gayi umr dar band-e-fikr-e-ghazal

It helps to have a traveling companion. As a child, I vividly remember our family vacations, all six of us and our luggage crammed into a white Ford Windstar, driving for hundreds of miles at a time. I would often stay up with my father into the dead of the night as the rest of my family was passed out in their seats, heads drooped to the side and saliva dripping from the corners of their mouths. I would poke my tiny curly head in between the driver’s and passenger’s seats and listen curiously as he taught me about how the world worked. Sometimes it was politics, like how the freemasons may or may not control the global political economy. These sessions were also when I learned most of my Islamic history and mythology. I learned about Harun al-Rashid, Juha (Nasrudddin Hodja), Haza’ Tamburi (Tamburi’s shoes), and the lives of the prophets. It would become clear that it was time to pull over and take a break when the stories stopped making sense, like when Prophet Joseph decided to take exit 34 because he wanted a happy meal.

ibtida-e-ishq hai rota hai kya

agey agey dekhiye hota hai kya

It’s the beginning of love, why do you cry?

See what lies ahead, what happens next

qafile main subah ka ik shor hai

yani gafil ham chale sota hai kya

The caravan has the noise and excitement of the morning

Meaning, I walk unawares, why sleep?

sabz hoti hi nahin ye sarzamin

tukhm-e-khwahish dil main tu bota hai kya

Verdant is not always this land

Why do you plant the seeds of desire in your heart?

ye nishan-e-ishq hain jate nahin

dag chati k abas dhota hai kya

These are the scars of love, they don’t leave,

Why do you wash the stains from your chest?

gairat-e-yusuf hai ye waqt-e-aziz

‘Mir’ is ko rayegan khota hai kya

The honor of Yusuf is this noble time

Mir, why do you waste, lose it?

We have spent over 16 hours on the road. That’s a significant amount of time for a trip that is only 5 days long. There’s something special that happens on the road. Apparently, the dua’ (supplications) of travelers are given special priority in God’s inbox. Night time is almost universally seen as a time of contemplation and unearthing of what’s been out of sight during the day. So I see night travel as especially significant.

I’m lucky that I had Afsheen along with me for our drive from Fayetteville to the coast. Most people don’t have patience for my long rants on obscure topics, like Sufi poetry. I was even luckier that she had something to teach me about that very subject, that she could get me to shut up for a bit and listen to someone else for once. The quiet NC state highways came to life with the words of Mir Taqi Mir, an 18th century Urdu poet often referred to as khuda-e-sukhan, the god of poetry. The translations are Afsheen’s own, developed as we painstakingly went through each couplet while driving to our next destination:

faqirana aye sada kar chale

miyan khush raho ham dua kar chale

As a fakir I came and in permanence, went away

Sir, be happy, I made a prayer and went away

jo tujh bin na jine ko kahte the ham

so is ahd ko ab wafa kar chale

I used to speak of a life missing you

Now, making that intention faithful, I walk away

koi na-ummidana karte nigah

so tum ham se munh bhi chipa kar chale

Lest my gaze disappoints you,

hiding your face from me, you walk away

bahot arzu thi gali ki teri

so yan se lahu main naha kar chale

There was a great desire for your lane,

From here, bathed in blood, I walk away

dikhai diye yun ki bekhud kiya

hamain ap se bhi juda kar chale

You showed yourself to me and I lost my senses

No sense of self, I became separated from you

jabin sajda karte hi karte gai

haq-e-bandagi ham ada kar chale

My forehead kept on performing sajda,

Fulfilling the rights of humanity, I walked away

parastish ki yan tain ki ay but tujhe

nazar main sabon ki Khuda kar chale

I worshipped, O idol, you

That I made you a God in everyone’s eyes

gayi umr dar band-e-fikr-e-ghazal

so is fan ko aisas bara kar chale

Gone is the age of contemplating ghazals

So I ennoble this art with sentiment and walk away

kahen kya jo puche koi ham se “Meer”

jahan main tum aye the, kya kar chale

What if someone asks me, O Mir?

You came into this world, what did you do when you walked away?

Even though we discussed what a lane (gali) was in the mystical sense or the play on words with aziz–both  an adjective for noble and the way Potiphar is referred to in the Qur’an– more time was spent in silence letting the words hit us with their full power. I got impressions of our own wandering. Our struggle with finding a place of belonging. Our pain in trying to express and to put into words all that we have experienced and shared with others. All of the desires, fears, and questions that were lingering with me throughout the trip finally had room to breathe.

Moaaf kijiye, jo main ajnabi hoon mehfil mein 

Ke raaste nahin maaloom is nagar ke mujhe

Pardon me, that I am a stranger in this gathering

That the paths of this town are unknown to me