“No Urdu in Dilli, Mian” by Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee

Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee


For Akhlaq Ahmad and Swen Simon

You can’t write Urdu
On Dilli’s walls, Mian1
There’s a saffron lock
On your zuban2, Mian

Horsemen of all faith
Plundered Dilli’s rūḥ3,
They only blame it on
Your ancestors, Mian

From Bīdel to Ghalib
Run rosaries in Urdu,
They embalm history
With rare attar4, Mian

You outlaw a tongue
By policing the wall?
The gardens, the air,
Breathe Urdu, Mian

In the heart of Dilli
Graves speak Urdu,
Even parrots, dusk,
And my jigar5, Mian


1 Respectful address of a Muslim
2 Tongue
3 Soul
4 Fragrance made of rose petals
5 Liver, Shakespeare’s “seat of passion”

Poets Respond
May 29, 2016

[download audio]


Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee: “This poem is in the wake of a disturbing event that took place early this week in Delhi. Two artists, a Christian and a Muslim, were drawing a couplet in Urdu on a wall when they were attacked by members claiming to belong to the Hindu right and told to stop. This was an unprecedented episode of cultural policing in the capital of India, a place which reverberates with a history of brilliant poets during the Mughal era, who wrote in Persian and Urdu, and who were part of the common Indo-Islamic culture that thrived in these parts.” (website)

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