I must admit there has not been any written prose, essay or poetry that has moved me the way this one has. While my attempt at detailing this piece of gem might be, at best pedestrian, I feel a strong urge to write about it. You cannot overstate the genius of Mirza Ghalib, and once you internalize the essence of his words, there is simply no escape. He touches you, tears you apart, makes you terribly sad, hopelessly romantic and makes you think, feel, realize, a thousand emotions. From that point on, you want to hear him over and over again. It’s almost like a drug.
In these 4 following couplets, he could be talking about a loved one, God, or simply life itself. We really do not know, and can only guess. But whatever be the perspective, it cuts you like a knife.
aah ko chahiye ek umr asar hone tak
kaun jiitaa hai teri zulf ke sar hone tak
The sighs of love take a lifetime to realize
Who may live that long to see its effect on you?
Oh!, the incredible sadness that is so intertwined with unrequited love. When the deepest sigh in your heart for the person you love is met with a casual nonchalance, almost a child like ignorance of the thing (or being, or God) you love so much, is just so unbearable. How does one describe it? Zulf ke sar hone tak – Ghalib’s analogy is again characteristic razor sharp. You were untying the knots in your tresses, while I lived a lifetime of unrequited love! You beautiful thing, so child like in your ignorance of my state of despair, so aloof of the deepest sighs of my heart, the one that beats for you, and will for a whole lifetime. I may resign, but I cannot quit and I cannot live life any other way, but just see you biding your time, with thoughts that are not of me, with a heart that might never once beat for me, my sighs left unrealized, unheard, dying with me as I take my final breath.
aashiqi sabr talab aur tamanna betaab
dil ka kya rang karoon khoon-e-jigar hone tak
Love demands patience and yearning restless
How do I placate my heart till my destruction?
Patient I have to be, but this heart is restless in its yearning. How do I survive this long and painful journey, this hopeless existence? How do I placate my heart, ask it to go on? And for what? – knowing that it’s only my eventual destruction that looms in the horizon. How do I live through this madness, torn apart between my restless yearning and the need to go on? Do you have an answer, my merciless mirage?
humne maana ke tagaaful na karoge lekin
khaak ho jayenge hum, tumko khabar hone tak
Though I believe you may not ignore me, but
I will turn into ashes by the time you understand my plight
When will you turn towards me? When will you notice me burning? When will you feel my pulsating heart? When will you notice my plight? When will you know it’s you? You may not ignore, may not be apathetic, but will you ever understand my yearning for you? I will perhaps destruct by the time you understand, turn into ashes, my love unfulfilled, my last sigh unheard, like all the others before it.
gham-e-hasti ka asad kis se ho juz marg ilaaz
shamma har rang mein jalti hai sahar hone tak
O Asad!, There is no remedy for the anguish of living save death
The candle has to burn till morning no matter what
So I have to go on burning, I tell myself, till the very end, since there is no other way. There is nothing that can soothe this anguish of living, save my destruction. This will only end one way. But till then, I will have to endure the pain, keep my sighs to myself, keep burning, keep yearning for you, without hope of you even passing a glance on the side, noticing my existence, my pain, in your selfish childlike ignorance, untouched by my love.