Ghalib’s Most Famous and Popular Shers Translated and Discussed by Maharaj Kaul

Maharaj Kaul translates and discusses Mirza Ghalib’s (1797 – 1869)

most popular and famous shers:

Ghalib Sher 15:

yih nah thī hamārī qismat kih viṣāl-e yār hotā
agar aur jīte rahte yihī intiz̤ār hotā


this was not our destiny that union with the beloved would take place

if we had kept on living there would have been the same waiting


 Ghalib laments that it has not been his luck to have had a union with his beloved. Also, he has come to the realization that had he and his beloved waited longer, the union between them would still not materialize. This is so because it is their destiny.

 Ghalib Sher 14:

ishq se t̤abīʿat ne zīst kā mazā pāyā
dard kī davā pāʾī dard-e be-davā pāyā


through passion the being found the relish of life
found cure for a pain found an incurable pain


Ghalib says that by means of passion a human being can make life enjoyable, but that passion is not easy to cultivate and hold on to, because of the problems associated with it. So, while the enjoyment in life is cultivatable, but the fuel to support

 Ghalib Sher 13:

muḥabbat meñ nahīñ hai farq jīne aur marne kā
usī ko dekh kar jīte haiñ jis kāfir pah dam nikle


in love there is no difference between living and dying

seeing her we live the infidel who would make us die


 Ghalib says that in love one lives as well as dies, as it is a challenging experience that involves a relationship with another person. Depending on her state of mind one’s feelings can swing from living to dying.

Ghalib Sher 12:

 baskih dushvār hai har kām kā āsāñ honā
ādmī ko bhī muyassar nahīñ insāñ honā


it is difficult for every task to be easy

even for man it is not easy to be human


 It is difficult for every human task to be easy. For man also to be human is not easy. Man is the physical aspect of the human race, human is his qualities of love, sacrifice, compassion, etc.

Ghalib Sher 11:

nah thā kuchh to ḳhudā thā kuchh nah hotā to ḳhudā hotā
ḍuboyā mujh ko hone ne nah hotā maiñ to kyā hotā


when there was nothing there was God; if nothing happened God would be created

I was drowned by my existence, if I didn’t exist what would happen


 It is a deeply philosophical sher by Ghalib. He says that when there was nothing in the universe, there still existed God; and if nothing was going on in the universe, the phenomenon of God would still be occurring. Ghalib says that his existence has ruined him. Because if he had not existed, he would be a part of God, a superior situation than his human situation.

 Ghalib Sher 10:

hazāroñ ḳhvāhisheñ aisī kih har ḳhvāhish pah dam nikle
bahut nikle mire armān lekin phir bhī kam nikle


all the thousands of longings are such that over every longing I would die

many of my wishes were fulfilled but still few were fulfilled


Ghalib says there are thousands of desires in life such that, for each of them one would sacrifice his life. Many of my desires were fulfilled, but still they turned out to be few.

 Ghalib Sher 9:

koʾī vīrānī-sī vīrānī hai
dasht ko dekh ke ghar yād āyā


it is a desolation like desolation

seeing the desert home came to mind


This is a famous sher known for its vast ambiguity. Is Ghalib reminded of his home seeing the desolation of the desert? Or is he longing to be at his home, seeing the desolation of the desert? Or, is he in a state of the mood of desolation; then, seeing the desert he is reminded of his home, as a state of relief. We cannot understand what Ghalib had in his mind writing this couplet.

Ghalib Sher 8:

koʾī mere dil se pūchhe tire tīr-e nīm-kash ko

yih ḳhalish kahāñ se hotī jo jigar ke pār hotā



let someone ask my heart about your half-drawn arrow

where would this romantic pain have been if it had gone through beyond the liver


The half-drawn arrow thrown by Ghalib’s beloved at him, whether by amateurishness or by design, has produced a beautiful pain in him. On the other hand, had it been thrown fully by her, he would have been dead, but without any pain. This pain is what produces the feeling of love. So, he is better off in pain than being dead.

Ghalib Sher 7:

ġham-e hastī kā asad kis se ho juz marg ʿilāj

shamʿa har rang meñ jaltī hai saḥar hote tak


for the grief of life Asad what would be the cure except death

the candle in every color burns until the coming of dawn


Ghalib asks what is the cure of the unavoidable grief of life. He answers his question by saying that life is like a candle which keeps on burning all night till dawn. Then when its wax runs out it extinguishes. When the flame of life is burning it can encompass everything imaginable. This is the inherent sadness of human life. The second line of the sher is awesomely great, as it tells that while alive a man can be an element in all possibilities. That is, the scope of human life is great; man’s consciousness can take him  anywhere.


  1. Asad is the middle name of Ghalib. His full name was Assad Ullah Khan Ghalib.

Ghalib Sher 6:

āh ko chāhiye ik ʿumr aṡar hote tak

kaun jītā hai tirī zulf ke sar hote tak


a sigh needs a lifetime until the appearance of an effect

who lives until the subduing of your curls


It is among the most famous as well as popular shers of Ghalib. Most of its translations into English have been marred by the translation of the second line of the sher. They have been given to the effect: ” who will live until she deigns to pay attention to her lover.” The word “sar” means subduing or disentangling or softening. So, “zulf ke sar hote tak” means ” until the hair curls are disentangled, subdued, or softened.”

Ghalib says that his sighs for his beloved will need a lifetime to be effective, as it is the nature of human emotions and sentiments. But while he is waiting miserably, his beloved does not pay any attention to him, as she is busy disentangling the curls of her hair. This is the utterly painful contrast between the two.

Ghalib Sher 5:

ham ko ma.alūm hai jannat kī haqīqat lekin

dil ke ḳhush rakhne ko ‘ġhālib’ ye ḳhayāl achchhā hai


we know the reality of paradise but

to keep the heart happy Ghalib this idea is good


This is one of Ghalib’s famous shers. It says that we know what paradise is actually, an illusion; but to keep oneself happy and distracted this idea is good.

Ghalib Sher 4:

merī qismat meñ ġham gar itnā thā

dil bhī yā-rab ka.ī diye hote


in my fate if so much sorrow was ordained

hearts Oh God many should I have been given

Ghalib Sher 3:

dil hī to hai na sañg-o-ḳhisht dard se bhar na aa.e kyuuñ

ro.eñge ham hazār baar koī hameñ satā.e kyuuñ


 it’s just a heart no stony shard why shouldn’t it fill with pain

I will cry a thousand times why should someone complain

Ghalib Sher 2:

ishq par zor nahīñ hai ye vo ātish ‘ġhālib’

ki lagā.e na lage aur bujhā.e na bane


love we do not have power over it is that flame Ghalib

it may not ignite when we ignite it nor it may extinguish when we try.

Ghalib Sher 1:

 ishrat-e-qatra hai dariyā meñ fanā ho jaanā

dard kā had se guzarnā hai davā ho jaanā


the desire of a drop is to obliterate itself in a river

pain growing beyond limit becomes its own cure


Ghalib says that the ecstasy of a drop of water is to lose its little identity by merging with the much larger expanse of a river, thereby enriching its existence vastly. Let us say there is a man who lives in a small village, where he leads an ordinary life. Then he decides to migrate to a large metropolis as he feels he is not living fully. Though by moving to the metropolis he loses his identity but he vastly gains in the scope of his profession and culture. It is this expansion of mind what Ghalib is referring to.

The second line says that when a human being suffers very much due to something, the suffering elevates his fortitude to tolerate it. Great suffering challenges the human spirit, giving birth to a high threshold of forbearance in him.


Suffern, N.Y., April, 2024


















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