The Captured Gazelle: The Poems of Ghani Kashmiri (with the recent review)


Every moment it seeks to slip from the minds nook Fresh poetic meaning is a gazelle to be captured

The Captured Gazelle is an elegant and lucent translation of the poems of the seventeenth-century Persian poet Mulla Tahir Ghani, better known as Ghani Kashmiri. Eulogized by poets such as Mir and Iqbal, Ghani is an outstanding representative of Sabk-e-Hindi or the Indian style in Persian poetry, which became a hallmark of the MughalSafavid literary culture. The introduction situates Ghani against his unique background in which Iranian and Indian poetic cultures came together to create a glorious literary age in Kashmir, while the translations capture Ghani in his wide spectrum of moods satirical, playful, self-pitying, pessimistic, mystically resigned bringing alive his wit and ingenuity in a modern idiom without losing hold on the tone.

About the Author

Muhammad Tahir Ghani (d. 1669), better known as Ghani Kashmiri, is arguably the greatest Persian poet of Kashmir and one of its literary and cultural icons. Highly popular in India and the larger Persian speaking world up to the modern times, he influenced many generations of Persian and Urdu poets in India. Ghanis forte lies in his remarkable use of language to create poems with multiple layers of meaning. This, along with his versatility in creating delightful metaphors and images, makes him one of the few medieval poets with a striking appeal to the modern reader.

Mufti Mudasir Farooqi was born and raised in Srinagar. He has published on literary theory, postmodernism and Indo-Persian poetry. He is senior assistant professor in the Department of English, University of Kashmir.

Nusrat Bazaz is associate professor in the Department of English, University of Kashmir, where she teaches American poetry and fiction.

Online Links:

Recent Review by Syed Rizwan:

My joy knew no bounds when I saw an English translation of Ghani Kashmiri (d.1669), Kashmir’s most famous Persian poet published in such a reputed list as Penguin Classics. The title “The Captured Gazelle” struck me as catchy and I instantly found out that it was taken from a verse of Ghani which translates as:

Every moment it seeks to slip from the mind’s nook
Fresh poetic meaning is a gazelle to be captured.

The authors teach in the English Department of Kashmir University and seem to belong to that fast dwindling, almost extinct, breed of Kashmiris who are at home in both Persian and English. One understandably expects their effort to match high standards of writing, an expectation which is undoubtedly satisfied. For a moment I could not believe that our medieval national poet, about whose greatness we have always heard but who has always remained inaccessible to most of us because of the barrier of Persian, was finally available in English. I grabbed the book and read it through from the first page to the last. And I didn’t regret spending time and money on it.

There are a few remarkable things about this book. It has a lucid and very well-written introduction by the main author, Mufti Mudasir, which gives you a fairly good idea of Ghani as a person and poet, discusses briefly some main Persian poets of Kashmir and offers beautiful translations of their verses, and finally discusses the characteristics of Ghani’s style. What I liked about the author’s analysis is his use of modern critical concepts taken from New Criticism, Russian Formalism etc. to explicate Ghani’s poetic genius. The author does not single out Ghani as the only remarkable poet of his times, but places him along with the great Persian poets of his age like Saib Tabrizi, Kaleem Kashani, Saleem Tehrani and a few others. Using the established term sabke-hindi—some modern scholars would prefer tazah goyi— for the dominant style of writing poetry, the author provides us with a deft analysis of the strengths of this style. It is clear that he borrows his main ideas from the well-known critics of Persian like Shamsur Rahman Faruqi and Paul Losensky as his frequent quotations from them reveal. Ghani’s style has indeed been an important matter for critics ; one can immediately think of the Persian and Urdu critics of Ghani like Ali Jawad Zaidi and Riyaz Sherwani. Sherwani wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on Ghani in an Iranian University (probably Tehran University) which is in Persian and hence beyond the reach of the dominant majority in and outside Kashmir. But having a thorough discussion in a modern critical idiom in English makes it a real treat for all the readers interested in knowing Ghani. I take the liberty to quote from the author’s analysis of Ghani’s use of a single image habaab, water-bubble, to show how he employs it to create multiple poetic themes:

Moreover, fresh poetic meanings can be created from a well-worn image only by using it in contexts that bring its different connotative aspects into play. Ghani, working with the conventional repertoire of images of the Persian ghazal, invests some of them with multiple and often contradictory meanings. An example of this is the image of habaab, or bubble, which is used to suggest diverse ideas in the following verses:

Too flimsy to bear ties are
the apparels of the burdenless.
Like an air bubble my robes are without a stitch.

Though the sea harbours meanings in plenty,
Mine is a pearl, theirs a bubble.
The silent lips of the bubble
whispered into the diver’s ears:
‘A pearl more precious you shall never find.’

No one fathoms the sea of nakedness like me.
Like the bubble my skin and garment are one.

A dull mind may fix its gaze on the book.
Yet meaning shall remain beyond its grasp.
The empty-headed fail to fathom the depths,
Like a hollow bubble they can never plunge the sea.

Alas! So swiftly did youth’s ebriety pass
Before we could savour fully the ruby wine.
We opened our eyes to behold the world
And the bubble burst . . .

Opening the eye in love’s tempestuous sea,
Brought me to naught like a bubble.

The bubble thus becomes a symbol for such diverse ideas as hollowness, incapacity, lightness, transience, perfection and nakedness. (p. xliv, Introduction)

Discussion of style is followed by a detailed discussion of the main themes in Ghani’s poetry. Here, the author makes it clear that Ghani’s themes are not different from other practitioners of the ghazal genre. Instead, Ghani’s genius lies in his use of poetic devices, similes, metaphors, puns, etc. which
make his poems look like finely arranged pearls of meaning. In fact, some of his verses point to this quality, like this one:

Luminous meaning is water, Ghani
Compactly knit, it turns into a pearl.

Another merit of the book is that it has roman transliteration running parallel to the English translation which will help all those who want to know how the Persian original reads and also those who want to improve their Persian. Reading the Persian and English together allows one to see how the translators have gone about their business, often leaving you with a sense of admiration, but sometimes making you wonder how one verse can be translated in different ways. All translation is ultimately interpretation and this work too is one of the many possible interpretations of Ghani, although a very good one. Iqbal, one of Ghani’s greatest admirers, is quoted very frequently in the introduction. His Persian classics Payame Mashriq and Javed Namah are important sources for studying how Ghani influenced the greatest Persian-Urdu poet of the twentieth century. As the author puts it, Ghani symbolises the highest Islamic virtues for Iqbal.

For an idea of what the translators have achieved, let us look at the following beautiful ghazal:

Your description puts an end to all narration.
Your precious name becomes the seal of my lips.
My loaf of bread stays dry like the watermill
Parched like my tongue inside my mouth.
The physician failed to catch the ailment within.
The tongue was silent, the pulse even more so.
The furnace of the sky was short of firewood.
To bake my bread it stokes itself with my desire.
Engrossed such in praising your dark eyes,
The tongue in my mouth has turned a kohl stick.
The world’s hunting ground still holds a promise for me.
Searching for a prey, my bow might hunt itself.
Scattered around the millstone are my white strands.
Grains to the sky’s revolving mill are my bones.
And here are a few of my favourite verses:
To drown me, O Fate, raise no storm in the sea.
Remember, my boat’s sail
is but the fin of a fish.
Too flimsy to bear ties are
the apparels of the burdenless.
Like an air bubble my robes
are without a stitch.
The flame of gurgling wine
irradiates the wine gathering.
My life is yours, Saki,
let not the sparkling flask fall silent!
Her decked vermilion feet,
his endless prostrations. What act, for a Hindu,
can excel the worship of fire!
The skies are in motion
to put my ill luck to sleep.
The rocking cradle brings
comfort to the fretful child.

One has to admire such beautiful renditions into English. Besides ghazals and rubayis, there is an elegant, almost as cool as the winter it describes, masnavi on Kashmir’s legendary winter translated as Winter’s Tale, which revives the unforgettable memories of Kashmir’s chilai kalaan, i.e. ‘the grand chill’ even in June’s heat. To bring my brief review to close, I call the book a landmark achievement in the literary history of modern Kashmir. And if you love any of these—good poetry, Kashmir, Ghani —-you must grab the book.

In future too, we expect to see more such contributions from the English Department of Kashmir University. After all, besides teaching our students English poetry and literature, it is for them to make Kashmir’s great contribution to world literature in Persian and Kashmiri known to Kashmiris and rest of the world.

Syed Rizwan can be mailed at <>


Author: Mrinal Kaul

I am a Kashmirian Orientalist

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