Abdul Qadir Khan Bedil Dehlavi was among the most famous representatives of the so-called sabk-e hindi or “Indian style” of the Persian ghazal. Born in Patna or Azimabad in Bihar in eastern India in 1642, he spent much of his professional life in Mughal Delhi and died there in 1720. His style and imagery shares with others who practiced this kind of ghazal-composition an ingeniousness of metaphor and elaborateness of conceit, features that continue to endear his poetry to Persian-speakers in many Central Asian countries but disqualified him in his own lifetime in Iran.
Although barely read or even known in India today, Bedil has had a long afterlife in the brilliance and complexity of phrase of Ghalib’s Urdu and Persian poetry on which he exercised an influence. However, his poetry remains distinguished from that of others of the sabk-e hindi style of the ghazal in its thematic and Aristotelian preoccupation with the wonder aroused by the created world, a wonder that is inexhaustible by the desire that accompanies it to interpret that world. This hermeneutic inexhaustibility derives from the divine origins of creatures. Our gaze, arrested by these creaturely and defective mirrors of their superior creator, leads away to the thought of that creator and, by analogy, to an understanding of the act of human poetic creation, of Bedil himself as a poet-creator.
Bedil Dehlavi with my own translations:
bar nemiayad ba joz hich az mu’amma-ye hubab
lafz-e ma gar vashikafi mani-e harf magust
The bubble’s riddle throws up nothing at all.
Crack open my words and look-
it means ‘Don’t say it!’
safha-ye sada-ye hasti khatt-e nayrang nadasht
khiragi kard nazar-ha raqami paida shod
The world’s plain page
bore not one wondrous line.
The eyes started in surprise and
behold- a mark!
Bedil sokhanat nist joz insha-ye tahayyur
ku ayina ta safha-ye divan-e to bashad
Bedil, your poetry’s nothing but the creation of astonishment.
Show me a mirror that aspires to a page of your Divan.1
[1Divan is a collection of a poet’s complete works.]
keshti-e chashmam ke hayrat badban-e shawq-e ust
ta za khod jonbad mohiti az gohr avarda ast
My eye’s ship,
the sail of whose desire’s astonishment,
draws an ocean out of a pearl
that it might swell.
nahoft-e mani-e makshuf-e bi-tamolli-am
nabastan-e muzha afaq ra muamma kard
Unhesitatingly, I conceal unconcealed meanings.
Not blinking made a riddle of the world.
zang-e rukh-e ayina gasht ba safai badal
anbar-e afaq zad ghuta ba kafur-e nab
The mirror’s clouded face grew
The world’s ambergris plunged suddenly deep
into the purest camphor.
Prashant Keshavmurthy is a doctoral candidate in the department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative Literature in Columbia University, New York.