Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali

Mohsin Aziz

(Residential halls of Aligarh Muslim University: Person behind the name series/ blog 3)

Hali hostel is one of the six residential hostels of Mohsinul Mulk Hall of the Aligarh Muslim University. The foundation stone of Mohsinul Mulk Hall was laid by the first Prime Minister of Independent India in 1963.

Sir Syed had to face lot of criticism and had to overcome many hurdles including that of being declared apostate in his mission but he was fortunate to have found a very dedicated group of supporters also. One of them was Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali, also known as Khwaja Altaf Hussain Hali. Hali was born in 1837 in Panipat and traced his lineage to Hazrat Abu Ayyub Ansari (R.A.A.). Hali’s family settled in Panipat about 700 years before his birth. One of his distinguished ancestor was Khwaja Malak Ali who migrated to India 700 years ago from Herat and settled in Panipat. Khwaja Malak Ali was granted several fertile villages by Ghayasuddin Balban and was appointed Qazi of his area and was given responsibility to control prices and manage graveyards of the learned. He was also given responsibility to give Eid Khutba (Hali, Altaf Hussain, 1927).

Hali enjoys a very prominent position in the history of Urdu literature and poetry. Hali was poet, biographer, author, critic. He was an exceptional prose writer as well. Hali had traditional education as per the norm of the day. He studies Quran, Arabic and Persian in his childhood. At the age of 17 he travelled to Delhi to study in Hussain Baksh ka Madrasa. The Madrasa was situated opposite Jama Masjid (Hameed, 2003). At the same time, Hali started writing Urdu and Persian poetry and took the takhallus (nom de plume) of Khasta (heart broken in the sense of tender heart). It is during his stay in Delhi that he met Mirza Ghalib and was impressed by his poetry. Mirza had may admirers who brought their poetry to him to get his opinion and help for improvement. It was difficult for budding poets to get Mirza Ghalib interested in their poetry and hence to get his guidance. However, when Khwaja Altaf Hussain showed his poetry to Mirza Ghalib, the master poet was impressed (which by the way was not an easy task) and advised Hali to continue to write poetry. Ghalib told him “Young man, I never advice anyone to write poetry but to you I say, if you don’t write poetry, you will be very harsh on your temperament“.

Soon the family found about his whereabouts and brought him back home. Hali got a job at collectors office in Hissar in 1856 (Hussain, S. A., 1986). While Hali was in Hissar, the First War of Independence broke out in 1857. The Britishers termed it mutiny (ghadar) and crushed it with heavy hand. In these difficult times, Hali decided to shift back to Panipat. He stayed in Panipat for almost four years. During this time his daughter Inayat Fatima and youngest son, Khwaja Sajjad Hussain were born. Khwaja Sajjad Hussain did his graduation from MAO college and became the captain of College cricket team. He was politically active and also became the president of student’s union (Hussain, S. A., 1986).

After spending four years in Panipat, Hali once again moved to Delhi. This not only gave him chance to meet Ghalib again but there he also met the rais of Jehangirabad, Nawab Mustafa Ali Khan Shaifta. Shaifta was not only nawab of Jehangirabad but was also a poet of high order who took islah (correction for poetry) from Mirza Ghalib just like Hali It is a tradition in Urdu poetry for young poets to show their kalaam (poetic writings) to an established master poet for correction and guidance). Shaifta offered to take Hali to Jehangirabad and become his son’s teacher guardian. Jehangirabad was near to Delhi. It allowed both Shaifta and Hali to visit Ghalib in Delhi quite often and take islah from him. However, Hali mentions that the company of Shaifta helped him more in his poetry then the islah of Ghalib but with the passage of time, Hali’s respect for Ghalib only kept on increasing. Most probably it was during this time that he changed in takhallus from Khasta to Hali (contemporary) on the recommendation of Ghalib (Hussain, S. A., 1986). When Ghalib passed away in 1869, Hali was deeply affected and wrote marsiya (elegiac poem lamenting the dead). This marsiya is considered one of the finest specimen of marsiya in Urdu poetry despite the fact that Urdu has produced marsiya poets of unmatched quality such as Anis and Dabeer besides many other.

Bulbuley hind mar gaya hehaat

Jis ki thi baat baat main ek baat

Uskey marney se mar gayi dilli

Khwaja nosha tha aur shahar baraat

Ek roshan dimagh tha na raha

Shahar main ek Chiragh tha na raha

In the same year, his friend and mentor, Shaifta also passed away. The death of Shaifta not only deeply saddened Hali but put him in quandary about his job. However, he soon got job in book depot of Punjab government and Hali moved from Delhi to Lahore. This job allowed ample opportunity to Hali to read western literature and opened new intellectual horizons for him. During his stay in Lahore he got in touch with Maulana Mohammad Hussain Azaad. Maulana Mohammad Hussain Azaad was promoting a different type of Urdu poetry which Hali liked very much. In fact, it was Lahore’s stay that changed the direction of Hali’s poetry. During this time, Delhi’s Anglo Arabic College offered him the post of Professor of Arabic which Hali accepted and shifted to Delhi.

Association with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan

Hali first met Sir Syed at a scientific society meeting at Aligarh in 1867. It was Shaifta who brought Hali along with him to the meeting. The second meeting of Hali with Sir Syed was at Lahore. In 1888 Hali travelled to Aligarh at the invitation of Sir Syed and stayed in Aligarh for few months (Khursheed, Ata, 2015). Before meeting Sir Syed, Hali had some reservations about him. But after meeting Sir Syed, Hali was convinced of Sir Syed good intentions and became his supporter. Hali support for the cause of Sir Syed flourished with time and continued even after the death of Sir Syed. Sir Syed requested Hali to write a marsiya on the death of a community after 1857. Hali obliged and wrote Musaddas e Hali and as they say, the rest is history.

Hui pahloye amna se huwaida

Dua e Khalil aur naveed e masiha

Wo Nabion main rahmat laqab paney wala

muraden gharibon ki bar laney wala

musibat main ghairon ke kaam aney wala

wo apney praye ka gham khaney wala

faqiron ka malja gharibon ka mawa

yatimon ka wali ghulamon ka mola

Who has not heard these immortal lines from Musaddas e Hali. Maulana Altaf Husaain Hali’sMusaddas-e-Madd-o-Jazr-e-Islam” commonly known as Musaddas-e-Hali (Musaddas on the ebb and flow of Islam) is perhaps one of the most read and powerful Urdu poems. It was first published in 1879 in Tahzib-ul-Akhlaq as well as in book form. It was written at the request of Sir Syed. The poem recalls Islam’s glorious past and mourned its declined in India. A poem which Hali called “dry, insipid, plain and simple poem” (Shackle & Majeed, 1997 ) took the Urdu speaking public with a storm (Sadiq, 1995).

The poem was written at the request of Sir Syed who felt that there is a need for a poem which laments the demise of Islam in India just as there was qasidah lamenting the demise of Muslims in Al Andalus (modern day Spain).

It was most probably the reading of Al Rundi’s famous Rithā’ al-Andalus, lament for the fall of seville (TIGNOL, E. 2016) that prompted Sir Syed to request Maulana Hali to write on the sad decline of Muslim community in India. Sir Syed told Hali that “there used to be mourners for Andalus but that our times are such that no one until now has mourned the condition of our community”. Sir Syed told Hali “God, my master, gave you a tongue but you do not speak; God gave you the marvelous ability to narrate but you do not use this miracle ; God fills our eyes with tears through rain bearing clouds but you do not let them flow one!” (Aligarh Institute Gazette, Aligarh, 26 Jan. 1878, p. 105.)

Musaddas has 296 stanzas containing 6 lines each. Hali traces the journey of Islam since its birth in Arabia. It tells how Muslims made tremendous progress in all walks of life and their contribution to the world. It then moves to the fall of Muslims in India from position of power to penury and powerlessness.

Sir Syed was mighty pleased with the Musaddas and opined that “with this Musaddas begins the modern age of Urdu poetry (Ross Masud, 1931) and famously said in a letter to Hali that “When, on the Day of Judgment, Allah will ask me, “What deeds have you brought”? I will say “I only made Hali write Musaddas and nothing else’ (Letter from Syed Ahmad Khan to Hali, Shimla, Park Hotel, 10 June 1879, In M. A. Mannan (2007). This shows that Sir Syed thought that Musaddas is good enough to get salvation for him on the day of judgement. There can not be a better appreciation of a book. According to Abid Hussain “thanks to Sir Syed, the community got a poet and the poet got a community” (Hussain, S. A., 1986).

The affect of Musaddas was electrifying to say the least. Even stage shows were made on it and the impact was such that people would burst into tears by the end of the drama. A series of poems imitating the style of the Musaddas as well as parodies based on it are testimony to both its popularity and impact.

Ram Babu Saksena (1927) in his survey of Urdu literature writes that “It was a revelation, a landmark in the literary history of Urdu language. A new star swam into the ken of Urdu poets. It gave a lead to the national and patriotic poems of India. The poem was printed and distributed and sung in assemblies, pulpits, mosques, and conferences“. In fact Hali is forerunner to Allama Iqbal and Shikwa and jawab e shikwa are without doubt culmination of Musaddas Hali.

It is worth mentioning that Hali gave the copyright of the Musaddas to the college so that the money collected could be used by the college fund. Sir Syed never let go of any opportunity to collect funds for the college. However this was different. It is to the credit of Sir Syed that he refused and told Hali that the Musaddas belonged to the community and the college would have no copyright over it. It is to the credit of Hali that despite paucity of money, he did did not keep copyrights and did not earn any royalty from its sale. Hali dedicated the Musaddas to the nation and to the community and gave open permission for it to be published and distributed by anybody (Hussain, S.A., 1986).

Pension from Hyderabad State

In 1887, Nawaab Asmaan Jah, Prime Minister of Hyderabad State, visited Aligarh. Sir Syed introduced Maulana Hali to Nawaab Asmaan Jah. The Nawaab was aware of the scholarship of Hali. He fixed a sum of 75 Hali Sicca per month (Till 1858, the Hyderabad State issued coins in the name of the Mughals. From 1858, Hyderabad State issued its own coins which were named as Hali Sicca meaning current coin to differentiate it from the Mughal coins. It was also called Osmania Sicca. For more details see, Reserve Bank of India website) as pension for Maulana Hali so that Maulana can concentrate on his work without having to worry about earning money for living. Hali immediately resigned from the Anglo Arabic School and dedicated to writing. Now it was difficult for Hali to remain in Delhi as all his friends and mentors had died one by one. In the words of Hali:

Ghalib hai na Shaifta, na Nayyar baqi

Wahshat hai na Salik hai na Anwar baqi

Hali ab isi ko bazme yaraan samjho

Yaron ke jo kutch dagh hain dil par baqi

In 1891, Hali visited Hyderabad as a part of deputation of trustees of Mohammadan Anglo Oriental College, his pension was increased by 25 Hali Sicca to 100 Hali Sicca (Hali, Altaf Hussain, 1927).

Hali’s contribution in the establishment Women’s College, Aligarh Muslim University

After the first war of independence in 1857, there was fierce reprisal from the Britishers. Thousands were hanged and Britishers took control of property of many more. A ten year old girl was one such unfortunate soul. She lost all her family members in 1857 and took refuge with Hali’s family. She spent rest of her life with Hali’s family. Hali was very much impressed by her resilience, patience and piety (Hussain, S. A., 1986). Some of the Hali’s poems are attributed to her. When Sheikh Abdullah started to propagate the idea of a girls school at Aligarh, he faced resistence from the society. To put his point forward, Sheikh Abdullah started a magazine called khatun. In 1905, at the request of Sheikh Abdullah, Hali wrote a poem in support of women’s poem – Chup ki daad (variously translated as homage to the silent and justice for the silent).

Ae maun! behnon! betiyon! dunya ki zeenat tum se hai

mulkon ki basti ho tumhin, qomon ki izzat tum se hai

Go nek mard aksar tumharey naam ke ashiq rahey

par nek hon ya bad, rahey sab muttafiq is per

jab tak jio tum, ilm o danish se raho mahroom yahan

ayi ho jaisi bekhabar, waisi hi jao be khabar (chup ki daad)

Chup ki daad praised women as courageous and caring. The poem talked about the hardships that a women has to undergo in her life. The poem mentioned that men are united in keeping women uneducated and ignorant and want women to remain unaware of knowledge. He besieged men to help women in getting educated and praised Begum Sultan Jahan for her support to the cause and cited her support as proof enough of the truthfulness of the venture. Chup ki daad gained quite popularity and played its role in changing the perception of the society towards women’s education. The poem played important role at a crucial time. The school got support from Begum Sultan Jahan and was opened a few months later (Salim, S., 2021)

The title of Shamsul Ulama

In 1904, Hali was given the title of Shamsul Ulama by the British Government. This title was reserved for the highly learned. The occasion was celebrated everywhere. Allama Shibli Nomani wrote a letter of congratulation. Shibli said “Maulana instead of you I will congratulate the title. Now the title has got respect” (Hussain, S. A., 1986). It would not be out of place to mention that Allama Shibli Nomani himself got the title of Shamsul Ulama from the British Government in 1894 while he was Professor at MAO College. Sir Syed was alive at that time and a grand function was arranged at the college to celebrate the occasion.

Works of Hali

Besides poetry Hali wrote books and articles also. His first book was Tiryaq e Masmoom in 1867. His next book was translation of a geology book from Arabic to Urdu during his stay at Lahore. The copyright of the book was given to University of the Punjab. During his Delhi stay he wrote Hayat e Saadi. His other notable work during that period was Yadgar e Ghalib. His major work in the field of critique of poetry is muqadma sher of shayari. But his magnum opus is biography of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan – Hayat e Jawed. Besides he wrote numerous articles primarily in Aligarh Institute Gazette and Tehzibul Akhlaq (Hali, Altaf Hussain, 1927).

Hali was no doubt a rare person. Very soft spoken but very resolute in his ideas. He talked about women’s education when the society was not ready for it. He openly expressed his ideas without fear or favour. He was a true admirer of Sir Syed and remained associated with the Aligarh Movement till his death. His death was mourned by Allama Iqbal:

Shibli ko ro rahe they abhii ahley gulistan

Hali bhi ho Gaya sue firdosey rah naward


Hameed, Syeda, Syedain (2003)  Hali’s Musaddas: A Story in Verse of the Ebb and Tide of Islam (New Delhi: HarperCollins.

Hussain, Saleha Abid (1986) Yadgar-e-Hali: Tazkira-e-Khwaja Altaf Hussain Hali (5th Edition). New Delhi: Anjuman Taraqi Urdu Hind.

C. Shackle and J. Majeed, Hali’s (1997) Musaddas: the flow and ebb of Islam. Delhi: Oxford University Press

M. Sadiq, A History of Urdu Literature (Delhi, 1995), p. 347.

Urdu re-adaptation of an Arabic classic, al-Rundi’s famous Lament for the fall of Seville.

Ross Masud (1931) Khutut e Sir Syed, Ed. Ross Masud: Badayun  

M. A. Mannan (ed), Selected Letters of Sir Syed Ahmad, Aligarh, 2007

Tignol, E. (2016). A Note on the Origins of Hali’s – Madd-o Jazr-e Islām. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 26(4), 585-589. doi:10.1017/S1356186316000080

Ram Babu Saksena (1940) A History of Urdu Literature, pp. 215-216, Allahabad.

Salim, Saquib (2021, June 6) How Hali’s poem paved way for Women’s College at AMU. Awaztheyouth. Available at: Accessed on 2 December 2021.

Hali, Altaf Hussain (1927) Maulana Hali ki khud nosht sawaneh umri, Maarif, May, Vol. 19, No. 5, pp. 344-351.

Reserve Bank of India (2021) Available at: Accessed on 5 December 2021.

Khursheed, Ata (2015) Maulana Hali aur Aligarh, Tahzibul Akhlaq, Vol.34. No.1, pp. 41-48

Mango and Urdu Poets: A sweet relationship

Author: Mohsin Aziz

Mango enjoys an exalted status among fruits. It is for nothing that it is called the king of fruits. Being a popular fruit, mango has not escaped the attention of Urdu writers and poets. Urdu literature and poetry are full of couplets and stories about mango.

One of the finest exponents of Urdu Poetry, Mirza Ghalib, was a true connoisseur of mango. Ghalib’s love for mango was legendary. There are several stories about Ghalib related to mangoes. It is said that once Ghalib was eating (rather gorging) mangoes. Along with him was sitting a Doctor friend Hakim Raziuddin Khan. Hakim Sahib saw a donkey sifting through garbage. The donkey did not touch a heap of mangoes which was in the garbage. Hakim Sahib immediately pointed that “Look Mirza, even the donkey does not like mangoes”. Not the one to go let an opportunity, Ghalib replied in his imitable style “True, Hakim Sahib, only a donkey would not like a mongo”.

Once in a letter written to the Mutawalli (caretaker) of Calcutta’s (now Kolkata) Imambara, Ghalib wrote “Not only am I a slave to my stomach, I am a weak person as well. I desire that my table be adorned and that my soul be comforted. The wise ones know that both of these can be satisfied by mangoes”.  This was further stressed by the request to the caretaker to remember Ghalib twice or thrice before the end of mango season, though he worried that this may not be enough to comfort “your humble servant”.

Even at old age he had healthy appetite for mango. At the age of 60 he writes in a letter that he can no longer “eat more than ten or twelve at a sitting” and “if they are large ones, then a mere six or seven”. He also lamented that “Alas, the days of youth have gone, indeed, the days of life itself have come to an end”.

There is another beautiful story of Ghalib with Bahadur Shah Zafar (the last Mughal Emperor of India). Once Ghalib was accompanying Bahadur Shah Zafar in Baagh e Hayaat Bakhsh (Garden of Life. To be more precise Garden which increases life). The fruits of the garden were reserved for the nobility. Bahadur Shah Zafar saw Ghalib looking at mangoes with quite intensity and asked what he was looking at. Ghalib replied in Persian that he has heard the elders say that:

Bar sar-e har daana ba navishta Ayaan

Ka-een fulaan ibn e fulaan ibn e fulaan

(On every piece one can see written quite clearly
That this is for so-and-so, son of so-and-so, son of so-and-so)

He told the Emperor that he is trying to spot if any of his ancestor’s name is written on any mango. The Emperor got the message and the same day Ghalib got his share of mangoes from the Royal Orchard.

There is another story of Ghalib and mangoes. There was a gathering where virtues of mangoes were being discussed. One of the attendees, Maulana Fazl-e Haq asked Ghalib about his opinion about mangoes. Ghalib said that mangoes should have two qualities:

Aamo main buss do khubiyan honi chahiyen, ek methey hon aur bohot sarey hon” (For mango to be good, it should have two qualities. One is that they should be sweet and secondly, they should be plentiful).

It is not without reason that Ghalib even composed a masnavi (poem in rhythmic couplets) on mangoes. The masnavi is entitled “dar sifat e ambaah”

Mujhse poochho, tumhen khabar kya hai

Aam kea agey neyshakar kya hai

Ya ye hoga ke fart-e rafa’at se

Baagh baanon ne baagh e Jannat se

Angabeen ke, ba hukm-e rabb-in-naas

Bhar ke bheje hain sar ba mohar gilaas

(ask me! for what do you know?
a mango is far sweeter than sugarcane…
perhaps from the great heights above
the gardeners of heaven’s orchards
have sent, by the order of God
wine filled in sealed glasses)

Similarly, there are stories of Akbar Allahabadi related to mangoes. Once Akbar Allahabadi sent a box of choicest Langra (Langra means Lame in Urdu. It is also a variety of mango from Uttar Pradesh, India) to Allama Iqbal in Lahore. As a receipt, Iqbal sent Akbar Allahabadi a couplet:

Asar hai teri aijaz e masihaee ka ae Akbar

Allahabad se Langra chala Lahore tak pahuncha.

(Akbar, this is the miracle of your Jesus like healing powers. The lame traveled from Allahabad and has reached Lahore)

Akbar Allahabadi has written a whole poem called Aam Nama on mangoes wherein he is requesting a friend to send mangoes to him in Allahabad. The poem clearly shows how much Akbar Allahabadi enjoyed mangoes. He writes:

Nama na koi yaar ka paigham bhejiye

Is fasl main jon bhejiye bas aam bhejiye

Aisa zaroor ho ke unhen rakh ke kha sakun

Pukhta agar bees to das khaam bhejiye

Maloom hi hai aap ko bandey ka address

Sedhey Allahabad merey naam bhejiye

Aisa no ho kea ap ye likhen jawab main

Tameel hogi pahley magar daam bhejiye

(O beloved do not send any messages

This season if you want to send just send mangoes

I should be able to keep them and eat

If twenty are ripe ten should be raw

You know the address of yours truly

Send them directly to my address at Allahabad

It should not so happen that you reply

That you will follow my order but first I should send the money)


Other poets or Urdu have also paid their tribute to mango and have shown their love for the king of fruits. Contemporary Urdu poet Munawwar Rana describes how he does not eat sweets during the season of mango through this couplet:

Insaan ke hathon ki banayi nahin khatey

Hum aam ke Mausam main mithai nahin khatey

(I do not eat what is made by mere mortals

In the season of mango, I do not eat sweets)


At another place, Munawwar Rana compares his love for mangoes to that of Ghalib:


Allah jaanta hai mohabbat hamin ne ki

Ghalib ke baad aamon ki izzat hamin ne ki

(Allah knows that only I fulfilled the conditions of love

After Ghalib, its me who gave honour to mango)

Another pre Independence poet Akhtar Shirani has written a whole poem on mango. He has described life of an exile away from home who is missing mango in its season. He writes:

O des se aaney waley bata

Kya aam ke unchey pedon par

Ab bhi wo papihey boltey hain

Sakhon ke hariri pardon main

Naghmon ke khazaney gholtey hain

Sawan ke rasiley giton se

Talab main amras gholtey hain

O des se aaney waley bata

(O the one who has come from home tell

On the tall trees of mango

Does the cuckoo still croons

Does the magic of song melts?

In the silken curtains of the branches

Do the songs of rainy season still

Melt like the sweetness of mango in the pond

O the one who has come from home tell)


Urdu literature and poetry are full of poems, letters, stories and phrases on mango. This only reflects the importance of mango in the popular Indian Culture. According to Saghar Khayyami:

Aam teri ye khush nasibi hai

Warna lagnron pe kaun marta hai

(Mango it is your good luck

Otherwise who loves a lame)

Note: It is very difficult to represent the subtleties of Urdu poetry in English translation. I have tried to be as literal as possible. I hope that I have somewhat managed the task. Readers are requested to suggest improvements. I shall be grateful.

Urdu goes Hi-Tech: Mirza Ghalib meets Jeff Bezos

On June 5, 2020, Rekhta Foundation launched its Amazon Alexa Skill enabling Urdu lovers to enjoy Urdu poetry on Alexa. It allows lovers of Urdu poetry to enjoy hundreds of Urdu couplets by master poets by simple voice command. Connoisseurs will be able to enjoy this service on both Amazon Echo Range as well as Alexa enabled devices. At initial stage, it allows one to listen to almost 1000 poetry tracks from about 50 poets. To make it easy for users, the Urdu couplets have been arranged according to poets and genre like poetry on sadness, love etc.

It can be used by giving commands in both English and Urdu by simply saying “Alexa open Rekhta” or “Alexa, Rekhta Shuru karo”. It can also be used according to poet, genre or mood. example, simply telling it “Alexa, tell me a love shayari” will enable Alexa to play love shayari. At the launch of the service, the Country Manger Alexa Skills and Voice Services, India, Mr. Dilip R.S. said that “With over 1000 Shayaris to choose from, we are exited about Rekhta’s new Alexa Skill and believe it is a great way for poetry lovers to enjoy their favourite Shayaris in a hassle-free manner through simple voice commands at the comforts of their homes”.

According to Mr. Sanjeev Saraf, founder Rekhta Foundation, “With changing times, the ever-increasing charm of poetry has reached personal devices and Echo devices and Alexa-enabled smart devices perfectly fit the environment of personal leisure time. We are pleased to bring this home for the lovers of the language”.

This is a novel experiment and the need of the times. This will allow larger audience to benefit from vast collection of Urdu poetry. This may very well become a wonderful opportunity to promote the language with the help of technology. I am exited and looking forward to using this. Indeed, exciting times for Urdu and Urdu lovers.

For more information and references, Please see:





Urdu Poetry and the times we are living in

Author: Mohsin Aziz

These days everyone is forwarding Bashir Badar’s famous Urdu couplet on WhatsApp groups and Facebook posts to highlight the concept of social distancing

  • Koi hath bhi na milaega, jo galey milogey tapaak se

         Ye nai mizaj ka shahar hai zara fasley se mila karo (Bashir Badar)

A friend of mine also forwarded the same on WhatsApp a few days ago. This led me to my diary of Urdu poetry (I keep a diary in my office. Whenever, I hear any Urdu couplet which I like, I immediately write it down). I found a lot of Urdu couplets which deal with various concepts that we are getting to know for the first time. It is true that these couplets were not written to describe the environment created by Corona Virus. However, it is also true that some of these Urdu couplets were indeed written to explain the Plague which humanity has witnessed before.

Doctors are advising us to stay at home as much as possible to reduce the possibility of catching the virus. Here are some of the Urdu couplets which I found to be relevant to the concept of not venturing out:

  • Yunhi besabab na phira karo koi shaam ghar bhi raha karo

          Ye ghazal ki sachi kitab hai isey chupkey chupkey padha karo (Bashir Badar)

This was written in a different context but the first line perfectly describes the current situation. Similarly following couplet also describes the situation in other words

  • Khudgharz hota to hujuum hota sath

         Mukhlis huun is liye to tanha hoon (Unknown)

  • Meri tanhai ko mera shouq na samajhna

         Bohot pyar se diya hai ye tuhfa kisi ne (Unknown)

Starting with China, sooner or later every major country has been forced to announce lockdown. The once bustling cities and their markets and roads are empty. Who would have thought that the busiest streets in the world would be deserted and biggest of the shopping malls and markets would be closed to contain the disease? None of us have seen anything like this before. So far there is no vaccine or medicine for Covid-19. The only way to control and contain is to close and cut off the cities from the rest of the world. I found some of the Urdu couplets beautifully describing the situation. For example:

  • Ajeeb marz hai jiski dawa hai tanhai

         Baqai shahar hai ab shahar ke ujadney main (Unknown)

  • Aur kis mausam men jab ta.un hai phaila hua
    Zarra zarra hai vaba ke ḳhauf se simta hua (Unknown)
  • Bazaar hain khamosh to galiyon pe hai sakta

          Ab shahar main tanhai ka dar bol raha hai (Ishaq Virdag)

  • Basti basti parbat parbat dahshat ki hai dhoop ziya

         Charon janib wirani hai dil ka ek wirana kya (Ahmad Ziya)

  • Sehra ko bohot naaz hai wirani pe apni

         Waqif nahin shayad merey ujdey hua ghar se (Khumaar Barabankwi)

  • Rastey hain khuley hue sarey

         Phir bhi ye zindagi ruki hui hai (Unknown)

One of the major cultural casualty of the Corona Virus is the handshake. There are notices in offices and every guideline on stopping the virus highlights the importance of avoiding handshake. Already there are articles being written on whether Corona Virus is the end of handshake. Besides Bashir Badar’s couplet which I quoted in the beginning, there are many other relevant ones which describe either the fear which forces people to keep distance from each other or which forces them not to shake hands. Here’s a sample:

  • Ajeeb daur aya hai zamaney main

        Doori rakhni padegi rishtey nibhaney main (Unknown)

  • Afsos ye waba ke dinon ki mohabbatain

        Ek dusrey se hath milaney se bhi gaye (Sajjad Baloch)

  • Ye jo milatey phir rahey ho tum har kisi se hath

         Aisa na ho ki dhona padey zindagi se hath (Javed Saba)

  • Sabhi ek dosrey se chhip rahey hain

        Waba ….. basti main aisi agayi hai (Unknown)

  • Qurbatain lakh khoobsurat hon

         Duriyun main bhi dilkashi hai achhi (Ahmad Faraaz)

  • Dil to pehley hi juda tha yahan basti walon

          Kya qayamat hai ke ab hath milaney se gaye (Unknown)

Despite all the doctors telling us to avoid handshake, there still are friends who insist on the handshake. I was surprised to find couplets on this too. They were written in a different context but fit the bill. For example:

  • Merey dushman ko zarurat nahin kutch karney ki

         Is se acha to merey yaar kiye jatey hain (Jaleel Aali)

The following couplets also describes the situation in a different way

  • Ye kahkey usney mujhey makhmasey main dal diya

         Milao hath agar waqai mohabbat hai (Unknown)

  • Marney waley to khair bebas hain

         Jiney waley kamaal kartey hain (Khalilur Rehman Raz)

  • Haal pucha na karey hath milaya na karey

         Main is dhoop main khush hoon koi saya na karey (Kahsif Hussin Ghair)

While there are people who are still not ready to give up the handshake, there are others who are genuinely worried about talking to others face to face, lest they are infected.

  • Anjuman main ye meri khamoshi

         Burdbari nahin hai dahshat hai (John Elia)

However, with situation getting worse by the day, nobody is making fun of those who are avoiding to meet others or shake hand. A month back, anybody following the guidelines was seen by many as weak hearted. Not anymore. Everybody has started taking it seriously and nobody is now embarrassed not to shake hand or maintain a safe distance while talking to each other. The following couplet perfectly sums up the changed mood of the society.

  • Ab nahin koi baat khatrey ki

         Ab sabhi ko sabhi se khatra hai (John Elia)

There are some who are feeling stressed sitting under lockdown while there are others who are seeing too much news and getting further stressed out. As World Health Organization has suggested, we should not read or listen too much about what’s happening all over the world. This may further stress us.

  • Khwab ki tarah bikhar janey ko dil chahta hai

          Aaisi tanhai ki mar janey ko ji chahta hai (Iftikhar Arif)

  • Har ek jism mian maujud hashtpa ki tarah

         Waba ka khauf hai khud bhi kisi waba ki tarah (Saud Usmani)

One aspect of the lockdown has been urge of people to hoard foodstuff. So much so that in some places, there have been fighting between people at shopping stores. This one describes the situation very well.

  • Fikr to hai apni zaat ki bas alam hai nafsa nafsi ka

         Kisi ko farq nahin padta ab jiye koi ya marey koi (Manabil farouqi)

While a lot of people have succumbed to this disease there are many who had to face the situation of dying without their loved ones around them. See Mirza Ghalib’s take on this

  • Padiye gar bimaar to koi na ho timaardar
    Aur agar mar jaaiye to nauha-ḳhwan koi na ho (Mirza Ghalib

The people who are at the frontline in this fight against the virus are doctors and paramedical staff. However, despite their best of efforts they cannot save everybody. Sometimes doctors have to take painful decision of choosing between patients because of lack of resources. The most famous and most oft quoted Couplet on benefactors (usually referred to as masiha can be used as a synonym for doctors and paramedics here) is the one by the most often quoted by master poet Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib which goes as follows:

  • Ibn Mariam hua karey koi

         Merey dukh ki dawa karey koi (Mirza Ghalib)

Besides there are others some of which are quoted here:

  • Mehrbani charasazon ki badhi

         Jab badha darman to bimari badhi (Mubarak Azimabadi)

  • Kaun hai jo nahin hai hajatmand

         Kiski hajat rawa karey koi (Mirza Ghalib)

  • Bedum huye bimar dawa kyon nahin detey

         Tum achey masiha ho shifa kyon nahin detey (Faiz Ahmad Faiz)

  • Kya suna.en jan-ba-lab qaumon ki bimari ka haal

         Dard badhta hi gaya juun juun dava karte rahe (Unknown)

Doctors being at the frontline also means that many are themselves getting infected. There have been reports from Italy to China to India where the doctors and nurses have caught the virus while attending to the patients. Some have even lost their lives in the process. Here are few couplets which describe the situation

  • Charagar bhi jo yun guzar jain

         Phir bimar kiskey ghar jain (Unknown)

However, the most affected section of the society is the poor. It is a fact that the lockdown which has been announced in many countries has hit the poorest the hardest. Already there is news coming of poor dying of hunger because they cannot go out and work and don’t have enough at home to sustain them. The following couplets describe their pain and suffering

  • Sab pareshan hain ki aḳhir kis vaba men vo mire
    Jin ko ġhurbat ke alava koi bimari na thi
    (Hasan Naim)

But this is life. As long we are alive, we have to face one problem or the other. According to Ghalib:

  • Ghamey hasti ka asad kis se ho juz marg ilaaj

         Shama har rang main jalti hain sahar honey tak (Mirza Ghalib)

There is every chance that as it enters stage three of community spread, there will be hardships before it is controlled

  • Ibtedaye ishq hai rota hai kya

          Agey Agey dekhiye hota hai kya (Mir Taqi Mir)

Yes, these are difficult times but this too shall be over. As a poet describes it:

  • Hamesha ek hi alam main hona, ho nahin sakta

         Musalsal ka kahin akar badalna bhi zaruri tha (Muneer niyazi)

It is a lesson for us to realise how vulnerable we are as human beings. This has affected the richest of the countries with the best of the healthcare systems. It’s time to reflect on the purpose of our existence and understand that there is a Supreme Power beyond the super powers of this world who runs the show

  • Hai koi to jisney jahaan hila ke rakh diya

         Lagta tha hamary bin pattey na hilen (Unknown)

We don’t have any choice but to repent and go back to the Creator of the Universe asking for forgiveness, to help us come out of this huge calamity

  • Koi chara nahin dua ke siwa

         Koi suntan nahin khuda ke siwa (Hafeez Jalandhari)

  • Na charagar ki zarurat na kutch dawa ki hai

         Dua ko hath uthao ki gham ki raat hai (Rajender Krishan)

Many of us are wondering why our prayers are not being heard. May be this is the reason

  • Abhi dilon ki tanabon main sakhtiyaan hain bohot

         Abhi hamari dua main asar nahin aaya (Aftab Hussain)

For those who has no time and were always wondering when will they get some respite from their busy schedules and spend some me time, the poet has to say this:

  • Ae merey lamhai naraz kabhi mil to kahin

         Is zamaney se alag hokey guzarun tujhko (Ashgar Abid)

One way of restricting any epidemic (or pandemic) is to isolate those who are affected and not allowing them to move out. Still there are people moving out from their houses as well as moving from one country to another, thus spreading the virus. The following couplet describes the situation and offers advice, that:

  • Jahan jo tha wahin rahna tha usko

         Magar ye log hijrat kar rahey hain (Liyaqat Jafri)

For those of us who are fortunate enough to use the opportunity to spend time with their families and take care of others in these times may echo Mirza Ghalib once all this is over:

  • Ji dhondta hai phir wohi fursat ke raat din

        Baithey rahen tasawwur e janan kiye hue (Mirza Ghalib)

But till that time comes we have to take all precautions as prescribed by doctors and health experts and cut off ourselves from others as much as possible. Again it is Ghalib who are something to say:

  • Rahiye ab aisi jagah chal kar jahan koi na ho
    Hum-suḳhan koi na ho aur ham-zaban koi na ho
    Be-dar-o-diwar sa ik ghar banaya chahiye
    Koi hum-saya na ho aur pasban koi na ho

These are some of the Urdu couplets which I found relevant to the current situation. Most of the poets names I knew but there are quite a few couplets for which I did not know the name of the poet. Wherever I have written unknown means I don’t know the name of the poet. If any of the reader knows the name of the creator of these couplets, kindly tell me so that I can update. And yes there are hundreds of more such couplets proving again that very few languages in the world can match the subtlety and diversity of topics discussed in Urdu literature and poetry. It is not without reason that Daagh Dehlevi said:

Urdu hai jiska naam hamin jantey hain Daagh

Saarey jahan main dhoom hamari zubaan ki hai

(Daagh Dehlevi)