‘Layi Hayat Aaye’ – Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq (1789–1854)

Flung into this being
By death ushered away;
Unwilling we come
And must leave without a say
layi hayat aaye kaza le chali chale
(brought -by-life came death-took-away went)
apni khushi na aaye na apni khushi chale
(our happiness/choosing neither came nor our happiness/choosing went)
Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq was Ghalib’s arch-rival in the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar. He was the poet laureate of the time and a personal tutor to the Mughal Emperor in matters of poetry. A formidable poet, his work is considered to be for the seasoned connoisseur of Urdu poetry. Nevertheless, some is his verses have escaped into the public consciousness and have attained cultural apotheosis.

This particular couplet is sublime in its technical virtuosity and elegance of rhythm. The words are inter-reliant in so many ways – sound, rhythm, meaning, wordplay, etc – that it is impossible to translate into another language. Therefore I’ve tried to ‘summarize’ the couplet as best as I could. I hope that the intent of the verses comes through, even though the beauty will not.


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