Saturday, 15 October 2011

Ghalib - vo firaaq aur vo visaal kahaan

A well-known Ghalib ghazal to bring this site out of another longish spell of hibernation.  Chosen partly because of the exceptionally dulcet number the late Jagjit Singh did on this poem, in Doordarshan's 'Ghalib' serial of yore.  JS's tremendous popularity was not restricted to India (as I am realising by the flood of condolence messages coming in). Some sort of immediate tribute seems fitting.
This is among the rare Ghalib ghazals which maintains consistency of theme and mood across all the aa'shaar.  The kahaa.n that functions as the radif, although having the literal meaning of 'where', is used almost always in the figurative sense of 'is nowhere', allowing it, through context, to evoke an air of defeated melancholy and loss. 

vo firaaq aur vo visaal kahaa.n

vo shab-o-roz-o-maah-o-saal kahaa.n

वो फ़िराक और वो विसाल कहाँ

वो शब्-ओ-रोज़-ओ-माह-ओ-साल कहाँ

وہ فراق اور وہ وصال کہاں

وہ شب و روز و ماہ و سال کہاں

Where is that separation and that union (now)?
Where are those nights and days and months and years (now)?

The sense of something that was experienced earlier and is now lost is brought forth by the simple addition of 'vo' to both lines.  It is thus those specific separations, unions, nights, days, months and years that are being mourned, not just these things in the abstract.  

The lovely ejaafat construction of the second line, makes for as beautiful an aural effect as a semantic one.  The concatenation evokes a beautifully cascading sense of the passage of time...

fursat-e-kaarobaar-e-shauq kise
zauq-e-nazzaara-e-jamaal kahaa.n

फुर्सत-ए-कारोबार-ए-शौक़ किसे
ज़ौक-ए-नज़्ज़ारा-ए-जमाल कहाँ

فرصتِ کار و بارِ شوق کسے

ذوقِ نظّارۂ جمال کہاں

Who (still) has leisure for the labours of love?
Where is the enjoyment in sights of beauty (now)?

The 'kise' of the first line could, in perfectly acceptable idiomatic use, stand for the poet himself, to signify that it is he who finds no leisure to indulge in the daily exertions that passion demands.  Alternatively, it could also denote a more general 'who', in which case the sense of the line would change, to bemoan how in today's world one can't find lovers with the mettle of yore, who are willing to take time off from their daily pursuits to wander madly about wildernesses, etc...

The second line could mean that sighting the Beloveds gives no pleasure any more, or alternatively that the desire to sight the Beloved is itself lost (the latter could simply be from a realisation of the impossibility of the prospect).

dil to dil vo dimaag bhi na rahaa

shor-e-sauda-e-khat-o-khaal kahaa.n

दिल तो दिल वो दिमाग भी ना रहा
शोर-ए-सौदा-ए-ख़त-ओ-खाल कहाँ

دل تو دل وہ دماغ بھی نہ رہا
شورِ سوداۓ خطّ و خال کہاں

(what to say of the) heart, even that mind is no more
where (now) is the agitation of infatuation for the beard and mole

What Ghalib seems to be hinting at here is that the tumultuous agitation that accompanies a crazed infatuation resides more in the mind than in the heart.  It could thus be an allegation that much of this sort of 'madness' is actually self-indulgent make-believe, rather than truly 'heart-felt' grief.  

The sort of amorous madness that this critique is directed against, however, seems to be restricted to philandering infatuations, rather than a single-minded passion for a particular Beloved.  Ghalib qualifies this 'madness' as a craze for both khatt and khaal.  The latter stands for moles or 'beauty spots' whose presence has traditionally been regarded as a marker of a woman's charms.  Whereas khatt means the first faint flush of beard that sprouts on an adolescent boy's face.  In the Persianised 19th Century world of classical urdu poetry, pederasty was a common indulgence, and comely adolescent boys were as prized by older men (especially men of means) as bewitching female partners.  While there are not too many overt references to such variety of sexual tastes in Ghalib's ghazals, a number of earlier poets (including Mir) devote many more of their shers to celebrate the 'beauty of boys'.  In this case, Ghalib's use of this construct seems to be aimed, as I mentioned above, to stress that the sort of 'tumult' he is talking about is the light-hearted variety - the sort that is excited indiscriminately at the sight of every alluring face, rather than one associated with a deep abiding love. 

thii vo ek shakhs ke tasavvur se

ab vo raanaaii-e-khayaal kahaa.n

थी वो एक शख्स के तसव्वुर से
अब वो रानाई-ए-ख़याल कहाँ

تھی وہ اک شخص کے تصوّر سے

اب وہ رعنائیِ خیال کہاں

It existed from the imagination/fancy of an individual
where is that gracefulness of thought now?

The poet is implicitly admitting that in the past he possessed a certain 'gracefulness of thoughts'.  However, he explains that this was sustained by constantly fantasising about the Beloved.  And now that he has lost that fantasy (note - it is not the Beloved he has lost, just her fancy; she was never sufficiently his to lose anyway), his thoughts are no different from, no more beautiful than, those of anybody else.  

I like the beautifully 'detached' air with which the sher makes its unfortunate observation.  The way the first line discreetly, almost impersonally, refers to 'ek shakhs', ('an individual') instead of outrightly naming the Beloved, seems to give this observation an almost clinical air.  [It is almost as if the Poet is standing apart from himself, somewhat like a doctor, and analysing the reasons for his loss of 'beautiful thoughts'.]  Or perhaps some acquaintance has quizzed the poet about his previously vaunted exquisiteness of thought, and he is explaining the reasons for his present coarseness, but without wanting to identify the Beloved by name...? 

I like to think of this sher as a sort of logical continuation of the previous one.  [While classical ghazal rules stress the 'independence' of each sher, we have sometimes earlier seen how the placement of two particular shers adds to the beauty of one or both (even though each can still be read in isolation without any loss of meaning)] 

In this particular case, we can see how the entire ghazal is a rueful lament about a better bygone time, can't we?  Well, within this broader context, the previous sher mourned the lost capacity of the poet (or of society at large) to find excitement in the pretty faces around him.  Whereas, this one expresses regret about the lost delicacy of thought that used to be fuelled by fancies of a particular Beloved.  Hence, the two shers come together to explain that the poet has lost his ability to take both kinds of pleasures - the shallow ones as well as the deep ones, the 'general' as well as the 'specific'.

The sher also allows for some promising 'meaning mining', as befits something by Ghalib.  Note that the 'ek shakhs' of the first line could just as legitimately be read as referring back to the poet himselfSimilarly, the 'ek shakhs ke tasavvur' could mean fantasies about an individual (which is the sense I have implicitly taken above) as well as the fantasies of an individual.  Hence, in an alternative reading, the sher could be saying that his past 'beauty of thoughts' was fuelled by his own powers of imagination, which have now faded.  Hence the sher may be entirely an observation about the poet himself - since a Beloved is nowhere mentioned in the sher, we needn't conjure one from without!       

aisaa aasaa.n nahi.n lahu ronaa

dil mein taaqat jigar mei.n haal kahaa.n

ऐसा आसाँ नहीं लहू रोना
दिल में ताक़त जिगर में हाल कहाँ

ایسا آساں نہیں لہو رونا
دل میں طاقت جگر میں حال کہاں

(it) isn't so easy to weep blood
where is the strength in the heart, the balance in the liver?

This one harks back to the stylised vascular physiology of the ghazal world, where the liver struggles to keep up a supply of fresh blood, while the wounded heart loses the vital fluid constantly, through the eyes, as 'blood tears'.   In keeping with the overall ambience of this ghazal, the Poet's eyes have run dry, and possibly some acquaintance has pointed this out to him, to which he responds with the above sher.  The 'haal' of the second line carries a general sense of 'condition', or 'state', but also has a specific usage in accounting parlance to describe the 'present balance' of the books.  In the present context, this would signify the depleted reserves of blood in the liver...

ham se chhootaa qimaar-khaanaa-e-ishq

vaa.n jo jaawe.n girih mei.n maal kahaan

हम से छूटा क़िमार-खाना-ए-इश्क

वां जो जावें गिरिह में माल कहाँ

ہم سے چھوٹا قمار خانۂ عشق
واں جو جاویں گرہ میں مال کہاں

The gambling-house of love is lost to me
where is the money in the purse, that (I) would go there?

Girih literally means a small knot, and here signifies a purse (from the common practice of carrying one's money tied in a knot in the garment).  Qimaar is literally 'dice', and hence qimaar-khaanaa means a gambling den.  Since it is a gambling-house of love that is now out of bounds for the Poet, the money that he lacks would be denominated in an appropriate currency, of course.

fiqr-e-duniyaa mei.n sar khapaataa huu.n

mai.n kahaa.n aur ye vabaal kahaa.n

फिक्र-ए-दुनिया में सर खपाता हूँ
मैं कहाँ और ये वबाल कहाँ

فکرِ دنیا میں سر کھپاتا ہوں

میں کہاں اور یہ وبال کہاں

(I) bang my head against the worries of the world
where am I, and where is this bane/curse?

A rather nice sher, it hinges on the popular idiomatic usage in hindi/urdu which highlights the incomparable-ness of two things by saying 'yeh kahaan, aur vo kahaan'.  The figurative sense of this idiom is to stress that one of the items is at one end of some sort of spectrum, while the other is at the other end.  However, the literal reading is merely 'where is this, and where is that?'

As so often with Ghalib, he allows us to read the idiom in both its idiomatic sense as well as its literal sense.  In the former, the Poet is ruefully shaking his head at his present state, where he is reduced to spending his days in worldly worries.  Recalling his golden past (where he was too loftily absorbed in the pursuit of love to bother himself with the quotidian quibbles of the world), he asks himself whether he could have ever imagined that this curse, this punishment (i.e. the worries of the world) would someday become worthy of his attentions!  He could also be ruing the unlikelihood of someone like him (who has so little experience of bothering with worldly worries) being able to cope with them now.
Choosing to read the idiom in its literal sense, however, we have a deliciously alternative reading where the 'worry of the world' that is occupying the Poet is precisely the difficulty of fixing his own location vis-a-vis that of the vabaal, i.e. the curse/punishment (the exact nature of which is left ominously unstated). 

muzmahil ho gaye quva'a Ghalib

vo a'naasir mei.n i'tidaal kahaa.n

मुज्महिल हो गए कुव'आ ग़ालिब
वो आनासिर में इ'तिदाल कहाँ

مضمحل ہو گئے قویٰ غالب
وہ عناصر میں اعتدال کہاں
The strengths/powers have faded, Ghalib
where is that balance in the elements/humours (now)?

A'naasir is the plural of the Arabic u'nsur, which means an 'element' or one of the 'humours' which constitutes a living being.  i'tidaal means something like 'moderation', and is specifically used in traditional medical parlance to describe a state where the humours are balanced, i.e. the person is in good health.

The sher thus rues the loss of physical and mental capacities, possibly from age, possibly from grief and disappointment.  The lack of a clearly articulated 'cause' leaves the sher with a haunting air of universality.  

Given the thematic unity of this ghazal, Ghalib could have come up with few better maqtaas to end it.


Dr. Ravinder S. Mann said...

आपकी अगली ग़ज़ल का बेसब्री से इंतज़ार है


poornima pande said...

Hi! Great poetry and very well described.. would love to see more blogs coming up! thanks

Anonymous said...

It is one of the brilliant blog on Urdu Poetry. Please please keep it up. We are waiting eagerly.

Rajdeep "Raz" Vijay said...

Awesome blog, yaar. Aise hi likhte rehna, raz-e-shayri bataate rehna.

jitendra katre said...

I must thank you for such a beautiful work. Keep it up.

Unknown said...

Thank you (: