Hindi Language Blog

The Poetry of Parveen Shakir Posted by on Feb 27, 2019 in Hindi Language

For this week’s blog, I thought it would be interesting to delve into the world of Hindi-Urdu poetry, in the form of a ghazal by Parveen Shakir (1952-1994). As you may remember, I wrote a blog post about this poet previously, where you can learn more about her life and contributions to Urdu poetry. Below, you’ll find one of her ghazals, “समुंदरों के उधर से कोई सदा आई” (“Somewhere near distant waters, a cry rang out”). A ghazal (ग़ज़ल) is a type of poetry very common in Urdu literature that is composed of couplets – in this case, five pairs of couplets in which the first two lines rhyme and the second line of each couplet rhymes with the first two lines. Generally, these poems are about love, most often about the painful separation between the माशूक or beloved and the आशिक़ or lover, from whose perspective the poem is generally written. Oftentimes, the separation between the beloved and lover is inevitable as the relationship between the two is usually meant as an analogy between the human worshipper, racked by worldly problems such as pain and desire and the divine, who is pure, beautiful, distant and unaffected by the problems that torture humanity.

Image by Mark Groves on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.


English Transliteration

English Translation

समुंदरों* के उधर से कोई सदा* आई

Samundaron ke udhar se koi sadaa aayi

Somewhere near distant waters, a cry rang out


दिलों के बंद दरीचे* खुले हवा आई

Dilon ke band dareeche khule havaa aayi

Hearts, their shuttered windows opening, as the wind came

सरक* गए थे जो आँचल* वह फिर सँवारे* गए


Sarak gaye the jo aanchal voh phir sanvaare gaye

In disarray – those veils – were then set right


खुले हुए थे जो सर उन पे फिर रिदा* आई Khule hue the jo sar un pe phir ridaa aayi Bare, those heads, the cloak then covered

उतर रही हैं अजब* ख़ुशबुएँ रग-ओ-पै* में Utar rahi hain ajab khushbue rag-o-pe me Coming to rest on the body, a haze of wondrous fragrances
यह किस को छू के मेरे शहर में सबा* आई Yah kis ko choo ke mere sheher me sabaa aayi Who has this gentle breeze touched, on its way to my city

उसे पुकारा तो होंटों पे कोई नाम न था


Use pukaaraa to hoton pe koi naam na thaa

If you call out to him – on your lips – no name arises


मोहब्बतों के सफ़र में अजब फ़ज़ा* आई Mohabbaton ke safar me ajab fazaa aayi

A wondrous atmosphere pervades these travels of love


कहीं रहे वह मगर ख़ैरियत* के साथ रहे Kahin rahe voh magar khairiyat ke saath rahe

Wherever he lives, he is safe and sound


उठाए हाथ तो याद एक ही दुआ* आई Uthaaye haath to yaad ek hi duaa aayi

If you raise a hand – remember – only one prayer remains


Image by Martin Stone on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Explanation of Vocabulary: 

  1. समुंदर = this is a variation of the standard समुद्र, meaning sea or ocean. In this poem, the word is plural.
  2. सदा = this word can be approximated by the more common Hindi words, आवाज़ and पुकार, meaning a sound, voice or cry; interestingly, the word doesn’t necessarily hint at what kind of sound is meant.
  3. दरीचा = खिड़की, in standard Hindi.
  4. सरकना/सरक जाना = means, in this case, for something to slip from place, or be out of place – in this case, the veil or आँचल.
  5. आँचल = “veil” is a rather poor translation but this word, meaning “the hem or border of a sari” doesn’t have a direct English equivalent. The आँचल is significant because it is the part of a sari that is pulled over a woman’s head to signify modesty, particularly in the presence of an unrelated man.
  6. सँवारना = in this case, this word means something like “adjusted” or “put in its proper place” although it has other meanings more akin “to adorn” or be decorative/serve as embellishment.
  7. रिदा = is a type of cloak, specifically worn by women while going out – in other words, another way of displaying modesty and restraint, specifically by covering the body and hair. You can see how, with words such as रिदा and आँचल, Shakir is taking on a distinctly feminine perspective, which was rare in Urdu poetry.
  8. अजब = strange, astonishing, surprising.
  9. रग-ओ-पै = “ओ” being a Persian particle meaning “and” (और). This literally means vein, sinew or “fibre” of the body (रग) and foot/feet (पै) – signifying that the fragrances here are falling not only on the external parts of the body but also, figuratively, the inner parts of one’s being.
  10. सबा = a gentle breeze, morning breeze or east wind.
  11. फ़ज़ा = in this case, this word signifies an ambience or atmosphere.
  12. ख़ैरियत = welfare, well-being, a way to express that all is well in one’s life.
  13. दुआ = a prayer or wish.
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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!