Thursday, 31 May 2007

Ghalib - Ye naa thee hamaaree kismat

The next in the series...

One of the best-known, and best-loved, of Ghalib's Ghazals; almost all shers in it are exceptional, although the mood jumps around disconcertingly from the mundane... to outright mysterious!

ye na thii hamaarii kismat ke visaal-e-yaar hotaa
agar aur jiite rahte yahii intezaar hotaa

ये ना थी हमारी किस्मत के विसाल-ए-यार होता

अगर और जीते रहते यही इंतज़ार होता

"It was not my destiny that there would be Union with the Beloved

If I had lived on, there would have been this (very) same waiting"

We noted earlier that some of Ghalib's best shers are voiced from 'beyond the grave'; this is among the more famous examples.

Most readers are struck by the uncharacteristic 'simplicity' of this sher... unusual for Ghalib's 'matlaa' shers... The simplicity is somewhat deceptive though - it is difficult to unequivocally 'fix' the mood of the sher.

The most striking feature of the first line is the notable lack of emotion (No exclaiming tone! No mention of 'gham' or 'sitam') with which the Poet pithily sums up what is, after all, the very essence of his wretchedness - the fact that he was never even destined to obtain the Beloved.

It is only the second line that reveals the reason for the 'offhand' manner of the first line. One learns that the 'complaint' in the first line was not merely an expression of dejection or frustration... it is an actual FACT, because the poet is already dead! Hence, the reality that he wasn't destined to obtain the Beloved is a confirmed 'post facto' observation!! And what is most delicious is that this (very significant) piece of information is not really revealed 'with drums and bugles', but tossed in casually, as part of an even more poignant statement - that if the poet hadn't died just as yet, the wait for the Beloved would have continued in the same manner...

So, what is the Poet saying then? That it was better to die? Because a longer life would have meant perpetuation of a painful and frustrating longing? That is certainly the take that many commentators have taken. But others point out that there is no indicator within the sher to confirm this 'defeatist' interpretation... and that the Poet could be saying something quite the opposite - having casually admitted (in the first line) his awareness of the pre-determined fate that the Beloved would never be his, he may be obstinately affirming (in the second) that, despite this, if he had continued living, he would have continued waiting!!

So, can one read an implied 'but' before the second line, which would substantiate this 'defiant' interpretation? Frankly, I don't know... but, in either interpretation (defeatist or defiant), it's a beautiful sher... and obviously anything but 'simple'!

tere vaade pe jiye ham to ye jaan jhuuTh jaanaa
ki khushii se mar na jaate agar aitbaar hotaa

तेरे वादे पे जिए हम तो ये जान झूठ जाना

कि खुशी से मर ना जाते अगर ऐतबार होता

"(That) I lived on your promise (of return), know this (to be) false, my love

for wouldn't I have died of happiness, if I had believed (in it)?"

I must admit that even though this isn't among the deepest of Ghalib's shers, it is a personal favourite!

Before we look at the meaning, one notable point - the semantic and thematic independence of shers is one of the most important characteristic of the strict Ghazal form; indeed, it is even a requirement of correct composition. Poets of Ghalib's calibre would never commit the travesty of spanning a poetic idea across two shers (in the sense that one would need to read the second sher to 'complete' the idea). However, they did occasionally play around with the placement of shers so that the preceding sher, while semantically independent, could provide a sort of thematic context for the succeeding one. In this case, for instance, note how much better this sher works coming after the previous one, than it would have otherwise...

OK, now let's look at it - the main feature that renders this sher exceptional is that it involves an uncharacteristic attempt at 'defiance' by the Poet vis-a-vis the Beloved - for once, he tries to administer a 'put down' to that haughty presence... but when one notes the form that this takes, one realises there is no real reversal of the traditionally unequal 'power equation' between them...

The 'context' of the sher (buttressed by the preceding one) is that the Poet has recently died after a lifetime of waiting for the Beloved. And observing that the Beloved appears heartlessly unconcerned by his demise, he (or his spirit) is stung enough to call out to her, "listen sweetheart, don't kid yourself that it was the promise of obtaining YOU that kept me alive all these years!"... and how does he 'prove' this point? By pointing out that if he had really believed, even for a moment, that she could really be his, he would instantly have died of joy at that very moment, instead of having lived on in pleasurable anticipation for so long!! Some 'put down', that is!! There is such an endearing helplessness in this show of petulant anger that it would take a truly stone-hearted Beloved to not be moved by it!!

While i have translated it in the most common manner, note that there is no evidence within the sher that the Beloved had ever made an actual 'promise' to the Poet (although that is one interpretation, of course)... the 'vaadaa' could well be used in a metaphorical sense (i.e., the poet's own 'expectation' of obtaining her - 'the promise of her return').

Many commentators have pointed at the delicious ambiguity in the words of the second half of the first line... although this doesn't have much effect on the overall interpretation of the sher. Basically, the 'jaan' in the 'jaan jhooth' could be taken to be an 'imperative verb' in the sense of 'know this to be false' (which is how I have written it in the translation), where the 'know' is something the Beloved is being asked to do. Alternatively, the 'jaan' could also apply to the Poet himself, as a verb in the 'past conditional' sense... "if i lived for your promise, it was (despite) knowing it to be false"...

terii naazukii se jaanaa ki baandhaa thaa ahad bodaa
kabhii tuu na toR saktaa agar ustuwaar hotaa

तेरी नाज़ुकी से जाना कि बांधा था अहद बोदा

कभी तू ना तोड़ सकता अगर उस्तुवार होता

"from your delicateness (I) realised that the promise had been tied loosely

(for) you could never have broken it if it had been strong"

Once again, there is a sort of 'carry over' (without actual overlap) from the previous sher's theme of insincere promises by the Beloved... although the mood in this one seems more forthrightly 'bitter'...

The same 'delicateness' that makes the Beloved so desirable is used in the sher to scorn her; the Poet implying that her genteel fragility is actually illusory, since it conceals a rather 'robust' ability to inflict pain by the making and breaking of philandering promises!

koii mere dil se puuche tere tiir-e-niimkash ko
ye khalish kahaa.n se hotii jo jigar ke paar hotaa

कोई मेरे दिल से पूछे तेरे तीर-ए-नीमकश को

यह ख़लिश कहाँ से होती जो जिगर के पार होता

"someone should ask my heart for your lightly shot arrow

(for) where would this pain/anxiety have come from if (it) had (gone) through the liver?"

The magical phrase 'teer-e-neemkash' is commonly used in Ghazal metaphor to characterise the Beloved's sidelong glances. Literally, a 'teer-e-neemkash' would be an arrow shot without fully pulling back the bowstring (or shot from a bow in which the string has not been stretched tightly before securing the ends, thus providing inadequate 'tension')... by implication, an arrow shot without particular force. The reason why this imagery is used for the Beloved's glances is clear - the coquettish creature casts her sidelong looks lightly, and with deliberate casualness, without really looking at her admirer full in the face...

In the sher, the poet makes the point that 'arrows' shot like this can be much more painful for the victim because they tend to remain lodged in the body, instead of actually passing through him and killing him instantly.

A word about the 'dil - jigar' disjunct... while the words often are interpreted synonymously by many readers (and even commentators) of urdu poetry, there is actually a very definite 'physiological stylisation' that exists in the Ghazal universe with respect to the role and relationship of these two vital organs... In the (medically inaccurate!) view of classical Ghazal poets, the liver (jigar) is the organ that 'produces' the blood of the Lover, whereas the heart is the organ that suffers wounds and wastefully 'spills out' the life-fluid... which normally leaves the body as 'blood-tears' from the eyes... Hence, the 'Jigar' has a crucial role in the story of the lover's travails... the poor organ labours continuously to keep the heart supplied with blood, while the latter helplessly lets it all drain away... the Lover lives only as long as the liver can keep up its hopeless job.

In this case, the Beloved's 'arrow' has lodged itself not in the Poet's heart, but in his Liver, which is affecting the supply of blood to his heart, and making it suffer restlessly.... hence, it is the heart which can best indicate where that darned arrow should be looked for!!

ye kahaa.n kii dostii hai ki bane hai.n dost naaseh
koii chaaraasaaz hotaa, koii ghamgusaar hotaa

ये कहाँ की दोस्ती है कि बने हैं दोस्त नासे

कोई चारासाज़ होता, कोई गमगुसार होता

"what sort of friendship is this, that friends have become advisors?

(If only) there was some healer, (if only) there was some comforter"

We spoke earlier about the Poet's impatience with the well-meaning advisors (Naaseh) who try to counsel him out of his doomed infatuation... instead of offering him the sympathetic ear he seeks! One intriguing aspect of the sher is the ambiguity as to whether it is his 'friends who have become advisors' or whether it is 'advisors who have become his friends'. The latter could denote a situation where the guardians of morality or propriety are feigning a specious amity with the besotted Lover, in order to lend credibility to their unwelcome advice.

rag-e-sang se Tapaktaa vo lahuu ki phir na thamtaa
jise gham samajh rahe ho ye agar sharaar hotaa

रग-ए-संग से टपकता वो लहू कि फिर ना थमता

जिसे गम समझ रहे हो ये अगर शरार होता
"that blood would drip from the veins of stones, it wouldn't then stop
that which you think of as 'pain', if it were a spark"

This is a tough one. While the general idea is accessible enough, I've never really come across a very satisfying explanation of what this sher is precisely trying to say...

The sher hinges on a 'simile' - just as a heart bleeds blood when struck, a rock emits sparks. [As an academic aside, one admirable quality about Ghalib is the marked lack of similes - the most facile of poetic artifices, which usually form the 'bread and butter' of lesser poets - in his Ghazals.]

On the basis of this 'rock-spark-heart-blood' simile, the Poet says (perhaps to a friend or confidant) that if the pain in his heart was actually a spark, it would have been flowing freely from stones... Probably the implied 'background' is that this friend has been chiding the Poet for making heavy weather of his 'gham', and the Poet responds testily that his 'gham' is actually so intense that it is only his (hardened) heart that can keep it contained... even a stone would find it impossible to 'hold in' such fiery anguish!

Do chip in if you can think of a better take on this...!

gham agarche jaa.n-gusil hai par kahaa.n bache ki dil hai
gham-e-ishq agar na hotaa gham-e-rozgaar hotaa

गम अगरचे जां-गुसिल है पर कहाँ बचें कि दिल है

गम-ए-इश्क अगर ना होता गम-ए-रोज़गार होता

"albeit sorrow is life-threatening, where is (one to) escape, for there's the heart!

if it wasn't the anguish-of-love, it would have been day-to-day worries"

Lovely! Once more, the 'theme' carries over from the previous sher. Addressing a friend who is admonishing him that 'this constant brooding' over his lost love will cost him his health and life, the Poet dryly points out that it is in the very nature of a human heart to 'find' something to grieve over... hence, the Poet is 'fortunate' to have something as grand as his (unrequited) love to torture himself with, since he would otherwise have been just as absorbed in the more pedestrian (quotidian?) worries of everyday occupations... A sort of "Yes, i know that this pain can kill, but what to do, my friend; I happen to have a heart!" ... and then the second line.

Note the exceptional lyricism of the sher: the 'gusil hai - dil hai' rhyme within the first line, and the 'hotaa - hotaa' rhyme within the second one...

kahuu.n kis se mai.n ki kyaa hai, shab-e-gham burii balaa hai
mujhe kyaa buraa thaa marnaa agar ek baar hotaa

कहूं किस से मैं कि क्या है, शब्-ए-गम बुरी बला है

मुझे क्या बुरा था मरना अगर एक बार होता

"whom should I tell what it is; the night-0f-pain is a horrible ordeal

why would I object to dying, if it happened (only) once?"

The first line of the sher is particularly appealing for its almost musical lyricism (the 'kyaa hai - balaa hai' rhyme) as well as its beautifully expressive 'colloquial' wording...

The sher highlights both the 'loneliness' and the 'oppressiveness' of the shab-e-gam... there is no one around whom the poet can describe how calamitous the night-of-separation is. And how calamitous is it? Well, the Poet declares that he would have no complaints against dying, if he had to bear it 'only once'... the implication being that the shab-e-gam he is complaining about is much worse than death - it is the metaphorical 'thousand deaths'...!! Typically Ghalib-ish cleverness!

hue mar ke ham jo rusvaa, hue kyo.n na gark-e-dariyaa
na kabhii janaazaa uThtaa, na kahii.n mazaar hotaa

हुए मर के हम जो रुसवा, हुए क्यों ना गर्क-ए-दरिया

ना कभी जनाज़ा उठता, ना कहीं मज़ार होता

"I was disgraced (revealed) after (my) death; oh why didn't I drown (submerge) in the sea?!
There would never have been a funeral, nor a tomb anywhere!"

Once again, lovely internal rhymes in both lines!!
Ghalib is very clever in this sher - playing with etymological nuances of words, for the enjoyment of the cognoscenti!

In this 'from beyond the grave' (once again) Sher, the Poet is expressing his dismay at the fact that his death has earned him disgrace (or that he remains disgraced even after death)... and then wishes that his 'mode' of death had been by drowning, since that would have ensured that there would have been no public funeral (for people to gather at and snigger at him), nor a tomb to remind them of his humiliation...

The above is the 'straightforward' meaning. But there is some intelligent word-play here. The word 'rusvaa' (or its noun form 'rusvaaii') is used commonly in urdu poetry to mean something like 'disgrace' or 'infamy' or 'humiliation'... but in its original literal meaning, the word was apparently used in a more 'value neutral' sense - to mean 'being revealed' or 'coming to sight' or 'being highlighted'.... whereas the word 'garq' which has come to be used to mean 'drowning', etymologically denotes a more general act of 'immersion' or 'submerging' or (by implication) 'becoming hidden'... hence in etymological sense the two words are almost antonyms! Now re-read the first line...!
When considering 'nuances' and 'niceties' like this, one has to remember that the first apparition of all these Ghalib ghazals would have been in the form of a verbal recitation by him - and that too almost invariably in a gathering where the 'best and brightest' of his time would have been united for the express purpose of showing off their poetic and intellectual refinement... one can imagine what the mood must have been when the 'shamaa' was placed in front of a poet like Ghalib (to mark his turn to speak) - there would have been this 'frisson' in the air, since entire reputations were going to be made or destroyed depending on who caught the 'hidden meaning' of a particular sher on first hearing, and who didn't! A true separation of men from the boys!! To fully appreciate how extreme this pressure must have been, just wait till the next sher...

use kaun dekh saktaa ki yagnaa hai vo yaktaa
agar duii kii buu bhii hotii to kahii.n do-chaar hotaa

उसे कौन देख सकता कि यगना है वो यकता

अगर दुई की बू भी होती तो कहीं दो-चार होता

"who can see Her, for that Unmatched One is unique

If there were even a hint of twoness, there would somewhere have been an encounter"

Absolutely the BEST sher in the Ghazal... (as probably acknowledged by Ghalib, in placing it just before - and linking it to - the maqtaa)... in fact, I would venture to class it among the two or three best shers of all time...!

"do-chaar honaa" is an amazingly colloquial construct to use in an elegant Ghazal, and as with anything Ghalib ever wrote, its usage is anything but un-premeditated [as we shall shortly see...]. Literally translating as 'to become two-four', the expression is idiomatically used in the sense of 'to run into' or 'to encounter' (mostly in the sense of a 'chance encounter'. However, it can also stand for 'to encounter' in the more militaristic sense - i.e. 'to square off against each other" or 'to clash'...) 

Even if one does not venture beyond the standard Ghazal milieu, this is a very competent Sher, which wittily (and slightly sarcastically) comments on the inaccessibility of the Beloved... 'the main problem', explains the Poet, "is that this singular beauty is so unique. It is because there is only ONE of her, that it is almost impossible to spot her... if there were TWO of her, for instance, I might have been lucky enough to be afforded a view sometimes, somewhere...'

There is a more delicious interpretation... the 'do-chaar honaa' may not refer to the Poet encountering the Beloved, but the Beloved encountering Herself! After all, 'if there were TWO of her' there would be a very real possibility that, somewhere, sometime, she might run into herself! And then what? Well, in many of Ghalib's shers there is an implication that the only way the Beloved would appreciate the Poet's pain is if she could be made to look at herself, which would have the effect of rendering her as besotted as the poor Poet!! And that would be 'just desserts'!

I think I mentioned earlier how 'sufi' commentators like to claim that every sher in classical urdu poetry can be seen to be directed as much towards the 'Celestial Beloved' as towards the 'earthly' one... while there are many shers where this assertion is difficult to accept, this particular one is so obviously constructed with the Almighty in mind ('yagnaa' and 'yaktaa' being terms with almost theological weight), that many commentators just choose to ignore the above 'earthly' interpretations.

Seeing the sher as a comment on God's uniqueness, both the interpretations presented above acquire added deliciousness. On the one hand, the poet is pointing out that it is the lofty 'uniqueness' of the Almighty which makes him so invisible - with all the implied sarcasm that such 'invisibility' involves... On the other hand, the Poet is saying that if God had a double, he might have 'encountered' himself at some time - meaning that even God would have had occasion to sample the arbitrariness and unmovingness that mere mortals are subjected to everyday by Him...

When seen like this, the sher seems a lot deeper, doesn't it? But that is still only the 'surface' of the sher... What Ghalib is actually doing here is much MUCH deeper... the sher is actually a brilliant quip on Monism, Dualism and Pluralism... !

How? Well, my own knowledge of metaphysics is nothing more than notional, but most of us are at least vaguely aware of the fiery debates that have raged in virtually ALL philosophical traditions, regarding the 'essential nature' of the Creator and of his Creation... one of the chief concerns has been the whole issue of whether nature is, at its base, 'singular' or 'dual' or 'plural'... with ardent adherents to each view. Philosophies like Zoroastrianism, or the 'Sankhya' school of Hinduism, or the ancient Chinese 'yin-yang' school, espouse the existence of two opposing fundamental principles (often seen as 'male' and 'female') which provide balance to Creation... These dualistic beliefs have been sharply critiqued, at various stages in history, by proponents of 'monistic' views (to Indian minds, the example of Shankara's 'Advaita' revolution would probably be the most familiar direct renunciation of 'dualism').

While most of the monistic arguments against dualism (and vice-versa) are of stratospheric complexity, one point made by opponents of 'two-principle' visualisations of the Universe is simply this - "why only 2 ?!" 

Do you get that? The monist says that while there is a logical consistency in something being 'singular', there seems nothing similarly sacrosanct about something being 'double'... it is, after all, as arbitrary to say that there are 'two' principles in the universe as to say that there are 'twenty-three' (whereas, saying that there is only 'one' unified principle is something that can be logically quite valid)... hence, if one was to admit the (in the monist view, false) possibility that there is more than one fundamental principle, there is no reason to stop at an arbitrary number like two... there could then be three, four,... as many as one likes!

Of course, Islam is a monistic religion, and its 'Sufi' traditions (as espoused by most Urdu poets, including Ghalib) are especially monistic in their world vision... With this in mind, re-read the sher... isn't it the very same "why only 2?" argument against dualism that I amateurishly summed up above??!! In effect, Ghalib is saying that there is only one God... if there was even a hint of 'duality'... there could well be two, four...etc... i.e. there would be no need to stop at two!!! 

So you see? The colloquial 'do-chaar' wasn't just thrown in there... it was a carefully concealed 'Easter egg', to be discovered with whoops of joy by those perspicacious enough to do so!

Now, take a moment to catch your breath, and then think about a mind that can take a profoundly philosophical argument about the very nature of being (which just happens to be in conformity with the Poet's own beliefs as well as those of his audience)... conjure up a colloquially appealing way to restate it... that too in a way that simultaneously needles the Almighty and also (in a slightly different way) the Beloved... and still manage to pull off that impossibly lovely 'सकता - यकता' internal rhyme in the first line!!!!

ye masaail-e-tasavvuf, ye teraa bayaa.n ghaalib
tujhe ham valii samajhte jo na baadaa-khwaar hotaa

ये मसाइल-ए-तसव्वुफ, ये तेरा बयां ग़ालिब
तुझे हम वली समझते जो ना बादा-ख्वार होता

"these mystical riddles, this oration of yours, Ghalib!
we would consider you a saint, if you weren't a wine-drinker"

Oh, even THEN, Ghalib.... definitely even then!! :-)

Once again, think about the impact this maqtaa must have made while the audience (or at least the sharpest among them) was still savouring the various hidden layers of the previous 'tour de force' sher! 

Ghalib puts his 'wine-drinking' in perspective with such masterful arrogance... clearly, if he can compose like this despite his fondness for the bottle, only the petty-minded would deny him the status of a saint!


Shweta said...

I so so so agree about “use kaun dehk sakta…” It is so astoundingly brilliant, and it is such a thrill when you first role it around the tongue and discover all (who knows there may be more!) its secrets. I must say that I too usually leap to the metaphysical implications of most shers directly, probably incorrectly sometimes. But I really loved your ‘earthy’ interpretation of this one very much, I had not thought along those lines at all.
Also, I was dying to quote this one in a Mir vs Ghalib debate I had recently. Actually it was not much of a debate because my hands were tied due to Umar ka lihaaz and only ended up with a few squeaky protests. But when this gentleman held forth about Ghalib only using his poetry to
showcase his Farsi expertise and that his poetry sadly lacked content (can you believe it!!!) I was ready to burst, I tell you.
All this does not belong in a comment space actually, I apologise. But I looked for your mail id in your profile, and couldn’t find it, so I just went ahead.

Shweta said...

Oops! I meant of course 'roll it around your tongue'

deewaan said...

Hi Shweta!

Thanks...yes, Ghalib surpassed even himself here, didn't he? One can almost imagine the wily master chuckling to himself, as he wove layer after cunning layer into this mind-snare of a sher!

As for the nay-sayers, I've come across the odd one too - the sort of pitiable character who will try to convince you that he/she truly finds, say, Shahryar, or Firaaq Gorakhpuri, or (god forbid!) even Bashir Badr, deeper than Ghalib!!

Of late, I've taken to smiling indulgently at such talk, and suggesting pointedly that a poet achieves true greatness only when those needing to 'make a statement' feel compelled to disown him! THAT usually manages to get their goat!!

Shall correct the lack of mail id forthwith... soon as i can figure out how to! Not really a techie, i'm afraid; my previous fumblings in 'settings-sphere' haven't been too sterling - one of them resulted in all comments up to that point (including one by Sheetal, I recall) disappearing mysteriously!!! :(

Shweta said...

Bashir Badr! LOL!

I am really interested to know what you think of Nida Fazli? Don’t you just find him deeply moving?

But jokes apart, my problem is that I usually try my damnedest to be inclusive, at least that is what I think I ought to be, but sometimes it is so very hard.

deewaan said...

Shall refrain from commenting on NF...let's just say that 'moving' can be read variously! :)

If you bother to be 'inclusive', that's just the generosity of your spirit, you know. Otherwise, I can well imagine how trying it must be, for someone with such an exquisite gift for 'le mot just' herself, to put up with mediocrity of style...!

Shweta said...

Mercy! spare the blushes, prithee!

Harmanjit Singh said...

Thank you for this commentary. I really enjoyed it.

I published my (mostly similar) translation on my blog:

My take on the two tricky verses:

रग-ए-संग से टपकता वो लहू कि फिर ना थमता
जिसे गम समझ रहे हो ये अगर शरार होता

If what you consider as my sorrow was instead a spark of fire
It would have melted rocks and endlessly flowed as their blood


उसे कौन देख सकता कि यगना है वो यकता
अगर दुई की बू भी होती तो कहीं दो-चार होता

Who can behold the incomparable, for it is unique!
If it was indeed common and easily imitated, an encounter would have happened by now.