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Not just the last Mughal: Three ghazals by Bahadur Shah Zafar, the poet king

On his 154th death anniversary, three of Zafar’s ghazals reflect his awareness of a lack of power in matters of state.
Published Nov 09, 2018 05:16pm

Bahadur Shah Zafar II (October 24, 1775-November 7, 1862), the last Mughal king of Delhi, died in Rangoon, Burma (Yangon, Myanmar), exiled by the British.

He lies buried there today and his tomb has become a popular shrine, to which devotees congregate in large numbers.

However, Zafar had always wanted to be buried in his beloved Delhi, having earmarked his gravesite in Mehrauli next to the Shrine of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki (1173-1235), the original Sufi (Chishti) saint of Delhi.

Zafar and his predecessor Akbar Shah II had gotten a summer palace constructed here — including a remarkable small mosque in marble, the Moti Masjid — which has since come to be known as the Zafar Mahal complex.

Site of the graveyard earmarked by Bahadur Shah Zafar II as his last resting place.
Site of the graveyard earmarked by Bahadur Shah Zafar II as his last resting place.

This monument by the last Mughal king, along with his famous Urdu poetry, are the final direct cultural products of the remarkable empire.

Zafar’s ghazals, as well as the modestly grand summer palace he built to shelter what he thought would be his final resting place, symbolise the tension between nostalgia for a golden past and the profound sense of its loss already available to its last legatee and agent.

These images of the monument and three translations from his Urdu ghazals reflect upon Zafar’s acute awareness of his lack of power in the affairs of the state as only a titular head, but also his extreme prowess as a poet king at the zenith of the advanced cultural landscape of his time.

***

I wish you had made me the master of royals,
Or made my crown the bowl for alms and betrayals.

You should have made me mad, crazy only for you,
Why did you make me wise, capable of denials?

You made me poor, fit only for sifting through dust,
And I wish the dust of her feet were my trials.

If you made me intoxicated with love,
Why did you make the measure of life small vials?

A wretched heart torn a hundred times over lives,
To be the shoulder to rest her hair is my desire.

If I were not worthy to be with the Sufis,
Could have been good for the company of drunks, defiant?

If you wished to burn me by parting from the pourer,
Should have made me the lamp of the tavern’s foyer.

The fire of beauty was not unveiled in the garden,
Or the bulbul too would have been made a moth on fire.

This incessant world is a vile place, O Zafar,
Its cities should have been desolate and dire.


yā mujhe afsar-e-shāhāna banāyā hotā
yā mirā taaj gadāyāna banāyā hotā

apnā dīvāna banāyā mujhe hotā tū ne
kyuuñ ḳhirad-mand banāyā na banāyā hotā

ḳhāksārī ke liye garche banāyā thā mujhe
kaash ḳhāk-e-dar-e-jānāna banāyā hotā

nashsha-e-ishq kā gar zarf diyā thā mujh ko
umr kā tañg na paimāna banāyā hotā

dil-e-sad-chāk banāyā to balā se lekin
zulf-e-mushkīñ kā tire shāna banāyā hotā

sūfiyoñ ke jo na thā lā.eq-e-sohbat to mujhe
qābil-e-jalsa-e-rindāna banāyā hotā

thā jalānā hī agar dūri-e-sāqī se mujhe
to charāġh-e-dar-e-mai-ḳhāna banāyā hotā

shola-e-husn chaman meñ na dikhāyā us ne
varna bulbul ko bhī parvāna banāyā hotā

roz māmūra-e-duniyā meñ ḳharābī hai “zafar”
aisī bastī ko to vīrāna banāyā hotā

***

The heart is asunder, singed to a kebab,
This love has been the disaster of my life.

My murder rests good on you, don’t worry,
You have found grace, I am away from strife.

“Enamoured” one day, “mad” on another,
Each day I was given new names, new life.

Why should I not drink my blood in envy?
When today, with my rival they wine.

The goblet’s lips kissed yours in ecstasy,
My victory was to bite into mine.

For you, I wandered streets with tearful eyes,
Setting my heart on you was misery.

We have washed your street with a storm of tears,
Our begging bowl of a cap is now empty.

Without replies now, this is what we found,
That the messenger is our sole reply.

Had asked for your picture to console my heart,
Looking at it I am more uneasy.

Your tyranny — boundless, day of reck’ning —one,
I wonder how the account is compiled.

Zafar, change the refrain, recite that ghazal,
Of which each verse is your picked poetry.


jigar ke TukḌe hue jal ke dil kabāb huā
ye ishq jaan ko mere koī azaab huā

kiyā jo qatl mujhe tum ne ḳhuub kaam kiyā
ki maiñ azaab se chhūTā tumheñ savāb huā

kabhī to shefta us ne kahā kabhī shaidā
ġharaz ki roz nayā ik mujhe ḳhitāb huā

piyūñ na rashk se ḳhuuñ kyūñki dam-ba-dam apnā
ki saath ġhair ke vo aaj ham-sharāb huā

tumhāre lab ke lab-e-jām ne liye bose
lab apne kaaTā kiyā maiñ na kāmyāb huā

galī galī tirī ḳhātir phirā ba-chashm-e-pur-āb
lagā ke tujh se dil apnā bahut ḳharāb huā

tirī galī meñ bahā.e phire hai sail-e-sarishk
hamārā kāsa-e-sar kyā huā habāb huā

javāb-e-ḳhat ke na likhne se ye huā mālūm
ki aaj se hameñ ai nāma-bar javāb huā

mañgā.ī thī tirī tasvīr dil kī taskīñ ko
mujhe to dekhte hī aur iztirāb huā

sitam tumhāre bahut aur din hisāb kā ek
mujhe hai soch ye hī kis tarah hisāb huā

“zafar” badal ke radīf aur tū ġhazal vo sunā
ki jis kā tujh se har ik sher intiḳhāb huā

***

I am the sinner’s fault, somewhat,
Your devotee, O God, somewhat.

I do not understand whole or part,
In my heart, I know not all, somewhat.

I remain loyal to you,
Faithful I am, faithless – somewhat.

Since I do not meet any other,
With him I have communion – somewhat.

The intoxication of love has given me flight,
In bliss, I fly some things, somewhat.

My dreams lie in wakefulness,
I see visions better there, somewhat.

I may not be anyone, yet,
Don’t ask — I am what I am – somewhat.

Let them think me their humble servant,
I am the dust of the road, of the feet – somewhat.

I have got the blessed eye of faith,
O Zafar, from something I have moved to somewhat.


maiñ huuñ aasī ki pur-ḳhatā kuchh huuñ
terā banda huuñ ai ḳhudā kuchh huuñ

juzv o kul ko nahīñ samajhtā maiñ
dil meñ thoḌā sā jāntā kuchh huuñ

tujh se ulfat nibāhtā huuñ maiñ
bā-vafā huuñ ki bevafā kuchh huuñ

jab se nā-āshnā huuñ maiñ sab se
tab kahīñ us se āshnā kuchh huuñ

nashsha-e-ishq le uḌā hai mujhe
ab maze meñ uḌā rahā kuchh huuñ

ḳhvāb merā hai ain bedārī
maiñ to us meñ bhī dekhtā kuchh huuñ

garche kuchh bhī nahīñ huuñ maiñ lekin
us pe bhī kuchh na pūchho kyā kuchh huuñ

samjhe vo apnā ḳhāksār mujhe
ḳhāk-e-rah huuñ ki ḳhāk-e-pā kuchh huuñ

chashm-e-altāf faḳhr-e-dīñ se huuñ
ai “zafar” kuchh se ho gayā kuchh huuñ


This piece originally appeared on Scroll.in and has been reproduced with permission.