Poems from four Walls and a Black veil


The soft fragrance of my jasmine

Floats on the breeze

Plays with the hand of the wind,

Is setting off in search of you.

The soft fragrance of my jasmine

Has curled around my wrists,

My arms, my throat.

It has woven chains about me.

It lurks in the fogging night,

Seeps through the darkening cold.

Rustling through the leafy thicket,

It’s setting off in search of you.

Translated by Patricia L. Sharpe


Deep myrrh-scented kiss,

deep with the tongue, suffused

with the musky perfume

of the wine of love: I’m reeling

with intoxication, languid

to the point of numbness,

yet with a mind so roused

an eye flies open

in every cell.

And you! Sucking my breath,

my life, from its deepest,

most ancient abode.


Wet, warm, dark.

Pitch black!

Like a moonless night,

when rain comes flooding in.

A glint of runaway time

fleeing in the wilderness of my soul

seems to be drawing closer.

I sway across a shadowy bridge.

It’s about to end, I think,

somewhere ahead,

there is light.

Translated by Patricia L. Sharpe


The Interrogator is waiting

What should be our statement?

How life has suffered

It is hard to reveal

What the heart has endured

Impossible to recount.

Here is my statement then:

Take note then, this is all true.

All the allegations are true

My crime is proven

What I did though, was too little

That is my only regret

I hope I may have another chance

I owed more than I have paid as yet

To all that, add this too

So long as I breathe

I shall do it again

If possible I shall do it better

We shall write that word again

To make every dictator equipped with his armoury

Tremble upon reading that word

We shall play that tune again

To make every victim of oppression,

With bands of folded hands.

Dance to its rhythm.

This law is a rag

Worthy of the dust

Off the feet of the


Dictatorship is a curse

This government of


We shall shred in a

public square.

The time is coming

For accountability

When they will have to account for it all

But, then, to answer for this,

Where would you be?

Less than a thorn, less

than dust

You are but a pebble by

the wayside

He, who obstructs the path

He is your master

We have now decided to clear the way

You who are only his instrument

You, we shall forgive.

Translated by Rukhsana Ahmad


What shall I do, Sire, with this black veil?

Why do you bestow on me this great favour?

I am not in mourning that I should wear it

To show the world my grief. Nor am I sick

That I should hide my shame

In its dark folds. Stamp my forehead with this

Dismal seal? If I am not too impudent, Sire

If you assure my life, may I tell you,

Most humbly: There lies, in your perfumed chamber,

A corpse that stinks. It begs for pity.

Cover that shroudless corpse. Not me.

Its stench is everywhere.

It cries for seclusion.

Listen to the heart-rending screams

Of those still naked beneath the veil.

You must know them well, these maids:

The hostage women of vanquished peoples,

Halal for a night, exiled at dawn;

The slave girls who carried your blessed seed

And brought forth children of half status only, yet

Was it not honour enough for them?

The wives who wait their precious turns

To pay homage to the conjugal couch;

The hapless, cowering girl-child

Whose blood will stain your gray beard red.

Life has no more tears to shed; it shed them all

In that fragrant chamber where, for ages now,

This sacrificial drama has played

And replayed. Please, Sire, bring it down.

The curtain. Now. You need it to cover the corpse.

I am not on this earth merely as a signet

Of your great lust.

These four walls and this black veil –

Let them bless the rotting remains.

I have spread my sails

In the open wind, on the wide seas,

And by my side a man stands,

A companion who won my trust.

Translated by Patricia L. Sharpe


A Great Indian Urdu Poet

At Triveni, the place

of three waters, where Ganga

and Yamuna flow together:

A waterbird rising, its trailing feet

inscribe the surface.

Yamuna: deep and blue,

languid, mysterious, silent;

Ganga: white, powerful, restless,

an onward-pressing current that never ceases.

On the surface of the waters, reflections:

Chinks of sky. Earthen idols.

Green coconuts. A face

smeared with sandalwood.

A boatman,

all skin and bones,

rowing his shell across the twin currents.

Holy men counting their coins,

toting up their alms.

The bronze disk of the afternoon sun.

On the banks of Yamuna, the fort,

its dome and tall minarets,

their slanting shadows.

Visitors from Pakistan to the land

that was once their own. A garland

of bruised marigolds floating by.

Oars dipping and rising.

Snatches of overheard conversation.

‘Saraswati, the goddess of learning

and the arts, concealed from us,

flows somewhere here,

in river form…’

Whatever I gathered from that view

Or later learnt in life, I know that vista

was larger than what met

the eye. Its infinite outreaches

I dedicate to you, Firaq!

This, half-lit room, outside

the keening rainbird…

Raindrops whispering

against the glass, silence inside.

Mute tears can never express

our full reality.

Lonely, half-crippled old man!

Your land cannot endure the loss

of such beauty. Your people

can not allow you to pass away.

Life is not yet barren,

they will surely reincarnate you.

Translated by Patricia L. Sharpe


(On a train through Eastern Uttar Pradesh, India, under curfew)

How beautiful is this land!

Beautiful and long-suffering.

A shawl of buckwheat green

Flutters in the wake

Of this train speeding

Through the East.

As far as the eye can see,

Green fields and granaries.

This land is a peasant woman

Coming home from the fields

With a bundle on her head.


Where angry vultures wheel

Over the rooftops and threaten to lunge,

Any minute, in any direction

The grass is wet with dew,

Unless my tear-glazed eyes

See only tears.

Brick and stone

Reduced to rubble.

Mosque and temple

Still locked

In the same old squabble.

Every brow

Disfigured by a frown.

A son of this land,

Laid long ago to rest,

Wakens now

To bring you peace.

Listen to Kabir,

Who pleads with you:

Wars of hatred

Do no honour to God.

Both Ram and Rahim

Will shun a loveless land.

Near a bamboo grove

Across the unruffled River Sarju

By a lotus pond thick with bloom

Stands a Buddha tablet

A message from the wise.

‘When two are locked in conflict

And ready to lose their lives,

Neither can win in the end,

Unless both do – and equally.

A battle lost by either

Will be fought and refought

Until both are destroyed

And both are equal losers.’

Such are the paradigms of war,

Such the insight of the Buddha.

Why are we, his heirs, so blind?

The Pandit and the Mullah

Are flattered and hung with garlands

And feasted and housed like lords,

While you dear people of the land

Are drowned every time

In the bloodbaths they inspire.

Translated by Patricia L. Sharpe

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