Othello and Ghalib: A Soliloquy

By Alexandre-Marie Colin (1798-1875) (http://www.barbarapaul.com/shake/othello.html) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


 This article was originally published here in Bricolage Magazine; an independent arts and culture magazine. In this creative re-imagination of Shakespeare’s Othello, I present my version of Othello’s final speech, guided by Urdu poetry and the verses of Ghalib. Through chosen verses, which are also translated to English, I seeks to explore themes such as love, longing, jealousy and separation, which resonate in the works of both Shakespeare and Ghalib.

I am a moor; I was always the Moor. 

My story bears no audience, yet I still narrate it once more to lament over how I was tricked. Happiness is a mirage; a distant dream in the hot desert of sorrows. Just when you think you’ve reached the green oasis of joy, the blistering heat snatches it away from you. Such is life. Such are the times. How can one love and live at the same time? 

Bas ki dushwar hai har kaam ka aasaan hona,
Aadmi ko bhi mayasar nahi insaan hona


(Although it’s difficult for every task to be easy,
Even for a man, it’s not easy to become humane)

My tale is one of deception, and how this wicked, treacherous world makes it so hard for man to be humane. I loved; I loved and I lost. I lost because of treachery; no, I lost because of my own jealousy. Or was it treachery? My mind deceived me, tricked me, the bastard. Could she ever do what they say? They said she cheated her father of twenty years. Could she have cast aside our sacred vows that easily? 

Jee dhoondhta hai phir wohi fursat ke raat din;
Bethein rahein tasavur-janan kiye hue


(My soul still seeks those nights and days of leisure,
When we would idle away, picturing the beloved in our head)

Desdemona and I used to lie on grassy slopes, looking up at the sky as I enticed her with my tales of travels far away. I could see her cringe at every mention of adversity, and see her fair, lovely face light up when I spoke of conquests. I could guide her eyes from wide, smiling surprise to misty empathy in seconds. She lived vicariously through me. I was her Marco Polo and she my Kublai; and for her, I painted the invisible cities, their people, their mysteries, their stories. As for me, I took delight in the changing contours of her beautiful face, knowing I was in charge of her emotions even if for just those few hours. 

Manzar ek bulandi par aur hum bana sakte
Arsh se idhar hoga kaas ki makaan apna


(We could have made a viewing-site at an excellent height;
If only our house were on this side of the sky)

It seems so long ago that the night breeze rushed past our faces as I caressed her lovely hair and told her of my dreams for us; for us to go beyond this world and soar the skies with happiness. We were to settle in Cyprus, you know; move to the beautiful city of Cyprus and have a new home. She wanted to see the marvels of the East I had so often told her about: the painters with their paraphernalia, the Chinese traders with their reams of silk, the buzz of this port city where the East and West came together. 

Tere wade par jiye hum toh ye jaan jhooth jana,
Ki khushi se mar na jaate, agar itbaar hota


(If we lived on your promise, then know this – we knew [it to be] false,
For would we not have died of happiness, if we had had trust [in it]?)

When you told me you wanted to marry me, did I not bring forth crowds to cheer at our wedding?

Did I not do all but part the Red Sea for that vow of fidelity from you? 

Did I not once tell you that if it were now to die, ’twere now to be most happy? 

Why then did that damned handkerchief make its way into someone else’s bed? Why then could you not promise me serenity? 

This tinkering seed of doubt that Iago has sown in my head is still not uprooted. I can feel it grow its parasitic tentacles deep into me. I know it shall be the death of me. You were too good to be true.

Mohabbat mein nahi hai farq jeene aur marne ka,
Usi ko dekh kar jeete hain kis kaafir pe dam nikle


(In love, there’s no difference of living and dying
Having seen only her, we live – that infidel over whom we breathe our last)

Now, I sit here; the dagger in my hand raised to my chest over the body of my beloved – the wife I choked to death with my own hands. Reality goes by at an unfathomable speed sometimes. How could have I let this happen? My Desdemona; my beautiful Desdemona – I was misled. 

Will my tears wake her up? That whiter skin of hers than snow now lies lifeless before me, and my beloved, there is no way I can again thy former light restore. It wasn’t Iago; it was me who did this to her. ‘Tis true that your love left me in a trance; morning and night would go just looking for the beloved. Oh, you beautiful, my lady fair of face. 

Was I wrong to love this Venetian, this kaafir of mine? They didn’t want me; I was the treacherous moor who had entered their city and stolen their girl from their midst. I was the Other. Truth be told, I still do not know if it was she who was faithless, or I. At the end, which of us is the infidel? 

Zikr us pari wash ka aur phir bayan apna
Ban gaya rakeeb aakhir tha raazdaan apna


(The mention of that fairy-faced one; and then – my description
Finally, he who was my confidant, became my rival)

I am damned; I should have never professed my love to her so publicly. Oh, who wouldn’t be jealous? Who wouldn’t want her? That must have been it. He wanted her. I described her beauty; her fair skin, her rosy lips, her dark eyes. It was me. I let her slip through my hands. That is the cause and that is the reason; Cassio and Iago, both wanted her. It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul. 

Dard e dil likhunkab tak jaon un ko dikhlaon,
Unglian figaar apni khaama khooncha apna


(How long would I write the pain of the heart? I might go and show her
My wounded fingers, my blood-dripping reed-pen)

I cannot but write about us; this epic of ours breaks my heart as I pen it down. Do you not see the blood flow down my hands, trickling down the paper like beads? But our tale needs to be told. A tale of how I, like the base Judean, threw a pearl away richer than all my tribe. 

Qaid-e-hayat o ranj o gham asal mein dono ek hain,
maut se pehle aadmi gham se najaat payen kyun


(The prison of life, and the bondage of grief – in essence both are one,
Before death, why would a person find release from grief?)

I killed my own wife for her infidelity. I killed my own wife on the pretext of what a possible adversary told me. From here on, I will either live knowing I killed either my unfaithful wife, or my one true love, neither of which will justify the agony this act brings with it. This life is not meant to be lived happily. I loved and I lost. Perhaps it is time to free myself from these miserable shackles of human existence. 

Hue mar ke hum jo ruswa hue kyun na gark e darya,
Na kahin janazah uthta na kahin mazaar hota


(If disgrace after death was to be my fate, I should have met my end by drowning,
It would have spared me a funeral and no headstone would have marked my grave)

But alas! Even the decision of death seems to have taken its revenge on me. Fate, you tricky bastard; I see the sly game you played there. Oh, how I hope I escape the misery of a funeral! I should have plunged into the rivers and drowned. With a strong wave, I would have been forgotten. No processions to glorify me; no whispers to malign. But let it be known that I loved not wisely, but too well. Not easily jealous, but being wrought, perplexed in the extreme. 

Oh, my soul’s joy! I once told you that if after every tempest come such calms, may the winds blow till they have wakened death. I crave the tempest and the calm now. Let me come to you and let us now be together. 

Come, Desdemona; once more, we’ll meet at Cyprus. 


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