Monday Musing: A poem by Bahadur Shah Zafar

Screenhunter_2A couple of days ago I had posted a video of the famous Pakistani singer Habib Wali Mohammed singing a poem written by the last, and ill-fated, Mughal emperor of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar. Earlier today my wife was listening to it and asked me what the words mean. I told her I would translate the poem for her, but when I sat down to do it, the very first line was impossible, as the Urdu phrase “jee lagna” or “dil lagna” not only doesn’t have an idiomatic equivalent in English, it is difficult even to explain what it means. It is something like becoming comfortable and happy in a place, but that doesn’t quite capture it.

[The picture above shows Bahadur Shah Zafar in exile in Rangoon, where he died. According to Wikipedia, it is the only know photograph of a Mughal emperor.]

Anyhow, I went ahead and did a translation which I present below. I welcome suggestions for improvement from those who understand Urdu (particularly from my sister Azra who is about to publish a book of translations of Urdu poetry into English).

My heart does not settle in this landscape of ruin
Who can feel settled in this evanescent world?

Tell these longings to go live someplace else
This scarred heart no longer has space.

Asking for long life, I was given only days
Half I spent wanting, the other half waiting.

The nightingale complains against groundsman nor trapper
Being caged in springtime was a matter of fate.

How hapless is Zafar, that even for burial,
He could not get a sliver of land near his lover.

And here is the original poem in my very informal transliteration into the Roman alphabet:

Lagta naheen hai jee mera ujray diar mein
Kiss kee banee hai aalam-e-napaedar mein

Keh do in hasraton say kaheen aur ja basein
Itnee jagha kahaan hai dil-e-daghdar main

Umr-e-daraaz maang kay laey thay chaar din
Do arzoo mein kut gaey do intizaar mein

Bulbul ko baghban say na sayyaad say gila
Qismat mein qaid thee likhee fasl-e-bahaar mein

Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar dafn kay leeay
Do gaz zameen bhi mil na sakee koo-e-yaar mein

William Dalrymple recently wrote a book called The Last Mughal about Bahadur Shah Zafar, and my friend and 3QD colleague Ram Manikkalingam wrote about that book in his essay “The Emerald City and the Red Fort.”

All my previous Monday Musings can be seen here.

Have a good week!