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