Sunday, 15 July 2007

Ghalib - Ye ham jo hijr mein deevaar-o-dar ko

Continuing with the Ghalib classics, here is another four-sher beauty from the deewaan... however, what places it among the 'classics' is undeniably its second Sher, which ranks among the two or three most famous 'signature' shers of ghalib... and deservedly so, in my opinion!

ye ham jo hijr mei.n diiwaar-o-dar ko dekhte hai.n
kabhii sabaa ko kabhii naamaabar ko dekhte hai.n

ये हम जो हिज्र में दीवार-ओ-दर को देखते हैं
कभी सबा को कभी नामाबर को देखते हैं

"when I thus regard, during separation, the walls and door
(I) sometimes see the breeze, sometimes the messenger"

The main 'break' that Ghalib is credited with having brought about in the urdu love-poetry tradition was the way he 're-focussed' poetic attention on the 'state of mind of the Lover', rather than merely continuing to lavish praise on the Beloved's beauty and charms, as had been the case earlier... indeed, one can almost say that the Beloved is incidental to Ghalib's poetry, serving only as a piquant 'frame of reference' for the desperateness and hopelessness of the the Lover's unrequited ardour, which, in fact, is the real star of the show...

This Sher is an apt example of this Ghalibian tradition... It creates an impressively lucid, almost 'visual', picture of the restlessness and impatience that the Lover feels during the long days and nights of separation from the Beloved... we can almost see this unfortunate character pacing about restlessly, sleeplessly, from room to room in his house, gazing aimlessly at the walls and doors... and, as the second line explains, sporadically imagining the arrival of either the breeze or the messenger (both of which could, of course, conceivably bring news or a missive from the Beloved, as per Ghazal stylisation). 

Even the poet knows, of course, that these imagined fancies are nothing more than that, since neither the breeze nor the messenger are actually likely to come... which only serves to highlight the air of hopelessness created by the first line...

vo aaye ghar mei.n hamaare, khudaa kii kudrat hai
kabhii ham unko kabhii apne ghar ko dekhte hai.n

वो आए घर में हमारे, खुदा की कुदरत है
कभी हम उनको कभी अपने घर को देखते हैं

"She's come to my house, the lord be praised!
I (go on) looking, (first) at her...(then) at my house..."

What a delightful Sher this is!! A true classic, it remains probably the most quoted of Ghalib's couplets, at times by people who don't even know they are quoting Ghalib (as with Shakespeare, that is probably the greatest tribute a poet can aspire to!!)

What I love about this Sher is the haunting lucidity with which it captures a vignette that is, in fact, very short in duration... but which absolutely drips with meaning, feeling, and a totally endearing pathos! 

Consider the situation - against all expectation, almost against the nature of things itself, the Poet finds, on answering a knock at his door, that the Beloved is outside!! The first response of the stupefied lover is, of course, to thank the Lord for this unexpected bounty (a sort of mental 'Hallelujah!')... but look at what happens next!!! Instead of savouring this long-awaited moment - a moment of almost cosmic consequence in the Ghazal universe - the Lover's mind is beset by a frenzied anxiety about the 'unsuitability' of his humble abode to receive a guest such as this!!! 

Isn't that an absolutely delicious picture?! One can almost see the poet goggling speechlessly at the Beloved at his doorstep...his eyes flitting back and forth guiltily between her patent loveliness and the shabbiness of his house... a shabbiness which he might have hardly noticed before this, but which now seems (to him) to scream out for attention... and all the while, the Beloved awaits a word of welcome, or at least a greeting or an invitation to enter!!

There is such an innocent air of almost 'adolescent' insecurity in this picture, that it effortlessly spans across cultural and temporal contexts... haven't we ALL experienced similar situations? The way the 'defects' in one's appearance, attributes, or material possessions, suddenly seem much more glaring when one is interacting with someone one wishes to impress... that sinking feeling when one is ushering in a cherished guest and one notices that frayed carpet or that food-stain on the sofa...! 

I mentioned in an earlier post that the placement of a preceding Sher can often add to the enjoyment of the succeeding one...remember? Take this one, for instance... the sense of agonized waiting that is captured in the first Sher of the Ghazal - all that aimless 'staring at walls and doors' that the Lover indulges in to pass his loneliness - provides a fitting context to highlight not only the significance of the Beloved's unexpected arrival in the second sher, but also the fact that the shabbiness of his 'walls and doors' had not really struck the Lover (despite his staring at them all the time) until the Beloved happened to be in a position to see them!! 

nazar lage na kahii.n uske dast-o-baazuu ko
ye log kyo.n mere zakhm-e-jigar ko dekhte hai.n

नज़र लगे ना कहीं उसके दस्त-ओ-बाज़ू को
ये लोग क्यों मेरे ज़ख्म-ए-जिगर को देखते हैं

"may the evil eye not afflict her hand or arm!
why do people look at the wound in my liver?!"

The 'cultural context' of the sher is provided by the belief, still quite prevalent, that excessive public admiration or adulation in favour of someone can expose them to the risk of 'nazar lagna'... the belief which prompts grandmoms to put kaajal spots on the cheeks of their grandkids, as a protective device to 'dilute' their otherwise envy-inspiring beauty (even when this 'beauty' seems to be apparent only to the grandmother!) [somewhat similar to the Occidental practice of 'touching wood' when talking about something fortuitous, so as to not 'jinx' the good fortune].

With that in mind, the Sher is quite straightforward, though no less lovely for that... in effect, the first line expresses an anxious prayer that the arm of the Beloved may not be exposed to such envy-inspired बुरी नज़र ... 

But, why should her arm be at risk? Well, the Poet doesn't say explicitly, but the second line expresses a plaintive complaint against the way people keep staring at the wound in his liver!! The implication being, of course, that when people regard the seriousness of the wound, they are bound to feel a certain admiration for the marksmanship of the person who inflicted the wound!! 

The 'teer-e-neemkash' sher of the earlier classic we looked at provides a nice thematic context for this particular one, doesn' it? 

Evidently, the 'punch point' of the sher is the way the Poet seems more concerned about the well-being of the Beloved than about the deadly wound she has inflicted on HIM... which is why the Sher works much better in a (typically Ghalibian) ironical/satirical/humorous delivery!

tere jawahiir-e-tarf-e-kula ko kyaa dekhe.n
ham oj-e-taalaa-e-laal-o-gauhar ko dekhte hai.n

तेरे जवाहीर-ए-तर्फ़-ए-कुलः को क्या देखें
हम ओज-ए-ताला-ए-लाल-ए-गौहर को देखते हैं

'Why should I look at the jewels in the golden rim of your crown?
I am looking at the heights of good fortune of the diamonds and pearls!'

The Beloved's crown is bordered by a golden rim, encrusted with diamonds and pearls... and the vain one has obviously been 'showing off' these precious embellishments to the poet... to which he dryly responds, 'how can I look at them? I am too busy looking at (admiring) their good fortune!!'

Their 'good fortune' is, of course, that they are on the Beloved's head... which, according to the poet, does much more to adorn them than to adorn her!! Isn't that a lovely compliment?? There is even a hint of 'jealousy' at the closeness the unworthy jewels, albeit inanimate, are enjoying vis-a-vis the Beloved!!

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