Note and Translation, Chris Mooney-Singh

Recently I was truly fortunate to become associated with Begum Ghazal, the poet-scholar who has been generously sharing her knowledge—bringing to an international audience the 1500-year old sonnet of the East' through traditional readings, musical performances, lectures and ghazal-composition workshops. Begum Ghazal is also the daughter and greatest disciple of Ustad Rehkta Bulbul Ali, Ghazalbad' and since his demise has been carrying his work of popularizing the beloved form. These days, however, the venerable 104 year old ghazal activist' has retired from the international circuit and is now online to the world via a new blog site set up in her name.

As many know—the Arabic word ghazal means Talking with Women. This may seem a little corny in these days of post-modern feminism. Awareness of this meaning has given rise to the anti-ghazal school' amongst other strains or variants of contemporary ghazal activity. Of course, the traditional mixing up of masculine and feminine pronouns through the pliable Perso-Arabic and Urdu grammar systems and the old Sufi poet-habit of speaking as a woman to the Beloved personified in the male gender is a standard and ancient ghazal convention. All this belongs to Begum Ghazal's repertoire of  hazal jokes and she is still quietly whimsical about it.

Ah, fashion is just the wind, blowing the desert dune this way one day and then back another," she has said.

In any case, Ms/Madame/Lady meaning Begum has been big-hearted enough to adapt and share her views on ghazal poetry in fresh and accommodating ways. She has seen a quarter of a century or more of ghazal practice and its fashion statements which include some very different designer outfits for the catwalk—from the long-lined, drag-along-the-runway, speed-recitation models to the cut-down ghazal tops and briefs that dispense with all conventions and reduce it to minimalist bald form—unrhymed, of jagged cut and open hue. Fashions change, however, and classical ways of dressing have come back into vogue in recent times with more attention being paid to cute qafias and racy radifs, not to mention proper use of matla, maqta, takhullus—the traditional ornaments or fashion-jewelry of the ghazal. The jury is still out on issues pertaining to metre vs free or syllabic scansion techniques, as it is on other content-based issues —such as whether or not the ghazal is still a love poem, or if it has morphed into something generalized and utilitarian in English. In any case, these inspirational jottings were some of the things I was able to glean from the final person-to-person, 14-day workshop with the great Begum before she retired to her Sufi cloister. I have been yoked with the task of convening Begum Ghazal's Daily Ghazal Blog and communicating her utterances to the world. Ah, there goes my daily retreat to the television couch, or counting and decoding the movement of flies as they land and depart from the wall . . .


These trans-created fragments can be now be starting points for deep-ghazal' contemplation over a cycle of 14 days, after which they can be repeated for a further round, following the progress of the moon. It is said that 5 daily recitations, or zikr done on any one of these statements for 28 days will bring that particular quality of  true ghazalness' stated therein into the aspiring poet. Recitation of the whole set will eventually bring wisdom, truth and sublime ghazal-vision'. According to Begum, this occurs through the spiritual agency of the Wine-Pourer' Saqi and Khizr of the Green Footstep' —aka as the Water-Giver, Guide of the Desert—the two presiding deities of the ghazal. One-day, after sincere dedication, the practiced ghazalkar will gradually be able to channel inspiration from the passed-over ghazal masters. Thus, we share exclusively with the readers of The Ghazal Page the 14 gnomic utterances of Begum Ghazal, along with her blessings for would-be ghazal-writers. Those wishing to enter into peripatetic dialogue with the Great Personality can do so at Begum Ghazal's Daily Ghazal Blog.

 In service of the Ghazalbad Gharana,
 Chris Mooney-Singh,
 translator and amanuensis for Begum Ghazal, Dec 2005



The ghazal is an intellectual song—a leaf folded in two halves for blowing melodies.


The greats of Middle-Eastern and Indian-Islamic culture, Hafiz and Rumi, Mir and Ghalib, have cut their teeth, banged out their tune and made their names through the ghazal.


No poet can escape the sleek trapdoor of the ghazal. Many have burnt their nights like moths in the flame trying to chisel out the true image of the form.


Ghazal virtuosity is evident when the poet causes the mundane to appear numinous, the conversational to shine with a transcendental glow and when the laughable becomes the complete book of self-revelation.


The ghazalkar, the writer is serious, comic, angry, political, sour, mocking, ironic, posturing, melancholic, confessional, probing, philosophical, celebratory, secretive, satirical, sonorous and above all things and at all times—supremely playful.


The ghazal is a sacred and profane conversation piece—in any bar, bedroom, monastery or inner cloister.


Dressed in turban and a dervish robe, the ghazal puts green footsteps down in the sand to entice the thirsty or the curious forward to the oasis.


The ghazal is strummed gently on a rabab—the poet's lute, combining metre, mono-rhyme and the finest verbal ornaments, wild as the desert wind, yet inwardly cultivated and peaceful as the rose garden.


In the ghazal, ideas are compressed into two fine lips, voicing intelligence and the silence.

DAY 10

Although the ghazal is passionate, driven and naked, it has mastered the art of balance like a bowman on horseback, plunging across the steppes.

DAY 11

The ghazal is love-stuck Majnu gesticulating rhetorical crumbs of poetry like diamonds to get a glimpse of his beloved Laila.

DAY 12

For one and a half millennia, the ghazal has sharpened the scimitar of irony, sat backwards with blackened face on the donkey of self-parody and practised an ancient system of deconstruction theory, allowing the poet to propose truths or imply beliefs, then contradict them all by the end of the poem.

DAY 13

The whirling ghazal is borne of the Grand Gesture, nurtured by ancient hands to make home-spun ideas and common events appear momentous, overwhelming and even prophetic.

DAY 14

The ghazal is the hooded falcon, perched on the leathered wrist, lending wild spirit to the hunter's sky-hurled quest through the peregrine-eyes of poetry.