Wednesday, Aug 17, 2022
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‘Shab-e-Baraat’: A Poem By Classical Urdu Poet Nazeer Akbarabadi

In these stanzas selected from ‘Shab-e-Baraat,’ the 18th century Urdu poet sketches the exuberance and zeal with which Shabe-e-Baraat is celebrated, and highlights the stark social disparity that makes itself evident

Shab-e-Barat
Shab-e-Barat AP Photos

Shab-e-Baraat, the fifteenth night of Islamic month Shaabaan which coincides with Holi, is a night of forgiveness. Nazeer Akbarabadi, 18th century Urdu poet, wrote extensively about our syncretic culture, which is manifested in Indian festivals, like Holi and Diwali. In these stanzas selected from his poem, ‘Shab-e-Baraat,’ he sketches the exuberance and zeal with which Shabe-e-Baraat is celebrated, and highlights the stark social disparity that makes itself evident:

Why mustn’t it burst into celebratory showiness, Shabe-e-Baraat?
Heavy with the weight of fried cake and flaky confection, Shab-e-Baraat
For the living, it amounts to relishing their tastebuds, Shab-e-Baraat
For the dead, it’s about the assistance to their souls, Shab-e-Baraat
It touches, thus, the hearts of all and sundry, Shab-e-Baraat

August are those who have got their halva sweetened with sugar
Less distinguished than them are the ones using jaggery for the same
Those who have managed neither are patently good-for-nothings
Stare at others’ sweet halva and wheatbread is all they can do
For them, it’s neither incomplete nor complete, Shab-e-Baraat

The richest among those who possess the world’s wealth
Stand with exquisite pumpkin halvas and greasy naans
Carrying around their foodplates are queues of servants
The living eagerly await, even the dead stand in anticipation
All such scenes and events keeps in readiness, Shab-e-Baraat  


The mullahs who go from door-to-door to offer fatiha
Somewhere they feast on halvas, elsewhere on chapatis
They hide their faces if a poor man calls them
They make a dash for halvas prepared with sugar
Thinking, in their heart of hearts, ‘Aha! Shab-e-Baraat’

A skunk-shaped firecracker hits someone hard on his head
Worse still, a Hawai stick lands with force, flying from above
Every string of firecracker is an albatross around their necks
Entangled with the feet Qalam erupts into a thunder of sound
It goes on to unleash many such tyrannies, Shab-e-Baraat

Deep in his heart, somebody thinks of friends as his foes
While yet another clears out malice with his enemy
Nazeer, who has witnessed the jaunt of fire, prays
May Almighty, keep everyone well for eons
How excessive and intense is your display, Shab-e-Baraat! 

Translated from Urdu by Nawaid Anjum

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