Sunday, 2 December 2007

Ghalib - kuchh is dil ko bekaraaree hai

Another Ghalib classic... I settled on this one today because it contains probably the best example in the entire Deewaan of a kat'ta – an identifiable sub-set of 'thematically linked' shers, usually no more than four or five, that were occasionally allowed to be inserted in classical ghazals (in a departure from the usual pattern, where each sher charts entirely new ground). The kat'ta that this particular ghazal employs is a truly enjoyable one, especially to modern ears. In addition, the ghazal also has a totally delightful maqtaa, like most of Ghalib's.

phir kuchh is dil ko beqaraarii hai
siinaa zoyaa-e-zakhm-e-kaarii hai

फिर कुछ इस दिल को बेक़रारी है
सीना ज़ोया-ए-ज़ख्म-ए-कारी है

There's again some (thing like) uneasiness in this heart
the chest is searching a deep wound

A more or less straightforward sher, which works well whether one interprets it to mean that the uneasiness of the heart is caused by the seemingly firm intention of the chest to have a piercing blow inflicted on itself (which would claim the poor heart as the first casualty, of course!) or whether the chest is going about this desperate search precisely because of the uneasiness in the heart (in a crazed effort to put an end to the angsty feeling within). The latter reading is probably better, and more in sync with the oft-repeated 'chak-e-garebaan' tradition where even collars are shredded by the love-crazed, in their efforts to reach through their chests and smother the fires in the heart!

phir jigar khodne lagaa naakhuun
aamad-e-fasl-e-laalakaari hai

फिर जिगर खोदने लगा नाखून
आमद-ए-फ़स्ल-ए-लालाकारी है

The nail is again digging into the liver
the harvest-season of bloom-creation arrives

This is classic Ghalib - an extremely 'clever' sher!

To begin with, note how it deftly manages to merge two of the standard stylisations of classical urdu poetry. The first one we already referred to in passing - the Lover's fingers scratching desperately into his heart (or rather his Liver in this case, in order to shut off the supply of blood to the anguished heart) in a crazed effort to escape the agonies of passion. In the process, of course, his blood would spill out freely, which leads us to the second standard stylisation – wherein the Lover's blood (or the burying of his heart or Liver in the ground) is supposed to irrigate the soil, and lead to the choicest blooms bursting forth...

The marrying of these two stylisations is not difficult, of course... puncturing of Livers would naturally lead to the creation of rivulets (or irrigation-canals!) of blood. However, what makes this sher so enjoyable is the extremely clever word-play. Notice the way the nails are said to 'dig' ('khodne lagaa') into the liver – doesn't it go well with the 'agricultural' imagery of the second line? In fact, the 'scratch marks' made by the clawing nails would have a superficial similarity to the furrows created in a field by a plough, wouldn't they?

An even cleverer word-play is the juxtaposition of 'nakhoon' with the implied imagery of the second line. We know why nails are called 'nakhoon' – etymologically the word means 'blood-less' (because nails are dead tissue, of course). Notice how clever Ghalib is being here?! In purely literal terms, it is not the nail, but someone 'blood-deprived' who is digging bore-wells into the Liver, because the 'season' of flower-sowing approaches, and the Lover's blood is the only aqua-vitae which can water this particular horticultural crop!! [the fact that, despite the patently sanguinary imagery, the word 'blood' is nowhere actually mentioned in the entire sher is probably the sweetest cut!]

phir vahii pardaa-e-amaarii hai

फिर वही पर्दा-ए-अमारी है

the qiblah of purpose of the humble (supplicating) gaze
is again that palanquin curtain

Once again a 'clever' sher... a 'qiblah' is a notch placed on the wall of a mosque, which marks the direction towards the kaabah in Mecca (and hence indicates to the faithful which way they should face while offering prayers). In idiomatic use, of course, the word has come to denote any sort of 'direction-marker' towards some cherished destination, or even the destination itself. In this case, the qiblah that attracts the worshipping eyes of the Lover is the curtain that flutters over the palanquin of the Beloved as she is carried in pomp through the street! The Lover is moved by the hope, evidently, that the curtain might move just enough to afford him a view of the treasures within...

The 'cleverness' here is sharpened by the usage of 'pardaa' -since even the Kabah is customarily covered with a curtain... and a qiblah in a mosque could, therefore, be seen to be pointing towards this curtain in Mecca! In comparison, the Lover's eyes also do remain riveted on a curtain...just not the same curtain!
[The use of religious terminology or symbolism in praise of the Beloved is pretty standard in the Ghazal world, of course – and does its bit to keep alive that ever-present delicious ambiguity between the 'earthly' and 'divine' Beloveds.]

An 'amaaree' is actually not just any sort of palanquin – it is specifically a canopied mount on an elephant or camel (an 'un-canopied' version is described by the more familiar word 'haudaa'). A scholarly acquaintance once suggested to me that the use of the word here (apart from being dictated by rhyme-compulsions) might have been an attempt to evoke a particular scene from Nizami's 'Laila-Majnoon' epic romance, where Majnoon is said to have gazed in fervent hope at the curtain of an amaaree in which his Beloved was being borne across the sands...

chashm dalaal-e-jins-e-rusvaaii
dil kharidaar-e-zauq-e-khwaarii hai

चश्म दलाल-ए-जिन्स-ए-रुसवाई
दिल खरीदार-ए-ज़ौक-ए-ख्वारी है

(the) eye (is a) broker for goods of disgrace
(the) heart is a buyer with a taste for wretchedness

It is always that guilty eye that leads the poor heart astray, doesn't it? Acting as a mendacious middleman, a veritable pimp, it points out the alluring 'wares' to tempt the heart – a heart which in any case suffers from an inherent predilection for self-destruction, and hence falls for the 'deal' without much protest or bargaining!

The manifestly, slightly seedy 'commercial' imagery that is evoked in this sher is really quite unique, and provides a nice counterpoint to the deliberately 'judicial' imagery of the later kat'ta set in this ghazal (which we shall see a little later, below).

vahii sad-rand naalaa-farsaaii
vahii sad-gunaa ashq-baarii hai

वही सद-रंग नाला-फरसाई
वही सद-गुना अश्क-बारी है

[It is] that very same hundred-hued erosion of wails,
It is that very same hundred-typed shedding of tears

I'm afraid i can't do justice to this in translation... the sher says so little in actual words, that translations must necessarily fall short. Try and feel the beauty – that's the best I can suggest.

'Naalaa-farsaaee' is one of those magical expressions that only Ghalib seems to be able to come up with – literally it would mean the act of 'wearing out' or 'rubbing out' of lamentations, of ululations... The fact that there are a 'hundred-coloured' ways of this happening provides a suitable counter to the 'hundreds of styles' in which tears are shed in the second line... the conjunction evoking a truly hopeless picture of eternal futility... tears will continue to be shed, in all their many-hued variety, and will keep running up against the equally numerous ways in which these weeping protests are 'eroded' or laid to rest...! Alternatively, of course, one could just 'flip the sher over' to make it a statement of 'determinedness' instead of 'futility'...i.e. 'no matter how varied the ways for laments to be brought to naught, the ways of shedding tears are just as multifarious'...!!

In its very 'context-less-ness' the sher could be a wry depiction of just about anything... the intransigence of 'zaalim zamaanaa', the unreasonableness of the Beloved, or the inaccessibility of the Almighty... it subsumes all such examples of relentless unmovingness...of unyielding intransigence...

Some commentators also see this sher as a logical follow-up of the preceding sher, i.e., a description of the many-hued 'wares' that the scheming eye has tempted the heart into interesting itself in...but I don't really see how things as indefinably magical as 'tears of a hundred ilk' or 'the thousand-tinted objects on which cries rub themselves to extinction' could justifiably be equated to the sullied 'merchandise of dishonour' talked about in the previous sher...

dil hawaa-e-khiraam-e-naaz se phir
mahsharistaa.n-e-beqaraarii hai

दिल हवा-ए-खिराम-ए-नाज़ से फिर
महशरिस्तां-ए-बेक़रारी है

(Due to) the breeze/news/longing of the gait of grace, the heart
(has become) the (site of the) final congregation of turmoils!

Lovely!!! And once again, very clever!

The main punch of the sher is provided by the multivalence of the word hawaa. The most common sense in which it is used is, of course, to mean 'wind' or 'breeze'... but it also has a variety of other meanings including 'longing' or 'desire' ('hawas' meaning 'lust' shares a common etymology – drawn from Arabic origins) as also 'news' (eg. “dekhna - us ko iski hawaa bhi na hone paye!”)

With this in mind, consider the first line... 'khiraam-e-naaz' is the deliberately coquettish, graceful, hip-swaying walk of that eternal nymphet, the Beloved. In strutting about the world so, she naturally creates a perfumed 'breeze' that wafts over to her admirers...and causes total chaos among them!

However, due to the multivalence of 'hawaa', the sher could be attributing this 'chaos' not just to the physical breeze caused by her gait, but also the metaphorical wind (i.e. the 'news' or 'having wind of') of the way she walks... or alternately even by a 'desire' to see that gait!

And what is the scale of 'chaos' one is talking about...?

Well, 'Mahshar', in Koranic tradition, is the place where the faithful will all be finally gathered, on the day of judgment. In metaphorical terms, it stands for anything of apocalyptic proportions... and hence provides a fitting hyperbole to describe the effect the Beloved's walk has on the Lover's heart... it makes the poor heart the mahshar-site, not of people, but of all the 'beqaraaree' in this world... namely the place where all the tumults, restlessnesses, turmoils, malaises, and vexations of the universe are finally brought together, to burn in 'hell fires'!!

What absolutely powerful imagery!!

jalwaa phir arz-e-naaz kartaa hai
roz-e-baazaar-e-jaa.n-sipaarii hai

जलवा फिर अर्ज़-ए-नाज़ करता है
रोज़-ए-बाज़ार-ए-जां-सिपारी है

splendour/display again puts graces on offer
it's the market-day for life-sacrificing

Once again, this magical sher manages to pull off a truly delightful 'commercial' imagery, very rare in even Ghalib's deewaan!

To ease understanding, it would be useful to first take the beginning of the second line – the 'roz-e-baazaar'. It is still customary in many remote parts of rural India (at least in the north) to have weekly (or sometimes fortnightly or monthly, or even bi-annual) 'haats' or 'market-days' in which only some specific commodity is sold. These haats are somewhat in the nature of 'specialised trade fairs' where the customers and dealers are often from a specific profession, or a specific profession-pair [eg. think of scrap-dealers and iron-smiths]. And it often used to happen, even until a decade or so ago, that the trading in such markets was actually done through 'barter'...i.e. the buyers often paid the sellers in some specific complementary commodity which was the accepted 'currency' for that particular market (rural economy in many out-of-the-way parts of India still remains surprisingly 'un-monetised').

Fine...with that in mind: the sher is saying, in the first line, that 'jalwaa' is again putting 'naaz' on the market. 'Jalwaa' is a multivalent word, which commonly means something like 'splendour' or 'lustre' or 'incandescence' (the last probably being closest to its etymological origins, which it shares with 'jalnaa'). However, it also has a very specific meaning – the 'unveiling' of a new bride to her husband for the first time. And 'naaz' is customarily used to denote the 'coquettish airs and graces' that the Beloved sports, of course, which goes well with this 'unveiling' sense of 'jalwaa'.

Hence, what is 'on offer' is the 'merchandise of coquetry'... and what is the currency that payment will be accepted in? As the second line informs all interested parties – 'it is the day of the market for life-sacrifice'...!! Can't we just see the scenario then? The Beloved puts her charms on display... and hordes of eager buyers line up to avail a glimpse, by making the ultimate payment!

The loveliest part of the sher? In my view, the 'phir' of the first line... so, this isn't the first time the Beloved is 'playing this (patently iniquitous) market'... she does this at regular intervals!! Unveils herself for a while...and subsequently retires to count the 'pickings' of the day's trade (in the form of 'admirers consumed'). Doesn't this entire scenario remind you of that lovely 'shamaa-parvaanaa' sher in that Faiz we looked at earlier?

phir usii be-wafaa pe marte hai.n
phir vahii zindagii hamaarii hai

फिर उसी बे-वफ़ा पे मरते हैं
फिर वही ज़िंदगी हमारी है

(I) again 'die for' that same unfaithful one
(Once) again, that same life is mine

Hauntingly, almost starkly simple, isn't it? And yet, what an eternal sense of futile adoration it manages to convey...

Many commentators draw a parallel between this sher and the 'Mohabbat mein nahi hai fark jeene aur marne ka' one in the Ghazal we looked at earlier...because it involves a similar sort of word-play between 'living' and 'dying for' (in the sense of 'to love someone to distraction').

This isn't inappropriate – because there are similarities between the 'mood' of the two. However, some of them carry this a bit too far and translate the second line as 'she is again my life'. This is slightly problematic... because in standard Ghazal stylisation, the Beloved is never talked about in grammatically feminine terms... hence, while it is possible to use the 'vahee' of the second line to refer to the Beloved (even while retaining the standard 'masculine' sense, because urdu pronouns don't take 'gender' unlike English ones) it makes for a slightly awkward construction to then equate this notionally masculine 'vahee' with the feminine possessive pronoun 'hamaarii' of the second line which qualifies (the grammatically feminine) 'zindagii'.

Hence, a neater reading of the second line is simply “that very same life is again mine”(where 'vahee' stands for 'that very same' and refers clearly to 'zindagee', and not the Beloved)... it is another matter that this “very same life” is defined as one which involves constantly 'dying for' the Beloved...and hence there is some word-play. The word-play is just not as central to this sher as it was to that one.

phir khulaa hai dar-adaalat-e-naaz
garm baazaar-e-fauzdaarii hai

फिर खुला है दर-अदालत-ए-नाज़
गर्म बाज़ार-ए-फौजदारी है

The doors of coquetry's court have opened again
there's brisk business in the market of crime

OK, this begins the kat'ta we spoke about at the beginning. In a series of deft judicial allusions over the next five shers, Ghalib sketches an entire scenario of a veritable 'kangaroo court', somewhat 'Alice-in-wonderland-ish' in its bizarre arbitrariness, where a case is in progress... each successive sher providing additional information about the litigation in question.

The first line of this introductory sher gives us the identity of the courthouse where the litigation is being heard... it is a courthouse presided over by the 'coquetry' of the Beloved (note: NOT by the Beloved herself...the 'cast' in this entire scenario is drawn in terms of stylised 'ideas'). And given the fact that the judge is so self-definedly capricious and 'quick-silver' in temperament, we immediately realise that this court must be functioning on some very particular principles of jurisprudence!

Despite this, as the second line informs us, the reopening of this court (after recess) has created a 'hot market' in crime! That is, the admirers of the Beloved are busy implicating themselves and 'courting arrest', so as to have a chance to be brought before this particular judge!! ['Fauzdaree' is technically 'criminal'... it is a legal term distinguishing 'criminal' matters from 'civil' ones.]

ho rahaa hai jahaa.n mei.n andher
zulf kii phir sarishtadaarii hai

हो रहा है जहाँ में अंधेर
ज़ुल्फ़ की फिर सरिश्तादारी है

Perversity/darkness again reigns over the world
tresses are again (appointed) the registrar (of the court)

Continuing to add detail to the judicial scenario outlined in the first sher of the kat'ta, this one informs us that while Coquetry sits on the judge's seat, the role of the Registrar of the Court (whose functions normally involve recording all petitions, registering evidence, laying it on the table of the court, etc.) is played by the Tresses of the Beloved! And given this absurd state of affairs, 'andher' is spreading in the world... a delightful choice of words, because 'andher' can mean 'darkness' in both its literal (because of the blackness of the tresses) as well as its metaphorical (because of the insidiously scheming nature of the tresses) sense!!

phir diyaa paaraa-e-jigar ne sawaal
ek fariyaad-o-aah-o-zaarii hai 

फिर दिया पारा-ए-जिगर ने सवाल
एक फ़रियाद-ओ-आह-ओ-ज़ारी है

The liver-piece has again lodged a petition
the complaint and sigh and lament are one (and the same)!

OK, so we have another 'piece' of this scenario – namely, the fact that the petitioner in this (increasingly peculiar!) case is a piece of (the Lover's) liver!! Evidently, there has been some crime that has torn the Liver asunder, because of which the entire organ is not present in court to claim redress... We await further information about the crime in question... but meanwhile, the sher goes on to tell us that the 'fariyaad' or the formal 'plaint' is not so much a written submission, but rather a sigh and a wail...rather inevitably, given the identity of the plaintiff!

phir hue hai.n gazaah-e-ishq talab
ashq-baarii kaa huqm jaarii hai

फिर हुए हैं गवाह-ए-इश्क तलब
अश्क-बारी का हुक्म जारी है

The witnesses of love have been summoned again
An order to shed tears is (currently) imposed

Ha ha! The 'theatre of the absurd' continues. In a litigation initiated by a piece of the Lover's liver, what is the best 'testimony' that the witnesses could offer? Evidently, the blood that has been shed by the eyes...(recall the stylisation wherein the Lover's blood flows out through his eyes, in the form of tears, while the tortured Liver struggles to keep up a ready supply). Hence when love's witnesses are being questioned by the prosecution, an 'order to shed (blood) tears' is in force, so that the crucial evidence of the crime can be duly presented...!

dil-o-mijhgaa kaa jo mukadmaa thaa
aaj phir us kii ruubkaarii hai

दिल-ओ-मिज्ह्गा का जो मुकदमा था
आज फिर उस की रूबकारी है

That lawsuit (between) the heart and the eyelashes;
today, its hearing is (scheduled) again

And it is only now, in the final sher of this delightful kat'ta that we get to know the identity of the accused. The case is between the heart (or the liver) of the Lover, and the 'eyelashes' of the Beloved (of course! Who else?!). And that also makes clear the nature of the crime...It is these fluttering eyelashes that have sliced the liver into shards, that have punctured the heart...and have shed so much blood in the process!

And today the court is in session again...the proceedings of the case are scheduled to continue... but given the identity of the Judge and the registrar, we do realise that the dice are already loaded quite unfairly against the prosecution, don't we? The obviously guilty 'defendant' is likely to be acquitted with full honours!!

In line with this entire ghazal, every sher of the qat'ta cleverly uses the word 'phir'...which conveys the haunting sense that this unusual case is not a 'one-time' oddity...but rather recurs time and again... or perhaps it is the same case which has been dragging on and on, from one 'hearing' to another, in a typical example of 'judicial delay'?!

bekhudii besabab nahii.n Ghalib
kuchh to hai jis kii pardaadaarii hai

बेखुदी बेसबब नहीं गालिब
कुछ तो है जिस की पर्दादारी है

Madness is not without cause/purpose, Ghalib
There is something that (it hides)/(is hidden)

A lovely maqtaa!

The (Lover's) madness is not without reason, says the first line... then the second line goes on, ambiguously, to present two ways of continuing this idea... the first says that there is something 'in pardaah', something that is hidden 'behind a screen', which is causing this madness (note that it could even be the very fact of it being so hidden which could be causing the madness, apart from the nature of what is hidden)... 

In the second possible reading, the madness is itself a 'screen' that is meant to hide something else!! And it is thus that the (show of) madness is not without purpose...

Both senses throw up such a wealth of possible innuendos that only one's imagination limits oneself in inventing possible lines of inquiry...!

'Bekhudee' is one of the most common words in the ghazal world, used invariably to describe the Lover's state of mind. Literally it brings together the negator 'be' with 'khudee' which indicates something like 'sense of self'. Therefore, it literally means 'not having a sense of self' which is an apt description of the crazed state of the Lover, of course. But with some flexibility, it could also stand for 'denial of oneself' or 'not being oneself' (not in the metaphorical sense one uses this expression, but in a literal sense – i.e. being someone else) or other similar constructs... each of which suggests other possible nuances for the accusatory second line.

My favourite reading of this Maqtaa involves 'teasing out' the etymological origins a little further... the word 'khudaa' which is the preferred 'vulgar' name for the Almighty (as opposed to the more formal Allah) also draws upon the same etymology as khudee... [it literally means something like 'by his own law']... hence, could Ghalib have been intending us to think of 'bekhudee' as not just the Lover 'not being himself' but possibly even the Almighty simply 'not being'?
Which could be a piquant way of indicating the 'invisibility' of God, of course...with the entire sher saying something like 'God is not invisible without reason...there is something that lies concealed there'... suggesting a possible 'insecurity' that perhaps makes Him hesitate in manifesting Himself more patently...?

Oh, the myriad possibilities!! Just too delicious!!


Shweta said...

Wonderful! Truly, many many thanks. I am so struck because I happened to read this ghazal very recently, and as is the case with almost anything Ghalib says, I loved it, but you see, I had not quite owned it the way you have demonstrated. I am so impressed.

And so a dose of what we in Andhra call ‘reverse sutti

Deed se roshan hai wajood-e-jalwaa
Chashm-e-aaine kii kaalakaaree hai

Jalwe se jalwagar kii seerat ko jaane
Chand nazaron mein ye bedaree hai

Kahan woh sad-rang jalwaa aap dikhe
Murshid kaa ye kamaal-e-didaree hai

Mubtadi to aagaah raaz-e-jalwaa se karna
Ustaadon ki khaas zimmedaree hai

Ho chale tho ru-ba-ru jalwa bhi honge
Ab ke sheesh-e-tabeer pe jaan vaari hai

deewaan said...

Sorry for the late response, mademoiselle - am travelling out of town for a few days.

I guess 'reverse sutti' is Andhra-talk for 'paying back in the same coin'...?! Frankly though, this seems to be more an instance of 'emptying the entire MINT on top of someone who was merely guilty of scrabbling together some loose change'!! To say I am rendered speechless would be an understatement of ridiculous proportions! Wow! Even if composed primarily as a 'leg pulling device', this is really too good to be left in 'comment space' Shweta... do try to find some way to reproduce it on K-e-G, so it gets the readership it deserves...!

Oh...many many thanks, by the way (I am still in something of a daze of admiration...)!