Monday, 14 April 2008

Ghalib - husn-e-mah garche baa hangam-e-kamaal achchaa hai

Back when I was first introduced to Ghalib, this charming ghazal had emerged as a very early favourite - it was one of the rare ones at the time whose every sher (or almost every one) seemed readily accessible, without the need for a clarificatory discussion or read. Even now, many summers later, it remains a much loved piece, for its delightful maqtaa, if nothing else - which is undoubtedly one of the best-known and most-quoted shers of urdu shaayarii.

husn-e-maah garche ba hangaam-e-kamaal achhaa hai
us se meraa maah-e-khurshiid-jamaal achhaa hai

हुस्न-ए-माह गरचे बा हंगाम-ए-कमाल अच्छा है

उस से मेरा माह-ए-खुरशीद-जमाल अच्छा है



albeit the beauty of the moon, when (it is) full, is fine

better than that is my 'moon with a sun's beauty'


A fairly straightforward sher, a standard instance of ghazal hyperbole in praise of the Beloved's luminous charms. The idea being that while the Full Moon is impressive to look at, it occurs only periodically - in contrast, the Beloved is a 'moon' whose beauty is more like the sun's - i.e. always on at full intensity. And hence the latter is, clearly, a higher-quality product.

hangaam means a 'season' or 'time', while kamaal denotes something which is 'complete' or 'perfect'.

bosaa dete nahi.n aur dil pe hai har lahzaa nigaah
jii mei.n kahte hai.n ki muft haa.nth aaye to maal achhaa hai

बोसा देते नहीं और दिल पे है हर लहज़ा निगाह

जी में कहते हैं कि मुफ्त हाँथ आए तो माल अच्छा है



(she) doesn't bestow a kiss, and (yet her) eye is constantly on (my) heart

(in her) mind (she) says, 'if one gets it free, it is worthwhile merchandise'!


Cute! To expect a kiss from the Beloved is so audacious a hope in the Ghazal world that this particular sher could never be read in anything but humorous vein. And hence the second line, with its tongue-in-cheek characterisation of the Beloved as a scheming bargain-hunter, provides a fitting finish to it. Must have been a sure-shot crowd-pleaser in oral recital!

Note that the thought that is seen running through the Beloved's mind (in the second line) could be interpreted in two different ways - in one, she acknowledges to herself that the Lover's heart is worth having, but feels that it would be a truly great bargain if she could somehow acquire it without making any payment. In the alternative reading, she feels that the 'merchandise' in question is basically worthless, and hence is acceptable only if it is being given away for free... Both readings make for enjoyable commentaries on the 'commerce' of this stylised love.

aur baazaar se le aaye agar TuuT gayaa
saagar-e-jam se meraa jaam-e-sifaal achhaa hai

और बाज़ार से ले आए अगर टूट गया

सागर-ए-जम से मेरा जाम-ए-सिफाल अच्छा है



Whenever it broke, (I) got another from the market

my cup of clay is better than Jamshed's cup


We spoke about the famed cup of Jamshed while discussing an earlier Ghalib classic. The Poet, in this charming sher, mocks this world-revealing wonder, by comparing it unfavourably with the more easily replaceable clay cups he drinks out of. After all, he reasons, Jamshed doesn't enjoy the luxury of simply stepping out to the market to get a new one if his wondrous goblet were to break!

If one thinks about it, there lurks a fairly deep philosophy of sorts behind those seemingly light-hearted words, doesn't there?!

be-talab de.n to mazaa usme sivaa miltaa hai
vo gadaa jis mei.n na ho khuu-e-sawaal achhaa hai

बे-तलब दें तो मज़ा उसमे सिवा मिलता है

वो गदा जिस मे न हो खू-ए-सवाल अच्छा है



(If one) gives without being asked, one gets another pleasure in it

that beggar is preferable in whom there is no 'habit of asking'


siwaa is used in the sense of 'other than' [as in expressions like 'us ke siwaa' in everyday speech], hence the first line indicates that when one shows generosity without being requested for something, there is a 'different' sort of enjoyment to be obtained. [The sher cleverly doesn't commit itself to the interpretation that this special pleasure accrues to the 'giver' alone - indeed, the recipient would also enjoy a gift more if he obtains it without undergoing the humiliation of asking for it]. And hence, reasons the second line, a beggar who isn't given to constantly begging for alms is to be preferred, since he allows the potential donor to indulge himself with such spontaneous generosity.

The sher is obviously directed at the Beloved - a cunning attempt to convince her that she should bestow favours on the poor poet, even without waiting for him to ask for them...!


un ke dekhe se jo aa jaatii hai mu.nh pe raunak
vo samajhte hai.n ki biimaar kaa haal achhaa hai

उन के देखे से जो आ जाती है मुह पे रौनक

वो समझते हैं कि बीमार का हाल अच्छा है



Since (my) face lights up from her looking (at it)

she assumes that the patient is in good health


What a delightfully paradoxical state of affairs, isn't it?! The poor Lover, suffering from the ultimate ailment of the heart, isn't even destined to receive the sympathy that the Beloved might normally have shown a mortally ill patient. Because the mere fact of her looking at him makes his face light up with such a healthy-looking glow that she naturally assumes the convalescent is doing just fine! A regular catch-22 situation for the afflicted Lover, this!!

dekhiye paate hai.n ushhaak buto.n se kyaa faiz
ek baraahman ne kahaa hai ki ye saal achhaa hai

देखिये पाते हैं उश्शाक बुतों से क्या फैज़

एक बराहमन ने कहा है कि ये साल अच्छा है



Let (us) see what favours Lovers obtain from idols (this time)

A Brahmin has said that it is a good year (ahead)!


Once again, what a masterpiece sher this is! So light-hearted, and yet it captures such a delightful mood of wry scorn!

Given that the Beloved is usually characterised as an idol, the sher cleverly plays with ambiguity about the identity of the buts whose blessings are being sought by the Lovers of the world. However, since brahmins, the religious authority of a but-parast religion, are expected to have inside information on the 'mood' of all idols, if they say that the coming year is a good (i.e. auspicious) one, Lovers may legitimately nurse hope that the Beloveds are going to be less unyielding than usual... however, the mocking tone of the first line makes it clear that the Poet expects these pious hopes to be dashed, whatever be the predictions of brahmins and sooth-sayers...

ham-sukhan teshe ne farhaad ko shiriin se kiyaa
jis tarah kaa ki mei.n ho kamaal achhaa hai

हम-सुखन तेशे ने फरहाद को शिरीन से किया

जिस तरह का कि किसी में हो कमाल अच्छा है



The pick-axe put Farhaad in conversation with Shireen

of whatever sort one might have, a proficiency is good


The sher again evokes the Farhaad-Shireen fable we spoke about last week - particularly the version of the story where Farhaad kills himself with his digging implement (a teshaa is something like an adze, although I had spoken of a spade in the previous post), and Shireen, on discovering his corpse, uses the same tool to herself commit suicide. The fable stresses how the blood of both these doomed lovers got mixed as one, as it flowed down the channel Farhaad had been digging for so long (for the milk-river to flow through). Metaphorically, this shared death is seen as the poetic equivalent of the lowly-born Farhaad and the lofty queen finally being able to become conversation-partners (ham-sukhan), and the sher makes the point that it was the pick-axe which managed to bring about this improbable union of speech. Going on to stress that an 'ability' [as mentioned in the first sher, kamaal denotes 'perfection' or 'consummation', used here in the sense of an 'accomplishment' or 'proficiency'] is worth having for everyone and everything, and is to be admired even if it vests in a mere digging instrument!


katraa dariyaa mei.n jo mil jaaye to dariyaa ho jaaye
kaam achhaa hai vo jis kaa ma'aal achhaa hai

कतरा दरिया में जो मिल जाए तो दरिया हो जाए

काम अच्छा है वो जिस का म'आल अच्छा है



If a drop (were to) mix into the sea, (it) would become the sea

(any) enterprise is worthwhile if its denouement is good


A fairly straightforward simile here, not too originally put. The basic idea captured in the first line is the sufistic emphasis on an individual's quest for a merger into the cosmic unity, taking the example of a rain-drop losing its identity when it falls into the sea, but acquiring all the substance and consequence of the water body in the process [in hindi, we commonly use dariyaa for a river, but the persian original of the word denotes a sea]. The second line uses the simile to point out that as long as one achieves this desired assimilation into the Almighty, the exact path one follows to get there is unimportant.

khizr-sultaan ko rakhe khaalik-e-akbar sar-sabz
shaah ke baagh mei.n ye taazaa nihaal achhaa hai

खिज़्र-सुलतान को रखे खालिक-ए-अकबर सर-सब्ज़

शाह के बाग़ में ये ताज़ा निहाल अच्छा है



May the great Lord keep Khizr-Sultan flourishing

In the King's garden, this new plant is good


Khizr-Sultan was one of Bahadur Shah Zafar's sons, and the above sher was obviously recited as a tribute to the royal patron, probably actuated by some recent incident or conversation about the virtues of the young prince. sar-sabz would literally mean 'green-headed', and is used in the sense of 'thriving' or 'prospering'.


ham ko maaluum hai jannat kii hakiiqat lekin
dil ke khush rakhne to Ghalib ye khayaal achhaa hai

हम को मालूम है जन्नत की हकीक़त लेकिन

दिल के खुश रखने को गालिब ये ख़याल अच्छा है


I (do) know the truth about heaven, but
to keep (one's) heart content, Ghalib, it is a good thought

Isn't that an absolutely outstanding maqtaa? So easy on the ears, so colloquially accessible, and yet so profound!

In its most common reading, of course, the entire sher is seen as one unit, as something being said by the Poet - "Sure, I do know what the reality about heaven is, but it is, nonetheless, a useful contrivance to satisfy one's heart with". However, an alternative reading goes one step further, to split the two lines - with the first line about 'knowing the reality about heaven' itself being described as a conviction that some people like to delude themselves with, in order to keep their hearts assuaged...!

8 comments:

viv said...

what a ghazal, and great translation... great.. :)

deewaan said...

Thanks, viv!

One of ghalib's sweetest ones, isn't it?

viv said...

sweetest of the one's i know for sure.. am adding ur blog on my page.. hope u wouldn't mind..

deewaan said...

Don't mind at all! Most flattered, in fact!! :-)

Musings of June said...

"हम को मालूम है जन्नत की हकीक़त लेकिन
दिल के खुश रखने को गालिब ये ख़याल अच्छा है"

How I wish the God fearing, self negating, value evading mortal creatures could read and comprehend this sher. I wonder, I do wonder, despite such wise luminaries in this part of the world, why such a sorry state of affairs that they'd write, talk, discourse, fight and kill in the name of God or respective religions but never live for God, the supreme and absolute truth.

What's there in heaven(zannat/firdaus) or where is it, if not in this earth itself? when will the mystic lovers understand this mystery? Hah!

"उन के देखे से जो आ जाती है मुह पे रौनक
वो समझते हैं कि बीमार का हाल अच्छा है"

What a beauty in complaining (Shikayat)!


"देखिये पाते हैं उश्शाक बुतों से क्या फैज़
एक बराहमन ने कहा है कि ये साल अच्छा है"

Another masterpiece commentary on the mess called shallow religious rituals. I remember another beautiful doha...

"Duniya badi baanvri, patthar poojne jaae,
Ghar ki chakki koi na pooje
jiska peesa khae.."( Haquim Naasir)


Deewan Saab, shukriya in sheron ko yaad dilaane ke liye. This place is so soothing.

deewaan said...

What a profoundly lovely doha that is, June! Many thanks for digging it up!

And you're so right - Ghalib is at his most brilliant when deflating ritualistic pomposity. And being Ghalib, he doesn't bother to get 'preachy' against preachiness, of course - just delightfully disdainful!

Musings of June said...

Delightfully disdainful???

Ah yes, you see, He happens to be Ghalib! I even love the sound of uttering his name.

Hey! Why do I strongly feel that apart from interpreting,you also write?

Mazir Abbasi said...

What wonderful translation. Thank you for doing the service to the Urdu world.