An English translation of courtesan and poetess Mah Laqa Bai Chanda’s (1768-1824) Urdu ghazal, “Hoping to Blossom (One Day) Into a Flower” appears as follows in Vol. 1 of Women Writing in India:
Hoping to blossom (one day) into a flower,
Every bud sits, holding its soul in its fist.
Between the fear of the fowler and (approaching) autumn,
The bulbul’s life hangs by a thread.
Thy sly glance is more murderous than arrow or sword;
It has shed the blood of many lover.
How can I liken a candle to thy (glowing) cheek?
The candle is blind with the fat in its eyes.
How can Chanda be dry lipped. O Saqi of the heavenly wine!
She has drained the cup of thy love.
- Note that “Saqi” translates to wine-server or wine-pourer; in Urdu poetry, “Saqi” may refer to a source of inspiration, or metaphorically to a deity who presides over the “temple” of drunkenness, or to the speaker’s beloved, or to God.
- A Bulbul is a Persian songbird that often represents a male lover.
- A rosebud (gul) conventionally symbolizes beauty or a sweetheart.
NOTES ABOUT GHAZALS
- In a Ghazal (this type of poem), couplets may or may not relate to each other thematically; rather, the connecting threads of the poem are typically found in the rhyme scheme. It is therefore difficult to capture the “essence” of a Ghazal in translation.
- Ghazals for Mah Laqa Bai Chanda’s contemporaries made use of conventional images and symbols, which would develop layered meanings for listeners who heard many Ghazals.
- Note the dangerous connotations of the poem: conventionally-romantic images like rosebuds, flowers, and candles contrast with more dangerous terms like “fist,” “life [hanging] by a thread,” and “murderous” arrows and swords. How do these terms represent love and lovers?
- If Chanda (Mah Laqa Bai’s pen name) is “dry lipped”, what does this mean for her as a performer? If Saqi’s love is the wine of inspiration, might that influence how we view romantic love in the rest of the poem? How can we read this connection between Love, Danger, and Inspiration?
- Considering the Love-Danger-Inspiration connecting themes, what does the “bud,” which often symbolizes a sweetheart, want to blossom into? And what’s holding the bud or sweetheart back?
- Is Saqi, addressed in the fifth and final couplet, also being addressed in the third and fourth?