Friday, July 11, 2008


Jahanpana, Sahenshah Bahadur Shah Zafar,
Saw dust over the Bridge of Boats, afar,
Standing on the ramparts of the Red Fort,
With wives, courtiers, and consort.

His heart filled with despair and hope,
A mixed feeling he couldn’t cope,
His Hindustan will after all be free,
From the White Man’s sword, and decree.

To feed them where will he bring money?
Thomas Metcalfe refuses to give him any,
His powers are naught and so is his court,
Should he fight or befriend as they cross the moat.

No, he’s not a soldier fighting a war,
He’s a Sufi poet running beads of prayer,
Though martial blood runs in his veins,
For Timur’s cruelty he has much disdain.

He squandered wealth and kingdom lost,
To wine, poetry, blandishments and lust,
Too many late nights of poetry and pretence,
Had left a debt he couldn’t recompense.

Away to his chamber that night he went,
After a message to mutinous armies sent,
You are welcome if you come in peace,
Do not disturb our graces, or, our poetry disgrace.

But the mutinous army being common men,
Looted, pillaged and set on fire, and then,
Said to Jahanpanah, “Where’s all your wealth,
For us to liberate and live in comfort and health?”

To this Jahanpanah murmured a few words,
I will go to Mecca; send you to British swords,
I am too old and tired for this war you create,
Therefore to Nizamuddin shrine will I retreat.

“Call me coward, what you will, man,
But I am no traitor like Asanullah Khan,
My wife Zinat Mahal, or, Mohammed Baqar,
They will rot in their graves, those gaddar.”

“I have only done what a poet would have done,
Protected my people, poetry, wives, and son,
It’s greedy men who covet, steal, and fight,
I am but a bard; and poetry is my birthright.”


Jahanpanah - ruler of the world
Shahenshah – king of kings
Gaddar - traitor
Asanullah Khan – Zafar’s prime minister
Zinat Mahal – Zafar’s wife
Mohammed Baqar – chronicler and editor of Delhi Urdu Akhbar

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Not knowing what brought me here –
certainly no wayward vicissitude of tide –
and not affirming or denying
the course he maps with the clear
authority of the sibyl, I bide
the familiar litany of prophesying.

Detachment comes easy to you, he says,
scanning the palm leaf. And age
will see you recede further
from the points of life, each phase
revealing the hidden stillness of the sage.
The final you will be someone other.

Perhaps. Except that I’ve always been that.
Never quite what was required to be,
or knowing even that presumed state,
the kind that the assured point at
(short of sainthood) with such certainty.
Someone else, somewhat there, approximate.