Agha Shahid Ali on Begum Akhtar

excerpt from “In Memory of Begum Akhtar,” by Agha Shahid Ali:

Do your fingers still scale the hungry

Bhairavi, or simply the muddy shroud?

Ghazal, that death-sustaining widow,

sobs in dingy archives, hooked to you.

She wears her grief, a moon-soaked white,

corners the sky into disbelief.

You’ve finally polished catastrophe,

the note you seasoned with decades

of Ghalib, Mir, Faiz:

I innovate on a note-less raga.


As I start to learn Raag Bhairavi, I cannot help but return to these lines again and again. The raag is peaceful and of the dawn.