Updated: Aug 10, 2018
'Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi' by the virtuoso Mirza Ghalib, is perhaps what you are made to read on your first day of Ghazal 101 class. It is also what you read on the last day of that course, because of its lingering simplicity and haunting ambiguity.
Following is a humble effort on my part to try and decode it, five years after I stumbled upon it.
Each original verse is followed by my English translation and an accompanying commentary.
Hazaaron khwaishein aisi ke har khwaish pe dam nikle Bohat niklay mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikle
A thousand desires such, that each desire is worth dying for.
Many of my desires have been fulfilled, yet that is not enough.
I love how the word 'khwaishein' sounds. The way it rolls off the tongue and the way it has Urdu-ness all over it.
Why does Ghalib say 'har khwaish par dam nikle'? Is it so because each desire is so splendid that it literally takes your breath away? Or is it that the journey of realizing each desire is so arduous that it consumes you in the process?
'Dam nikalna' is such a good choice of words! It denotes slowly sucking the life out of you, as opposed to quick death.
From the first line we learn that, fulfilling one desire = dying once.
From the second we learn that, many of his desires have been fulfilled.
Therefore, Ghalib implies that he has died several times, in pursuit of such desires, yet he yearns for more. Such is his mad craving!
Daray kyon mera qaatil? kya rahega us ki gardan par? Voh khoon, jo chashm-e-tar se umr bhar yoon dam-ba-dam nikle
Why should my murderer be afraid? What will she be guilty of?
She can't be charged for my blood, for I have already been weeping it out all my life.
'Qaatil' here refers to his lover (duh!). There are two ways of looking at this couplet :
1) Ghalib is being highly sarcastic when he says "Don't worry dear! No one is going to implicate you for your crime , for I was dead with the grief (you have caused me) all along."
2) Ghalib is being a true gentleman and takes all the blame on himself , saying - "Its not you, it's me".
Nikalna khuld se aadam ka soonte aaye hain lekin Bahot be-aabru hokar tere kooche se hum nikle
We have all heard of Adam's expulsion from heaven.
With a greater humiliation, I left the street where she lives.
Reference to the expulsion of Adam from the Garden of Eden after consuming the forbidden fruit. (Adam was tempted by Eve into eating the apple and thus had to leave Paradise because of her blunder. Is Ghalib trying to imply here that he too had to bear a feeling of guilt/grief for no fault of his own?)
What is worth noting here is that Ghalib has equated his lover with the Almighty by comparing her street to Paradise and his shame to Adam's on being punished by God. Waah!
Bharam khul jaaye zaalim! teri qaamat ki daraazi ka Agar is tarahe par pech-o-kham ka pech-o-kham nikle
O tyrant! The truth about your stature will be all out in the open,
if the turban's pin supporting your hair gives way.
Note how the lover, who in the previous verse was a 'Khuda', is now called a 'Zaalim'.
This is a difficult verse to comprehend. Perhaps, Ghalib wants to say that, the rest of the world might consider you to have a spotless reputation, but only I (since I know you intimately) know the truth about your personality, and one day all this charade will come tumbling down.
Magar likhvaaye koi usko khat, to hum se likhvaaye Hui subaha, aur ghar se kaan par rakh kar qalam nikle
If someone wishes to write her a letter, let me do it for him.
Every morning I leave my home with a pen tucked behind my ear.
What a wonderful see-saw of emotions Ghalib is going through - from self-guilt/remorse previously to anger/disgust in the last verse and now longing/desperation.
Perhaps, after the kind of 'ghosting' Ghalib has endured from his lover, he can no longer (or he no longer wishes?) write to her.
Yet he wants to vicariously shower love and affection on her.
Hui is daur mein mansoob mujh se baada aashaami Phir aaya voh zamaana, jo jahaan mein jaam-e-jaam nikle
In such an era, I came to be associated with alcohol.
And then came the time, when having wine, glass after glass, meant the world to me.
Poor Ghalib is in Devdas mode and is seeking solace in alcohol. Dousing the flames of his heart with inflammatory liquids is such a poor choice. <Insert pun about high spirts here>.
Hui jin se tavaqqa khastagi ki daad paane ki Voh ham se bhi zyaada khasta e tegh e sitam nikle
The one whom I expected to remedy my wounds,
turned out to be frailer than me, inflicted by the sword of tyranny.
Again multiple interpretations :
1) He turned to his friends for support and to console him only to realize that they too
were facing the same distress of unrequited love in life.
2) He turned to his lover to console him but she too was enduring the same emotions, possibly after being turned down by someone she loved.
Mohabbat mein nahin hai farq jeenay aur marnay ka Usi ko dekh kar jeetay hain, jis kaafir pe dam nikle
When in love, there is hardly a difference between living and dying.
I can live only by looking at the very infidel for whom I am dying.
Why is the lover called a 'kaafir' here? Because she is someone who is of rebellious/non-conforming attitude or because she has committed a grave sin by breaking Ghalib's heart?
The cause of and the ointment to Ghalib's wounds is the same entity.
Zara kar jor seene par ki teer-e-pursitam niklejo Wo nikle to dil nikle, jo dil nikle to dam nikle
Put some effort and pluck out that cruel arrow from my chest.
For if the arrow is gone, so will my heart and in turn my life.
Plot twist : Ghalib ka dil toh pehle se hi uss bandi ke paas hai. Ab woh nikaalega kya?
Khuda ke waaste parda na kaabe se uthaa zaalim Kaheen aisa na ho yaan bhi wahi kaafir sanam nikle
For god's sake, don't uncover the mysteries of Kaaba, you tyrant! It may so happen, that here too, I find my love to be unfaithful.
Ghalib's way of saying don't try to find answers to unanswered questions. Ignorance is bliss. What if the unravelling of the mysteries reveal that the true nature of his love ( is Ghalib talking about God or her?) is not what he actually thought it to be all along?
Kahaan maikhane ka darwaaza Ghalib aur kahaan vaaiz Par itna jaantay hain kal voh jaata tha ke ham nikle
O Ghalib! The entrance to the bar and the preacher are poles apart.
But I know, that yesterday when I was leaving the bar, I saw him entering it.
Without directly accusing the preacher of drinking, in a very nonchalant way Ghalib says, " I don't know, I just saw him enter".
Ghalib earlier said that he took to drinking after having his heart-broken, is he implying that the preacher is love struck too?
The cleric preaches the world abstinence, but does not abide by it himself.
The words of Ghalib were immortalized when this ghazal was crooned in the soulful voice of Jagjit Singh and picturized on the brilliant Naseeruddin Shah.
Trivia : The CEO of Microsoft, Mr. Satya Nadella, once quoted the first verse of 'Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi' on stage.