Hindi Language Blog

Learning Hindi through Poetry Posted by on Mar 7, 2019 in Hindi Language

Literature can be a powerful way to learn a new language. Although, at the most basic levels of language learning, the student may at first focus on simple vocabulary and grammatical structures, these are not what gives a language its depth and vibrancy. Particularly in South Asian culture, which has a rich oral and literary tradition that spans centuries, your interlocutors will appreciate even a rudimentary awareness of poetic and other literary traditions and indeed some knowledge of the writers themselves. Through literature, you can open a window that extends ever wider into a distinctive culture and way of life to which you previously did not have access. In this way, you are able to see the language in all of its living, breathing dimensions – as playful, comedic, lovelorn, bleak and sorrowful, mysterious and timeless and universal yet utterly particular to a specific time and place. In this blog, I’ll delve into another poem by Parveen Shakir but, this time, focus at the end not only on explaining unfamiliar vocabulary but on expanding the student’s vocabulary to encompass differing registers. If you’d like to catch up on my previous posts about this poet, you can do so here: Parveen Shakir: A Poetess for the Modern Age and The Poetry of Parveen Shakir.

Image by James Loesch on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.


Hindi Text Transliteration English Translation
शाम आई तेरी यादों के सितारे निकले


Shaam aayi teri yaadon ke sitaare nikale Evening came and memories of you – like stars – emerged


रंग ही ग़म के नहीं नक़्श प्यारे निकले


Rang hi gam* ke nahin naksh* bhi pyaare nikale Not only the shades – even the shadows of grief seemed precious
एक मौहूम तमन्ना के सहारे निकले


Ek mauhoom* tamanna* ke sahaare nikale An idyll emerged, abetted by desire


चाँद के साथ तेरे हिज्र के मारे निकले


Chaand ke saath tere hijra* ke maare nikale It rose with the moon, stung by your careless absence


कोई मौसम हो मगर शान-ए-ख़म-ओ-पेच वही Koi mausam ho magar shaan-e-kham-o-pech* vahi Whatever the season, the grandeur of this twisted labyrinth remains
रात की तरह कोई जुल्फ़ सँवारे निकले


Raat ki tarah koi zulf* sanvaare nikale As the night unfolds – a lock of hair falls free of its knot


रक़्स जिन का हमें साहिल से बहा लाया था


Raqs* jin* kaa hame saahil se bahaa laayaa thaa The spirit’s dance carried us, on crashing waves, far from shore


वह भँवर आँख तक आए तो किनारे निकले


Voh bhanvar* aankh taka aye to kinaare nikale Yet, even as its raging swell threatened to engulf us, the shore lay ­– always – in its wake
वह तो जान ले के भी वैसा ही सुबुक-नाम रहा


Voh to jaan le ke bhi vaisaa hi subuk-naam* rahaa Even if he were to kill, he would remain unsullied


इश्क़ के बाब में सब जुर्म हमारे निकले


Ishq ke baab* me sab jurm* hamaare nikale In this chapter of love, these crimes are ours – and ours alone
इश्क़ दरिया है जो तेरे वह तही-दस्त रहे


Ishq dariyaa hai jo tere voh tahi-dast* rahe Love is a river, ever flowing as your empty hands outstretched
वह जो डूबे थे किसी और किनारे निकले Voh jo doobe the kisi aur kinaare nikale That which drowns – soon emerges – on another shore
धूप की रुत में कोई छाँव उगाता कैसे


Dhoop ki rut* me koi chaanv ugaataa kaise How can shadow bloom in the season of sunshine


शाख़ फूटी थी की हम-सायों में आरे निकले


Shaakh* phooti thi ki hum-saayon* me aare nikale When one branch breaks – from the others – a sigh echoes into the shadows

Image by Simon Turkas on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Explanation of Vocabulary:

  1. ग़म (gam): sadness, sorrow. Test yourself – can you think of any more common alternates to this word? (for this and all questions – answers below)
  2. नक़्श (naksh): impression, mark. Test yourself – think of at least one synonym to this word.
  3.  मौहूम (mauhoom): imagined, fancied or imaginary, ideal. Test yourself – what is the Sanskrit equivalent to this word?
  4. तमन्ना (tamanna): desire, wish, longing. Test yourself  
  5. हिज्र (hijra): separation, desertion, absence (most often in the context of the separation between the lover and the beloved or the separation that exists between the devotee and the divine). Test yourself  
  6. शान-ए-ख़म-ओ-पेच (shaan-e-kham-o-pech): literally, this phrase means “the grandeur/majesty/glory of the bend/curve/defeat (ख़म) and twist/turn/bend/obstacle (पेच). Can you think of any other ways to translate this in English?
  7. ज़ुल्फ़ (zulf): lock of hair (very common word in poetry). Test yourself – can you think of any related words or even a synonym to this word?
  8. रक़्स (raqs): dance. Test yourself
  9. जिन (jin): a supernatural creature often found in Islamic and pre-Islamic folklore (indeed, it is based on a pagan creature that was later adopted and absorbed into Islam). It is not necessarily good or evil but can be mischievous, ill-tempered or beneficent based on its personality and circumstances. How else would you translate this in English – is there an equivalent?
  10. भँवर (bhanvar): whirlpool, vortex.
  11. सुबुक-नाम (subuk-naam): सुबुक=light, soft or delicate + नाम = of good name or reputation, unsullied.
  12. बाब (baab): chapter, section, division, subject/topic. Test yourself – what are some synonyms and/or related words?
  13. जुर्म (jurm): crime. Test yourself – can you think of a synonym to this?
  14. तही-दस्त (tahi-dast): empty/impoverished hands. Test yourself  
  15. रुत (rut): season. Test yourself  
  16. शाख़ (shaakh): branch or bough. Test yourself  
  17. हम-साया (hum-saayaa): neighbor (literally, this means “one who shares the same shade”). Test yourself – can you think of a synonym for this?





Answer Key:

  1. उदासी (udaasi), अफ़सोस (afsos), दुख (dukh)
  2. निशान (nishaan), चिह्न (chinha), छाप (chaap – partial syn.), दाग़ (daag – partial syn.)
  3. काल्पनिक (kaalpanik)=imaginary, कल्पना (imagination)
  4. इच्छा (icchaa), चाह (chaah)
  5. विरह (virah), जुदाई (judaai)
  6. no equivalent
  7. लट (lat – lock of hair), बाल (baal – hair), चोटी (choti – braid)
  8. नृत्य (nritya), नाच (naach – dance), नाचना (naachnaa – to dance)
  9. no equivalent
  10. no equivalent
  11. no equivalent
  12. अध्याय (adhyaay – chapter), विषय (vishay – subject)
  13. अपराध (apraadh)
  14. गरीब (gareeb – poor), हाथ (haath – hand)
  15. ऋतु (ritu), मौसम (mausam)
  16. डाल (daal)
  17. पड़ोसी (parosi)
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About the Author: Rachael

नमस्ते, मेरा नाम रेचल है/السلام علیکم، میرا نام ریچل ہے۔ Hello, my name is Rachael, but I also on occasion go by Richa––an interesting story for another time :) My two great loves are Hindi and Urdu. I first traveled to India (Jaipur, Rajasthan) in college on a Hindi study abroad program. A little over a year later, I returned to the same city to study Hindi in a yearlong program. I've also spent a summer in Kolkata, West Bengal learning Bengali, and I studied Urdu at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was a graduate student in South Asian Studies. I hope to share with you the fascinating world of Hindi and Urdu literature, society, culture and film through my blogs!


  1. shantha varma:

    Quite interesting