Sunday, 27 April 2008

Ghalib - Jaur se baaz aaye par baaz aaye kyaa

Another classy gem from the Master! The 'kyaa' in the radif allows Ghalib to play around consummately with his typical inshaiyaa style in this lovely piece.

jaur se baaz aaye par baaz aaye.n kyaa
kahte hai.n ham tujh ko mu.nh dikhlaaye.n kyaa

जौर से बाज़ आये पर बाज़ आयें क्या

कहते हैं हम तुझ को मुह दिखलायें क्या

(she) renounced oppression, what what would (she) renounce?
(she) (now) says 'how can I show you my face?' / (she) says, 'should I (now) show you (my) face?!'

This is Ghalib doing what he does best - the playing with idiomatic usage, the highlighting of situational absurdities. The sher turns not just on word-play, as it seems on first reading, but is also a commentary on social/cultural constraints.

In its most obvious interpretation, the sher leverages a popular idiomatic usage - when one has slighted or otherwise offended someone unjustly, the reluctance that one would feel, out of shame, to subsequently 'face' him is often captured in a picturesque colloquial phrase that translates literally to 'what face would I show him?'

Drawing upon this usage, the sher above evokes a hypothetical situation wherein the habitually merciless Beloved has finally realised the injustice of her cruelties and abjured them...but now she feels such shame at her past behaviour that she shies away from facing the Lover (the second line, in this sense, translates to the idiomatic "what face (can) I show you?"). However, since her refusal to show him her face was pretty much the
substance of her cruelties towards him, her professed renunciation is, therefore, of little use to the Lover - and hence the first line's lament of 'oh great, but what has she renounced?!'

The sher can also be read in an alternative, equally delicious, sense. In this, the Beloved is seen to be saying something like: "OK, so I renounce oppression! What now? Do you actually expect me to show you my face?!"

The idea being that the showing of her face to the importunate Lover is, in any case, completely unimaginable in a
purdah society - hence the Beloved can hardly indulge the Lover in this respect, even if she wished to. The sher is thus a testy response by the Beloved to the constant whining from the Lover, entreating her to relinquish her 'cruelties' - "What cruelties?", she asks exasperatedly, "would you have that I actually show you my face?". In this sense, this sher, for once, punctures the constantly evoked accusation of heartlessness that the Ghazal world subjects the Beloved to, on account of her aloofness - an 'aloofness' that is as much imposed on her, as on the uncomprehending Lover.

raat din gardish mei.n hai.n saat aasmaa.n
ho rahegaa kuchh na kuchh ghabraaye.n kyaa

रात दिन गर्दिश में हैं सात आसमां

हो रहेगा कुछ ना कुछ घबरायें क्या

day and night, the seven skies are in cycle
something or the other will come to pass, why panic? / should we be panicking?

Very classy!

Gardish translates literally to 'revolution' or 'going round and round', but has many figurative connotations, ranging from misfortune (things 'spiralling out of control') to 'aimless wanderings'.

The sher above uses the literal sense of gardish to evoke the celestial revolutions of the heavens, i.e. the constant shifting of heavenly forces, which play capriciously upon the fortunes of humans. In a situation where all seven heavens are in a state of such indeterminate motion, reasons the Poet, while we can be certain that all this will lead to some consequence, it is impossible to predict what that may be. Hence, why bother to panic just as yet? Let us wait and see what happens, first!

In an alternate reading, however, one could interpret the final ghabraayen kyaa not as a dismissive 'why bother?' but as an actual question 'should we worry?'. The second line then acquires more baneful overtones - 'something or the other is surely going to happen! Shouldn't we be panicking a little?'

laag ho to us ko ham samjhe.n lagaav
jab na ho kuchh bhii to dhokhaa khaaye.n kyaa

लाग हो तो उस को हम समझें लगाव

जब न हो कुछ भी तो धोखा खाएं क्या

If there were animosity, I would take it (to be) attachment
when there is nothing at all, what delusion can one foster?

Typical Ghalib brilliance again! laag and lagaav are words drawn from common etymological roots, but the former has a much greater wealth of meanings than the latter. The 'root' sense of the word seems to be something like 'appositeness' or 'concurrence' (it is used in maths to mean 'ratio') which allows the word to denote both positive and negative senses of 'facing each other'. Hence one possible sense in which the word is used is 'rancour' or 'hostility'. Lagaav is more straightforward, and means 'attachment' 'bond' or 'propensity'. It takes a Ghalib to spot the tonal as well as the semantic potential in juxtaposing the two words in this way!

The meaning of the sher is, of course, fairly obvious - the Poet is ruefully complaining that if the Beloved ever abandoned her aloofness, even to show some overt sign of anger towards him, he could delude himself into mistaking it as a sign of affection. As things stand, however, she refuses to even acknowledge his existence, making it difficult to entertain even self-delusions of this sort! What delicious helplessness, what lasting futility, is captured in that complaint!

ho liye kyuu.n naamaa-bar ke saath saath
yaa rab apne khat ko ham pahu.nchaaye.n kyaa

हो लिए क्यूं नामा-बर के साथ साथ

या रब अपने ख़त को हम पहुँचायें क्या

why did I fall in step with the messenger?
Lord! Should I deliver my message (myself)?!

So sweet! Such is the eagerness of the Lover to ensure 'express delivery' of his letter to the Beloved, that he impatiently walks along with the messenger, only to realise, when he is almost at her doorstep - 'God, what am I doing? Am I going to deliver my letter myself?!' The absurdity of the situation, and his own realisation of it, make for a truly charming picture, don't they?

Alternately, there could be a more ominous sense of doubt captured here - perhaps the Poet doesn't, at some subconscious level, trust the messenger to actually deliver the message to the Beloved (he could even be a secret rival for her affections - who knows?) and hence feels compelled to accompany him - to ensure that he actually does go all the way to the Beloved's abode. The second line could then be a belated 'conscious' realisation of the messenger's untrustworthiness - 'Why am I accompanying him this way? Oh God, yes! It is probably best to deliver it myself, isn't it?!'

mauj-e-khuun sar se guzar hii kyuu.n na jaaye
aastaan-e-yaar se uTh jaaye.n kyaa

मौज-ऐ-खून सर से गुज़र ही क्यूं ना जाए

आस्तान-ऐ-यार से उठ जाएं क्या

even if a wave of blood were to wash over the head
would I rise from the threshold of the Beloved?

In ghazal stylisation, the Lover is often pictured prostrated over the threshold-stone of the Beloved's house [an aastaanaa-bos or 'threshold-kisser' is an image evoked to imply extreme devotion to someone]. In the above sher, the Poet stresses his determination to spend the rest of his time with his head so recumbent on the Beloved's doorstep, even if waves of blood were to flow over his head. The 'wave of blood' is, of course, a proxy for any sort of doomsday scenario - the point being that no matter what calamity might befall him, he has no intention of rising from that favourite perch of his!

However, take a look at an alternative brilliant reading of the above sher that was pointed out to me by someone - in this, the first line is translated not as an evocation of a 'hypothetical' possibility, but as an actual question - 'why shouldn't a wave of blood wash over the head?', and the second line is then not about the Lover rising from the Beloved's doorstep, but an ominous expression of wonderment about 'who knows what' might rise from her doorstep!

See what I mean? The whole thing would, in this sense, read something like - "Sure, why shouldn't a wave of blood pass over the head? Who knows
what all can well up from the Beloved's threshold?" The idea that the Lover's head is recumbent on the threshold then becomes merely 'implicit' - the emphasis is on the oppressiveness of this threshold - a 'wave of blood' is just one of the many tests and ordeals this threshold could bring down on the hapless aastaanaa-bos Lovers prostrated on it. The nasalised plural ending of the jaayen of the second line would, in this reading, be an emphasis on the plurality of ordeals in the threshold's armoury!

umr bhar dekhaa kiyee marne kii raah
mar gaye par dekhiye dikhlaaye.n kyaa

उम्र भर देखा किए मरने की राह

मर गए पर देखिये दिखलायें क्या

Throughout life, (I/she) awaited (my) death
(now) I have died - let us see what (she) shows me / (but) see what I have to show for it!

Oh, sooo brilliant! This sher plays around cleverly with so many nuances and meanings that translating it is, quite frankly, frustrating!

One reason for its amazing multivalence is the way the sher omits to specify any 'subject', in either of its lines. Who is it that has waited for death throughout the life [kisii kii raah dekhnaa is idiomatic usage for 'to await someone'], and whose death, for that matter? And, in the second line, who is it that is supposed to dikhlaao something to whom? Depending on the identities one chooses to attribute to all these unstated subjects, various permutations of meaning can be drawn from the sher, too numerous to actually list!

In its most common reading, the sher is saying something like - 'throughout my life, I waited for my death. Now I have died - let us see what 'they' shall show us'. The 'they' being of course, some higher power, from whom the Poet expects to now receive favours that were denied to him during life. The obvious contender is the Beloved, of course - but not just the earthly one. The 'tone' of the sher is wondering, but there is also a palpable sense of niggling doubt, of suspiciousness, that this whole 'driving him towards his death' might have been a deliberate artifice, and 'their' oppressiveness is unlikely to cease even post-mortem!

In another reading (in my opinion, a more delicious one), the second line is saying something quite different, changing the entire mood of the sher. In this sense, the first line stresses how the Poet has spent the entire duration of his (otherwise futile and ineffectual) life, talking about his eventual death, as if death would somehow redeem him, or prove his worthiness to the uncaring Beloved. But then the whammy of the second line - 'OK, now I am actually dead. But look, what do I have to show for it?!' The mind-numbing realisation that even that much predicted, much talked about, much deified, death is, after all, something that amounts to very little (either in redeeming his mis-spent existence, or in making a visible impact on the Beloved) - that is the sort of poignant pathos the sher captures in this alternative reading! Nice?

puuchhte hai.n vo ki ghalib kaun hai
koi batlaaye ki ham batlaaye.n kyaa

पूछते हैं वो की गालिब कौन है

कोई बतलाये की हम बतलायें क्या

'Who is Ghalib?', she asks!
Someone tell (me) - what should I tell (her)?!!

And then the maqtaa, of course! Such brilliance!!!!! [a fellow fan once asked me - if one was to place all of Ghalib's maqtaas one on top of the other, couldn't one construct a stairway to heaven?] :-)

In all seriousness, this an absolutely divine sher? Despite the colloquial simplicity of its words, the sheer multiplicity of possible meanings makes it one of the best that even Ghalib ever penned. Hold your breath, as we launch into it!

It is well-nigh impossible to pin down the tone in which the 'question' of the first line is asked. Does the Beloved ask this with a genuine desire for enlightenment? ["Who is Ghalib?"] Or does she do so with feigned, artful, ignorance ["Ghalib? Who's that?!"] Or with a contemptuous sneer? ["And just who is (this) Ghalib?! (A nobody, obviously!)"]
Or maybe the Beloved has barged imperiously into the assembly, demanding 'Can I know who this 'Ghalib' is?!', obviously bent on some sort of retribution (perhaps he has written her an audacious letter, which has irked her?). Clearly, how you choose to read the 'question' can completely change the mood of the entire sher.

But it is in the infinite possibilities of the second line that the sher really takes off! The translation I've provided above only scratches the surface - that is how one would read the line, if the emphasis is placed on the kyaa. Even in this limited reading, isn't the sher delicious? Say, the question is a sincere one by the Beloved - still, what is the poor Lover
to respond - after realising that despite his having spent a lifetime in worshipping her, she remains ignorant of even his identity?! And if the 'question' is one of feigned ignorance or a deliberate taunt, a response becomes even more difficult, of course - in effect, there is no response! And hence, the Poet is quite justified in seeking the help of an unspecified koi in trying to find an appropriate answer.

But this reading of the second line - 'Someone tell me what I should tell her!' is just one possible reading, of course. An alternative places the emphasis not on the kyaa but on the batlaayen - and the sher is then read as: 'Someone tell me, should I (really) tell her?' See? The mood of the second line changes, becomes much more challenging (or, alternatively, fearful!), irrespective of which of the senses of the first line you begin with! This time the Poet is not really lost for an answer - he is just wondering if he should actually convey the response. Perhaps the response that is hovering on his lips is a 'crushing' one - and he wishes to spare the artful Beloved...? Or perhaps the 'first line' situation being evoked is the last one we considered above (where the Beloved is angrily demanding to be shown who Ghalib is, so she can begin to berate him), and the Poet is wondering how prudent it would be, under the circumstances, to own up to his identity?! Best to keep silent, perhaps?

A third reading of the second line would place the emphasis on the ham. In this sense, the line would be translated as: "Someone tell (her)! For what should I tell her?!" See? The second line now becomes an appeal for someone to take over the responsibility of answering the Beloved's question - for the Poet himself, of course, is incapable of providing an appropriate response [in this reading, the ki of the second line would translate loosely as 'for' - as in 'for what should I tell her?']. This reading goes with almost any of the possible 'tones' in which one could read the first line, of course!

And it doesn't end yet, the magic - for Ghalib is being very, oh very, clever here. Remember this is the maqtaa, so his takhallus has to be evoked. But 'Ghalib' also has a very specific meaning - of someone who is 'victorious', someone who has 'prevailed'.

Now, reread the sher - do you see?!! The translation of the first line would go - "She asks - (so) who is the victorious one?" And then one could evoke any of the possible readings of the second line - "Someone tell me, what should I tell her?" OR "Someone tell me, should I tell her?" OR "Someone tell her; for what should I tell her?"

Do you see the situation being evoked? To really appreciate this interpretation, one should see this maqtaa as the poetic parallel of the situation evoked in the immediately preceding sher (we have spoken earlier about how 'placement' of the shers can often add spice to their interpretive overtones, haven't we?). [It also becomes much more delicious when one recalls that one could be talking not just about the earthly Beloved, but possibly also the Celestial one].

OK, so this is the scene - the life-long 'duel' between the Lover and Beloved has drawn to a close. The Lover lies vanquished on the ground, the victorious Beloved stands ready to administer the final coup-de-grace, but pauses, dramatically, to 'rub in' her triumph - "So,
who won?!" And the Lover, smiling quietly to himself (or secretly to the watching bystanders), has this masterful sher to respond with!!!


Shweta said...

Deewaansaab, you take the concept of ‘gaur farmaana’ to a whole new level. I know I repeat myself, but it is a joy to have you sieve poetry. I am not really familiar with the whole ghazal, but the maqtaa is of course very famous. But I had never seen the ‘ghalib’ angle or indeed seen it in such picturesque light. I had mostly seen it as a ‘Mushaira’ sher where the usual detractors were being addressed.
Also, what is this ‘inshaiyaa’ style you speak about?

deewaan said...

Shweta Ji, you remain kind, as ever. It is a maqtaa that just drips with meanings, doesn't it?

As for the inshaiyaa mode of poetic delivery, the word derives from the Arabic 'Inshaa', which essentially means 'elegance' of 'style' of writing or composition.

However, over time, the term has come to acquire a specific meaning in poetic composition - it is used for the rhetorical style adopted by a poet when he restricts himself to 'non-refutable' statements. Essentially, this effect of 'non-refutableness' is achieved by avoiding 'declarative' or 'informative' statements, but instead expressing oneself through questions, or exclamations, or an 'order', or invocations of desire, etc. In grammatical terms, the idea is to avoid using one's verbs in the declarative or indicative mood, instead restricting oneself to the interrogative, the subjunctive, the imperative, the volative the subjunctive, the optative, etc.

Ghalib is commonly acknowledged as the greatest proponent of inshaiyaa poetics - almost all his shers are delivered in this 'non refutable' mode. Inshaiyaa poetry is to be contrasted with 'khabariyaa', which, as the name implies, uses directly informative or declarative statements, hypothetically capable of being negated...

Is that any clearer?

Shweta said...

Much, thank you!


I am rendered speechless. To say the least, I have not come across better, more eloquent summaries of the works of that uncrowned king among shayars. :)

If you don't mind I am adding the link of your blog on my webpage.


deewaan said...

Hi Deepti - welcome to T-b-T! Thanks a ton - glad you liked some of the translations.

And I don't mind at all, of course - please feel free to link to the site through yours, if you like.