Ghazalnama: Poems from Delhi, Belfast, and Urdu

A selection from a book of poems by Maaz bin Bilal. Maaz lived in Old Delhi for most of his life before leaving for a doctorate in literary studies at the Queen’s University of Belfast. He now teaches at Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities in Sonipat where he also lives when not back home in Delhi. Maaz received the Charles Wallace India Trust Fellowship in Wales in 2018–19 for Writing and Translation. His translation from Urdu, The Sixth River, of Fikr Taunsvi’s partition journal, is also out in 2019. Ghazalnāma is his first poetry collection.


A Shriek About Kashmir, July 2016


to Abir Bazaz, Javaid Iqbal Bhat, Hamzah, and all my Kashmiri brothers.


How do I see, think, dream, or speak about Kashmir?

One more ghazal shall I tweak about Kashmir?


Another bloody summer looms over the Dal,

Wani’s died and been deified this week, about Kashmir.


Vani is also voice in Hindi and Sanskrit,

There’s a roar now not a creak about Kashmir.


Thirty killed or martyred in only three days,

What vengeance is this that we seek about Kashmir?


Pandits were driven out, and Muslims are curfewed in,

Of raw flesh and fury—a reek about Kashmir.


A green land of saffron, of rishis and shairs,

What is Indian, what is unique about Kashmir?


Courting bullets on streets are those sons of the soil,

Swaraj, their birthright, kindles the pique about Kashmir.


A mighty pretty valley, its people’s mighty will,

What is strong, and what is weak about Kashmir?


Relentless calls for Azadi, will it ever come?

Is there debate, any critique about Kashmir?


A handsome boy died, which a nation defied,

Beauty, power, what is the mystique about Kashmir?


Here is no place for a maqta this time, Maaz,

Humiliation, pain wreak (havoc) about Kashmir.


This summer, snows have melted into tears of rage,

Burhan’s voice has become a shriek about Kashmir.


A Ghazal for Gaza


for two Mahmouds—Awad and Darwish


In response to a video of the celebratory chants by some Israelis: ‘No Children are left there, Olé, Olé’.


Four young footballers were playing on the beach,

When men went coursing, preying on the beach.

They built castles high up into the skies,

Those children of Gaza, claying on the beach.


In the grime of their game, in a grain of sand,

All plagues of Egypt, slaying on the beach.


Football cenotaphs in place of their bodies,

Their fathers are now laying on the beach.


Pulped skulls: rubble, debris, spatter, graffiti,

Iron-Dome confetti spraying on the beach.


Sunbathers on that sand? Swimmers in that sea?

Love-making, dilly-dallying, delaying on the beach?


That flotilla of aid, now long-sunk, bled

for stops to bloodlettings, baying on the beach.


We die-in on streets in your New Yorks, your

Londons. Please, no more flaying on the beach.


Poetry’s perverse, read Maaz’s meagre ghazal,

‘No children are left there!’ weighing on the beach.



Biryani in Belfast


Making biryani in Belfast

is no Trouble.

You get the ready-made Pakistani spice-mix

from the Indian store,

follow the recipe, add some saffron,

and chillies and cardamom,

and wallah, there it is!

The green enmeshed in the orange rice,

even as some grains fail to catch colour,

and remain simply white

—it all smells delicious.

The brown meat is nicely softened,

but also stands out.



Merely a Heart


(dil hī to hai… by Mirza Ghalib)


Why should it not be full of pain,

merely a heart not a hard block of stone?

We shall cry ourselves a thousand times,

take jibes at us, why should anyone?


Not temple nor mosque, the Kaaba or a harem,

neither at a doorway nor a tomb or entrance.

We sit at common trodden pathways,

why remove us, O Unknown?


She, of the heart-warming beauty,

resplendent as the noon sun.

Herself a vision to blast all others,

why hide in a veil, all alone?


Piercing coquetry, bane of (my) life,

stinging endless arrows of pride.

Why would it come in front of you,

even if the image be your own?


Imprisoned by life or captive of grief,

both of these are one and the same.

Can man before death, in life itself,

ever find all his sorrows gone?


Beauty and, with it, self-estimation,

saved my lusty rival from indiscretions.

There’s confidence on the self,

why then a need to try that glutton?


There—she is arrogant and brimming with pride,

here—a humble humility about ourselves.

Where do we meet on the street?

Why’d she invite us to meets of her own?


Yes, I know she does not believe,

given she is unfaithful even.

Those who prize faith and fidelity,

to her lane—why’d they be shown?


Without the broken Ghalib,

this world would surely not come to a stop.

Why cry so bitterly then,

why make such a pitiful moan?


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