It sometimes happens that a single sher soars above the rest of a ghazal, and makes one cherish, even treasure, the entire poem. We saw an example in the Momin we looked at earlier, where the 'Tum mere paas hote ho goyaa...' sher is just so much better than anything else in the ghazal.
When one comes across such a prize-winner in a Ghalib ghazal, one can be sure that it is going to be a truly outstanding sher. The following ghazal has been a long-loved favourite of mine, simply because of its truly remarkable matlaa, which has something of that 'un-graspable multivalence' that one saw in the 'kuch na thaa to khudaa thaa' couplet. Not that the rest of the Ghazal is poor in any way – it is very good, with at least a couple other gems. But the Mat'laa is, well, in a different class altogether! Ghalib sets such a high standard of poetry here that the rest of the Ghazal dips a little in comparison.
har ek baat pe kahte ho tum ki tuu kyaa hai
tum hii kaho ki ye andaaz-e-guftaguu kyaa hai
हर एक बात पे कहते हो तुम कि तू क्या है
तुम ही कहो कि ये अंदाज़-ए-गुफ़्तगू क्या है
On every occasion/utterance/issue you say 'what are you?'
you tell me, what sort of conversational-style is this?
OK, let us start off by considering the most straightforward interpretation. In this, the words are addressed to the Beloved, and complain about the manner with which she invariably dismisses the ardent lover's advances, with an arrogantly haughty taunt - “You?! Who do you think you are?!!” Now, this sort of reaction is quite in keeping with the 'difference in status and power' that is at the centre of this stylised Ghazal romance, especially when one recalls the imperious, capricious, and self-absorbed characterisation that the Beloved is usually caricatured in. However, it is undeniably ill-bred, in almost any culture. Hence, the poet is well within his rights in rebuking her for her lack of manners, and asking her if this is any way to talk!
Nice as this reading of the sher is, I am constantly amazed at the number of commentators who are quite content to stop there. I mean, this is Ghalib! Could that be all there is to it???
No, not by half. By a slight shift of emphasis, the words, while still remaining directed at the Beloved, attain the form of highest praise. “Your every utterance 'speaks' of what you are! You tell me, how do you manage to talk like this?” See? The enthralling 'conversational style' of the Beloved reveals more about her than about the subject she is expounding on. Moreover, the besotted Lover is probably not even concentrating that much on what is being said...!! It is almost like a totally new Sher!
A sher that can simultaneously constitute an affronted rebuke as well as a fawning compliment to the Beloved, is already excellent. However, much deeper nuances emerge when one changes the subject of the 'dialogue' from the earthly Beloved to the divine one. [The shift is almost 'indicated' - the sort of 'air' the sher wears is definitely Sufistic.]
Let us look at the first reading we considered above. The Beloved was supposed to have shrugged off the Lover's proffered passions with an angry 'What are you?' - meant to highlight the audaciousness of the offer, in light of the huge difference between the Lover and her. When the subject is the Almighty, such 'asymmetry' would hardly need to be highlighted – it would be manifest. Hence if the Almighty responds to the Poet's prayers with a 'What are you?' kind of response, He obviously intends to highlight something quite different. Could He be wanting the poet to reflect upon his own 'unworthiness' in other ways? Could he mean something like, “It is all very well to make these elaborate shows of piety when worshipping me; but in your day-to-day life, what are you?” Could He, therefore, be pointing out that it is futile to expect grace and kindness on the basis of prayers alone, when one remains a blackguard in one's actual life? And realising the justice of this admonition, the Poet (in the second line) offers a sheepishly weak defence... “Come on! How can you talk like that!”
Frankly, I do believe this reading would be quite in keeping with Ghalib's personal credo, one that scoffed at empty religious earnestness in the absence of any higher code of behaviour.
While remaining addressed to the Almighty, the Sher also admits other possibilities. Recall the second 'Beloved-centric' interpretation we looked at above? Where, the Beloved was supposed to 'express' her qualities with every utterance, which held the Lover in thrall? Well, the Almighty is much more 'manifest' in his Excellence than any earthly Beloved could aspire to. On every issue, every 'baat', He shows just what He is! How, complains the Poet, can one have a 'conversation' with someone so invariably, so relentlessly 'Godly'??!
Or perhaps the Poet does dare to address words to the Almighty... to which He responds with demonstrations of what He is... the entire exchange making for a fairly stilted sort of conversation, about which the earthly party to the dialogue can quite justifiably complain!!
And one could go on, digging out nuances and meanings, almost ad infinitum. However, my personally favourite reading of this Sher is somewhat particular. Do we even need a Beloved (earthly or divine) here? Could the words not be entirely in the Poet's own mind?... a pensive, wondering soliloquy by a self-doubting solipsist, who is bemused at his tendency to question his own existence 'on every occasion'! “Snap out of it!” he tells himself. “What manner of dialogue, what sort of 'guftagoo' is this? Who am I talking to?”
Very neat, nahin?
na shole mei.n ye karishmaa na barq mei.n ye adaa
koii bataao ki vo shokh-tunD-khuu kyaa yai
ना शोले में ये करिश्मा ना बर्क में ये अदा
कोई बताओ कि वो शोख-तुंड-खू क्या है
Neither in (balls of) fire is there such miracle, nor in lightning such style
Someone tell me what that mischievous sharp-tempered (one) is!
A nice, and entertaining, sher for oral delivery, no doubt... but a little unexceptional otherwise. A typical 'over the top' praise of the Beloved's fiery appeals... her coquettishness and quick temper defy similes – balls of fire and bolts of lightning make for fairly inadequate comparisons to the kind of power she packs! The sher attributes an undeniably 'sexual energy' to the Beloved, and it isn't so much a question of what she resembles as what she actually is!
ye rashk hai ki vo hotaa hai ham-sukhan tum se
vagarnaa khauf-e-bad-aamoozii-e-aduu kyaa hai
ये रश्क है कि वो होता है हम-सुखन तुम से
वगरना ख़ौफ़-ए-बद-आमोज़ी-ए-अदू क्या है
(I am) envious (only) because he (gets to) converse with you!
Otherwise, what fear (do I have) of the Rival's mis-teachings?
Nice! A show of bravado, perhaps? “I don't care if the Rival [Adu, or 'gair' or 'dushman' is one of the principal characters in the cast...remember?] is telling you stories about me! What burns me up is that he is speaking to you!!” Which could be just a desperate attempt to discount the 'stories', of course!
The 'bad-aamozee-e-Adu' or 'bad teaching of Adu' could also stand for the lessons that the Rival himself is headed for, of course... the same 'lessons' that the poor Poet has already learned to his expense... i.e. exactly how heartless and unfaithful the Beloved can be. Obviously, nobody can blame the Poet for not being too concerned about what lies in store for Adu (he might even take some ghoulish comfort in the thought), but he does object to the fact that the villain gets to enjoy the Beloved's company in the interim!!
chipak rahaa hai badan par lahuu se pairaahan
hamaare jeb ko ab haajat-e-rafuu kyaa hai
चिपक रहा है बदन पर लहू से पैराहन
हमारे जेब को अब हाजत-ए-रफू क्या है
The robe is sticking to the body, with blood
Why does my collar now need (any) darning?
Some of the standard imagery in Urdu poetry is intensely sanguinary, of course. May be a little too much, for modern squeamish tastes... but within the well-defined stylisations of the genre, this is an excellent sher for oral delivery.
The specific stylisation being evoked is, of course, the oft-repeated 'chak-e-gareban' scenario, where the frenzied Lover has clawed his collar to shreds, in his ineffectual attempts to ease the burning in his breast. In the process, drawing out so much of his life-fluid that the tattered remains of his robe adhere quite comfortably to his chest, without requiring any repair... the 'lack of need for repairs' could also be stressed because the Lover has reached a state of crazed ardour where the repaired collar would be immediately ripped apart again – so why even bother to stitch it up temporarily?
Some etymological niceties... the word 'jeb', now used mostly to describe any sort of pocket, initially stood for the front portion of a robe's collar, which fell over the chest (it was the Arabs who reportedly began the practice of sewing in a storage compartment under this collar, which evolved into the present shirt pocket). By induction, the word was also sometimes used to stand for the 'heart' which physiologically lay just under the 'jeb'. Hence, Ghalib could have been indulging in some clever word-play here... hinting that not just his collar, but even his heart is now beyond the requirement of a darning needle!!
jalaa hai jism jahaa.n dil bhii jal gayaa hogaa
khuredte ho jo ab raakh justazuu kyaa hai
जला है जिस्म जहाँ दिल भी जल गया होगा
खुरेद्ते हो जो अब राख जूस्तज़ू क्या है
Where the body has been burnt, the heart must have been burnt too
(Why are you) now scrabbling about in the ashes? What do you search?
Again, very nice. And must have been a delight to listen to in a mushairaa... the first line leaves you completely unprepared for what's to come in the second. The taunt is directed most obviously at the Beloved... having ignored the pining Lover to the point where he was finally engulfed in the flames of his agony, she is now scraping the ashes, in (remorseful? perverse? 'trophy-hunting'?!) search for his heart. 'Don't bother yourself', the dead Lover drily informs her, 'it must have got scorched along with the rest of the body'. Rather certainly, in fact, given that it was the incendiary organ in the first place!
Do note the lovely sound effects of the first line, with all the 'j' sounds rolling over each other, and providing a nice counterpoint to the 'justajoo' of the second.
rago.n mei.n dauRne phirne ke ham nahii.n kaayal
jab aankh se hii na Tapkaa to phir lahuu kyaa hai
रगों में दौड़ते फिरने के हम नहीं कायल
जब आँख से ही न टपका तो फिर लहू क्या है
I am not impressed with (it merely) running about in veins
Until it drips from the eyes, what (sort of) blood is it?
Once again, this is an extremely competent sher for listening to. Building upon the audience's pre-knowledge of Ghazal stylisation to enhance the punch of the second line...with the first line providing little prior hint of what's being got at!
As we examined earlier once, in classical imagery, the doomed Lover is condemned to weep tears of blood, until he finally runs out. This, according to the Poet, is almost the only worthwhile function a Lover's blood can perform. If it merely keeps circulating in his arteries and veins, it would only help perpetuate the suffering that a Lover's life is. No, the ultimate purpose, the 'karma' of the vital fluid is quite definite – it must ebb out through the Lover's eyes, in the process draining out his life force and freeing him from a torturous existence, in the process 'proving' the true-ness of his ardour.
vo chiiz jis ke liye ham ko ho bihisht aziiz
sivaa-e-baadaa-e-gulfaam-e-mushk-buu kyaa hai
वो चीज़ जिस के लिए हम को हो बिहिश्त अज़ीज़
सिवा-ए-बादा-ए-गुल्फाम-ए-मुष्क-बू क्या है
The thing for which we would hold paradise dear
other than rose-coloured and musk-flavoured wine, what is it?
Sweet, very sweet! At the oral level, this is once again a sure-shot hit, 'playing to the gallery' by a delightful 'self taunt', made doubly enjoyable by the public knowledge about Ghalib's appreciation for drink. 'Why would we look forward to Paradise', he asks, 'if it wasn't for the fact that we will all get amazing booze there!' But, at a deeper level, the taunt is against the religious obscurantism that sees no inconsistency in advocating strict abstinence in the earthly life, by promising lake-fuls of intoxicating 'kausar' waters in the next world! At a still deeper level, of course, the sher could be not a taunt at all, but an intriguing speculation that paradise might actually offer something even more desirable than the intoxicating drink described in the sher...
piyuu.n sharaab agar kham bhii dekh luu.n do-chaar
ye shiishaa-o-kadaa-o-kuuzaa-o-subuu kyaa hai
पियूं शराब अगर खम भी देख लूँ दो-चार
ये शीशा-ओ-कदा-ओ-कूज़ा-ओ-सुबू क्या है
If I am to drink wine, let me see (check out) a couple of casks too
these glasses, pitchers, tumblers and flasks; what are they?!
Ha Ha! This one was obviously meant to amuse... once again in a deliberate 'play to the gallery'. If one wishes to establish one's drinking prowess, it is wimpish to talk in units of glasses and bottles... one must 'up the ante' a little and start measuring oneself against cask-fuls!
rahii na taaqat-e-guftaar aur agar ho bhii
to kis ummiid se kahiye ki aarzuu kyaa hai
रही ना ताक़त-ए-गुफ़्तार और अगर हो भी
तो किस उम्मीद से कहिए कि आरज़ू क्या है
The power of speech remain no more; and even if it did
with what hope would one say what (one's) desire was?
Having finally capitulated under the burden of pain, the Poet has been left too weakened, too listless, to speak any longer... in abject self-pity, he comforts himself that this is no great loss...even if he could continue to speak, what would be the point? What hope or expectation could have justified articulating his desires? And to whom? The Beloved (either earthly or divine) obviously remains just as unmoved and unapproachable as before!
Note that the 'aarzoo kya hai' articulation could refer to the Beloved's desire too.... the scenario changes slightly... as before, the Lover has been weakened to a state of speechless, and then the Beloved actually does come by...but he is still sufficiently convinced about the wretchedness of his fortune that he can't imagine she could have come to grant him any favours... hence, even if he could still speak, with what hope could he have asked her, 'What do you want?'
huaa hai shaah ka musaahib phire hai itraataa
vagarnaa shahar mei.n Ghalib kii aabruu kyaa hai
हुआ है शाह का मुसाहिब फिरे है इतराता
वगरना शहर में ग़ालिब की आबरू क्या है
He has become the king's associate, (and hence) struts about (all over the place)
Otherwise, what is Ghalib's standing in the city?
Once again, as so often in this Ghazal, this outstanding maqtaa was obviously written for the immediate moment of its delivery! Think of the impact it must have made in a mehfil held under the Emperor's patronage... What an elegant compliment to the patron! – that mere association with him lends honour and standing to one.
Yet, at the same time, there is also a slightly perverse needling sense in the second line, isn't there? For Ghalib was, of course, an acknowledged master of his craft even in his own time... and there could be little doubt in the minds of the listeners about his 'aabroo' in the city... hence the whole thing sounds like a deliberately dramatised taunt at the state of the world, where even a master-poet needs to take on a 'master' in order to make a living (despite his habitually impecunious finances, Ghalib was intensely conscious of the worth of his poetry and scholarship, and the humiliating necessity of finding 'patrons' was something that bothered him no end. He was entirely capable of having risked making a joke of it even within the royal court!)