For the sake of completion, if nothing else, we ought to add in some of these Ghalib 'classics', even though you've probably read and heard them a godzillion times already and, in all likelihood, are more or less familiar with their meanings too!
first in the series...
Ghalib had a special knack for spotting words that admit of many different idiomatic/colloquial/literal usages, so that each such usage could lead to a different nuance in the meaning of the sher. Throughout this Ghazal, he plays with the possibilities pregnant in the simple 'निकलना'
हज़ारों ख्वाहिशें ऎसी कि हर ख्वाहिश पे दम निकले
बहुत निकले मेरे अरमान लेकिन फिर भी कम निकले
"A thousand such longings that on [for] each of them, (my) life would exit
(Many of my longings left, but still only a few left) / (My longings turned out to be many, but still turned out to be only a few)"
One of Ghalib's most famous shers - undeniably inbued with a strangely haunting beauty, but extremely difficult to 'pin down', as regards meaning...
The first line of the sher seems simple enough... using the idiomatic expression दम निकलना (i.e. to pass away), the Poet stresses the fervency of his many (unfulfilled) desires, each of which is 'intense enough' to kill him... or for him to kill himself in wanting to have them fulfilled... or for him to die just in expressing them... etc. One nuance, which, for ease of comprehension, i chose to gloss over in the translation above, is the use of हज़ारों instead of हज़ार for the first word - in effect, the translation should ideally say something like 'all thousands' rather than just 'thousands'... the point of emphasis of the first line, therefore, is not the fact that the poet has so many of these intense desires (that is almost taken to be a 'given'), but just that they are all so intense... Do you get that? It is something like 'All thousands of (my) desires are such that each of them can kill..."
The second line then airily flirts with, without quite settling between, two different interpretations of निकलना - in the first, more 'literal', interpretation, one uses the word to mean something like 'leave' or 'depart' or 'exit' [the most common usage of निकलना is, after all, 'to come out']. In this interpretation, the poet seems to be regretting the fact that, even though many of his desires have 'left his heart' (after sufficient time having been spent without realising them), these are still just a small fraction of all the 'death-dealing' desires he began with... i.e., there are still enough of these lethal longings that remain in him...
The alternative interpretation of निकलना is more idiomatic - it turns on a colloquial usage of the word, in the sense of 'being revealed as' or 'emerging as' [eg. अरे, यह कहानी तो बिल्कुल बकवास निकली!] . Hence the poet dryly observes that while his (life threatening) desires 'turned out' to be so many... they still turned out to be 'not quite enough'... This observation is itself susceptible to many different interpretations... does he mean to say that 'even the thousands of potentially lethal longings he had have failed to end his life, and hence he hopes he had begun with more of them'? Or does he mean that 'since he could not realise any of the thousands of ambitions he had, he feels he might have had some partial success if he had some more (i.e. alternative) ambitions'?
I know, it begins to get convoluted... but hell, it's Ghalib! It's worth the effort!!
There is also a sort of 'mix and match' possible between these two alternative interpretations of निकलना. In the second line, the first निकलना can be taken in the literal sense of 'exiting' and the second in the idiomatic sense of 'turning out to be'... hence the line itself would read something like 'many of my ambitions left me, but these (still) turned out to be very few'...!
डरे क्यों मेरा कातिल, रहेगा क्या उसकी गर्दन पर
वो ख़ून जो चश्म-ए-तर से उम्र भर यूँ दम-ब-दम निकले
"Why is my killer afraid; would it remain on her neck...
this blood that so ceaselessly flows from drenched eyes, throughout life?"
A yummy 'Inshaaiyaa' sher, so typically Ghalib!
'Blood remaining on the neck' is an idiomatic usage, implying something like 'visible evidence of murder' [think Lady Macbeth and 'out, damned spot!']. Hence Ghalib seems to be offering a scoffing reassurance to the Beloved - she shouldn't hesitate in committing the murder she is contemplating; it isn't as though there would be any incriminating evidence linking her to the deed [in the form of the Poet's 'blood on her neck'].
And on what does he base this reassurance? Merely on the observation that his blood has never stopped flowing freely even from his own eyes!! Hence, why would it choose to congeal on the Beloved's neck??!! Another take, offered by some commentators, is that the Poet's constant spilling of 'blood tears' has left him so bereft of the vital fluid, that there would be no blood left in him to stain the Beloved's neck!
Apart from this 'reassuring' reading of the sher, there is the more 'literal' reading possible too, of course, which, in my opinion, is equally enjoyable... where the Poet is 'truly' wondering whether the Beloved is hesitating to murder him because of the possibility that his blood might remain on her neck... after all it is the ardent Poet's blood; wouldn't it stick like super-glue on so desirable a perch??!! :)
निकलना खुल्द से आदम का सुनते आये हैं लेकिन
बहुत बे-आबरू हो कर तेरे कूचे से हम निकले
"One has kept hearing of the eviction of Adam from Paradise, but
with much disgrace did I leave your street"
Truly a Classic sher! It ranks among the best known of Ghalib's couplets (and of Urdu poetry in General - it would easily find place in any 'top ten' listing of all-time famous shers) - and also one of the most quoted (usually in humourous or ironical delivery)...
The overall mood of the sher is, evidently, one of humour... but just look at the audaciousness of the comic hyperbole it uses!
Most commentators have taken note of the way that the 'bahut' in the second line somehow seems to scream for attention while reading the sher (something to do with the metrical construction of the couplet, no doubt) - it is this that gives the sher its deliciously amusing 'over the top' meaning... namely the assertion that while Adam's fall from grace (which, incidentally, led to mankind being banished from paradise in perpetuity!) might well have been something worth talking about, it is a mere trifle compared to the much greater disgrace that the Poet has had to endure - having to leave the Beloved's lane!!!
An academic point - in this sher, Ghalib uses the radif word निकलना as the passive construct of निकालना - to evict... [English, with its 'periphrastic' passive voice, doesn't allow for such constructions, of course].
भरम खुल जाये ज़ालिम तेरे कामत की दराज़ी का
अगर इस तुर्रा-ए-पुर्पेच-ओ-ख़म का पेच-ओ-ख़म निकले
"The illusion of the tallness of your stature would be broken, Cruel One
if the curls of that 'curl-ful' crest would come out"
Very sweet! Ghalib takes a mischievous 'pot shot' at the contrived airs and graces of the Beloved, which prompt her to wear her curly tresses in an elaborately constructed 'coiffure', with a flourishy fringe or curlicue on top, resembling the kind of ornamental accessory (such as a plume of feathers) that might be worn on top of a turban... He declares that the only reason she appears 'tall' is because of this fancy construction on her head, and if the curls were to 'unwind' out of this hairdo, her true stature would be revealed!
Of course, since 'stature' can, even in English, mean more than just physical procerity, the Poet could also be implying that the Beloved's status (as a bewitching beauty) is only because of these extravagent artifices and embellishments she sports!!
Even in such a light-hearted sher, note the careful choice of words Ghalib uses... the 'khul jaaye' when used for 'bharam' means 'to be revealed' or 'to be broken'; but the picture that 'khul jaaye' evokes in the mind, especially when the 'pech-o-kham' of the Beloved's tresses are talked about, is one of 'unwinding' or 'uncurling'... so very 'picture'-sque!
मगर लिखवाए कोई उसको ख़त तो हम से लिखवाए
हुई सुबह और घर से कान पर रख कर कलम निकले
"but if someone wishes to have a letter written to her, (let him) have it written by me!
every morning, i leave home with a pen stuck behind the ear!"
Such is the Poet's desperation to communicate with the Beloved, that he is even prepared to act as a scribe for others who might wish to correspond with her (since he knows that his own missives would not be entertained by her; or possibly because he doesn't even dare to write to her in his own name).
The desperate-ness of a love that enables one to find vicarious satisfaction in even 'second-hand' contact... it evokes not just mirth (compounded by the comic picture of the Poet roaming about the bazaar with a pen stuck behind his ear, searching for people wanting to write to her!), but also a sort of sympathetic 'fellow feeling'...
Some commentators have also speculated about other piquant possibilities in this sher... could the Poet be motivated by more malicious intent? Maybe he wishes to 'sabotage' the correspondence that any other admirers might be wanting to address to his Beloved... so that even if he can't have her, neither can they!
हुई इस दौर मे मंसूब मुझ से बादा-आशामी
फिर आया वो ज़माना जो जहाँ मे जाम-ए-जम निकले
"In this age, the practice of wine-drinking came to be associated with me!
That age has returned when Jamshid's Cup would come out in the world!!"
The 'jaam-e-jam' or 'Jamshid's Cup' recalls a legend that goes back to Persian (i.e. pre-Islamic) mythology (and finds close parallels in many other mythological traditions too - Greek, Hindu, etc.) The Cup in question is supposed to have been filled with the Elixir of Life, and one could famously observe all seven worlds by gazing into its depths. [Jamshid is a Persian king in Firdausi's 'Shahnaamaa', who is supposed to have owned this wonder.]
Proud of his exceptional drinking prowess, the Poet claims that in the present age, wine is associated with him (just as it was associated with Jamshid in times bygone), and goes on to suggest that the Jaam-e-Jam is again available - probably implying that his (drink-inspired) verse is as 'world-revealing' as that famous vessel!!
Note the arresting alliteration in the second line 'vo zamaanaa jo jahaan me jaam-e-jam'... lovely!
हुई जिनसे तावाक्को खस्तगी की दाद पाने की
वो हमसे भी ज़्यादा खस्ता-ए-तेग-ए-सितम निकले
"(Those) from whom (I) expected understanding/admiration/justice for (my) wrecked-ness
They turned out to be even more wrecked by the sword of injustice than I!!"
Ha Ha!! Isn't that the cruellest cut of them all?! When those whom you expect to save you (or at least admire you for the frightful afflictions you have borne), turn out to be even more afflicted than yourself...!
In its most straightforward reading, the sher seems to talk about confidants or 'healers' whom the star-crossed Poet approaches to seek solace... only to find that they are pining even more piteously for the Beloved...! But that is only onepossible interpretation... the sher itself is 'non specific' enough to lend its beauty to any number of similar situations...
मोहब्बत मे नहीं है फर्क जीने और मरने का
उसी को देख कर जीते हैं जिस काफ़िर पर दम निकले
"In love, there's no difference between living and dying
(I) live for the sight of the same infidel, for whom (I) die"
In itself, this sher would have been unexceptionally trite and cliched, if it didn't involve a typically Ghalib-ish bit of word play in the second line, which raises it above the ordinary.
The first line states a simple kind of 'truism' which is a typically 'bread and butter' assertion in love poetry - namely that life and death is one and the same when one is in love. This kind of humbug sentimentality is not what one would normally expect Ghalib to indulge in. It is only when one sees the second line - the line which 'substantiates' this cliche, that one realises the potential Ghalib spotted in it... The 'bite' in the sher comes from the idiomatic usage of किसी पर दम निकलना which means something like 'to love someone to distraction' (even in English, we would say 'to die for' someone). So Ghalib points out that when one is in love, one 'lives' by constantly watching that very same person 'for whom one dies'... and it is thus that there is no difference between living and dying, for a Lover!
कहाँ मयखाने का दरवाज़ा गालिब और कहाँ वाइज़
पर इतना जानते हैं कल वो जाता था कि हम निकले
"how far the door of the tavern, Ghalib, from the Preacher
but this I do know - yesterday, he was going/passing as I came out"
A masterly maqtaa, which has created an entire 'poetic tradition' of sorts within Urdu poetry, whereby the Preacher is ribbed for secretly (or otherwise) wavering from his own standards of abstemious virtue...
Most Hindi speakers are familiar with the 'कहाँ ये... कहाँ वो' idiomatic construction, which is used to highlight the difference (and not the distance) between two ideas. In this case, Ghalib uses this usage to his advantage by giving it an ambiguously 'locational' touch... the Poet, with an air of studied naivete, expresses surprise that even though the Preacher is far removed (both metaphorically and physically) from the door of the tavern... the poet saw him passing when he himself came out of the tavern on the previous day.
The sher 'adds insult to injury' by not stating specifically whether the Preacher was 'caught' actually entering the public house or whether he was simply seen to be passing by (leaving open the deliciously malicious conjecture that he might have guiltily changed tracks on seeing someone who knew him, and might have pretended to be simply passing through the locality - a claim which would seem weak, given the 'distance' of his house from the tavern!)...
The above shers are the only ones that appear in Ghalib's official deewaan. While there are a couple of others that are usually cited with it [notably, the one that beings 'khudaa ke vaaste pardaa na kaabe se uthaa'], these don't find mention in any of the printed editions of the Deewaan, and most serious commentators don't regard them as genuine Ghalib works...