Thursday, 31 May 2007

Ghalib - Ye naa thee hamaaree kismat

The next in the series...

One of the best-known, and best-loved, of Ghalib's Ghazals; almost all shers in it are exceptional, although the mood jumps around disconcertingly from the mundane... to outright mysterious!

ye na thii hamaarii kismat ke visaal-e-yaar hotaa
agar aur jiite rahte yahii intezaar hotaa

ये ना थी हमारी किस्मत के विसाल-ए-यार होता

अगर और जीते रहते यही इंतज़ार होता

"It was not my destiny that there would be Union with the Beloved

If I had lived on, there would have been this (very) same waiting"

We noted earlier that some of Ghalib's best shers are voiced from 'beyond the grave'; this is among the more famous examples.

Most readers are struck by the uncharacteristic 'simplicity' of this sher... unusual for Ghalib's 'matlaa' shers... The simplicity is somewhat deceptive though - it is difficult to unequivocally 'fix' the mood of the sher.

The most striking feature of the first line is the notable lack of emotion (No exclaiming tone! No mention of 'gham' or 'sitam') with which the Poet pithily sums up what is, after all, the very essence of his wretchedness - the fact that he was never even destined to obtain the Beloved.

It is only the second line that reveals the reason for the 'offhand' manner of the first line. One learns that the 'complaint' in the first line was not merely an expression of dejection or frustration... it is an actual FACT, because the poet is already dead! Hence, the reality that he wasn't destined to obtain the Beloved is a confirmed 'post facto' observation!! And what is most delicious is that this (very significant) piece of information is not really revealed 'with drums and bugles', but tossed in casually, as part of an even more poignant statement - that if the poet hadn't died just as yet, the wait for the Beloved would have continued in the same manner...

So, what is the Poet saying then? That it was better to die? Because a longer life would have meant perpetuation of a painful and frustrating longing? That is certainly the take that many commentators have taken. But others point out that there is no indicator within the sher to confirm this 'defeatist' interpretation... and that the Poet could be saying something quite the opposite - having casually admitted (in the first line) his awareness of the pre-determined fate that the Beloved would never be his, he may be obstinately affirming (in the second) that, despite this, if he had continued living, he would have continued waiting!!

So, can one read an implied 'but' before the second line, which would substantiate this 'defiant' interpretation? Frankly, I don't know... but, in either interpretation (defeatist or defiant), it's a beautiful sher... and obviously anything but 'simple'!

tere vaade pe jiye ham to ye jaan jhuuTh jaanaa
ki khushii se mar na jaate agar aitbaar hotaa

तेरे वादे पे जिए हम तो ये जान झूठ जाना

कि खुशी से मर ना जाते अगर ऐतबार होता

"(That) I lived on your promise (of return), know this (to be) false, my love

for wouldn't I have died of happiness, if I had believed (in it)?"

I must admit that even though this isn't among the deepest of Ghalib's shers, it is a personal favourite!

Before we look at the meaning, one notable point - the semantic and thematic independence of shers is one of the most important characteristic of the strict Ghazal form; indeed, it is even a requirement of correct composition. Poets of Ghalib's calibre would never commit the travesty of spanning a poetic idea across two shers (in the sense that one would need to read the second sher to 'complete' the idea). However, they did occasionally play around with the placement of shers so that the preceding sher, while semantically independent, could provide a sort of thematic context for the succeeding one. In this case, for instance, note how much better this sher works coming after the previous one, than it would have otherwise...

OK, now let's look at it - the main feature that renders this sher exceptional is that it involves an uncharacteristic attempt at 'defiance' by the Poet vis-a-vis the Beloved - for once, he tries to administer a 'put down' to that haughty presence... but when one notes the form that this takes, one realises there is no real reversal of the traditionally unequal 'power equation' between them...

The 'context' of the sher (buttressed by the preceding one) is that the Poet has recently died after a lifetime of waiting for the Beloved. And observing that the Beloved appears heartlessly unconcerned by his demise, he (or his spirit) is stung enough to call out to her, "listen sweetheart, don't kid yourself that it was the promise of obtaining YOU that kept me alive all these years!"... and how does he 'prove' this point? By pointing out that if he had really believed, even for a moment, that she could really be his, he would instantly have died of joy at that very moment, instead of having lived on in pleasurable anticipation for so long!! Some 'put down', that is!! There is such an endearing helplessness in this show of petulant anger that it would take a truly stone-hearted Beloved to not be moved by it!!

While i have translated it in the most common manner, note that there is no evidence within the sher that the Beloved had ever made an actual 'promise' to the Poet (although that is one interpretation, of course)... the 'vaadaa' could well be used in a metaphorical sense (i.e., the poet's own 'expectation' of obtaining her - 'the promise of her return').

Many commentators have pointed at the delicious ambiguity in the words of the second half of the first line... although this doesn't have much effect on the overall interpretation of the sher. Basically, the 'jaan' in the 'jaan jhooth' could be taken to be an 'imperative verb' in the sense of 'know this to be false' (which is how I have written it in the translation), where the 'know' is something the Beloved is being asked to do. Alternatively, the 'jaan' could also apply to the Poet himself, as a verb in the 'past conditional' sense... "if i lived for your promise, it was (despite) knowing it to be false"...

terii naazukii se jaanaa ki baandhaa thaa ahad bodaa
kabhii tuu na toR saktaa agar ustuwaar hotaa

तेरी नाज़ुकी से जाना कि बांधा था अहद बोदा

कभी तू ना तोड़ सकता अगर उस्तुवार होता

"from your delicateness (I) realised that the promise had been tied loosely

(for) you could never have broken it if it had been strong"

Once again, there is a sort of 'carry over' (without actual overlap) from the previous sher's theme of insincere promises by the Beloved... although the mood in this one seems more forthrightly 'bitter'...

The same 'delicateness' that makes the Beloved so desirable is used in the sher to scorn her; the Poet implying that her genteel fragility is actually illusory, since it conceals a rather 'robust' ability to inflict pain by the making and breaking of philandering promises!

koii mere dil se puuche tere tiir-e-niimkash ko
ye khalish kahaa.n se hotii jo jigar ke paar hotaa

कोई मेरे दिल से पूछे तेरे तीर-ए-नीमकश को

यह ख़लिश कहाँ से होती जो जिगर के पार होता

"someone should ask my heart for your lightly shot arrow

(for) where would this pain/anxiety have come from if (it) had (gone) through the liver?"

The magical phrase 'teer-e-neemkash' is commonly used in Ghazal metaphor to characterise the Beloved's sidelong glances. Literally, a 'teer-e-neemkash' would be an arrow shot without fully pulling back the bowstring (or shot from a bow in which the string has not been stretched tightly before securing the ends, thus providing inadequate 'tension')... by implication, an arrow shot without particular force. The reason why this imagery is used for the Beloved's glances is clear - the coquettish creature casts her sidelong looks lightly, and with deliberate casualness, without really looking at her admirer full in the face...

In the sher, the poet makes the point that 'arrows' shot like this can be much more painful for the victim because they tend to remain lodged in the body, instead of actually passing through him and killing him instantly.

A word about the 'dil - jigar' disjunct... while the words often are interpreted synonymously by many readers (and even commentators) of urdu poetry, there is actually a very definite 'physiological stylisation' that exists in the Ghazal universe with respect to the role and relationship of these two vital organs... In the (medically inaccurate!) view of classical Ghazal poets, the liver (jigar) is the organ that 'produces' the blood of the Lover, whereas the heart is the organ that suffers wounds and wastefully 'spills out' the life-fluid... which normally leaves the body as 'blood-tears' from the eyes... Hence, the 'Jigar' has a crucial role in the story of the lover's travails... the poor organ labours continuously to keep the heart supplied with blood, while the latter helplessly lets it all drain away... the Lover lives only as long as the liver can keep up its hopeless job.

In this case, the Beloved's 'arrow' has lodged itself not in the Poet's heart, but in his Liver, which is affecting the supply of blood to his heart, and making it suffer restlessly.... hence, it is the heart which can best indicate where that darned arrow should be looked for!!

ye kahaa.n kii dostii hai ki bane hai.n dost naaseh
koii chaaraasaaz hotaa, koii ghamgusaar hotaa

ये कहाँ की दोस्ती है कि बने हैं दोस्त नासे

कोई चारासाज़ होता, कोई गमगुसार होता

"what sort of friendship is this, that friends have become advisors?

(If only) there was some healer, (if only) there was some comforter"

We spoke earlier about the Poet's impatience with the well-meaning advisors (Naaseh) who try to counsel him out of his doomed infatuation... instead of offering him the sympathetic ear he seeks! One intriguing aspect of the sher is the ambiguity as to whether it is his 'friends who have become advisors' or whether it is 'advisors who have become his friends'. The latter could denote a situation where the guardians of morality or propriety are feigning a specious amity with the besotted Lover, in order to lend credibility to their unwelcome advice.

rag-e-sang se Tapaktaa vo lahuu ki phir na thamtaa
jise gham samajh rahe ho ye agar sharaar hotaa

रग-ए-संग से टपकता वो लहू कि फिर ना थमता

जिसे गम समझ रहे हो ये अगर शरार होता
"that blood would drip from the veins of stones, it wouldn't then stop
that which you think of as 'pain', if it were a spark"

This is a tough one. While the general idea is accessible enough, I've never really come across a very satisfying explanation of what this sher is precisely trying to say...

The sher hinges on a 'simile' - just as a heart bleeds blood when struck, a rock emits sparks. [As an academic aside, one admirable quality about Ghalib is the marked lack of similes - the most facile of poetic artifices, which usually form the 'bread and butter' of lesser poets - in his Ghazals.]

On the basis of this 'rock-spark-heart-blood' simile, the Poet says (perhaps to a friend or confidant) that if the pain in his heart was actually a spark, it would have been flowing freely from stones... Probably the implied 'background' is that this friend has been chiding the Poet for making heavy weather of his 'gham', and the Poet responds testily that his 'gham' is actually so intense that it is only his (hardened) heart that can keep it contained... even a stone would find it impossible to 'hold in' such fiery anguish!

Do chip in if you can think of a better take on this...!

gham agarche jaa.n-gusil hai par kahaa.n bache ki dil hai
gham-e-ishq agar na hotaa gham-e-rozgaar hotaa

गम अगरचे जां-गुसिल है पर कहाँ बचें कि दिल है

गम-ए-इश्क अगर ना होता गम-ए-रोज़गार होता

"albeit sorrow is life-threatening, where is (one to) escape, for there's the heart!

if it wasn't the anguish-of-love, it would have been day-to-day worries"

Lovely! Once more, the 'theme' carries over from the previous sher. Addressing a friend who is admonishing him that 'this constant brooding' over his lost love will cost him his health and life, the Poet dryly points out that it is in the very nature of a human heart to 'find' something to grieve over... hence, the Poet is 'fortunate' to have something as grand as his (unrequited) love to torture himself with, since he would otherwise have been just as absorbed in the more pedestrian (quotidian?) worries of everyday occupations... A sort of "Yes, i know that this pain can kill, but what to do, my friend; I happen to have a heart!" ... and then the second line.

Note the exceptional lyricism of the sher: the 'gusil hai - dil hai' rhyme within the first line, and the 'hotaa - hotaa' rhyme within the second one...

kahuu.n kis se mai.n ki kyaa hai, shab-e-gham burii balaa hai
mujhe kyaa buraa thaa marnaa agar ek baar hotaa

कहूं किस से मैं कि क्या है, शब्-ए-गम बुरी बला है

मुझे क्या बुरा था मरना अगर एक बार होता

"whom should I tell what it is; the night-0f-pain is a horrible ordeal

why would I object to dying, if it happened (only) once?"

The first line of the sher is particularly appealing for its almost musical lyricism (the 'kyaa hai - balaa hai' rhyme) as well as its beautifully expressive 'colloquial' wording...

The sher highlights both the 'loneliness' and the 'oppressiveness' of the shab-e-gam... there is no one around whom the poet can describe how calamitous the night-of-separation is. And how calamitous is it? Well, the Poet declares that he would have no complaints against dying, if he had to bear it 'only once'... the implication being that the shab-e-gam he is complaining about is much worse than death - it is the metaphorical 'thousand deaths'...!! Typically Ghalib-ish cleverness!

hue mar ke ham jo rusvaa, hue kyo.n na gark-e-dariyaa
na kabhii janaazaa uThtaa, na kahii.n mazaar hotaa

हुए मर के हम जो रुसवा, हुए क्यों ना गर्क-ए-दरिया

ना कभी जनाज़ा उठता, ना कहीं मज़ार होता

"I was disgraced (revealed) after (my) death; oh why didn't I drown (submerge) in the sea?!
There would never have been a funeral, nor a tomb anywhere!"

Once again, lovely internal rhymes in both lines!!
Ghalib is very clever in this sher - playing with etymological nuances of words, for the enjoyment of the cognoscenti!

In this 'from beyond the grave' (once again) Sher, the Poet is expressing his dismay at the fact that his death has earned him disgrace (or that he remains disgraced even after death)... and then wishes that his 'mode' of death had been by drowning, since that would have ensured that there would have been no public funeral (for people to gather at and snigger at him), nor a tomb to remind them of his humiliation...

The above is the 'straightforward' meaning. But there is some intelligent word-play here. The word 'rusvaa' (or its noun form 'rusvaaii') is used commonly in urdu poetry to mean something like 'disgrace' or 'infamy' or 'humiliation'... but in its original literal meaning, the word was apparently used in a more 'value neutral' sense - to mean 'being revealed' or 'coming to sight' or 'being highlighted'.... whereas the word 'garq' which has come to be used to mean 'drowning', etymologically denotes a more general act of 'immersion' or 'submerging' or (by implication) 'becoming hidden'... hence in etymological sense the two words are almost antonyms! Now re-read the first line...!
When considering 'nuances' and 'niceties' like this, one has to remember that the first apparition of all these Ghalib ghazals would have been in the form of a verbal recitation by him - and that too almost invariably in a gathering where the 'best and brightest' of his time would have been united for the express purpose of showing off their poetic and intellectual refinement... one can imagine what the mood must have been when the 'shamaa' was placed in front of a poet like Ghalib (to mark his turn to speak) - there would have been this 'frisson' in the air, since entire reputations were going to be made or destroyed depending on who caught the 'hidden meaning' of a particular sher on first hearing, and who didn't! A true separation of men from the boys!! To fully appreciate how extreme this pressure must have been, just wait till the next sher...

use kaun dekh saktaa ki yagnaa hai vo yaktaa
agar duii kii buu bhii hotii to kahii.n do-chaar hotaa

उसे कौन देख सकता कि यगना है वो यकता

अगर दुई की बू भी होती तो कहीं दो-चार होता

"who can see Her, for that Unmatched One is unique

If there were even a hint of twoness, there would somewhere have been an encounter"

Absolutely the BEST sher in the Ghazal... (as probably acknowledged by Ghalib, in placing it just before - and linking it to - the maqtaa)... in fact, I would venture to class it among the two or three best shers of all time...!

"do-chaar honaa" is an amazingly colloquial construct to use in an elegant Ghazal, and as with anything Ghalib ever wrote, its usage is anything but un-premeditated [as we shall shortly see...]. Literally translating as 'to become two-four', the expression is idiomatically used in the sense of 'to run into' or 'to encounter' (mostly in the sense of a 'chance encounter'. However, it can also stand for 'to encounter' in the more militaristic sense - i.e. 'to square off against each other" or 'to clash'...) 

Even if one does not venture beyond the standard Ghazal milieu, this is a very competent Sher, which wittily (and slightly sarcastically) comments on the inaccessibility of the Beloved... 'the main problem', explains the Poet, "is that this singular beauty is so unique. It is because there is only ONE of her, that it is almost impossible to spot her... if there were TWO of her, for instance, I might have been lucky enough to be afforded a view sometimes, somewhere...'

There is a more delicious interpretation... the 'do-chaar honaa' may not refer to the Poet encountering the Beloved, but the Beloved encountering Herself! After all, 'if there were TWO of her' there would be a very real possibility that, somewhere, sometime, she might run into herself! And then what? Well, in many of Ghalib's shers there is an implication that the only way the Beloved would appreciate the Poet's pain is if she could be made to look at herself, which would have the effect of rendering her as besotted as the poor Poet!! And that would be 'just desserts'!

I think I mentioned earlier how 'sufi' commentators like to claim that every sher in classical urdu poetry can be seen to be directed as much towards the 'Celestial Beloved' as towards the 'earthly' one... while there are many shers where this assertion is difficult to accept, this particular one is so obviously constructed with the Almighty in mind ('yagnaa' and 'yaktaa' being terms with almost theological weight), that many commentators just choose to ignore the above 'earthly' interpretations.

Seeing the sher as a comment on God's uniqueness, both the interpretations presented above acquire added deliciousness. On the one hand, the poet is pointing out that it is the lofty 'uniqueness' of the Almighty which makes him so invisible - with all the implied sarcasm that such 'invisibility' involves... On the other hand, the Poet is saying that if God had a double, he might have 'encountered' himself at some time - meaning that even God would have had occasion to sample the arbitrariness and unmovingness that mere mortals are subjected to everyday by Him...

When seen like this, the sher seems a lot deeper, doesn't it? But that is still only the 'surface' of the sher... What Ghalib is actually doing here is much MUCH deeper... the sher is actually a brilliant quip on Monism, Dualism and Pluralism... !

How? Well, my own knowledge of metaphysics is nothing more than notional, but most of us are at least vaguely aware of the fiery debates that have raged in virtually ALL philosophical traditions, regarding the 'essential nature' of the Creator and of his Creation... one of the chief concerns has been the whole issue of whether nature is, at its base, 'singular' or 'dual' or 'plural'... with ardent adherents to each view. Philosophies like Zoroastrianism, or the 'Sankhya' school of Hinduism, or the ancient Chinese 'yin-yang' school, espouse the existence of two opposing fundamental principles (often seen as 'male' and 'female') which provide balance to Creation... These dualistic beliefs have been sharply critiqued, at various stages in history, by proponents of 'monistic' views (to Indian minds, the example of Shankara's 'Advaita' revolution would probably be the most familiar direct renunciation of 'dualism').

While most of the monistic arguments against dualism (and vice-versa) are of stratospheric complexity, one point made by opponents of 'two-principle' visualisations of the Universe is simply this - "why only 2 ?!" 

Do you get that? The monist says that while there is a logical consistency in something being 'singular', there seems nothing similarly sacrosanct about something being 'double'... it is, after all, as arbitrary to say that there are 'two' principles in the universe as to say that there are 'twenty-three' (whereas, saying that there is only 'one' unified principle is something that can be logically quite valid)... hence, if one was to admit the (in the monist view, false) possibility that there is more than one fundamental principle, there is no reason to stop at an arbitrary number like two... there could then be three, four,... as many as one likes!

Of course, Islam is a monistic religion, and its 'Sufi' traditions (as espoused by most Urdu poets, including Ghalib) are especially monistic in their world vision... With this in mind, re-read the sher... isn't it the very same "why only 2?" argument against dualism that I amateurishly summed up above??!! In effect, Ghalib is saying that there is only one God... if there was even a hint of 'duality'... there could well be two, four...etc... i.e. there would be no need to stop at two!!! 

So you see? The colloquial 'do-chaar' wasn't just thrown in there... it was a carefully concealed 'Easter egg', to be discovered with whoops of joy by those perspicacious enough to do so!

Now, take a moment to catch your breath, and then think about a mind that can take a profoundly philosophical argument about the very nature of being (which just happens to be in conformity with the Poet's own beliefs as well as those of his audience)... conjure up a colloquially appealing way to restate it... that too in a way that simultaneously needles the Almighty and also (in a slightly different way) the Beloved... and still manage to pull off that impossibly lovely 'सकता - यकता' internal rhyme in the first line!!!!

ye masaail-e-tasavvuf, ye teraa bayaa.n ghaalib
tujhe ham valii samajhte jo na baadaa-khwaar hotaa

ये मसाइल-ए-तसव्वुफ, ये तेरा बयां ग़ालिब
तुझे हम वली समझते जो ना बादा-ख्वार होता

"these mystical riddles, this oration of yours, Ghalib!
we would consider you a saint, if you weren't a wine-drinker"

Oh, even THEN, Ghalib.... definitely even then!! :-)

Once again, think about the impact this maqtaa must have made while the audience (or at least the sharpest among them) was still savouring the various hidden layers of the previous 'tour de force' sher! 

Ghalib puts his 'wine-drinking' in perspective with such masterful arrogance... clearly, if he can compose like this despite his fondness for the bottle, only the petty-minded would deny him the status of a saint!

Monday, 28 May 2007

Ghalib - Hazaron Khwaahishen aisee

For the sake of completion, if nothing else, we ought to add in some of these Ghalib 'classics', even though you've probably read and heard them a godzillion times already and, in all likelihood, are more or less familiar with their meanings too!
first in the series...

Ghalib had a special knack for spotting words that admit of many different idiomatic/colloquial/literal usages, so that each such usage could lead to a different nuance in the meaning of the sher. Throughout this Ghazal, he plays with the possibilities pregnant in the simple 'निकलना'

हज़ारों ख्वाहिशें ऎसी कि हर ख्वाहिश पे दम निकले

बहुत निकले मेरे अरमान लेकिन फिर भी कम निकले

"A thousand such longings that on [for] each of them, (my) life would exit

(Many of my longings left, but still only a few left) / (My longings turned out to be many, but still turned out to be only a few)"

One of Ghalib's most famous shers - undeniably inbued with a strangely haunting beauty, but extremely difficult to 'pin down', as regards meaning...

The first line of the sher seems simple enough... using the idiomatic expression दम निकलना (i.e. to pass away), the Poet stresses the fervency of his many (unfulfilled) desires, each of which is 'intense enough' to kill him... or for him to kill himself in wanting to have them fulfilled... or for him to die just in expressing them... etc. One nuance, which, for ease of comprehension, i chose to gloss over in the translation above, is the use of हज़ारों instead of हज़ार for the first word - in effect, the translation should ideally say something like 'all thousands' rather than just 'thousands'... the point of emphasis of the first line, therefore, is not the fact that the poet has so many of these intense desires (that is almost taken to be a 'given'), but just that they are all so intense... Do you get that? It is something like 'All thousands of (my) desires are such that each of them can kill..."

The second line then airily flirts with, without quite settling between, two different interpretations of निकलना - in the first, more 'literal', interpretation, one uses the word to mean something like 'leave' or 'depart' or 'exit' [the most common usage of निकलना is, after all, 'to come out']. In this interpretation, the poet seems to be regretting the fact that, even though many of his desires have 'left his heart' (after sufficient time having been spent without realising them), these are still just a small fraction of all the 'death-dealing' desires he began with... i.e., there are still enough of these lethal longings that remain in him...

The alternative interpretation of निकलना is more idiomatic - it turns on a colloquial usage of the word, in the sense of 'being revealed as' or 'emerging as' [eg. अरे, यह कहानी तो बिल्कुल बकवास निकली!] . Hence the poet dryly observes that while his (life threatening) desires 'turned out' to be so many... they still turned out to be 'not quite enough'... This observation is itself susceptible to many different interpretations... does he mean to say that 'even the thousands of potentially lethal longings he had have failed to end his life, and hence he hopes he had begun with more of them'? Or does he mean that 'since he could not realise any of the thousands of ambitions he had, he feels he might have had some partial success if he had some more (i.e. alternative) ambitions'?

There is also a sort of 'mix and match' possible between these two alternative interpretations of निकलना. In the second line, the first निकलना can be taken in the literal sense of 'exiting' and the second in the idiomatic sense of 'turning out to be'... hence the line itself would read something like 'many of my ambitions left me, but these (still) turned out to be very few'...!

I know, it begins to get convoluted... but hell, it's Ghalib! It's worth the effort!!

डरे क्यों मेरा कातिल, रहेगा क्या उसकी गर्दन पर

वो ख़ून जो चश्म-ए-तर से उम्र भर यूँ दम-ब-दम निकले

"Why is my killer afraid; would it remain on her neck...

this blood that so ceaselessly flows from drenched eyes, throughout life?"

A yummy 'Inshaaiyaa' sher, so typically Ghalib!
'Blood remaining on the neck' is an idiomatic usage, implying something like 'visible evidence of murder' [think Lady Macbeth and 'out, damned spot!']. Hence Ghalib seems to be offering a scoffing reassurance to the Beloved - she shouldn't hesitate in committing the murder she is contemplating; it isn't as though there would be any incriminating evidence linking her to the deed [in the form of the Poet's 'blood on her neck'].
And on what does he base this reassurance? Merely on the observation that his blood has never stopped flowing freely even from his own eyes!! Hence, why would it choose to congeal on the Beloved's neck??!! Another take, offered by some commentators, is that the Poet's constant spilling of 'blood tears' has left him so bereft of the vital fluid, that there would be no blood left in him to stain the Beloved's neck!

Apart from this 'reassuring' reading of the sher, there is the more 'literal' reading possible too, of course, which, in my opinion, is equally enjoyable... where the Poet is 'truly' wondering whether the Beloved is hesitating to murder him because of the possibility that his blood might remain on her neck... after all it is the ardent Poet's blood; wouldn't it stick like super-glue on so desirable a perch??!! :)

निकलना खुल्द से आदम का सुनते आये हैं लेकिन
बहुत बे-आबरू हो कर तेरे कूचे से हम निकले

"One has kept hearing of the eviction of Adam from Paradise, but
with much disgrace did I leave your street"

Truly a Classic sher! It ranks among the best known of Ghalib's couplets (and of Urdu poetry in General - it would easily find place in any 'top ten' listing of all-time famous shers) - and also one of the most quoted (usually in humourous or ironical delivery)...
The overall mood of the sher is, evidently, one of humour... but just look at the audaciousness of the comic hyperbole it uses!
Most commentators have taken note of the way that the 'bahut' in the second line somehow seems to scream for attention while reading the sher (something to do with the metrical construction of the couplet, no doubt) - it is this that gives the sher its deliciously amusing 'over the top' meaning... namely the assertion that while Adam's fall from grace (which, incidentally, led to mankind being banished from paradise in perpetuity!) might well have been something worth talking about, it is a mere trifle compared to the much greater disgrace that the Poet has had to endure - having to leave the Beloved's lane!!!
An academic point - in this sher, Ghalib uses the radif word निकलना as the passive construct of निकालना - to evict... [English, with its 'periphrastic' passive voice, doesn't allow for such constructions, of course].

भरम खुल जाये ज़ालिम तेरे कामत की दराज़ी का
अगर इस तुर्रा-ए-पुर्पेच-ओ-ख़म का पेच-ओ-ख़म निकले

"The illusion of the tallness of your stature would be broken, Cruel One
if the curls of that 'curl-ful' crest would come out"

Very sweet! Ghalib takes a mischievous 'pot shot' at the contrived airs and graces of the Beloved, which prompt her to wear her curly tresses in an elaborately constructed 'coiffure', with a flourishy fringe or curlicue on top, resembling the kind of ornamental accessory (such as a plume of feathers) that might be worn on top of a turban... He declares that the only reason she appears 'tall' is because of this fancy construction on her head, and if the curls were to 'unwind' out of this hairdo, her true stature would be revealed!
Of course, since 'stature' can, even in English, mean more than just physical procerity, the Poet could also be implying that the Beloved's status (as a bewitching beauty) is only because of these extravagent artifices and embellishments she sports!!
Even in such a light-hearted sher, note the careful choice of words Ghalib uses... the 'khul jaaye' when used for 'bharam' means 'to be revealed' or 'to be broken'; but the picture that 'khul jaaye' evokes in the mind, especially when the 'pech-o-kham' of the Beloved's tresses are talked about, is one of 'unwinding' or 'uncurling'... so very 'picture'-sque!

मगर लिखवाए कोई उसको ख़त तो हम से लिखवाए
हुई सुबह और घर से कान पर रख कर कलम निकले

"but if someone wishes to have a letter written to her, (let him) have it written by me!
every morning, i leave home with a pen stuck behind the ear!"

Such is the Poet's desperation to communicate with the Beloved, that he is even prepared to act as a scribe for others who might wish to correspond with her (since he knows that his own missives would not be entertained by her; or possibly because he doesn't even dare to write to her in his own name).
The desperate-ness of a love that enables one to find vicarious satisfaction in even 'second-hand' contact... it evokes not just mirth (compounded by the comic picture of the Poet roaming about the bazaar with a pen stuck behind his ear, searching for people wanting to write to her!), but also a sort of sympathetic 'fellow feeling'...
Some commentators have also speculated about other piquant possibilities in this sher... could the Poet be motivated by more malicious intent? Maybe he wishes to 'sabotage' the correspondence that any other admirers might be wanting to address to his Beloved... so that even if he can't have her, neither can they!

हुई इस दौर मे मंसूब मुझ से बादा-आशामी
फिर आया वो ज़माना जो जहाँ मे जाम-ए-जम निकले

"In this age, the practice of wine-drinking came to be associated with me!
That age has returned when Jamshid's Cup would come out in the world!!"

The 'jaam-e-jam' or 'Jamshid's Cup' recalls a legend that goes back to Persian (i.e. pre-Islamic) mythology (and finds close parallels in many other mythological traditions too - Greek, Hindu, etc.) The Cup in question is supposed to have been filled with the Elixir of Life, and one could famously observe all seven worlds by gazing into its depths. [Jamshid is a Persian king in Firdausi's 'Shahnaamaa', who is supposed to have owned this wonder.]
Proud of his exceptional drinking prowess, the Poet claims that in the present age, wine is associated with him (just as it was associated with Jamshid in times bygone), and goes on to suggest that the Jaam-e-Jam is again available - probably implying that his (drink-inspired) verse is as 'world-revealing' as that famous vessel!!
Note the arresting alliteration in the second line 'vo zamaanaa jo jahaan me jaam-e-jam'... lovely!

हुई जिनसे तावाक्को खस्तगी की दाद पाने की
वो हमसे भी ज़्यादा खस्ता-ए-तेग-ए-सितम निकले

"(Those) from whom (I) expected understanding/admiration/justice for (my) wrecked-ness
They turned out to be even more wrecked by the sword of injustice than I!!"

Ha Ha!! Isn't that the cruellest cut of them all?! When those whom you expect to save you (or at least admire you for the frightful afflictions you have borne), turn out to be even more afflicted than yourself...!
In its most straightforward reading, the sher seems to talk about confidants or 'healers' whom the star-crossed Poet approaches to seek solace... only to find that they are pining even more piteously for the Beloved...! But that is only one
possible interpretation... the sher itself is 'non specific' enough to lend its beauty to any number of similar situations...

मोहब्बत मे नहीं है फर्क जीने और मरने का
उसी को देख कर जीते हैं जिस काफ़िर पर दम निकले

"In love, there's no difference between living and dying
(I) live for the sight of the same infidel, for whom (I) die"

In itself, this sher would have been unexceptionally trite and cliched, if it didn't involve a typically Ghalib-ish bit of word play in the second line, which raises it above the ordinary.
The first line states a simple kind of 'truism' which is a typically 'bread and butter' assertion in love poetry - namely that life and death is one and the same when one is in love. This kind of humbug sentimentality is not what one would normally expect Ghalib to indulge in. It is only when one sees the second line - the line which 'substantiates' this cliche, that one realises the potential Ghalib spotted in it... The 'bite' in the sher comes from the idiomatic usage of किसी पर दम निकलना which means something like 'to love someone to distraction' (even in English, we would say 'to die for' someone). So Ghalib points out that when one is in love, one 'lives' by constantly watching that very same person 'for whom one dies'... and it is thus that there is no difference between living and dying, for a Lover!

कहाँ मयखाने का दरवाज़ा गालिब और कहाँ वाइज़
पर इतना जानते हैं कल वो जाता था कि हम निकले

"how far the door of the tavern, Ghalib, from the Preacher
but this I do know - yesterday, he was going/passing as I came out"

A masterly maqtaa, which has created an entire 'poetic tradition' of sorts within Urdu poetry, whereby the Preacher is ribbed for secretly (or otherwise) wavering from his own standards of abstemious virtue...
Most Hindi speakers are familiar with the 'कहाँ ये... कहाँ वो' idiomatic construction, which is used to highlight the difference (and not the distance) between two ideas. In this case, Ghalib uses this usage to his advantage by giving it an ambiguously 'locational' touch... the Poet, with an air of studied naivete, expresses surprise that even though the Preacher is far removed (both metaphorically and physically) from the door of the tavern... the poet saw him passing when he himself came out of the tavern on the previous day.
The sher 'adds insult to injury' by not stating specifically whether the Preacher was 'caught' actually entering the public house or whether he was simply seen to be passing by (leaving open the deliciously malicious conjecture that he might have guiltily changed tracks on seeing someone who knew him, and might have pretended to be simply passing through the locality - a claim which would seem weak, given the 'distance' of his house from the tavern!)...
The above shers are the only ones that appear in Ghalib's official deewaan. While there are a couple of others that are usually cited with it [notably, the one that beings 'khudaa ke vaaste pardaa na kaabe se uthaa'], these don't find mention in any of the printed editions of the Deewaan, and most serious commentators don't regard them as genuine Ghalib works...

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Faiz - Mujh se pehlii sii mohabbat

One of the nicest of Faiz's nazms, full of his typically intense imagery... and his trademark air of wizened melancholy...


Mujh se pehlii sii muhabbat mere mahboob na maang
mai.n ne samjhaa thaa ki tuu hai to darakshaa.n hai hayaat
teraa gham hai to gham-e-dahar kaa jhagDaa kyaa hai
terii suurat se hai aalam mei.n bahaaro.n ko sabaat
terii aankho.n ke sivaa duniyaa mei.n rakhaa kyaa hai
tuu jo mil jaaye to taqdiir niguu.n ho jaaye
yuu.n na thaa, mai.n ne faqat chaahaa thaa yuu.n ho jaaye

aur bhii dukh hai.n jamaane mei.n muhabbat ke sivaa
raahate.n aur bhii hai.n vasl kii raahat ke sivaa
mujh se pehlii sii muhabbat mere mahboob na maang

anginat sadiyo.n ke taariiq bahimaan tilism
resham-o-atlaas-o-kamkhvaab mei.n bunwaaye hue
jaa-ba-jaa bikte hue kuucha-o-baazaar mei.n jism
khaak mei.n lithDe hue khoon mei.n nahlaaye hue
jism nikle hue amraaz ke tannuuro.n se
piip bahtii huii galte hue naasuuro.n se
lauT jaatii hai udhar ko bhii nazar kyaa kiije
ab bhii dilkash hai teraa husn magar kyaa kiije
aur bhii dukh hai.n zamaane mei.n muhabbat ke sivaa
raahate.n aur bhii hai.n vasl kii raahat ke sivaa
mujh se pehlii sii muhabbat mere mahboob na maang

मुझ से पहली सी मोहब्बत मेरे महबूब ना माँग

मैं ने समझा था कि तू है तो दरक्षां है हयात
तेरा गम हैं तो गम-ए-दहर का झगड़ा क्या है
तेरी सूरत से है आलम मे बहारों को सबात
तेरी आंखों के सिवा दुनिया में रखा क्या है
तू जो मिल जाये तो तकदीर निगूं हो जाये
यूँ ना था, मैं ने फकत चाहा था यूँ हो जाये
और भी दुःख हैं ज़माने मे मोहब्बत के सिवा
राहतें और भी हैं वस्ल की राहत के सिवा

मुझ से पहली सी मोहब्बत मेरे महबूब ना माँग

अनगिनत सदियों के तारीक़ बहीमाना तलिस्म
रेशम-ओ-अतलस-ओ-कम्ख्वाब में बुनवाये हुये
जा-ब-जा बिकते हुए कूचा-ओ-बाज़ार में जिस्म
ख़ाक में लिथड़े हुए, ख़ून में नहलाये हुए
जिस्म निकले हुए अमराज़ के तन्नूरों से
पीप बहती हुई गलते हुए नासूरों से
लौट जाती है उधर को भी नज़र क्या कीजे
अब भी दिलकश है तेरा हुस्न मगर क्या कीजे
और भी दुःख हैं ज़माने में मोहब्बत के सिवा
राहते और भी हैं वस्ल की राहत के सिवा

मुझ से पहली सी मोहब्बत मेरे महबूब ना माँग

"Ask me not, my love, for the passions of yore...

I had believed that with you, the world (would be) luminous;
(that) with the pain of your love, there (would be) no issue with worldly sorrows;
(that) your beauty (would) lend permanence to the spring;
(that) save your eyes, nothing else matters in the world;
(that) if I could win you, destiny (itself) would supplicate before me...

but it wasn't so, i had merely wanted that it be so;
there are other sorrows in the world, beyond those of love;
and forms of relief other than the comfort of Union...

Ask me not, my love, for the passions of yore...

The dark, dreadful sorceries of countless ages,
wrapped in silks and satins and brocades.
The bodies being sold, here-and-there, in street markets,
covered in dust, bathed in blood.
The carcasses emerging from the kilns of disease,
(with) puss flowing from suppurating wounds.

The eyes do keep returning to those too, what is one to do?
Your beauty remains enticing even today, but what is one to do?

There are other sorrows in the world, beyond those of love;
and forms of relief other than the comfort of Union

Ask me not, my love, for the passions of yore...

Ostensibly articulating the pain of a sickened and disillusioned Lover who has 'gone off' the idea of love due to the pain and suffering he sees around him, this astonishingly beautiful nazm, which appears towards the middle of Faiz's first book Naqsh-e-Fariyadii, (published in the politically turbulent climate of 1941) actually marks the first instance of the sort of socio-politically 'activist' poetry that was later to become his trademark.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Ghalib - Bahut sahee gam-e-getee

Hey! Recall that magical line in the Faiz we looked at earlier which began with 'bahut sahee gam-e-getee"? I just happened to recall that there is a lovely Ghalib ghazal which has exactly the same line!! Trust me to not have remembered it at the time - despite all the time I've spent poring through Ghalib's Deewaan...! :)

Faiz was, of course, a huge fan of Ghalib [even the titles of three of his principal works are direct quotes from Ghalib], and he has inserted Ghalib's words into his own elsewhere too [notably, in his lovely poem 'rang hai dil ka mere' he uses the magical phrase 'khoon-e-jigar hone tak' from one of ghalib's best ghazals 'aah ko chaahiye ek umr asar hone tak'. (mental note: we have to look at both of these soon!!)]

Anyway, this one is just a three-sher piece in the Deewaan, but still a nice one.... A usually well-informed acquaintance whom i sent an email to yesterday pointing out this particular instance of 'imitation being the truest form of flattery' tells me that while only three shers of this Ghazal appeared in the printed version of the Deewaan, Ghalib had later sent someone a letter in which he had included some 3-4 additional ones. Unfortunately, this chappie doesn't have the complete version either... but he did claim to recall one of the missing shers, which I've included below (the second one), because it seemed too charming to leave out (although i have only his word that it's an original ghalib, and not his own attempts at shayari! Actually it's too good to be his!)

बहुत सही गम-ए-गेती शराब कम क्या है

गुलाम-ए-साकी-ए-कौसर हूँ मुझको गम क्या है

"the sorrows of the world are manifold(/powerful), but the wine isn't in short supply (/no less)

As the slave of the saaqi of kausar, what worry do I have?"

The 'Kausar' is, in Koranic tradition, a pond just outside heaven (fed by a well-spring that emerges from within paradise), from which the virtuous are supposed to drink their fill on the day of judgment, before finally being brought into the hallowed presence. Presumably someone who 'serves' the person who, in turn, serves from this fount, would have an assured supply of its 'aqua vitae'!

Apart from the theological hyperbole of the second line, the entire sher can also be seen as a flirting compliment to the earthly साकी who is passing the drinks around the mehfil... a sort of 'I'm a slave to you, you heavenly creature... just don't be miserly with the hooch!!'

कटे तो शब कहें काटे तो सांप कह्‌लावे

कोई बताओ कि वह ज़ुल्फ़-ए-ख़म-ब-ख़म क्या है

"if they get cut (pass) one would call them the night; if they sting, they would be likened to a serpent
Will someone tell me what these braided tresses are?!"

There goes Ghalib with his impossibly teasing word-play again...!! The object of his mischievous attention being the long braids that the Beloved wears her curls in...

The piquancy of the sher comes from the idiomatic use of
कटना when used for a period of time, like the night. Idiomatically, शब् का कटना is the process of 'getting through the night'. But the literal meaning, of course, is to 'cut the night', which allows him to take teasing shots at the Beloved - namely, if one could cut her braids, they could be called the night, etc... the likening of them to snakes is also so visually evocative - braided long hair actually being rather serpentine in appearance, i mean!

तुम्हारी तर्ज़-ओ-रविश जानते हैं हम क्या है

रकीब पर है अगर लुत्फ़ तो सितम क्या है

"Your manner of behaving, I know (very) well
If it is grace/favours (that you're dispensing) to the Rakeeb, then what is oppression?"

Very sweet! This sher works (and works well!) in two quite distinct senses: in the first interpretation, it is an outright accusation directed at the Beloved - since she is perversely sadistic, even her deliberately brazen favours to the Raqeeb (as mentioned earlier, 'Raqeeb', like 'gair', 'dushman' and 'adu' is used to describe the poet's rival for the Beloved's affections) are actually aimed at tormenting the Poet (and not out of any genuine affection towards the Raqeeb). This is more or less the 'standard' politics of love, that has been the subject of commentary in virtually every tradition of poetry and prose... not much more that can be said about it.

In the other (and in my opinion, more delicious) interpretation, the Poet takes a sort of petty satisfaction in the thought that - knowing her unfaithful ways - the Beloved's apparent favours towards the Raqeeb will ultimately end up oppressing him in the same hell-fires that the Poet is currently burning in!

सुखन मे खामह-ए-गालिब की आतिश-अफ्शानी

यकीन है हम को भी, लेकिन अब उसमे दम क्या है

In (his) poetry, the scattering of fire by Ghalib's pen
I too believe (in it), but what life/strength now remains in it/him?"

Ha ha! Only someone as delightfully arrogant as Ghalib could so consistently come up with totally brilliant ways of praising himself!!

Just look at this gem of a maqta!! With a simple addition of a 'bhee', Ghalib attributes the fawning opinion (that his pen is filled not with ink, but with the fires of genius) to everybody but himself!! To which he, at best, humbly agrees!! And to compound the audaciousness, he goes on to wonder, with studied-innocence, whether his pen (or he himself) still continues to command the same strength of force that his interlocutors credit him with!!!! As he is well aware, the answer to that query is only too evident in the ghazal that has just been presented!!

आतिश-अफ्शानी !!! (to sprinkle fire) What a picturesque expression!

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Faiz - Sach hain hamiin ko aap ke shikve

Another nice Faiz...

Sach hai ham hii ko aap ke shikve bajaa naa the
beshak sitam janaab ke sab dostaanaa the

सच है हम ही को आप के शिकवे बजा ना थे

बेशक सितम जनाब के सब दोस्ताना थे

"it's true that it was I who did not find your (legitimate) complaints acceptable
Without a doubt, all your oppressions were (inflicted in) friendly (spirit)"

A typical taunt directed at the heartless Beloved who is brazen enough to first torture, and then protest that she was acting out of the friendliest of intentions! With ironic generosity the poet concedes his earlier unreasonableness in having (unfairly) dismissed her claim...

Haa.n jo jafaa bhii aap ne kii kaiyade se kii
haa.n ham hii kaaraaband-e-usool-e-wafaa naa the

हाँ जो जफ़ा भी आप ने की कायदे से की

हाँ हम ही काराबंद-ए-उसूल-ए-वफ़ा ना थे

"Its true that even the cruelties you committed, you committed 'properly'
Its true that I myself was (guilty of) non-compliance with the principles of faithfulness"

Another sarcastic "yeah, sure.... whatever you say!" response to the unreasonable explanations the oppressive Beloved...whose oppressions have carefully been inflicted without deviating from the 'rules of the game'!

aaye to yuu.n ki jaise hameshaa ke the meharbaan
bhule to yuu.n ki goyaa kabhii aashnaa na the

आये तो यूँ कि जैसे हमेशा के थे मेहरबान

भूले तो यूँ कि गोया कभी आशना ना थे

"when you come, it is as if you have always been so merciful
(and) when you forget (me), it's as if we have never (even) been acquainted/lovers"

The capricious unpredictability of the Beloved...

kyo.n daad-e-gham ham ne talab kii, buraa kiyaa
ham se jahaa.n mein kushta-e-gham aur kyaa na the?

क्यों दाद-ए-गम हम ने तलब की, बुरा किया
हम से जहाँ मे कुश्ता-ए-गम और क्या ना थे

"why did I desire applause for (my) pain; that was wrong of me
weren't there other martyrs-to-pain in the world, like I?"

Why did i expect the world to be impressed by my pain? While it may seem of acopalyptic proportions to me, there are many others walking about in the world, who've suffered the same agony of love! When seen objectively, even this exquisite pain, my last remaining treasure, is actually quite commonplace...!

While it works beautifully as a 'relativisation' of one's personal pain (as above), the sher can also be read in a more 'Beloved-specific' context.... i.e. "why should i alone be admired (or sympathised with) for having suffered at her hands? There are hundreds who have been similarly afflicted by her lethal charms", etc...

Gar fikr-e-jakhm kii, to khatavaar hai.n ki ham
kyo.n mahv-e-madh-e-khuubii-e-tegh-e-adaa na the

ग़र फिक्र-ए-ज़ख्म की, तो ख़तावार हैं, कि हम
क्यों मह्व-ए-मध्-ए-खूबी-तेग-ए-अदा ना थे
"if (i was) worried about my wounds, then I stand guilty
because, why wasn't I engrossed in praise of the excellence of the sword of (your) charms?"

Ha Ha!! A beauty!

Continuing his exquisite sarcasm, the poet ironically admits to the Beloved that it would be wrong of him to worry about his injuries (at her hands)... instead he should be absorbed in praise of the weapon that inflicted them so effortlessly... मह्व-ए-मध्-ए-खूबी-तेग-ए-अदा is the sort of poetic expression that only Faiz could have tossed in so casually!

har chaaraagar ko chaaraagari se gurez thaa
varnaa hamei.n jo dukh the bahut laadawaa ne the

हर चारागर को चारागरी से गुरेज़ था
वरना हमें जो दुःख थे बहुत लादवा ना थे
"all healers were reluctant to heal
otherwise, my ailments were not so incurable"
And who were these charlatan chaaraagars who evaded their responsibilities to heal, and let the Lover needlessly suffer in his pain? The Beloved certainly, for she had the surest cure... but also the Almighty, who could have 'cured' him by administering the 'coup de grace' even earlier!

lab par hai talkhii-e-mai-e-ayyaam, varnaa Faiz
ham talkhii-e-kalaam par maa'il zaraa na the

लब पर है तल्खी-ए-मय-ए-अय्याम, वरना फैज़
हम तल्खी-ए-कलाम पर माइल ज़रा ना थे
"the bitterness of the wine of the world (lingers) on my lips, Faiz
or else, I am not the least enamoured of bitter words"

Like all Faiz maqtas, a veritable tour-de-force!

If his poesy comes out in harsh flavours, explains the poet, it is because of the 'acrid wine of every-day life', which leaves its caustic traces on his lips, and 'colours' whatever comes out of his mouth... otherwise, he himself has no fondness for vinegary verse!

Friday, 18 May 2007

Faiz - Ham par tumhe chaahane ka

Ham par tumhaarii chaah kaa ilzaam hii to hai
dushnaam to nahi.n hai ye ikraam hii to hai

हम पर तुम्हारी चाह का इल्ज़ाम ही तो है
दुष्नाम तो नहीं है ये इकराम ही तो है
"It is only of loving you that i stand accused, after all
(That) isn't a disgrace; it is an honour, after all!"

To be in the docks for as enviable a crime as that! Where's the shame in it? Why would anyone find it disgraceful? It is quite a badge of honour, in fact!

This sher sets a delightful mood of 'rebellious optimism' or a 'querulous insistence on seeing the bright side of tragedy', which holds throughout this outstanding ghazal, In fact, i am beginning to regard it as one of the very best, even by Faiz's lofty standards!

The intensely evocative तो in the radif makes this ghazal difficult to translate - it adds a sort of 'petulance' of emotion, which one can at best try to capture by tagging on a clumsy expression like, "after all", at the end of the lines where it occurs! This is what i have done, as a sort of uneasy compromise, though i'm acutely conscious of the fact that it kills the 'flow' of the words one sees in the original...

Karte hai.n jis pe taan koi jurm to nahi.n
shauq-e-fuzool-o-ulfat-e-naakaam hii to hai

करते हैं जिस पे तान, कोई जुर्म तो नहीं
शौक़-ए-फुज़ूल-ओ-उल्फत-ए-नाकाम ही तो है
"that which (people) taunt (me for) isn't a crime, after all!
'a taste for useless and helpless love' is all that it is...after all!"

I must admit that that is a very very inadequate translation of a magical phrase like शौक़-ए-फुज़ूल-ओ-उल्फत-ए-नाकाम !! But WHAT will you...?? Some things, you just feel !!

Dil muddai ke harf-e-malaamat se shaad hai
ai jaan-e-jaa.n ye harf teraa naam hii to hai

दिल मुद्दई के हर्फ़-ए-मलामत से शाद है
ए जान-ए-जां, ये हर्फ़ तेरा नाम ही तो है
"(my) heart delights in the critical word of the litigant (complainant)
O light of my life, that word is just your name, after all!"

Lovely! The main 'word' that dominates the charge-sheet (of the litany of the litigant) is the name of the Beloved, because the accusation against the Poet is precisely of being in love with her... but the Beloved's name is not something that the poor accused can hear without swaying in mesmerised delight! Hence, even the 'reading out of the charges' in the courtroom is something that is giving him tremendous pleasure in the dock!!

dil naa-ummiid to nahi.n, naakaam hii to hai
lambii hai gham kii shaam, magar shaam hii to hai

दिल ना-उम्मीद तो नहीं, नाकाम ही तो है
लम्बी है गम की शाम, मगर शाम ही तो है
"the heart isn't hope-less, after is only helpless
the night of sorrow is (admittedly) long; but it is only a night...after all!"


In my opinion, the jewel in the crown! In fact, it is a very strong contender for my favourite sher of all time! It sort of keeps running in one's head, for weeks afterwards !!

Note that in the first line, the translation says that the 'heart is not hope-less' and NOT 'heart is not hopeless'... i wanted to point out the distinction because the adjective 'hopeless' in English means 'not worth hoping for', whereas the ना-उम्मीद in the sher means something like 'without hope' or 'devoid of hope'... where the 'hope' is for some 'external' unmentioned destiny(presumably reunion with the Beloved)... I used 'hope-less' instead of 'without hope' here because the former goes better with the 'helpless' that i used as translation for नाकाम (which literally means 'without effect')!

While both the lines in this sher deserve to be savoured at length, the second is just impossibly heartstopping...

Dast-e-falak mei.n gardish-e-taqdiir to nahi.n
dast-e-falak mei.n gardish-e-ayyaam hii to hai

दस्त-ए-फ़लक मे गर्दिश-ए-तकदीर तो नहीं
दस्त-ए-फ़लक मे गर्दिश-ए-अय्याम ही तो है
"it's not the wheels of destiny that lie in the Almighty's hands, after all
It is only the wheels of life that lie in His hands"

Another classy sher!

दस्त-ए-फ़लक मे is literally 'in the hand of the sky', which is a haunting way of saying 'in God's control'...

The Creator might well have a perverse taste for making us jump through hoops, but why despair? After all, His capricious control doesn't extend to our ultimate destiny (or so the poet would have us -or at least HIMSELF - believe). He merely controls the pedestrian ups and downs of our life... our quotidian (yes, yes - there's THAT word again!) concerns, that's all!

'Gardish' is another of those untranslatable words... it means something like 'wanderings' or 'cycles'... but the exact nuance doesn't exist in any English expression.

aakhir to ek roz karegii nazar wafaa
vo yaar-e-khush-khasaal sar-e-baam hii to hai

आख़िर तो एक रोज़ करेगी नज़र वफ़ा
वो यार-ए-खुश-ख़साल सर-ए-बाम ही तो है
"some day, surely, the eyes will finally be loyal
that virtuous Beloved is only on the rooftop, after all!"

Some comic relief in the midst of all that profundity!

The haughty Beloved stands on the rooftop, like in an ivory tower! Surely, someday the poet's eye will be true to him and favour him with a glimpse of her - He tells himself "come on, it can't be that difficult, I only have to look UP! She isn't that inaccessible to the eye!! She is only on top of a roof!!!'


Bhiigii hai raat Faiz, ghazal ibtidaa karo
waqt-e-sarod dard kaa hangaam hii to hai

भीगी है रात 'फैज़', ग़ज़ल इब्तिदा करो
वक़्त-ए-सरोद दर्द का हंगाम ही तो है
"the night is sultry, Faiz, let's begin a ghazal
the music of the moment is only the clamour of pain, after all!"

How better to drown the hubbub of pain, than to distil this 'music-of-the-moment' into a ghazal?? And who better to do it than Faiz...?

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Zauq - Na Kartaa zabt main naalaa to

As requested...

Actually, this one is short but quite, QUITE, brilliant! Some truly soaring imagery!

ना करता ज़ब्त मैं नाला तो फिर ऐसा धुँआ होता
कि नीचे आसमां के और नया इक आसमां होता
"if i hadn't controlled (my) lament, there would have been such (a cloud of) smoke
that below the sky there would have been another new sky"

This one seems pretty straightforward, isn't it? The lament that rises from the Lover's burning heart comes with thick clouds of smoke... so if the Lover was to actually give vent to his agonies for any length of time, the smoke would spread from horizon to horizon, like a 'second sky'...

But remember that 'aasmaan' is also a synonym for the Almighty in the Ghazal world... and immediately much more intriguing interpretations of the second line open up! Zauq was being VERY clever here!

जो रोता खोल कर जी तन्गना-ए-दहर मे आशिक
तो जू-ए-कहकशां मे भी फलक पर ख़ून रवां होता
"if the Lover was to open out his heart and weep in the contrained (confines of the) world
blood would flow even along the Milky Way (river) in the sky"


Continuing the overall idea of the previous sher, Zauq chooses, in this one, to highlight the 'limitedness' of God's world, in comparison to the expanse of the Lover's grief...

'जी खोल के रोना' is a popular idiom in hindi even today. Literally translating as 'to open the heart and cry', the expression actually means something like 'to have a GOOD cry', meaning to cry without constraint, to let out all one's grief in tears etc...

But Zauq uses the idiom for some truly sharp word play here - if the Lover was really to 'open out' his grieving heart, how would it ever fit into this extremely limited universe of God? ['तन्गना' is literally a narrow passage, so 'तन्गना-ए-दहर' is used to signify the metaphorical lack of space in the god's world]

And so, what would be the result if the Lover was to try opening out his heart (full of his ebbing life blood) in this space-constrained universe... well, the 'river in the sky' [i.e. the Milky Way] would suddently find it's waters reddened with the poet's blood!!

बगूला ग़र ना होता वादी-ए-वहशत मे ए मजनूँ
तो गुम्बद हमसे सरगश्तों की तुर्बत पर कहाँ होता
"if there wasn't a whirlwind in the valley of despair, O Majnuun
then how would there have been a dome over the tombs of crazed ones like us?"

Another brilliant one!

You're probably familiar with at least the general contours of Nizami's legendary 'Laila and Majnuun' love-tragedy which, i believe, formed the template for 'Romeo & Juliet'. The central idea of the story is the 'madness' of majnuun and his crazed wanderings in the wilderness... lost in Laila's love... and his ultimate demise on hearing of Laila's death.

Extending a kindred hand to Majnuun, the poet points out to him that it is lucky that the 'valley of madness' is visited by whirlwinds, which create 'stately domes' even over the 'graves' of those madmen (like the poet and Majnuun) who have perished in the wilderness...

The choice of words is especially breathtaking... 'sargasht' could literally translate to something like 'having whirlwinds in the head', meaning, of course, madmen whose heads keep 'spinning'... but when you juxtapose this nuance with the first line's use of 'whirlwinds in the valley of madness'.... wow!

ना करता ज़ब्त मैं गिरिया तो ए ज़ौक इक घड़ी भर मे
कटोरे की तरह घड़ियाल के गर्क आसमां होता
"if I hadn't controlled (my) tears, O Zauq, then in just a moment
the sky would have drowned in the clockface, as (it does) in a bowl"

Just TOO clever!! Ghalib would have been proud of this one!

What awesome imagery... and once again, what amazing word play!

"घड़ी भर मे' is an idiomatic way of saying 'in a moment', but the literal translation is, of course, 'in a clock' (घड़ी can mean both 'moment' and 'clock').

So just look at the way Zauq plays with the various possibilities of virtually every word he uses here... if the poet doesn't control his tears 'in a moment' then the 'clock' would fill up with his tears, becoming like a bowl... and the sky would 'drown' in it, just as the sky drowns in a bowl of water (the allusion being to the sky's reflection in water, of course)... But once again, remember that 'aasmaan' also means God, and what is he saying now? That his tears would fill up Time itself, and drown the Creator?!

Other possibilities too... Ghariyaal is used in the second line to make it explicit that the first line's 'Ghari' should be interpreted as 'clock' and not just as 'moment'... but apart from meaning a Clock (actually, usually a large curved metal plate - rather like a bowl - that used to be struck to mark time), Ghariyaal also means a crocodile... so is the sky (Almighty) at risk of 'drowning in a crocodile' (i.e. getting eaten by one) that is swimming in the poet's tears?

The possibilities are infinite... with the only certainty being that Zauq was being extremely tongue-in-cheek here!

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Zauq - Laayi hayaat aaye

Ok... 'Zauq' now.

Zauq had already been the official court poet of Bahadur Shah Zafar for several years before Ghalib began to receive the patronage of the Emperor. Reportedly, the two men didn't share the best of vibes - Zauq is said to have disapproved of Ghalib's 'dissolute lifestyle', and Ghalib (typically!) didn't think much of Zauq's poetry.

Despite Ghalib's opinion of him, Zauq did write some pretty nifty stuff – like this one, for instance, which has long been one of my favourites. A set of melancholy observations, loaded with 'quiet wisdom' and preaching a mixture of detachment and fatalism... very nice!

लाई हयात आये, कज़ा ले चली चले

अपनी खुशी ना आये, ना अपनी खुशी चले

'Existence brought, (and we) came; death/destiny took away, (and we) went

Neither did (we) come of our own accord, nor did (we) go of our own accord'

A gem of a sher, that encapsulates the central tragedy of existence - namely, the sheer lack of control over it - in a uniquely conversational style!

बेहतर तो है यही के ना दुनिया से दिल लगे

पर क्या करें जो काम ना बेदिल्लगी चले

'It is best, of course, that the heart does not get involved with the world

but what is one to do if one can't make do without involvements?'

What indeed?!

The eternal dilemma - the inability of the heart to remain detached from the vagaries of life; despite every saint and godman worth his cloth having blamed these attachments as the root of all sorrow! It was Jefferson who said 'The price of freedom is eternal vigilance', wasn't it?

हो उम्र-ए-खिज़्र भी तो कहेंगे बवक्त-ए-मर्ग

हम क्या रहे यहाँ अभी आये अभी चले

'Even if one has the lifespan of Khizr, one would (still) say at the time of death

(but) we barely lived here; we had just arrived, and now we leave'


We spoke about the legend of Khizr in an earlier post... the immortal travelling saint...

This sher so wryly captures the fundamental insatiability of human nature... No matter how wretched one's existence might have been, when the end approaches, life begins to seem unfairly ephemeral...!

दुनिया ने किस का राह-ए-फ़ना में दिया है साथ

तुम भी चले चलो यूं ही जब तक चली चले

'Whom has the world accompanied on the way to oblivion?

You too; just continue walking until (the path) goes on'

Sound advice! Look not for companions on life's path... it's an expedition that has to be undertaken alone...

Shades of Tagore's 'Ekla chalo re'?

नाज़ां ना हो खिरद पे, जो होना है वो ही हो

दानिश तेरी ना कुछ मेरी दानिश्वरी चले

'Don't be arrogant about (your) intelligence; whatever has to happen, happens

Neither your knowledge, nor my learning, makes any difference'

'Que sera, sera!!'...A mantra that every 'control freak' should probably frame and put up on his wall!

कम होंगे इस बिसात पे हम जैसे बदकिमार

जो चाल हम चले वो निहायत बुरी चले

'on this chessboard, there must be very few novices (incompetents) like me

whatever move i played, it was extremely badly played!'

Don't you just love this one... it has such an endearing helplessness to it!

A 'qimaar' is literally a gambler or player, with 'badqimaar' normally used for beginners at the game...

While the ghazal universe would typically place the sher in the mouth of someone who has lost in love, the sheer 'contextless-ness' of the actual words makes it easy for us to invoke it as an 'internal lament' in any situation of personal defeat!

जाते हवा-ए-शौक़ में हैं इस चमन से 'ज़ौक'

अपनी बला से बाद-ए-सबा कहीं चले

'In the winds of longing/desire (I) leave this garden, Zauq

who cares (anymore) if the morning breeze blows somewhere!'

After having craved (as per ghazal stylisation) for the 'baad-e-sabaa' for so long, there is a lovely sense of the poet's disillusionment in the second line's "to hell with it" attitude! As long as one can be wafted off on the gusts of one's desires, who needs to stick around in the garden for the eternally awaited zephyrs?