Maaz thought he would live happily in Europe,
Did he know he had Delhi’s map in his heart?

Ghazalnama is the verse collection of my experiences in the worlds I have inhabited – cultural and spatial. It is as much a safarnama or travelogue of the mind as it is a collection of ghazals and other poems in translation across different terrains.

Caravans of Love

after Harsh Mander and Suchismita

To breathe of your breath, not to die in love.
Rebellion must be all, defy in love.

Sameness is the bane of this life,

To difference I go, to test and try in love.

What are my limits? The test of your patience.
I can wage holy wars, why cry in love?

Ethics of the other, all pleasures for myself,
Accept, commit, care, comply in love.

To see this world with not two but four eyes,
When revelation’s all your sky in love.

The faults of the moon, the heat of the stars,
Forget desire, dream to fly in love.

Lead caravans of love, touch people’s misery,
Love’s bonds, love’s politics – love, love, love, love –
Go on, forget your I in love.

The Law

(An Ode to Habib Jalib)

The law that constricts a woman to her home,
turns her into a paid-for whore,

prevents man from loving men,

and obstructs their dietary regimen,

such a law, on this murky dawn,
I cannot accept.

Where my speech carries more hate
than that of the worst, and won’t abate
come what I do, as prisons are filled
with under-trial lovers, if not killed,

such a law, on this murky dawn,
I cannot accept.

You say the kites are in flight again,

it is spring, the cold reign of the dark at an end,

you say that we have prospered beyond count
even as village trees are laden, with more than just fruit.

such a lie, on this murky dawn,
I won’t accept.

I won’t say that I am not scared of the prison,
for it is no longer run by a power that would listen
to reason, or believe in any dignity,
but knows naked power, all cruelty,

such a law, on this murky dawn,
I won’t accept.

You have plundered us for hundreds of years,
put us in systems of margins, and gushing tears,
where the mighty and many rule the weak and few,
this evacuation of body and mind, to curfew,

on this murky dawn, with its law,

I won’t accept.

Biryani in Belfast

Making biryani in Belfast
is no Trouble.
You get the ready-made Pakistani spice-mix
from the Indian store,
follow the recipe, add some saffron,
and chillies and cardamom,
and wallah, there it is!

The green enmeshed in the orange rice,
even as some grains fail to catch colour,
and remain simply white
– it all smells delicious.
The brown meat is nicely softened,
but also stands out.

Child’s Play

(bzcha-e-atfal… by Mirza Ghalib)

A child’s play is the world in front of me
Night and day, the tamasha is swirled in front of me

A game is the throne of Solomon to me,
The miracle of the Messiah too is told in front of me.

Not more than as a name do I accept this globe’s mien,
A legend is the being of the world in front of me.

The desert’s hidden with dust in my presence,
In dirt, the river’s forehead is rubbed in front of me.

Don’t ask of my condition in your absence,
You look at what colours you’re pearled in, in front of me.

The doubts of hatred pass, I have passed through envy,
Why’d I say, don’t let their name be called in front of me?

You speak truth that I am vain and arrogant too,
Behold there sits the silver-mirrored idol in front of me.

Look at the flow of words, my delivery’s command,
If only you kept a glass of wine cuddled in front of me.

Faith stops me as sin draws me out,
The Kaaba is behind, a cathedral in front of me.

Since I am a lover, my profession is to cheat,
Laila calls Majnuñ a scoundrel in front of me.

We’re happy at the union but we don’t really die,
A hope for separation has rolled in front of me.

If only that tumultuous river of blood were this,
Let’s see now what all is whirled in front of me.

If the hand has no reach, the eyes still see,
Let the bottle and glass be settled in front of me.

My colleague, my fellow drinker, my secret-keeper – he is,
Why call Ghalib bad? – he’s of a better world, in front of me.


Excerpted with permission from Ghazalnama: Poems from Delhi, Belfast and Urdu, Maaz Bin Bilal, Yoda Press.