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‘The Wintry Nights of January Are Long’

A dirge to cold January nights on 44th death anniversary of Ibne Insha

This year January has already brought with it a tinge of sadness given the deaths of 22 people over the last weekend in Murree. There is also the spell of the cold winter rain which has enhanced the cold this month. For me, January also marks the death of two of my favourite writers, namely the great short-story writer Saadat Hasan Manto, as well as the master poet, humourist and travel-writer Ibne Insha, who passed away 44 years ago on January 11 yesterday while battling throat cancer in London, aged just 50.

Manto too died from excessive drinking on January 18, 1955. Both Manto and Insha were immensely imaginative and daring Punjabis who pushed the boundaries of artistic excellence in Urdu. Both passed away very early, being relatively unrecognized in their own lifetimes. To remember these literary giants in January, the month of their untimely deaths further enhances the bitter chill of this month.

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To remember and pay tribute to Insha on his 44th death anniversary, it will thus be appropriate to re-read his long poem Janvari ki Sard Raaten Hain Taveel (The Wintry Nights of January Are Long) which forms part of his posthumous poetic collection Dil-e-Vahshi (Untamed Heart) in my original English translation.

There is no means to amuse the heart

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The wintry nights of January are long

I glance at my past

I heave a cold sigh occasionally

How should I show my heart the right path

With what excuse should I forget her

Leaving all lost in the dream of pleasure

Sleep arrives in my bed chamber

Someone arrives seeing me rest

Someone embraces my chest

Often I see after coming to my senses

Some oppressor lying within my embrace

But I find myself very much alone

Then after a moment I sleep

Then I see someone in a dream

This time I recognize you

You flee near morning time

Leaving me taken by grief and sorrow

I used to love you long ago

You too loved me in those days

Short-sightedness regarding the demands of age

Don’t know what happened one day

One stopped exchanging visits

And a period passed upon it

You misunderstood, I became suspicious

The matter was small, but where it led

I repented very much quickly

You too felt the same

But we were absorbed in the intoxication of conceit

Heavy for us both was the acceptance of defeat

We had to cross the desert of separation

We had found a guide, a sort of anticipation

This is very much the origin of my bravery

The heart very much says that let’s see

The house within which our caravan descended

Still it is possible that it is uninhabited

Till now we kept cheating our hearts

Now the power of endurance is not a bit possible

Come live in my moist eye

Come live in this ruined abode

I very much do take the initiative with determination

I am afraid within the heart of this consideration

Lest you spurn my invitation

I will understand this if you convey your negation

The change of fortune has been turned

What I had lost has been returned.

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