laayi hayaat aaye qazaa le chali chale

apni khushi na aaye na apni khushi chale

-Shaikh Ibrahim 'Zauq'

A free translation would read: (Brought into this world by life (hayaat), by death (qazaa), we are carried away / Neither do we come nor leave of our own will)

Zauq ranks among the greatest masters of the Urdu Ghazal and belongs to the finest period in the evolution of the popular poetic form. A poet-laureate at the court of the last Mughal emperor, a great poet and a man of refined sensibility himself, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Zauq adopted a style which was endearingly simple.

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A pupil of the great Shah 'Naseer' of the Delhi school, who employed an unadorned style in his verses, Zauq's approach was emulated by 'Daagh' Dehlavi. A very gifted poet himself, emperor Zafar appointed Zauq as his guide and mentor in poetry, till the latter's demise in 1854. Zauq's rivalry with his contemporary, the redoubtable Mirza Ghalib, is well-documented.

In today's couplet or shair, which is incidentally, one of the most oft-quoted couplets in the entire body of Urdu Ghazals, Zauq describes the powerlessness of man in the hands of destiny. Neither does he have a choice when it comes to birth nor death.

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The entire Ghazal is a masterpiece which showcases Zauq's elegant style, as another couplet illustrates:

ho umr-e-Khizr bhi to kahenge ba waqt-e-marg

hum kya rahe yahan, abhi aaye abhi chale

Loosely translated it would mean: Even if we are endowed with immortality (the everlasting life of Prophet Khizr), we would still lament at the time of death (ba waqt-e-marg)

We hardly spent any time here, we just came here and already it's time to leave....

The shayr portrays man's quest for immortality, his fear of death and how difficult it is for him to accept the inevitable truth that life must end. This craving for eternal life is brilliantly encapsulated in this shayr by the great master.

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