with alteration of our social circumstances.

However, lay persons like us who enjoy reading and listening to ghazals need not be afraid of their technicalities. These may be left to the serious students to grapple with. For us, some familiarity with the basics should make the genre more intelligible and enjoyable.


The Strength of a Man

Posted in poetry with tags , , , on September 2, 2011 by salaamreaders


“The strength of a man isn’t in the weight he can lift.

It’s in the burdens he can carry”………

Oh, how absolutely lovely! I came across this poem, by a fortunate accident, while trawling the net. It is sweet, romantic and poignant. Ms Griffiths, the author, appears to have written it, I presume, for a Mr Hunt D. Rochon. If that be so, it is obvious from the feelings expressed, and how beautifully, that she thinks the world of him. He must be some man, and more, this Mr Rochon!

Here’s the complete poem:

The Strength of a Man

The strength of a man isn’t seen in the width of his shoulders.
It’s in the width of his arms that encircle you.

The strength of a man isn’t in the deep tone of his voice.
It’s in the gentle words he whispers.

The strength of a man isn’t how many buddies he has.
It’s how good a buddy he is with his kids.

The strength of a man isn’t in how respected he is at work.
It’s in how respected he is at home.

The strength of a man isn’t in how hard he hits.
It’s in how tender he touches.

The strength of a man isn’t in the hair on his chest.
It’s in his heart, that lies within his chest.

The strength of a man isn’t how many women he’s loved.
It’s in being true to one woman.

The strength of a man isn’t in the weight he can lift.
It’s in the burdens he can carry.

© July 15, 1999
Jacqueline Marie Griffiths
(written for Hunt D. Rochon)

Ms Griffiths appears to be an enigma, for she leaves no details about herself. From time to time, she visits sites carrying her poem and just leaves a message that her’s was a copyrighted work, which may be used so long as it was not for profit and not in bad taste. I am sharing this poem in the belief that she would not mind it. I wish we knew more about her and Mr. Rochon! But anyway, it’s wishing both of them the best.


Posted in India, poetry with tags , , on January 27, 2010 by salaamreaders

“Poochte hain woh ki Ghalib kaun hai!

Koi batlao ki hum batlayein kya?”

This verse, perhaps, best describes Ghalib’s own dilemma about himself. While the serious student of his life and works is likely to deify him for the deeper philosophical meaning of his shairi, the common man is more likely to treat him as the ‘lovable rascal’- a gambler who was fond of his drink and who could tug at his heart-strings with a neat turn of the phrase. Chuchha Ghalib is how Gulzar describes him!

Who really was Ghalib? Was he merely one of the best poets of all times or was their some other facets to his persona? He was a precocious child, a penurious householder perpetually in debt and a sceptic who always found himself questioning faith and dogma. He loved his wife and grieved for his seven children that did not survive. He cared for his brother and his family despite severe financial hardship. It shows that he was, essentially, a family man.

It is difficult to say how he felt at the vicissitudes of his life. He struggled to be appreciated for his works and for material success. He was not accepted easily by the court at Delhi and his rivalry with Zauq was legendary. He may have considered himself superior to his peers when he said,

“ Hain aur bhi zamane mein sukhanwar bahut achhe

Par kehte hain ke Ghalib ka hai andaaze bayaan aur”

But it is not that he did not acknowledge a master like Meer, of whom he said,

“ Rektah ke tumhi ustad nahin ho, Ghalib!

Kehte hain agle zamane mein koi Meer bhi tha.”

 He did not have any steady source of income and depended entirely on state patronage and money lenders. His uncle’s pension was the collateral against which he obtained credit. His efforts to publish his anthology were not very successful and he was unable to gain a foothold in the Moghul court. He must have been deeply disappointed for he says,

“Koi umeed bar nahin aati 

Koi soorat nazar nahin aati.”

To make matters worse, none of his seven children survived and he must have really been broken to say,

 “Jate huay kehte ho, qayamat ko milenge

Kya khoob! Qayamat ka hai goya koi din aur.”

His wife was deeply religious and he himself iconoclastic, for he says,

“Imaan mujhe roke hai, to khainche  hai mujhe kufr

Kaaba mere peeche hai, kalisa mera aage.”

He enjoyed gambling and was fond of his drink, against the tenets of his faith, for he says,

“Qarz ki pite the mae, lekin samajhthe the ke haan

Rang laegi humari faqa masti ek din.”

He was a man, mostly under the weather who kept a facade of cheerfulness even at the cost of being misunderstood, for he says,

“ Unko dekhe se jo aa jati hai mounh par rounaq

Woh samajhte hain ke beemar ka hal achha hai.”

 That he was human, like all of us, is all that we can safely say and wish him,

“Tum salamat rao hazar baras

har baras ke hon din pachas hazar.”

Raksha Bandhan

Posted in Festivals, India, poetry with tags , , , , , , on August 5, 2009 by salaamreaders

Foreign tourists who are now in north India may be wondering at how scarce (and expensive) taxis and autorickshaws have become today? They may also be surprised to see most men wearing colourful amulets around their wrists today. Well, it is easily explained. Today Hindus are celebrating the  festival of Raksha Bandhan. This festival is all about the love and devotion between brothers and sisters. The sudden scarcity of public transport is because almost every one is visiting their brothers or sisters. Women tie rakhis, which are bracelets or amulets of coloured silken thread, around the right hand wrists of their brothers and the brothers give them gifts. Actually, the word raksha means protection and bandhan means a bond. Thus together, they signify the emotional bond between brothers and sisters which  protects them from all evils. One could think of it as a brothers and sisters day.

Sarojini Naidu, who was called the  Nightingale of India for her exquisite poetry, described the spirit of this festival in the following words:-

“Beloved I offer to you

In tender allegiance anew

A bracelet of floss. Let me twist

Its tassels, vemillion and blue

And violet, to girdle your wrist.”


when it is not possible for brothers to meet their sisters on this day, the sacred thread is often sent by post and the brothers get them tied on their wrists with due ceremony by some one else, maybe a daughter or another female relative. The presents are also sent by post or are left to be collected whenever they happen to meet each other. Of course, every one can speak to each other as mobile phones have become so ubiquitous these days.

Naidu again says:

Accept this bright gage from my hand,

Let your heart its sweet speech understand,

The ancient high symbol and end

Inwrought on each gold- threaded strand,

The fealty of friend unto friend”.

Thus, it is not that the sacred thread is to be tied on the wrist of real brothers only. Any person may be adopted as a brother by tying a rakhi around his wrist and that person is then morally bound to protect her as a real brother. It is said that  Karnavati, the widowed queen of Chittor  had sent a rakhi to Humaun, the Moghul king, seeking his help against Bahadur Shah, the king of Gujarat, who had besieged Chittor and Humaun had rushed to her help immediately.

But this custom of getting adopted as brothers has its risks, particularly for those of the romantic bent of mind. It seems the fairer sex has adopted this as a stratagem to avoid unwanted suitors! They take this as a good opportunity to rid themselves of such amorous gentlemen by making them as their rakhi brothers by tying a rakhi on their wrists! As a result, I am told there are many such people who do not venture out this day to avoid such a risk!

But frankly, it is indeed a noble tradition to celebrate this festival. No body could have put it more sweetly than Sarojini Naidu when she says of the sacred thread of rakhi

“A garland how frail of design,

Our spirits to clasp and entwine

In devotion unstained and unbroken,

How slender a circle and sign

Of secret deep pledge unspoken.”

Happy Raksha Bandhan to all of you.

%d bloggers like this: