Skip to main content

Urdu Poets and Dilli: Love, Longing and Loathing

Photograph of Mir Taqi Mir
Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1810) born in Agra but raised at Delhi. When Delhi was savaged by Ahmad Shah Abdali of Persia, Meer left for Lucknow. There he took the patronage of Asafuddowla of Lucknow.
A poem that he recited as areply to the bantering of the elites of Lucknow mocking his battered condition:
'Kiya bood u baash poocho ho poorab kai saakino
hum ko gareeb jaan kai huns huns pukaar kai
Dilli jo aik shahar tha aalam mai intikhaab
rahtay thay hee jahaan muntakhib roozgaar kay
us ko falak nai loot kay weeraan kar diya
hum rahnay waalay hain usee ujray dayaar kai'.
Ye the residents of the east what are you mocking at to know about my where abouts and my origin/ finding me poor addressing me mockingly/ once there was a city of Delhi a select place of the world/where only the chosen professionals lived/ the heavens have looted it to make it a desolate place/I am the resident of that devastated land.

Some other lines of Mir about Dilli

Dilli mein bahut sakhat ki ab ke guzraan―dil ko kar sung,
Ghairat na rahi aaqbat kaar ne shaan―Khencha yeh nung;
Yaaron mein na tha koi murawat jo kare, ―ujre the ghar,
Taa hadd-e-nazar saaf pare the maidaan―arsa tha tung.
A hard time I spent in Delhi―stiffening my heart to stone,
No honour, no grace, no glory―ignominy untoned;
I did not have a friend to counsel or console ―desolate every home;
Barren wastes stared in the face, I felt benumbed―weary and forlorn.

Kuch mauj-e-hawa pechaan, ai Mir nazar aai,
Shaaid ke bahaar aai, zanjeer nazar aai,
Dilli ke na the kuche, auraaq-e-musawwar the,
Jo shakal nazar aai, tasveer nazar aai.

I have sighted, Mir, some swirling whiffs of breeze,
Perhaps the spring arrives, the chain beckons to me,
Winsomewere the streets of Delhi, like a work of art,
Every figure that I met was a masterpiece

Some more lines of Mir that use Dilli as a metaphor

Dil va Dilli dono agar hai kharaab; Pa kuch lutf us ujde ghar mein bhi hain

(Both heart and Delhi may have been worn out, But some little pleasures still remain in this ruined house).

Dil ki basti bhi shehar dilli hai; Jo bhi guzra usee ne loota.

(Delhi alone is a city of love; all those that have passed through have looted it)

Photograph of Khwaja Mir Dard
Khwaja Mir Dard

Dard’s spritual diaries, as we may call his Four Risalas, only rarely speak of the afflictions which his hometown had to undergo almost every year. His friend Mir compared Delhi to a colorful picture-book full of miniatures, which are now faded; Dard, in turn, said in a quatrain with clever puns, written according to the sequence of the book shortly after 1190/1776:
Delhi, which time has now devastated:
Tears are flowing now instead of its rivers.
This town had been like the face of the lovely,
And its suburbs like the down of the beloved ones!

The blessed town of Delhi,in which is the burial garden of the ‘Qibla of the Worlds’ and which God may keep cultivated until resurrection was a wonderful rosegarden, but has now been trampled down by the autumn of events of time.[…]

-Pain and Grace: A study of two Mystical Writers of Eighteenth-Century Muslim India
By Annemarie Schimmel

Photograph of Zauq
Ahl-e-jauhar ko watan mein rahne deta gar falak,
Laal kyon is rung se aataa Badakhshaan chhor kar,
In dinon garche Dakan mein hai bari qadar-e-sakhun,
Kaun jaane Zauq par Dilli ki galiyan chhor kar
Could talent live at home and thrive,
Why should the badakhshaan-ruby thus wander world wide?
Albeit in Deccan, Zauq, the Muse commands respect,
Who would quit the lanes of Delhi, and suffer exile?

Sketch of Ghalib

hai ab is mamure mein qaht-e gham-e ulfat asad
ham ne yih mana kih dilli mein rahe khavenge kya

There is now in this town a famine of the grief of love, Asad
We've agreed that we would remain in Delhi-- what will we eat?


Ghulam Hamdani Mushafi (1725-1824) belonged to a distinguished family of Amroha. He lived at Lucknow at first, then went to Delhi where he held famous literary reunions, at which many poets gathered. This is what he had to say about women of Dilli:

“Ey Mushafi! Na inse kabhi jee lagayiye, Zaalim ghazab ki hoti hain yeh dilli waliyan.”

(Oh Mushafi! Do not fall for these, miraculously cruel are the maidens of Delhi)


* Translation from by KC Kanda, Masterpieces Of Urdu Rubaiyat

+ An article, The Literary Heritage of Urdu: More Than a Language of Love and the Beloved
by Syed Maqsud Jamil

++Found the Translation at quizfan


  1. As someone who shares a love-hate relationship with Delhi, I really enjoyed this post of yours.
    "Dil ki basti bhi shehar dilli hai; Jo bhi guzra usee ne loota."

  2. 'Dil va Dilli dono agar hai kharaab; Pa kuch lutf us ujde ghar mein bhi hain'

  3. Nice read! "Dilli jo ek shehar tha aalam-e-intkhaab mein"

  4. Fantastic “Ey Mushafi! Na inse kabhi jee lagayiye, Zaalim ghazab ki hoti hain yeh dilli waliyan.”


Post a Comment

I always like to hear back :)
However, irrelevant comments and irrelevant links will not be published. Needless to say, same goes for abusive comment and spam. Leaving back links related to the topic is encouraged. I know it can be tempting but try not to leave your email ids, phone nos and CVs in the comment.

Popular posts from this blog

Famous Old Faces of Doordarshan

Some people recall the faces and some people recall the names. Here are images of some of the famous readers and presenters of Doordarshan down the years. If you recognize any of them, leave a comment. [ Update 1 : Most of the faces now have names thanks to helpful comments by olio-gallimaufry ] [ Update 2 : Included image of one of the earliest presenters, Gopal Kaul. Send in generously from personal collection by son, Ashutosh Kaul. Sept, 2010.] [ Major Update 3: Got a tip-off about a documentary about the famous faces of Doordarshan from the makers   of     “The Golden Trail , DD@50 :Special feature on Golden Jubilee of Doordarshan ” from which these caps were taken. I managed to catch the incredible documentary and am adding some more faces/name and part of the docu here. New ones can be found after the image of  Narotam Puri. 30th Oct, 2010]  Pratima Puri. Believed to be the first Doordarshan reader.

Indian Cigarette Vintage Ads

He put a cigarette in his mouth and, as a matter of silent routine, offered one to Gwyn, who said ‘No thanks.”Richard looked at him.”I packed it in.”"You what?”"I stopped. Three days ago. Cold. That’s it. You just make the life choice.” Richard looked up and inhaled needfully. He gazed at his cigarette. He didn’t really want to smoke it. He wanted to eat it. Almost the only thing that he still liked about Gwyn was that he still smoked…Paradoxically, he no longer wanted to give up smoking: what he wanted to do was take up smoking. Not so much to fill the little gaps between cigarettes with cigarettes (there wouldn’t be time, anyway) or to smoke two cigarettes at once. It was more that he felt the desire to smoke a cigarette even when he was smoking a cigarette. The need was and wasn’t being met… While it would always be true and fair to say that Richard felt like a cigarette, it would now be doubly true and fair to say it. He felt like a cigarette. And he felt like a cig

Woman by Arun Kolatkar

a woman may collect cats read thrillers her insomnia may seep through the great walls of history a lizard may paralyze her a sewing machine may bend her moonlight may intercept the bangle circling her wrist a woman my name her cats the circulating library may lend her new thrillers a spiked man may impale her a woman may add a new recipe to her scrapbook judiciously distilling her whimper the city lights may declare it null and void in a prodigious weather above a darkling woman surgeons may shoot up and explode in a weather fraught with forceps woman may damn man a woman may shave her legs regularly a woman may take up landscape painting a woman may poison twenty three cockroaches - a poem by Arun Kolatkar from year 1967. Translated by Adil Jussawalla. Found it in New Writing in India (1974) ed. by Adil Jussawalla.