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Hali means ‘of the present’, currently, recently.

Maulana Altaf Husain Hali“When he was a young poet, Maulana Altaf Husain Hali (1837-1914) recited his work in front of Ghalib, who is said to have approved. But 1857 intervened, and he returned from Delhi to Panipat. Eventually, he made the acquaintance of Sayyid Ahmad Khan and, at his behest, went about composing an epic poem Musaddad-e-Madd-o Jazr-e Islam (A Musaddas on the Ebb and Flow of Islam). The poem was published in 1979, and is now known simply as Musaddas-e- Hali. It critiques the Muslims of Hali’s era as decadent when compared to the glory of Islamic history; however despite this self-reflexity, it is not difficult to see how such narratives presented a defensive posture, given the ascendancy of the West and the ‘victory’ of the colonists. Depending on one’s perspective, it is ironic or fitting to see these ideas being expressed by a poet with the



takhallus (pen name) ‘Hali’ (meaning ‘of the present’). One may mention in passing that Hali wrote perhaps the first biography of Ghalib, titled Yaadgaar-e-Ghalib. His Nuqaddama-e Sher-o-Shairi (Exegesis on Poems and Poetry) remains one of the earliest works of literary criticism in Urdu.

The above excerpt has been sourced from the book The Taste of Words: An Introduction to Urdu Poetry. Edited and Translated by Raza Mir. The poem below is written by Maulana Altaf Husain Hali with the English translation from the aforementioned book.

Hai Justaju
Hai justaju ke khoob se hai khoobtar kahaan
Ab dekhiye thaharti hai jaa kar nazar kahan

Yaarab is iktilaat ka anjaam ho ba-khair
Tha us ko hum se rabt, magar is qadar kahaan

Ek umr chahiye ke gawaaraa ho naish-e-ishq
Rakhhi hai aaj lazzat-e-zakhm-e-jigar kahaan

Hum jis pe mar rahe hain vo hai baat hi kuchh aur
Aalam mein tujh se laakh sahi, tum magar kahaan

Hoti nahin qubool dua tark-e- ishq ki
Dil chaahta na ho to zuban mein asar kahaan

Hali, nishaat-e- naghma-o-mai dhoondte ho ab
Aaye ho waqt-e subh, rahe raat bhar kahaan

My Ambition
To be better than the best, that is my ambition
Let us see where my sight rests, ends its exploration

O God, I pray this intimacy ends happily
Love was warm before, but this is fiery ignition

Verily, it takes an age to get used to love’s pain
The wounded heart slowly makes friends with its condition

Thus far I had been taken in by a strange visage
I want you, not someone like you, an apparition

My prayer that love should vanish remains unanswered
For the heart does not back up the tongue’s composition

Hali arrives in the morn seeking wine and song
Whose company caused you to miss the night’s edition?