Friday, 9 May 2008

Ghalib - darkhoor-e-qahar-o-gazab jab koi

There you go, Deepti - here's one of the ones you asked for! Nice choice, by the way - even if it isn't the best known of Ghalib's works, this ghazal definitely merits a look!

darkhuur-e-kahar-o-gazab jab koi ham saa na huaa
phir galat kyaa hai ki ham saa koi paidaa na huaa

दरखूर-ऐ-कहर-ओ-गज़ब जब कोई हम सा ना हुआ

फिर ग़लत क्या है कि हम सा कोई पैदा न हुआ

When no one (turned out to) be as worthy of oppression and wrath as I

Then what is wrong (in saying that) nobody like me was (ever) born?

Cute! And shows typical Ghalib wit. Ghalib was often criticised for his arrogance and for his open acknowledgment of his own excellence. In this sher, he uses the standard Ghazal stylisation (wherein the Lover is regularly visited by disasters more calamitous than those borne by any other human) to establish his case for being cut from a different cloth!

Ostensibly, of course, the sher addresses the baleful Beloved, and points out to her that since she takes care to reserve her
worst oppressions for the Lover, there must be something rather unique about him! [qahar is a multivalent word with meanings ranging across 'an overwhelming force' to 'vengeance' and 'calamity'. Gazab is Arabic for 'extreme anger' or wrath, used often in the sense of 'the wrath of the Almighty'].

While the sher seems entirely straightforward on first reading, Ghalib packed in some ambivalent 'play' in the second line, that allows us to tease out alternate meanings... The
Phir galat kyaa hai ki could be translated not only as 'then how is it inaccurate to say that' (as I have done above) but also as 'then what is wrong in'... this is because galat (as in the English 'wrong') can stand not only for something factually inaccurate but also something that is 'wrong' in the sense of being inappropriate or unethical or unwise. Hence, the sher could be saying something like 'since it is clear that I was destined for worse privations than anybody else, isn't it only right that no body else like me was ever born?' Which could be an expression of relief that others 'like him' were not born, and hence did not have to face the tortures he did. [In an even more interesting reading, the second line could even be expressing approval of the fact that he himself was never born! See?]

Another bit of cleverness comes from the use of the word
paidaa in the second line. While the commonest meaning of the word is 'to be born', it also bears an alternate sense in Farsi as 'something that is earned, or acquired, or found' [i.e. 'profit' or 'gain', or even 'bribe']. Hence, the entire sher could be a gentle taunt at the Beloved - 'Since you've found nobody else equally worthy of your cruelties and anger as I, am I wrong in thinking that you must consider me a rather lucky 'find'?!"

bandagii mei.n bhii vo aazaadaa-o-khud-biin hai.n ki ham
ulTe phir aaye dar-e-kaabaa agar vaa na huaa

बंदगी में भी वो आज़ादा-ओ-ख़ुद-बीन हैं कि हम

उल्टे फिर आए दर-ऐ-काबा अगर वा ना हुआ

Even in worship/bondage (I) am so free/noble and vain, that I

turned right around (and) came (back) if the door of the Kaabaa did not open (for me)!

Divine! Such clever choice of words here by the master!

admits of two (related) meanings - one is 'slavery' or 'bondage', the other is 'worship' or 'devotion'. Similarly aazaadaa can stand not only for someone who is 'free' but also one who is of 'noble birth'. [Do you see how Ghalib is playing with the appositeness of antonyms here?] And isn't the entire picture evoked in the sher just delicious?! So arrogant, so egoistically narcissistic (khud-been would translate literally as 'self-regarding') is the Poet that he wouldn't even deign to enter the holy Kaabaah (despite having obviously made the pilgrimage) unless the Kaabaah courteously opens its doors for him!!

There is also a really clever interplay between the themes of 'closedness' and 'openness' - of 'bondage and 'liberation' - throughout the sher, which deserves notice. Not only the dual nuances attached with
bandagii and aazaadaa as mentioned above, but even the waa - while used here in the sense of opening a door, the word actually has a more general connotation of 'opening' - and is also used to mean 'setting free' or 'liberating'... doesn't that resonate beautifully with the bandagii, aazaadaa imagery of the first line?

sab ko maqbuul hai daavaa terii yaktaaii kaa
ruu-ba-ruu koii but-e-aaiinaa-siimaa na huaa

सब को मक़बूल है दावा तेरी यकताई का

रू-ब-रू कोई बुत-ऐ-आइना-सीमा ना हुआ

Everyone accepts your claim to singular-ness

No one (ever) came face-to-face (with) (such) a mirror-faced idol!

Generally acknowledged as the deepest sher in this ghazal - it reminds me not only of another intriguing one about a 'mirror-faced idol' in one of the ghazals we've looked at earlier, but also has palpable affinities with the truly profound penultimate sher in yet another ghazal (which I remembering raving over, at great length, in my review!)

The above sher can be read at varying levels of profundity - going from a simple 'needling' of the Beloved, to a metaphysical commentary about the nature of the Ultimate Being.

Even in the simplest possible reading, the sher admits of two sweetly contradicting interpretations. In one, it is an admiring acknowledgment of the Beloved's charms - something like, "Of course, everyone must accept your claim to unparalleled-ness. After all, who has ever come face to face with another mirror-faced beauty like you?" In an alternate interpretation, however, the sher is actually scoffing the Beloved (who is famously proud of the uniqueness of her startling beauty), with a 'yeah yeah, sure!' kind of quip... "Sure, everyone accepts that you are unparalleled. Of course, it helps that nobody's ever had an opportunity to actually see your silvery face!" Which is essentially a taunt at the Beloved's unwillingness to unveil herself - indeed may even be a clever attempt to tempt her out of purdah!

But the above interpretations are merely the outer shell - the sher is obviously meant to operate at a much deeper level; the entity whose 'claim to uniqueness' is being talked about, is nobody lesser than the Creator... since yaktaaii is a term of Koranic injunctions. [note however, that even the two interpretations already dealt with in the preceding para could apply just as easily to the Almighty! Indeed, the notion of a 'purdah-covered beauty' claiming the incomparableness of her charms would have an even more enjoyable aftertaste if it is the celestial Beloved one is talking about!]

Even when one makes this mental/theological jump (to see the sher as directed towards the Lord), there is an 'intermediate' interpretative step where the sher still remains little more than an acknowledgment of the (earthly) Beloved's beauty. Something like "Yes, everyone agrees that You are unique. (But only because) nobody has come face to face with (that) mirror-faced beauty!" See? The hyperbolic 'discounting' of the Lord's uniqueness serves merely to highlight the fact that the Beloved may be a close competitor to him. The 'mirror-facedness' of the but still remains, in this reading, somewhat incidental - a mere descriptive honorific, which could be replaced with any other manner of highlighting her charms.

However, the aaiinaa-seenaa construct is meant to be anything but incidental, of course. It is, ultimately, the very fulcrum on which the sher turns - one can hardly have Ghalib putting in 'face-to-face' and 'mirror-faced' in the same sher without wanting to draw our attention to the possibilities and paradoxes that emerge! [remember how the 'encounter' was described as do-chaar honaa in the earlier ghazal? There it was all a question of 'numbers'. Here the question is more visual - of 'seeing oneself', and hence one has the haunting roo-ba-roo and aaiinaa-seemaa imagery!]

Taking the first line as an avowal of the Almighty's peerlessness, the second can then be read in a variety of thought-inspiring senses. In one, the sher is saying that everyone acknowledges God as nonpareil only because they haven't come face to face with his mirror-faced idols. Why? Because if they had, they might have found the verisimilitude of the idol to itself be a negation of his 'uniqueness'. But (more to the point) also because, if they had, they would have seen themselves reflected in his 'face', and realised that the Almighty is no better than his worshippers!!

In an alternate, more intriguing interpretation, the koi of the second line could refer not to an unspecified 'anybody' but to a 'mirror-faced idol' itself - that is to say, the second line could be saying, 'no mirror-faced idol came face-to-face (with you)'. The notion of a but, an idol of God, coming face-to-face with the Almighty himself, is attention-grabbing in itself...but when you add the notion that such an idol could also be a 'reflective surface', it sends one down a strangely troubling line of conjecture, with suggestions and implications of 'showing a mirror' to God... If the Almighty found himself in front of such a but, he would see himself in it, and thus the physical reality of his being 'singular' would momentarily be disproved, of course (but then, a but is meant to be a physical likeness of whatever it represents, so the singularity should be challenged even if the idol is not mirror-faced, or even if it isn't physically in presence of what it depicts...convoluted stuff, this!) - but the implication of the sher is more malicious than this - what is suggests is that it is only upon 'seeing' himself thus (reflected in one of his mirror-faced idols, standing in front him) that God would realise his ordinariness, would give up his claim to matchlessness. It is in this sense that the fact of his not having encountered mirror-faced idols (so far) is what allows him to continue claiming his extra-ordinary status!


kam nahi.n naazish-e-hamnaamii-e-chashm-e-khuubaa.n
teraa biimaar buraa kyaa hai gar achhaa na huaa

कम नहीं नाज़िश-ऐ-हमनामी-ऐ-चश्म-ऐ-खूबाँ

तेरा बीमार बुरा क्या है गर अच्छा ना हुआ

[It's] nothing insignificant, (this) pride of name-sharing with the sweetheart's eye
[Even] if (the one) afflicted (with) you did not recover, where is the pity...?

Oh, very cute! Without making it explicit, the entire sher swings on an idiomatic expression - the Beloved's shy downward-cast eyes are picturesquely described as 'the eyes of the unwell' [chashm-e-biimaar], to stress the difficulty she appears to feel in 'raising' them. Ghalib points out, tongue in cheek, that those afflicted by the Beloved's charms [her biimaar] ought to be grateful that they can at least revel in the pride of sharing (part of) an expression used to describe her eyes - and hence they should find nothing to regret (buraa kya hai?) even if they fail to show any signs of recovery!

Note, however, that the second line could have another, even more delicious, ring to it - it could be read as 'What (sort of) unwellness is your biimaar (suffering from), if he did not recover (despite this)?' See? The idea being that if the biimaar was truly unwell, the mere pride of having become a namesake of the Beloved's eyes should have been enough to lead to his rapid recovery. If he is continuing to claim sickness, perhaps the whole thing was a ruse from the start - perhaps he was never ill in the first place, and was merely feigning an affliction, in order to win her sympathy? [This could be a bitter barb against an indisposed Rival who is enjoying the Beloved's solicitudes.... or perhaps even a rare show of candour about himself!]

siine kaa daagh hai vo naalaa ki lab tak na gayaa

khaak ka rizk hai vo qatraa ki dariyaa na huaa 

सीने का दाग है वो नाला कि लब तक ना गया

ख़ाक का रिज़्क़ है वो क़तरा कि दरिया ना हुआ

(The) scar in the breast is that cry that did not reach the lips
(the) sustenance of dust is the drop that did not become an ocean

Hmm...not bad, but a little more formulaic than usual. The idea is the fairly standard moral injunction that anything that fails to achieve its pre-ordained 'purpose' would be consigned to a shameful, painful, or insignificant existence... A Lover's cries are meant to find expression through his lips - if they fail to emerge so, they become congealed in his heart, as painful scars. Similarly, water-drops are meant to merge into the ocean, to lose their identity into the larger water body. If they fail to make the journey to the sea, they are condemned to be lost in the desert, to 'feed' the dusts [rizq is literally, 'provenance' or 'victuals' or 'nourishment'].

naam ka mere hai jo dukh ki kisii ko na milaa
kam mei.n mere hai jo fitnaa ki bar-paa na huaa

नाम का मेरे है जो दुःख कि किसी को ना मिला

काम में मेरे है जो फितना कि बर-पा ना हुआ

destined for me is the pain that nobody else found
The torment in my works is (the fact) that (they) never (even) started off

A clever sher, that plays teasingly with nuanced meanings. Fitnaa literally means something like a 'trial by fire' but is used figuratively to describe any ordeal or disaster. It is also used in the sense of 'sedition' or incendiary 'mischief' [often used in grudging admiration - as when one talks about the fitne that lurk in the Beloved's sidelong glances]. Bar-paa honaa [literally, 'to be on one's feet'] is an expression used to denote the 'creation' or 'instituting' of something, or 'starting something off'.

The naam kaa mere of the first line would translate loosely as 'in my name' - used in the sense of 'meant for me', or 'reserved for me'... the idea being the standard one that destiny (or the Beloved) has bestowed some very 'special' sufferings on the Poet - which no one else was entitled to. Similarly, the second line laments that the most calamitous aspect of the Poet's various enterprises is that they never even 'got off the ground', i.e. they were condemned to fail from the very onset!

However, the above reading is only superficial - hardly worthy of Ghalib if that was all there was to it. If one looks at the sher a moment longer, however, the 'punch' comes through - what the first line is saying is something much more naughtily malicious - something like 'the sorrow about my 'name' is that nobody (else) could get/win it'... See? The idea being that the 'name and fame' that Ghalib enjoys causes heartburn among others because the same illustriousness has not 'come to them'! There could even be some implicit word-play involving the literal meaning of 'Ghalib' (as someone 'victorious') here. Similarly, the fitnaa (in the sense of 'seditions' or 'fiery mischief') that lies in Ghalib's works (i.e. his poems) is the sort of magic others just can't manage to sustain [since bar paa rahnaa is used to denote something like 'remaining firm on one's feet' or 'remaining upright', the implication here is that whenever Ghalib's competitor's try to capture the sort of fitnaa's that he strews all over his works, they invariably fall flat on their faces!]

This sher and the ones that follow it, up to and including the maqtaa, are seen by some commentators to be deliberately clever mushairaa shers - meant, by Ghalib, to challenge and poke fun at the other worthies in the specific gathering where this ghazal was first recited. We have already seen how this one scoffs his peers for being jealous of his 'name' and his ability to excite 'mutinies in the spirit' through his poetry. But do keep this fact in mind, as we read through the other remaining shers of the ghazal too.

har bun-e-muu se dam-e-zikr na Tapke khuun-naab
hamzaa ka kissaa huaa, ishq kaa charchaa na huaa

हर बुन-ऐ-मू से दम-ऐ-ज़िक्र ना टपके खून-नाब

हमज़ा का किस्सा हुआ, इश्क़ का चर्चा ना हुआ

(if) pure blood does not drip from the root of every hair on the very mention (of it)
(it would) be (merely) the fable of hamzaa, not a discussion about passion

On the face of it, the sher is sweet...if not exactly distinguished.

The daastaan-e-amir-hamzaah is a Persian fable, an epic 'romance' ostensibly describing the adventures of one of the Prophet's uncles, and full of improbable battles, fire-breathing dragons, djinns, the works! It is often referred to figuratively, to scoff an exaggerated, unnecessarily dramatised account of something. bun means the 'bottom' or 'foundation' of something. When used in conjunction with moo or hair, it refers to the root of a hair. Naab is literally 'without water' [na + aab] and is used in the sense of 'neat' (as we describe an alcoholic drink that has not been diluted with water). Used here in the sense of 'unadulterated' or 'pure'.

Ghalib asserts that when there is the slightest sincere mention of love and passion, drops of blood ooze out along every hair on the speaker's (or listener's?) body. Hence, if one comes across a forum where people are managing to talk animatedly about love and other heroic ideas, without such blood-letting, it should be clear that the discussion is no more sincere than the extravagances found described in the Hamzaa fable.

To see how the sher might be seen as a comment on the gathering that the Poet presently finds himself in, note how the grammar of the second line seems to suggest that it describes a realisation that has just become apparent... In effect, Ghalib is mocking the gathering with, "It was all very well for us to sit and pontificate about love and longing, but if it has not led to us bleeding from the pores, all this talk has been no more sincere than a recitation of Hamzah's fable - and was certainly no discussion of 'true' love!"

katre mei.n dijlaa dikhaaii na de aur juzv mei.n kul
khel laRko.n kaa huaa, diidaa-e-biinaa na huaa

कतरे में दिजला दिखाई ना दे और जुज़्व में कुल

खेल लड़कों का हुआ, दीदा-ऐ-बीना ना हुआ

(if) one can not see the river in a drop, (or) the whole in a part

(it) (would) make (for) a game of boys, not a discerning eye

['Dijla' is the name of the Tigris river, used metaphorically for any river.]

Once again, the sher, on its surface, is a little too straightforward. The idea of a discerning eye being able to 'see the larger picture', to gauge the whole from the part, is fairly standard. If one can not do so, then one would be 'missing the woods for the trees' and one's impression of the world would, thus, be as 'make believe' as a children's game. A nice idea...but nothing great.

However, with the prior knowledge that the last four shers constitute Ghalib's attempt to needle the others in the mushairaa, the sher becomes more enjoyable. Since Ghalib was often criticised for the abstruseness of his poetry, for the many layers of 'hidden meanings' that he would (perversely!) pack into his verses, this sher constitutes a rejoinder or a challenge to his peers - 'well, those who don't have the acuity of sight to see the 'entire larger meaning in a part' are living in a childishly delusional world anyway!'

... the reference to 'seeing the whole in the part' could also have been a deliberate hint for his listeners - to make them all aware about the 'shared hidden theme' of the last four shers (or at least a hint to those among them who would not have 'caught on' as yet). Ghalib would have wanted them all to be aware of what was going on under the surface, so that they could fully appreciate what was to come next - another of his outstanding maqtaas!

thii khabar garm ki ghalib ke uRenge purze
dekhne ham bhii gaye the par tamashaa na huaa

थी ख़बर गर्म कि गालिब के उड़ेंगे पुरज़े

देखने हम भी गए थे पर तमाशा ना हुआ

The rumour was hot that pieces of Ghalib would fly!

I also went to have a look, but the (promised) spectacle did not take place!

See?!! Brilliant, isn't it?!

Even on the face of it, the sher is not without merit - it was 'being said' that Ghalib was going to be taken to task [kisii ke purze uDnaa is a picturesque way of describing someone being subjected to extreme and public humiliation - being excoriated, being 'taken apart', being 'flayed apart', etc.]. Presumably, under stylised Ghazal conditions, such an ominous promise could only have been made by the Beloved. And since the promised assailant was none other than the Beloved, the Poet himself could not help visiting the site - as a spectator!!! However, the scheduled public flogging (or whatever it was) did not actually happen - either because the Beloved could not be bothered to even come and carry out her threat (she might have forgotten all about him the very next moment after having made the threat!). Or, more deliciously, precisely because Ghalib was lurking furtively in the crowd as one of the spectators [he came only for dekhnaa, remember?], instead of stepping out like a man and taking whatever punishment she had planned for him!

However, the 'stylised' interpretation, charming as it is - is just a sideshow. Remember that Ghalib has obligingly told us to be alive to the 'whole in the part' in just the previous sher. In effect, this outstanding maqtaa is a culmination of the needling that he has been subjecting the others in the gathering to, over the last four shers.

erhaps there might have been some envy-inspired claims from one of more of the shaayars in the gathering (who were probably heartily sick of being always overshadowed by Ghalib's brilliance) that 'today' they would show everybody who was what (possibly because they thought they had composed something particularly natty this time, which even he would find difficult to match). And Ghalib might have got to hear about such claims being made prior to the mushairaa - and chose to respond, in typical fashion, through this masterful maqtaa. "Well, one was hearing so much about how Ghalib was going to be shown his place today. We came...We saw - nothing of the promised spectacle really happened, did it?!!"

How can one NOT love this man???



Moment I saw this post I went into a most un-mushaaira like 'YIPEEEEEEEE'!!!
What a lovely interpretation! Thanx so much for it. Especially the last 4 shers with their hidden meanings was lovely. My favourite has always been the 'hamza ka kissa' one :)

You bet I envy you your profound knowledge of Urdu! Not to mention the lovely free-flow of your English. You must one day get your blog published. Its worth it. Please accept my envy as a compliment. And thanx yet again :)

Shweta said...

Wow! This is good stuff. Thanks for bringing it up in the first place, Deepti.
Just an idea: what if the kaam in the 6th sher is read as Tongue/taste/desire and because of an inherent perversity it did not rise/achieve fruition etc. And the first line is read as – such misfortunes were mine that I never belonged to anybody. Possible?
Loved the bandagee/ aadaaz sher. Such junctions!
Oh! And that Maqta, that special humour that is always reserved for it! Too delicious for words!

“How can one NOT love this man???” Indeed,tell me.

deewaan said...

Deepti: Thanks a ton; glad you liked it. But the beauty, such as it is, is in the poem, you know - the 'interpretation' can only be as appealing as the original - if that! :-)

Shweta Ji: We should collaborate! Very nice angles you've dug up, as usual! Yes, kaam as 'desire' or 'taste' would be equally suitable here. In fact, I had initially typed in that as an alternative sense myself, but later omitted it as possibly making the whole thing too convoluted! Also, I hadn't seen what you've managed to sight, with your usual perspicacity - that the first line can be read as as regret for 'not being able to belong to anyone'. Too sharp, ji!

Shweta said...

Jis naqsh-e- paa pe kad se ubhra hai ye hunar
Us kadh-e-kadam ke ab tak aadha na hua

I am flattered, indeed I am, DeewaanSaab. But I am sure you know that it is the kind of fortuitous facility that visits all novices.

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Anonymous said...

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