Poems by Nazir Akbarabadi


My words no longer have their usual grip
I am always in a sad thoughtfulness lost.
My speech has begun to falter and trip
And my poetry has virtually come to a halt.

Why shouldn’t my tongue lose its eloquence and my words so retreat
When everyone in Agra finds it hard to make two ends meet.

All around, only misery, suffering and deprivation
Who should one weep over, who should one mention
The times are so barren of any sustaining whiff of breeze
That the tree of life is now but a dry stump without a single leaf.

Jewellers, traders, and other wealthy men
Who thrived by lending to others, now survive by borrowing from them.
The market is deserted, dust covers every shop counter and scale
While desolate shopkeepers sit like rows of thieves locked up in a jail.

Poverty has destroyed what once was a lovely city
Every street is now woe-begone, every mansion arouses pity
A garden needs a gardener in order to grow and thrive
But Agra waits in vain for a tender touch, a caring eye.

Call me a lover or a doting slave, Agra is where I live;
Call me a mullah or a learned knave, I am Agra’s native;
Call me poor or call me fakir, Agra is where I live;
Call me a poet or simply Nazir, I am Agra’s native.


An eyeless fakir was once asked:
Of what stuff are the moon and stars
The fakir smiled and shook his head:
God bless you, sir, the answer is only bread.
For, the poor know no planets, no stars
The thought of food our vision mars
When the belly is empty, nothing feels good
No taste for pleasure, only a craving for some food.
The hungry cannot commune with God nor live the pious way.
Bread alone inspires him to worship and to pray.

It’s for food that some go strangely dressed.
Some won’t bathe and let their hair grow unchecked.
Another wears a kerchief tied around his head:
All clever stratagems, all tricks are only for bread!

1 seller:

The chana that I have brought,
Is spicy and hot!
Agra town is very pretty.
My chana’s made in this city.
The price I ask is not high.
You can afford it, come and try!
It helps adults’ stomach clear
Make kids go to school without a tear!
This chana that I have brought,
Is spicy and hot!


Only the poor know the pain of poverty
The poor know no politeness or formality
They fall upon food with uninhibited alacrity
Risking their lives for a piece of loaf
And fighting like dogs over every bone.
They become so mean and selfish in adversity.
Only the poor know the pain of poverty!

Distinguished scholars, of themselves so sure,
Lose their confidence on becoming poor.
Confused with hunger, they often see
Day as night and A as B.
As for those who tutor poor men’s wards,
They find survival particularly hard.
They’re stuck forever in dire adversity.
Only the poor know the pain of poverty!

However good a man, but if he is poor,
He often is insulted and called a fool, a boor.
Clothes torn, hair unkempt, unoiled,
Mouth parched, grimy teeth, body badly soiled.
Ugly and grim are the faces of poverty.
Only the poor know the pain of poverty!


All the world loves a flatterer
God loves him too.

Flatter to serve your own interest
Flatter even if you have none
Flatter God, the saints and prophets –
In short, flatter all and everyone.

All the world loves a flatterer
God loves him too.

The flatterers get whatever they want
Those who can’t flatter live in poverty and want
Flattery can bring house, land, and even a crown
Your heart’s every desire this recipe can easily grant.

All the world loves a flatterer
God loves him too.

Flatter the good, flatter the bad
Flatter the happy, flatter the sad
Flatter the holy, and unholy,
Flatter the dog, the ass, the rat.

All the world loves a flatterer
God loves him too.


New faces, so beautiful, so fair
Prompting all to stand and stare;
Disciples walking in masters’ shadows,
The scent of flowers filling the air;
Families, friends, and loners who
Include townsfolk and villagers too;
All kinds of money, lots and none;
Performers, acrobats, amusement and fun.
A surge of humanity, almost an endless one!

All this colour, beauty, fun and pleasure
Baldevji’s fair2 has ’em all in good measure.

There’s Ram3 and there’s Laxman
Kachh-machch and Ravan
Varah and Madan Mohan
Baldev as well as Lord Kishan
In each form His incarnation.
Of Narsimha and of Narayan.
There he walks so natty and proud,
Here he chants or sings aloud.

All this colour, beauty, fun and pleasure
Baldevji’s fair has’em all in good measure.

Men and women seek their pleasure
In sensuous pursuits or lively leisure
With words like arrows, and eyes like darts
They are ready to conquer all young hearts.
Comely lasses in colourful attire
Setting all ablaze with love and desire.

Joy and merriment, Jai Baldev!
Happy engagement, Jai Baldev
Constant excitement, Jai Baldev!
Everywhere evident, Jai Baldev!
Rejoice every instant, Jai Baldev!
Shout every moment, Jai Baldev!


Milkmaids away, the little fellow had a field day.
He stole into houses like a thief much skilled.
Climbed on a cot and brought down the pot
That with cream or butter was freshly filled.
He ate some and wasted some,
And some he simply spilled.

Fabulous were Krishna’s childhood days.
So many tales of his naughty ways!

Caught redhanded by a returning maid,
He looked innocent and sweetly said:
I wasn’t trying to steal from you!
Believe you me, it’s really true!
Shooing off flies, keeping out ants,
Is all I was trying to do!

Fabulous were Krishna’s childhood days.
So many tales of his naughty ways!

Women together marched up to Jasoda, his mother:
We’ve come to complain about Kanha,4 none other!
He breaks our pots, he calls us names.
And when we catch him, it’s us he blames!
Whatever he says whatever he claims,
You have to stop his naughty games!

Fabulous were Krishna’s childhood days.
So many tales of his naughty ways!

Jasoda’s response was sharp and quick
She turned to Krishna and picked up a stick
Feigning innocence he pleaded his case:
Mother these charges are false and base.
In spite of this, if you insist
Your punishment I am ready to face.

Fabulous were Krishna’s childhood days.
So many tales of his naughty ways!

Once caught by Jasoda with his mouth full of butter
He widened his eyes and smiled at his mother
She wasn’t amused and made him sit
She opened his mouth and peered into it
What she saw was a vision, a miracle to wit,
It showed the whole universe brightly lit.

Fabulous were Krishna’s childhood days.
So many tales of his naughty ways!


Again there is a market for rats these days!
I too have learnt to prepare them in various ways!
I chop and I pound and I mash three or four
And make such a mix that has them clamour for more!
My rat-pickle5 is the pride of any store!

The rats that I choose are large and fat
Each frog I add is the size of a cat.
Deliciously crisp and spicy and hot
Judge for yourself how well they have rot!
Its price has been rising, is sure to rise more
My rat-pickle is the pride of any store!

Cruel, uncaring tormentor, playful and lively,
Heart hard like stone, words so soft and sugary.
Demeanour like a drawn bow, kohl-lined eyes glowing darkly,
Heady cups of wine, bright partly and dark partly.

Beguiling eyes, deceiving looks, her ample bosom is just perfect.

An embroidery of jewels on that fair and delicate breast
Flower bud, diamond studded necklace, waistband, anklet
Inflaming hearts with desire, inviting glances to make them trip
The flat and silky belly, the sparkling navel and chiselled hip.

Her open flirtation, her frivolity, her coy modesty is just perfect.

Forever alert, forever keen, so quick to follow whatever I say
Scolds, cajoles, and sulks, is playful by night, stern by day.
That frivolity, that zest, forever present, forever at play
Flirtatious, evasive, that gait seductive with its swings and sway.

The teasing veil, the seductive display of body and face is just perfect.

With such a beauty facing you, you cannot but be swept off your feet.
Be grateful for what love you find, unkindness without rancour greet.
She leaves you dumbfounded, another like her you will never meet.
If ever Nazir you find such a dear, curl yourself around her like a sheet.

Warmth of kisses, heat of embraces, eagerness of bodies is just perfect.


Money is what the rich desire
Money is what the poor require
Of power and glory money is the sire
It makes the world spin and go haywire

To colour and beauty money gives birth
Penniless man has no value, no worth

A lot of money makes one rise above each and all
Bestows greatness where none exists at all
Brings name and fame with many mansions tall
Without it life is nothing but struggle and fall

To colour and beauty money gives birth
Penniless man has no value, no worth

Money makes you brave, you can tame a wild bear
Without money even a mouse fills you with great fear
Money makes them call you ‘master,’ ‘sir,’ and even ‘dear’
Without money you are a leper nobody comes near

To colour and beauty money gives birth
Penniless man has no value, no worth

Wherever money settles and spreads its wings
It is visited by angels, heroes and kings
Beautiful damsels from far off it brings
And lissome fairies dancing in rings

To colour and beauty money gives birth
Penniless man has no value, no worth

Love of money leads to bloodshed and wars
Promotes weapons like daggers and scimitars
It is behind every soldier’s wounds and scars
It is also behind posthumous medals and stars

To colour and beauty money gives birth
Penniless man has no value, no worth

Charity exists on the strength of money
Religion persists on the strength of money
Hell is shunned on the strength of money
Paradise earned on the strength of money

To colour and beauty money gives birth
Penniless man has no value, no worth

Money is the reason for name and fame
It leaves only credit removes all blame
Controls all bodies and souls they frame
It’s man’s god, his master, his guiding flame

To colour and beauty money gives birth
Penniless man has no value, no worth


Why do you wander restlessly, why this envy and greed.
Death’ll follow wherever you go, a truth you better heed!
All your wealth and possessions, your cattle of every breed
Those heaps of rice and lentils, every grain and every seed
As you pack your bag to leave there’s nothing you will need

Yes you are a big trader and your stakes are very high
But, beware, there is another, a bigger one, close by
All the sugar and saffron from lands far and nigh
Sweet condiments, hot spices that bring tears to the eye
As you pack your bag to leave there’s nothing you will need

Time will clean out your saddlebag and it will deflate as it must
And you will be stretched out all alone in the wilderness of dust
Your fabulous wealth and rosy health will also have gone bust
Quite forsaken and forgotten by all you love and trust
As you pack your bag to leave there’s nothing you will need

Why crave for worldly goods, why this pining for Midas’s touch?
Where you are headed, silly man, you won’t really need much
All this velvet, all this silk, all this glittering brocaded stuff
Bejewelled saddles and gilded howdahs will not add up to much
As you pack your bag to leave there’s nothing you will need

Your sole thought is of profit and loss which makes you slog like mad
But forget not you are marked and stalked by an enemy vicious and bad
None can help, your family nor slaves nor friends nor mom nor dad
Prayer you made, charity you gave, the succour you offered to the sad
As you pack your bag to leave there’s nothing you will need

When you are taken away by Death leaving behind a body in tatters
Some will gather, some stitch and darn, and some see to other matters
You’ll be alone in a narrow dark grave as your dust in the wind scatters
None’ll peep in then not a bird, nor an insect nor the cricket which chatters
As you pack your bag to leave there’s nothing you will need


Messenger, go tell her without mentioning me,
The one who loves you is dying so sick is he.
The moment in anger he went away from me,
Why didn’t lightning strike me and I cease to be.
It must be she who goes out all dressed at this hour,
From her radiant face alone can issue the light I see.
No one shed tears as I suffered in the wilderness,
Except blisters on my feet which wept so openly.
When others fell he rushed to help them up again,
But when I fell there was no help nor sympathy for me.
Ah Nazir, we advised you but you listened not,
You shouldn’t have read the book of love so keenly.


The poor, the lowly, and persons of high degree
Everyone in Agra swims and swims wonderfully!
Some float with eyes closed, dozing all the way

Others hold cages, or on head a popinjay.
Many swim flying kites or stringing a bead
Some smoke hookahs and look happy indeed
Such marvellous things they do and do so easily
Everyone in Agra swims and swims wonderfully!

Several swim standing, displaying their bare chest
Their frames glistening like gems on the river’s crest
Bodies partly wet with water, sweat moistens the rest
Awesome sight of floating heads, eight or ten abreast.
Coloured sashes, gaudy turbans so attractive so lovely
Everyone in Agra swims and swims so wonderfully

At every stroke it is Syed Kabir6 that they hail
Next to him it is their trainer whom they hail!
They remember too Krishna and his river as they sail
Last, they always mention themselves without fail
Thus they swim and keep shouting cheerfully
Everyone in Agra swims and swims so wonderfully


Let us remember Lord Ganesh7 and bow to him our heads
For he brings success to every one and good luck he spreads
Let’s embrace the whole world and offer love to all
Recount Mahadev’s8 nuptial and hold you all in thrall.
As writ in all our ancient books and told by hoary saints
As also every local priest in his daily discourse explains
May all who listen to it be happy and may their luck increase!
May its readers also thrive in health, comfort and peace!
He who wrote and sang about the glory of that wedding
May he find name and fame in the path that he is treading
May his days be amply blessed, with life’s elixir,
May Lord Shiva rain his bounty on the poet called Nazir


I’ll sing of Nazir the poet please do listen to me.
A nab timid who tutored kids and lived in poverty.
His height was low, his gait slow, his skin was darkly brown
A small, frail and well-bred man who lived in Agra town.
A wreath-like growth of thick long hair adorned a shiny pate
Moustaches showed advancing years by turning grey of late
Melancholy or pensiveness pursued him everywhere
Evident in his late years in youth too it was there.
His basic needs were always met and he lived with dignity.


Wherever I go I have in tow this bear cub
One day by the way I saw a lovely bear cub
I looked around and soon I found this bear cub
Costs money and lives on honey this bear cub
He grew and became a bear true this bear cub
Wherever I go I have in tow this bear cub.

Wherever I walk, they always talk of one thing
‘What happened to the clever ape he used to bring.’
I laugh and say, I sent it away I loosened its string
The very day came home to stay this bear cub.

I am wary and always carry this heavy whip
With metal rings that crackle from top to tip.
A bowl in hand, a bag from shoulder to hip
I bring it to the market square to jump and skip
I walk ahead and thus I lead this bear cub.

The cub is richly dressed in jewels of every hue,
Golden bangles on his wrists that shine like new
Bells on his feet, in his ears rings of pearly dew,
The silken cord made up of red, green and blue,
That is the leash on which I lead this bear cub.

Called to wrestle, he glares even as he rises to stand
Falls on me in no time and has me rolling in the sand.
At times he’s on me and at others I had the upper hand.
Going on and on like this it truly is a performance grand.
I don’t give in nor accepts defeat this bear cub.

Our moves and strategies are amazing in their style
Such is the entertainment that as it goes on for a while
Silver and gold coins rain down and collect in a huge pile
Nobody feels cheated every one declares with a smile
Oh what wrestling, oh what performance by this bear cub.

10 Seller

O how wondrous are the kakris of Agra
The best of course are those from Iskandara
How slender and delicate, how lovely to behold,
Like strips of sugarcane, or threads of silk and gold,
Like Farhad’s11 liquid eyes or Shirin’s slender mould
Like Laila’s shapely fingers, or Majnun’s tears cold
O how wondrous are the kakris of Agra
Some are pale yellow and some lush green
Topaz and emeralds in their lustre and sheen
Those that are round are Heer’s angles green
Straight ones like Ranjha’s flute ever so keen.
O how wondrous are the kakris of Agra
Crunchy and crisp though tender to touch,
In beating the heat the kakri helps much
Cools the eyes, soothes the heart, I can vouch,
Call it not kakri, it’s a fairy as such
O how wondrous are the kakris of Agra

Melon Seller

Melons these days are the town’s talk
You will find this fruit wherever you walk
Irrigates the hearts that is dry like chalk
Quenches the thirst and is right on the mark
Come buy my melon don’t stand don’t balk

12 Seller

With love and care I got prepared these balls of sesame seed
Now sold in every corner shop, they are the best, all are agreed
You will eat one and ask for more for they are very good indeed
If you buy a paisa’s worth a dozen people it can feed
With love and care I got prepared these balls of sesame seed

The Potter

Behold the splendour of my pots of clay!
Like a bed of flowers on a sunny day,
Which freshen your heart and brighten your way.
Useful for storing water or milk or whey.
By tapping on it like this you can play
Any old rhythm, either sad or gay.
Behold the splendour of my pots of clay!


Handsome lads soaked in colour with lissome lasses dance,
All are drunk with music and with cunningly bashful glance,
A glorious treat for eye and ear brimming with romance,
Thrilling notes of the tabla drum, ecstatic pipes of trance,
And ankle bells weave their spell – such is the splendour of Holi.13

When bowers of rosy damsels promise hours of fun,
On the clothes of every reveller rivers of colour run,
Faces dyed in pink and red, shining in the gentle sun,
The coloured jet makes blouses wet, blouses thinly spun
And bosoms glow as colours flow – such is the splendour of Holi.


Man is the king who rules over the rest,
Man’s the one who is wretched and oppressed,
Man the one clad in rags or richly dressed,
He also is man who dines on the best,
And the one who lives on crumbs too is a man

They are men who build temples and mosques
Men are also the ones who perform religious tasks
It’s also men who pray and recite holy texts
Men steal worshippers’ shoes and indulge in other thefts
And the one who catches the thief too is a man.

Here, a man is willing to give his life for another
He too is a man who kills a man and commits murder
It’s man who betrays and humiliates his brother
It’s man who calls out for help and succour to another
The one who rushes to help too is a man.

It’s men who have shops and trade in things
One man buys what another man brings
The vendor is one who serves the poor not kings
People make and sell a variety of things
And the one who purchases them too is a man.

A man earns greatness by scaling great heights
Another who on Man’s fair name is a blight

He too is a man who is dark as starless night
Man also shines like a star and is fair and light
The one who is brutish and ugly too is a man.

At death, men wash the body and stitch its shroud
They collect around the corpse, their sad heads bowed
Friends lift the coffin, followed by a crowd,
Some chant the kalma,14 and some weep aloud,
And the one who lies there dead too is a man.

From the noble, ignoble to the king and his slave,
From respectable wise man to contemptible knave,
He who sought knowledge and he who knowledge gave
They are all men, including the best that we have.
The worst and the meanest of them all too is a man.

Translated from the Urdu by Javed Malick


1. Chick-peas

2. The poem describes the festival of Guru Baldev, perhaps a local saint of the area.

3. The names in the second stanza refer to some of ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu (also called Narayan) who is one of the three chief Hindu gods. Thus, Ram (King of Ayodhya); Krishna (King of Dwarka, also called, Madanmohan); Varah (Boar); Kutch-Mutch (Crocodile and Fish), and Narsimha (Half man-half-lion) are represented here. Laxman is the brother of Ram. Ravana is the demon king who was defeated and slain by Ram

4. Kanha: another name for Krishna.

5. Ratpickle: According to a story, Nazir discovered a dead rat in the pickle he had bought from a local store. This inspired him to write a humorous and witty poem on ratpickle.

6. Syed Kabir: it is not clear whether this is a reference to the famous sufi poet Kabir or to a local person of that name.

7. Ganesha: this god is considered the bringer of good luck and is, therefore, traditionally invoked at the beginning of any venture.

8. Another name of Shiva, one of the three chief gods of Hinduism.

9. A tamer of bear cubs.

10. A type of cucumber.

11. Farhad and Shirin, Laila and Majnun, Heer and Ranjha are legendary lovers.

12. A round sweetmeat.

13. A spring festival which is celebrated by playing with coloured water.

14. Kalma is the basic text of the Muslim creed.

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