Selections from “Urdu Literature”


This book is by DJ Matthews, C Shackle and Shahrukh Husain. It speaks of the language and its origins, south Asian literature and its themes through out different periods in time. Below are some excerpts of poems mentioned in the book:

By Muhammad Quli, a devout shii  and the ruler of Golkunda, after his wine abstention during Ramadan:

The sky grows bright; the moon brings in the Eid.
Now fasting’s done, come pour the wine, oh saki.

Abstention caused me shame for thirty days.
Come fill the cups, restore my name, oh saki.

I’ve had a headache through this whole long month,
Keep pouring, friend. Don’t spare the wine, oh saki.

I swear this is a purifying draught
To match the spring of Paradise, oh saki.

Quli’s poems were of praise to God, the Prophet and Ali. He also wrote of love for a woman. The book says these poems were naive in expression.

Another poet, Vali, wrote poems to a beloved that was “no longer overtly female” and more clearly referring to God:

When I think of the rose in the garden of faith
The hem of my cloak is bedewed with tears.

Beauty once free in solitude’s veil
In the form of man as love appears.

Oh Shaikh, seek joy in our company!
Your sermons will fall upon deaf ears.

Mirza Muhammad Rafi Sauda was famous for his sattire. His favorite target were silly old men, like this Shaikh who decided to get married at a very old age:

We heard the Shaikh was gettin wed,
At his age! What a sight!
And looking for a girl to suit
His pious appetite
His go-betweens were everywhere
He kept them on their toes
But when they asked his age-that fact
He wouldn’t dare disclose.
Oh what a joke! Enough to make
Us die of Laughter. Poor old Shaikh!

The Shaikh eventually married a twelve year old and Sauda’s poems continued  [freaking savage]:

One day the Shaikh went to his wife
A tender kiss to claim
She said: You’re far too old for that.
Why, have you got no shame?
You’ll break the bed. Now just cool off
Or otherwise I’ll shout
For my old nanny who’ll come round
and give you such a clout
I’ll tell her how you try to make
Me do disgusting things, old Shaikh!

He’s finished now. These days he sits
A prisoner in his house,
Just like a schoolboy at his desk
As timid as a mouse
His wife won’t let him move unless
He has to go outside
To take a leak-when he comes back,
She starts to tan his hide
And slaps him hard enough to make
Him fall down prostrate, grovelling Shaikh!


Anyways, Dard was another Urdu poet, a proper mystic dwelling on the Oneness of God and the transience of this world. However, this is one of his other interesting pieces:

All mistresses are tyrants, but for you
Aggression has particular appeal.

Last night your beauty lit the gathering:
The candle’s radiance appeared unreal.

My name was on her lips, but when I came,
She said, “Was this included in our deal?”

Here’s a very sweet piece by Nazir Akbarabadi [his approach was simple and straight-forward but I choose to see the naiveness in this as a result of poor translation and forced rhymes]:

The king sits on his throne in state
But he’s a man as well.
The beggar grovels at his gate
But he’s a man as well.
Some are fat and sleek and rich;
Some find slumber in a ditch
And poor old chaps who pick up scraps
They’re men like us as well.

Man is fire and man is light.
A man will guide you through the night,
Then say goodbye, and that’s the end.
You’ll never know he was your friend.
Men are fair and men are evil;
Their basest tricks would shame the devil.
But good or bad, it’s not so sad.
They’re men like us as well.

The mosques you see in this fair city
Were built by men-they’re awfully pretty.
The preacher on the pulpit high-
He’s just a man like you and I.
And as you bow and pay your dues
Someone will come and steal your shoes.
He’ll get caught, but have a thought
He’s a man like us as well.

And when he dies-there come a time,
When everybody’s bones make lime-
The shroud is sewn, the coffin bought
Preachers, mourners, weepers sought.
The corpse is lowered to the grave.
We pray to God that he may save
The parting soul. All take their toll.
We’re men like him as well.


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