A Refreshing Ghazal: “Dil Mein Ik Leher”

One example of an excellent contemporary Urdu ghazal is “Dil Mein Ik Leher Si Uthi Hai Abhi” by Nasir Kazmi, a Pakistani poet. Kazmi (1925-72) was born in Ambala in East Punjab during the British Raj, and moved to Lahore during the partition of India. His ghazals are often written in short meter (چھوٹی بحر / chhoti beher) and primarily deal with themes of hope, love, and melancholy. Written in simple language, this ghazal inspires hope and calls upon the reader to be proactive through its uplifting imagery. It’s great to listen to when you are searching for some positivity: a wave is rising, a fresh breeze is blowing, and a wall is being torn down…

Scholars have sometimes criticized the Urdu ghazal for being atomistic, i.e. being composed of several unrelated couplets. I think “Dil Mein Ik Leher” is a strong example to the contrary. The first two verses indicate that some kind of positive change is taking place, although we are not sure what. The third couplet hints that something has been missing (or someone, as we find out). In the next two couplets, it appears that the fresh change is that memories of the poet’s beloved are coming back to him – or perhaps she herself is on her way. In the next three couplets, the poet has sprung to take action himself, searching through the city, looking for open opportunities, and calling his friends to rise up as well. Finally, the last verse leaves us with optimism for what the future holds. Metaphorically, the central message of the poem could be seen as to stay optimistic and take action to pursue your goals, even though they may seem distant.

This ghazal has famously been sung by two Pakistan artists, Ghulam Ali (1940-present) and Tassawar Khanum (1950-present). Pay close attention to the many different ways in which Ghulam Ali sings the word “leher”. By fluctuating the tone, pitch, and length of the word, he evokes the image of different kinds of waves in the ocean.

دل میں اک لہر سی اٹھی ہے ابھی
dil mein ik leher si uthi hai abhi
A kind of wave has risen in my heart right now
کوئی تازہ ہوا چلی ہے ابھی
koi taaza hava chali hai abhi
Some fresh breeze has blown by right now

شور برپا ہے خانۂ دل میں
shor barpa hai khaana-e-dil mein
An uproar is rising in the cockles of my heart;
کوئی دیوار سی گری ہے ابھی
koi deevaar si giri hai abhi
Some kind of wall has fallen right now

بھری دنیا میں جی نہیں لگتا
bhari dunya mein ji naheen lagta
My heart is not satisfied in this crowded world;
جانے کس چیز کی کمی ہے ابھی
jaane kis cheez ki kami hai abhi
I wonder what is lacking right now

و شریکِ سخن نہیں ہے تو کیا
tu shareek-e-sukhan naheen hai to kya
So what if you are not joining me in conversation?
ہم سخن تیری خامشی ہے ابھی
ham-sukhan teri khaamushi hai abhi
Your silence is conversing with me right now

یاد کہ بے نشاں جزیروں سے
yaad ke be-nishaan jazeeron se
Is it my memory, or is it from traceless islands that
تیری آواز آ راہی ہے ابھی
teri aavaaz aa rahi hai abhi
Your voice is reaching me right now?

شہر کی بے چراغ گلیوں میں
sheher ki be-charaagh galiyon mein
Through the unlit streets of the city,
زندگی تجھ کو ڈھونڈتی ہے ابھی
zindagi tujh ko dhoondti hai abhi
Life is searching for you right now

سو گئے لوگ اُس حویلی کے
so gaye log us haveli ke
The people of that house have fallen asleep,
ایک کھڑکی مگر کھلی ہے ابھی
ek khirki magar khuli hai abhi
But one window remains open right now

تم تو یارو ابھی سے اٹھ بیٹھے
tum to yaaro abhi se uth baithe
Friends, you have already risen and sat down,
شہر میں رات جاگتی ہے ابھی
sheher mein raat jaagti hai abhi
But in the city, the night remains awake right now

وقت اچھا بھی آئے گا ناصرؔ
waqt achcha bhi aaye ga Naasir
Good times, too, will come O Nasir!
غم نہ کر زندگی پڑی ہے ابھی
gham na kar zindagi pari hai abhi
Don’t grieve, your whole life is ahead of you right now!

The following line does not appear in Kazmi’s original ghazal, but has been added in the musical renditions:

کچھ تو نازک مزاج ہیں ہم بھی
kuchh to naazuk mizaaj hain ham bhi
Part of the issue is that I’m of sensitive temperament,
اور یہ چوٹ بھی نئی ہے ابھی
aur yeh chot bhi naii hai abhi
But it’s also partly that this wound is fresh right now!

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