Sunday, 6 May 2007

Ghalib - Dil hii to hai, na sang-e-khisht

To return to Ghalib...

दिल ही तो है ना संग--खिश्त, दर्द से भर ना आये क्यों
रोएंगे हम हज़ार बार, कोई हमें सताए क्यों
"It is only a heart, not stones and bricks, why won't it fill up with pain?
(of course) I will weep a thousand times; why does someone (want to) torment me?"

A sort of exasperated expostulation, possibly directed at the Beloved but equally possibly at the 'torments of the world' - "for god's sake, it is my heart, not something inanimate! Why would it not feel pain? And why would i not weep when it does? If someone has a problem with this, then why torment me in the first place??"

Sitting prettily in the general ambiance
of Ghalib's universe, the sher does a goodish job of projecting an irritated vulnerability, and an air of resentful incomprehension - of the 'why on earth does everyone want to hurt me' variety!

दैर नहीं, हरम नहीं, दर नहीं, आस्तां नहीं
बैठे हैं रहगुज़र पे हम, ग़ैर हमें उठाये क्यों
"[It is] not a temple, not a place of worship, not a door, not a threshold
[It's] on the thoroughfare [that] I'm sitting, why would/does the Other make me get up?!"

Classic! Continuing the overall 'mood' of the previous sher, this one soars to Ghalib-ish excellence! The hapless poet laments out that he has, of his own accord, not even bothered to enter any of the sites, both faith-based and secular, where someone ELSE could claim proprietor-ship (and hence accuse him of trespassing) - Instead, he has chosen to seat himself in the middle of a public road! Surely, no one could assume the right to displace him even from there??!!

The religious-secular choice of words in the first line is especially enjoyable. Dair (or temple) is, i believe, used more frequently for Hindu places of worship, whereas Haram is technically the holy land of Mecca, and hence has an Islamic connotation. Hence, the poet defensively explains that he has given up his claims on all faith. On the other hand, 'door' and 'threshold' make it clear that he has no illusions of having a 'right of entry' to any home either.

Hence, he rules himself out of any shelter - whether of God, or of a loved one - resigning himself to a godless, loveless, state. "And yet", he (justly) complains - "can't they leave me in peace even now"?!

As is common in Ghalib's oeuvre, this would be a wonderful mushairaa sher - the first line, by itself, is so non-committal, and reveals so little of not just the meaning, but even the 'mood' (of irritated frustration) of the overall sher.

It is also interesting to see that it is the 'Gair' who is making him get up from the thoroughfare. Literally meaning 'other' or 'stranger' or 'non-acquaintance or non-relative' the word has come to be used, in Ghazal terminology, for the poet's rival for the Beloved's affections (Raqeeb, dushman, adu, being other appellations for this villainous character). Does ghalib mean that his rival has displaced him not just from the Beloved's 'door and threshold', but also from the 'houses of faith'? Or is it that, having lost out to him in the battle for the Beloved's affections, he has no fight left in him to challenge the Gair for entry in any sort of home, whether personal or religious...?

An alternative reading of the sher, again very 'Ghalib', would be in a sort of desperately 'triumphant' tone - "There! I've left all those locations and parked myself on the bloody street! NOW no one would make me get up!!"

जब वो जमाल--दिल्फरोज़ सूरत--महर--नीमरोज़
आप ही हो नज़ारासोज़, परदे मे मुँह छिपाये क्यों
"when that shining-on-the-heart beauty; like the midday sun
is itself sight-searing; why hide the face in a veil?"

Another wonderful sher, delightfully ambiguous in its situational possibilities.

In one interpretation, the words apply with equal (and equally enjoyable) validity whether the poet is talking about the Celestial or the earthly Beloved. Essentially, the sher is a sort of bemused complaint - why bother to veil your face? In any case , your beauty is 'sight searing' (the literal usage in the sher is 'sight-melting') like the mid-day sun... hence even if you were to lift the veil, the undeserving watcher would be rendered blind by your radiance, and hence your modesty would be protected!

In another wonderful reading, the poet is trying to defend his Beloved who is not too particular about the social demands (of veiling her face in public) ... 'Well, why does she need to? In any case, no indiscreet eye can afford to look directly at her radiant face!"

The most commented and appreciated point about this sher is the almost impossibly lovely internal rhythmic structure - the symphony of 'dilfaroz' 'neemroz' and 'nazaaraasoz' - all the while maintaining the overall technical metre of the ghazal. Even ghalib has pulled something like this off only in two or three places in his entire deewaan!

दशना--गम्ज़ा जां-सितां, नावक--नाज़ बेपनाह
तेरा ही अक्स--रुख़ सही, सामने तेरे आये क्यों
"(the) dagger of (your) glance (is) life-seizing; (the) arrow of your graceful airs (is) without escape
even if it's the reflection of your face; why (would it) come before you?"

Ha ha!! With the 'weapons of mass destruction' that the Beloved carries, in the form of her lethally smoldering sidelong glances and her haughtily coquettish mannerisms, even her reflection dreads the thought of appearing before her!

While the idea is somewhat similar to the previous sher, the mood here is much more unequivocally playful! There is also an implied and subtle challenge to the Beloved - since 'her reflection coming before her' is equivalent to 'she herself coming before her reflection', the poet maliciously suggests that she can never afford to regard herself in a mirror without risking a classic instance of 'friendly fire'!!

Once again, in typical mushaira style, the sher postpones the punch of its joke till the last possible moment...

Words like 'naaz' [and 'shokhii'], so common in Urdu poetry, are particularly difficult to translate in English. 'Coquettishness' or 'gracefulness' or 'airs' only sum up part of what these intensely evocative words actually convey. The problem isn't linguistic so much as 'cultural' - the sort of societal context where a woman would need to display her beauty through such oblique 'artifices' can be evoked in occidental tongues only with difficulty (it might be easier in French than in the more prosy English, though).

क़ैद--हयात--बंद--गम अस्ल मे दोनो एक हैं
मौत से पहले आदमी गम से निजात पाए क्यों
"the 'prison of existence' and the 'shackles of sorrow' are both, in fact, the same
why should/would man be freed of pain, before death?"

A starkly pithy evocation of the bleakness of life! Since existence and pain are, fundamentally, one and the same (the most literal meaning 'asl' being something like 'at the root'), it is futile, even logically impossible, to pray for a pain-free existence... it is also clear what offers the only possible 'escape' (nijaat) from pain...

The would/should ambiguity of the second line is also pregnant with a delicious multiplicity of meaning!

हुस्न और उसपे हुस्न--ज़न, रह गयी बुलहवस की शर्म
अपने पे इतिमाद है, ग़ैर को आज़माए क्यों
"beauty, and on (top of) that, 'beauty of thought'; the lustful-watcher saved his honour
There is confidence in oneself; why test the Other"


I believe there is some difference between conflicting editions of Ghalib's work, as it was recorded, in the exact wording of the second line - which has added to the demanding-ness of this (even otherwise oblique) sher.

One commonly accepted interpretation seems to be that the Beloved, because of the 'beauty of her thought' doesn't bother to 'test' the Other (the much-vilified 'Gair' or the poet's rival) which helps the latter preserve his honour. The 'beauty of thought' of the Beloved seems to be based on the sort of confidence in her own beauty that doesn't even require visual confirmation of the admiration of others. Hence, she innocently moves about with all her artful mannerisms, indifferent to the regard of the spectators, and hence the ignoble Other can continue to ogle her without risking the ignominy of discovery (by her)...

Since the sher makes it clear that this apparent 'pure-mindedness' of the Beloved is based on her confidence in her own beauty, it can also be read in a sarcastic tone... the poet jealously complaining about the Beloved's indulgence in permitting the Gair to ogle her beauty unhindered, even though she is perfectly aware of (and probably even enjoying!!) his lustful regard... the 'beauty of thought' would, in this interpretation, be a taunt directed at the Beloved, born out of understandable heartburn!

वां वो गुरूर--इज्ज़--नाज़, यां ये हिजाब--पास--वज़ा
राह मे हम मिलें कहाँ, बज़्म मे वो बुलाएँ क्यों
"over there, that pride in grandeur and grace; over here this modesty (born out) of regard for self-respect
where (how) would we meet on the street; why would she call (me) to her Soiree?"

Nice! On one hand, there's the Beloved, haughtily conscious of her own station in life and her beauty; on the other, there's the lover, abjectly aware of his own lowliness and undeservingness, but jealously protective of his self-respect.

The situation is an obvious non-starter - he wouldn't risk public ignominy by contriving to encounter her on the street, and she would obviously never extend him an invitation to one of her parties!

Note that it's difficult to pin a 'mood' to the sher - there doesn't seem to be a great degree of distress in the poet's observation; he almost seems wryly amused by the hopelessness of his situation!

'paas-e-vaz'a' is an expression literally meaning something like 'attention to self-respect' and is used for a sort of 'personal credo' that lays down the limits of acceptable and unacceptable, based on one's sense of personal dignity... 'hijaab' is literally a veil, but is used metaphorically for any sort of constraint or self-restraint worn out of a sense of moral/social correctness...

हाँ वो नहीं खुदापरस्त, जाओ वो बेवफा सही
जिसको हो दीन--दिल अज़ीज़, उसकी गली मे जाये क्यों
"yes, she isn't god-fearing; fine, so she's unfaithful
he who values (his) heart or faith, why would he go to her lane?"

My favourite sher in the Ghazal!

With what an easy 'conversational' style does the poet answer the well-meaning but self-appointed guardians (remember 'naaseh'?) who warn him about the godlessness and faithlessness of the Beloved! "Fine, granted she is like that! Who on earth is asking those (like you) who fear for their hearts or faith to go near her?"

The delicious implication, of course, is that for the poet neither his heart nor his faith is 'azeez' - he is determined to pursue the Beloved even though he's fully aware that the chase will cost him his soul as well as his happiness.

There is also (as always with Ghalib) a more malicious reading that suggests itself - the poet may be hinting that some of the people advising him about the sins of the Beloved are themselves in the habit of frequenting her neighbourhood, and he is pointedly revealing his knowledge of this...!

It is definitely the colloquial 'airiness' of this sher which makes it one of Ghalib's best-loved. The use of 'haan' 'jaao' and 'sahii' in the first line are concessions to everyday speech which just defy translation!

'khudaparast' is literally 'god-worshiping', but god-fearing would be the closest English equivalent, i suppose...

ग़ालिब--खस्ता के बग़ैर कौन से काम बंद हैं
रोईये ज़ार-ज़ार क्या, कीजिये हाय-हाय क्यों
"in the absence of the destroyed Ghalib, what works/activities have come to a halt?
why weep bitterly? Why lament (unnecessarily)?"

Once again, this maqta can't really be translated except with mechanical insufficiency!

Like many of Ghalib's sher's this one features a 'voice from behind the grave'. (The dead) Ghalib addresses those grieving for him, and points out that all their normal activities are, actually, continuing as before, despite his death... hence why make a great show of grief or loss?

The mood seems to be wryly mocking. There is a sense of amused sadness at the way the world continues to go about its business; which comes through in the chiding tone used in the second line... the (completely untranslatable) 'zaar zaar' and 'haye haye' hint that the expressions of grief are needlessly (and insincerely) exaggerated!

No comments: