Saturday, 19 April 2008

Ghalib - Kabhii nekii bhii us ke jii mein

I fondly remember this one as another Ghalib classic that was an instant hit with me, on the very first read. Once again, it is one of the rare Ghalib creations whose every sher springs quite obligingly to comprehension, without becoming any less deep for that. And what I really love about this poem is the plethora of colloquial expressions - both interjective and adverbial - that are dotted all over it. It is almost as if Ghalib was trying for a deliberately 'swingy' air to this ghazal - and succeeded consummately!

kabhii nekii bhii us ke jii mei.n gar aa jaaye hai mujh se
jafaaye.n kar ke apnii yaad sharmaa jaaye hai mujh se

कभी नेकी भी उस के जी में गर आ जाये है मुझ से

जफायें कर के अपनी याद शर्मा जाये है मुझ से

Even if, on occasion, kindness comes to her mind, for me
remembering her oppressions, (she) shies away from me

A fairly straightforward sher, it presents a sweet paradox.

Nekii means 'goodness' or 'benevolence' - hence the poet concedes the possibility that the even the habitually cruel Beloved might, on occasion, be experiencing fits of kindness towards him. But even in these rare moments of virtue, she thinks of all the past occasions when she has subjected him to cruelty, and consequently shies away from any contact with him, out of shame. However, since 'shying away from him' is the very essence of the cruelties that the Beloved is accused of in the first place, this makes for a true Catch-22 for the poor Lover!

khudaayaa, jazbaa-e-dil kii magar taasiir ulTii hai
ke jitnaa khii.nchtaa huu.n aur khi.nchtaa jaaye hai mujh se

खुदाया, जज़्बा-ऐ-दिल की मगर तासीर उल्टी है

के जितना खींचता हूँ और खिंचता जाये है मुझ से

Oh god, the effect of heart's passion is probably inverted!
for the more I pull, the more (she?) keeps getting pulled (away) from me

What a divine sher this is!

Khudaayaa is an interjection - the way one would say "Lord in heaven!" in English - which can be used for prefacing any astonishing or vexing observation. And magar, which we tend to use in the sense of 'but', is more frequently used in Persian in the sense of 'possibly' or 'probably', as we discussed a couple of posts back. Tasiir, a word of Arabic origin, denotes the effect or influence of something on something else (in traditional medicine, for instance, herbs and even specific food items are supposed to have a 'hot' or 'cold' tasiir, depending on whether they tend to raise or lower the body's temperature).

This delightful sher is based on some truly clever word-play, involving the literal and figurative senses of jazb, jazbah, and khiinchnaa. Jazb is Arabic for 'absorption', 'drawing in' or 'attraction'. 'Attraction' in the sense that one uses in Physics, I mean - the actual property of pulling an object towards oneself (for instance, a magnetic field is called a jazb-e-maqnatiisii in Arabic). The word jazbah used in the first line draws upon a similar root, and is used in the sense of 'passion' or 'fortitude'. Khiinchnaa is, of course, the act of 'pulling', as we tend to use in everyday Hindi, and khinchnaa is the associated intransitive verb.

With that in mind, look at the brilliant way this very simple - some would even say trite - idea is presented in the sher. "There's something very contrary, even warped, in the very way that the passion of one's heart affects things", complains the Poet to the almighty - the second line going on to substantiate the complaint by pointing out that the more he pulls, the more things tend to pull away from him.

Most commentators naturally assume that the 'object' that is being subjected to these futile pulls is the Beloved, and that is the most natural implication, of course. But, in its context-lessness, the complaint could also be about the thwarted efforts of the Lover to 'gather in' whatever he is struggling to keep in his possession - his sanity, his self-control, optimism about obtaining the Beloved, his reputation and social standing, etc.

The deliberate use of jazbah in the first line, instead of any other synonym for passion, is quite clearly meant to evoke the sense of jazb, as a counterpoint of the 'khiinchnaa-khinchnaa' interplay of the second line.

The special charm of the sher comes from the implied confidence of the Poet that it is something warped in his own pulling-power because of which the Beloved is passively driven further away - and not because of an active effort on her part to keep her distance!

vo bad-khuu aur merii daastaan-e-ishq tuulaanii
ibaarat mukhtasar, qaasid bhii ghabraa jaaye hai mujh se

वो बद-खू और मेरी दास्तान-ऐ-इश्क तूलानी

इबारत मुख्तसर, क़ासिद भी घबरा जाये है मुझ से

she (is) ill-natured, and my tale-of-love (is) protracted
to cut a long story short, even the messenger gets alarmed by me!

Oh, totally wonderful! Ghalib again pulls off brilliant word-play here - even while the basic idea behind the sher remains charmingly simple.

A dastaan is a fable or tale in Persian tradition, usually of epic proportions, with many a sub-plot and numerous twists and turns. In everyday speech, the word is often used in ironical tone, to denote an unnecessarily drawn-out account of something. Ibaarat, on the other hand, is a multivalent word denoting, among other senses, 'speech' or 'expression'. And mukhtasar means 'abbreviated' or 'shortened'.

The sher principally draws its 'punch' by cleverly leveraging the idiomatic expression 'ibaarat mukhtasar', which (conveniently) has an almost exact English equivalent in 'to cut a long story short'. In the first line, the poet presents a basic situational conflict - the Beloved is of a foul-tempered, impatient nature; while the account of love that the Lover wishes to have conveyed to her is almost interminable.

The second line is delightfully colloquial - as if impatient to explain why the statement in the first line poses a problem, the Poet summarises that even the messenger begins to panic at the prospect of having to hear though his long
dastaan, let alone the Beloved. However, this is when the ibaarat mukhtasar of the second line is interpreted in the above idiomatic sense. If one chooses, instead, to read it literally, the second line can also mean that it is the difficult prospect of having to 'cut short' such an interminably long story (when he recounts it orally in front of the fiery-tempered Beloved) that is giving the shivers to the messenger!

udhar vo bad-gumaanii hai, idhar ye naatavaanii hai
na puuchhaa jaaye hai us se, na bolaa jaaye hai mujh se

उधर वो बद-गुमानी है, इधर ये नातुवानी है

ना पूछा जाये है उस से, ना बोला जाये है मुझ से

Over there there's that suspiciousness, over here there's this powerlessness
neither is she able to ask, nor am I able to speak!

Very cute! Once again, a sher that seems almost too simplistic, even a trifle trite, but nevertheless manages an elegantly stark beauty.

It is in its very 'unsaidness' that the appeal of the sher lies - the use of idhar and udhar to implicitly stress the metaphorical 'distance' between the Lover and the Beloved, and the lovely tonal symphony of bad-gumaanii and naatuvaanii to denote the psychological distance them. A special charm is added by the fact that the sher doesn't make explicit what it is that fails to be asked, and conveyed, between these mis-matched protagonists, across their physical-psychological separation!

sambhalne de mujhe ai na-ummiidii kyaa qayaamat hai
ki daaman-e-khayaal-e-yaar chuutaa jaaye hai mujh se

संभलने दे मुझे ऐ ना-उम्मीदी क्या क़यामत है

कि दामन-ऐ-ख़याल-ऐ-यार छूटा जाये है मुझ से

let me find my feet, o lack of hope, what disaster is this!
that the daaman of the Beloved's thought is slipping out of my (hand)!

Exquisite! What a delightful colloquial touch the first line has! Both 'sambhalne de mujhe' and 'kyaa qayaamat hai' being picturesquely interjective expressions of hand-wringing despair, set apart by an explicit 'calling out' to the poet's own 'lack of hope'!

And the outstanding second line then goes on to indicate the cause of this despair - the poet realises he is beginning to lose grip on the daaman-e-khayaal-e-yaar!

Daaman-e-khayaal-e-yaar is one of those magical composite expressions that only Ghalib seems to be able to come up with so easily! Daaman is a word we've encountered often in the past - the nuances of meaning and idiom it lends itself to are too numerous to list, but one common sense in which one figuratively evokes this trailing part of a woman's dress is as a source of 'shelter' or 'refuge' for her admirers.

Until now, the poet, although aware of the inaccessibility of the Beloved herself, was able to live on because he had the
daaman of her fancy, of thoughts about her, to comfort himself under. His despair now is occasioned by the realisation that the constant thwarting of his hopes has brought him to a state where even this tenuous source of sustenance is beginning to slip out of his grip! No wonder, he is moved enough to evoke qayaamat or the day of reckoning!

Note also the extremely clever choice of words - the sambhalne de mujhe is a common interjection that would be roughly equivalent, in a figurative sense, to an English expression like 'let me get a grip on myself'. However, the literal translation would be 'let me find my feet' or 'let me regain my balance'. The literal sense of the words, therefore, allows one to picturise a situation where the Poet, walking behind the Beloved holding an end of the daaman-e-khayaal about her, has suddenly lost his balance, and is thus in danger of losing his hold on the said daaman - and the entire sher is thus an evocation of this dramatic moment!

Another bit of possible cleverness is in the way the first line ends with 'kyaa qayaamat hai!'. Once again, the expression is a standard one capturing extreme dismay - something like the English 'what a nightmare this is!'. However, the literal meaning ('what a doomsday it is!') can also be alternatively read as a straightforward question - "is it doomsday?". In an alternative reading, therefore, the Poet is simply chiding his 'lack of hope' - "Come on! Is it already doomsday that you are causing even the daaman of her thoughts to slip out of my hands?"

Brilliant, isn't it?

takalluf bar-taraf nazzargii mai.n bhii sahii lekin
vo dekhaa jaaye kab ye zulm dekhaa jaaye hai mujh se

तकल्लुफ़ बर-तरफ़ नज्ज़ारगी मैं भी सही लेकिन

वो देखा जाये कब ये ज़ुल्म देखा जाये है मुझ से

Formality aside, I too am admittedly a spectator; but
(that) she be seen, (how) can I ever (bear) looking upon this crime!

One of my favourites! With such penetrating candour does Ghalib capture the sort of hypocrisy that all we males can (guiltily) identify with, doesn't he?! Howsoever surreptitious one's own appreciation of the object of one's affection may be, the glances of others always seem so much more unworthily lecherous!

Takalluf bar-taraf, which translates literally to 'formality aside', is almost exactly equivalent to English expressions like 'frankly speaking' or 'to tell you the truth' - a sense which led me to think of these words as appropriate for a blog title, of course! :-)

The main point of the sher is the word-play involved in the dual use of dekhaa jaaye in the second line. The first usage refers simply to the Beloved being 'viewed', while the second is used idiomatically - when something is declared as being of the sort that dekhaa nahin jaaye, the idea is that it is too painful to bear looking at, i.e., completely unacceptable to put up with. The clever usage of the same words in two different senses, combined with the nazzaragii of the first line, makes for a nicely 'visual' overload in this entire delightful sher!

hue hai.n paa.nv hii pahle nabard-e-ishq mei.n zakhmii
na bhaagaa jaaye hai mujh se na Thahraa jaaye hai mujh se

हुए हैं पाँव ही पहले नबर्द-ऐ-इश्क में ज़ख्मी

ना भागा जाये है मुझ से ना ठहरा जाये है मुझ से

It is the feet that have first been wounded in the battle of love
I am neither able to run, nor able to stay

Very sweet! A warrior who takes a hit on his feet early on in battle is in an unfortunate situation indeed - for a foot injury, while not immediately fatal in itself, would make both 'fight' and 'flight' options virtually impossible to carry out! Clearly, the battle is going to go rather badly from hereon, for one so injured!! And it is precisely in such a situation that the Poet feels himself in, vis-a-vis the Beloved - it's a fight he can't possibly win, but he hasn't the strength to flee from it either.

qayaamat hai ki hove muddaii kaa ham-safar Ghalib
vo qaafir jo khudaa ko bhii na sau.npaa jaaye hai mujh se
क़यामत है कि होवे मुद्दई का हम-सफर गालिब

वो क़ाफिर जो खुदा को भी ना सौंपा जाये है मुझ से

What a disaster, Ghalib, that (the one who) is becoming a fellow-traveller of the Enemy
(is) that (very) infidel whom I am unable to entrust even to the almighty!

Typically for Ghalib, the maqtaa almost seems to 'save the best for the last'! Muddaii is derived from the extremely multivalent word muddaa, and can have several meanings including a 'plaintiff', 'claimant', 'enemy' or 'schemer'. Here, it is evidently used for the Poet's rival for the Beloved's affection.

This delightful sher draws upon the fact that the popular Islamic farewell greeting is khudaa-haafiz, which translates to something like "May God be your protector" (haafiz is literally 'guardian').

Clearly, the Beloved is not someone whom the Poet finds easy to bid goodbye to - but by deliberately evoking the literal meaning of the words constituting the greeting, the Beloved is shown as someone whom the Poet, out of possessiveness, feels incapable of handing over even to the Almighty, even though such a custody would do her good, since she is otherwise a godless infidel! And, tragedy-of-tragedies - One who is so treasured that even God seems an untrustworthy guardian for her, is now on the verge of departing in company of the Rival!! Qayaamat hai, indeed!


Musings of June said...

If the theme of your blog is "Takalluf- bar-Taraf", then I can safely while away my time here without thinking of the social niceties.Didn't I tell you that this place is so soothing? Now I know why. Thanks for clarifying the phrase.

"तकल्लुफ़ बर-तरफ़ नज्ज़ारगी मैं भी सही लेकिन
वो देखा जाये कब ये ज़ुल्म देखा जाये है मुझ से"

Aww! That was indeed narcisstic of Ghalib to say hell of a clever lover! Slaying the love under the pretence of keeping it alive. But the girls get fida on this kind of obsessive love, I guess.

"क़यामत है कि होवे मुद्दई का हम-सफर गालिब
वो क़ाफिर जो खुदा को भी ना सौंपा जाये है मुझ से"

there there he flirts again with his cooked up calamities turning a triviality into an apparent constructed disaster. Hah! Such desperation in love? Not even trusting GOd, nor his beloved...Umm. reminds me of Othello!

"संभलने दे मुझे ऐ ना-उम्मीदी क्या क़यामत है
कि दामन-ऐ-ख़याल-ऐ-यार छूटा जाये है मुझ से"

This is awesome. But don't you think Deewan saab that instead of Daman being translated as a woman's mere dress, a woman's flowing drape would've fitted aptly? That makes me wonder, how an Anchal or a dupatta can never be substituted by anything much of romance is there in each of its folds.

As for this sher.. yes, this is indeed a mark of genius.'Daman e kheyal' evokes such an intense ardor here suggesting a loosening of the convulsive grip of the author's imagination but nevertheless keeping an eye on his beloved's thoughts every moment. This extricates the pathos of the lover so aesthetically. Ghalib suddenly then becomes instead of a gripper a observer to his own somatic misery thereby actually witnessing his qayaamaat or apocalyptic state.

But then, there are still more layers of underlying meanings entrenched in each of his sher.

Musings of June said...

"हुए हैं पाँव ही पहले नबर्द-ऐ-इश्क में ज़ख्मी
ना भागा जाये है मुझ से ना ठहरा जाये है मुझ से"

This is so believably beautiful. A battle against his own self, where the opponent is the author's own vulnerability.

He is susceptible to self injury and open to self assault and for this he neither can flee away from his love nor can he fight his tempting, smouldering desires which he knows that it'll never be allayed ever.

Credible enough, but then isn't struggling in love strengthen it all the more?? Isn't this called growing up in love?

Deewan, was Ghalib always so frayed up? Could you dig something out where he is at his serene best sans all the agitations of his soul?

deewaan said...

Hi there, June! Thanks manifold for the insightful commentary!

You know, the reason I skipped further exploration of 'daaman' was because I had briefly explored the various nuances in which the word is used in an earlier post. But you're so right, of course - there is absolutely no english equivalent that evokes the same senses and feelings that we associate with this magical word.

Well, would Ghalib be Ghalib without the 'agitations of his soul'? But despite the sense of emotional 'frayedness' that most of his shers convey, the sheer 'control' that he, as a poet, invariably displays - as exemplified in his brilliant word-plays and the fact that you can often discover new meanings lurking even in old favourites(!) - itself shows that the great man must have composed with exceptional 'serenity' of mind!!

This, in fact, is often a (misguided) criticism that some disgruntled elements among the ahl-e-sukhan tend to level against Ghalib - that the 'deliberate' brilliance of his poetry makes it seem less sincere and 'felt', and somehow contrived. It's absolute rot, of course - it would be all very well to distill poetry out of one's own agitations, but of how much interest can that be to others if it consists of nothing more than plaintive whines and groans?!

Musings of June said...


Yes, How could I not see it?

Each one of his sher starts with an exploration and returns back once again to us with a better never felt incongruous any time.

I think, this was ingenuity. Thans Deewaan, now I see the pattern...from arrest to release, from desire to freedom, from movement to stillness..yes it makes sense...

I thank you Sir for this education.