Sunday, 25 November 2007

Ghalib - Har ek baat pe kehte ho tum

It sometimes happens that a single sher soars above the rest of a ghazal, and makes one cherish, even treasure, the entire poem. We saw an example in the Momin we looked at earlier, where the 'Tum mere paas hote ho goyaa...' sher is just so much better than anything else in the ghazal.

When one comes across such a prize-winner in a Ghalib ghazal, one can be sure that it is going to be a truly outstanding sher. The following ghazal has been a long-loved favourite of mine, simply because of its truly remarkable matlaa, which has something of that 'un-graspable multivalence' that one saw in the 'kuch na thaa to khudaa thaa' couplet. Not that the rest of the Ghazal is poor in any way – it is very good, with at least a couple other gems. But the Mat'laa is, well, in a different class altogether! Ghalib sets such a high standard of poetry here that the rest of the Ghazal dips a little in comparison.

har ek baat pe kahte ho tum ki tuu kyaa hai
tum hii kaho ki ye andaaz-e-guftaguu kyaa hai

हर एक बात पे कहते हो तुम कि तू क्या है
तुम ही कहो कि ये अंदाज़--गुफ़्तगू क्या है

On every occasion/utterance/issue you say 'what are you?'

you tell me, what sort of conversational-style is this?

OK, let us start off by considering the most straightforward interpretation. In this, the words are addressed to the Beloved, and complain about the manner with which she invariably dismisses the ardent lover's advances, with an arrogantly haughty taunt - “You?! Who do you think you are?!!” Now, this sort of reaction is quite in keeping with the 'difference in status and power' that is at the centre of this stylised Ghazal romance, especially when one recalls the imperious, capricious, and self-absorbed characterisation that the Beloved is usually caricatured in. However, it is undeniably ill-bred, in almost any culture. Hence, the poet is well within his rights in rebuking her for her lack of manners, and asking her if this is any way to talk!

Nice as this reading of the sher is, I am constantly amazed at the number of commentators who are quite content to stop there. I mean, this is Ghalib! Could that be all there is to it???

No, not by half. By a slight shift of emphasis, the words, while still remaining directed at the Beloved, attain the form of highest praise. “Your every utterance 'speaks' of what you are! You tell me, how do you manage to talk like this?” See? The enthralling 'conversational style' of the Beloved reveals more about her than about the subject she is expounding on. Moreover, the besotted Lover is probably not even concentrating that much on what is being said...!! It is almost like a totally new Sher!

A sher that can simultaneously constitute an affronted rebuke as well as a fawning compliment to the Beloved, is already excellent. However, much deeper nuances emerge when one changes the subject of the 'dialogue' from the earthly Beloved to the divine one. [The shift is almost 'indicated' - the sort of 'air' the sher wears is definitely Sufistic.]

Let us look at the first reading we considered above. The Beloved was supposed to have shrugged off the Lover's proffered passions with an angry 'What are you?' - meant to highlight the audaciousness of the offer, in light of the huge difference between the Lover and her. When the subject is the Almighty, such 'asymmetry' would hardly need to be highlighted – it would be manifest. Hence if the Almighty responds to the Poet's prayers with a 'What are you?' kind of response, He obviously intends to highlight something quite different. Could He be wanting the poet to reflect upon his own 'unworthiness' in other ways? Could he mean something like, “It is all very well to make these elaborate shows of piety when worshipping me; but in your day-to-day life, what are you?” Could He, therefore, be pointing out that it is futile to expect grace and kindness on the basis of prayers alone, when one remains a blackguard in one's actual life? And realising the justice of this admonition, the Poet (in the second line) offers a sheepishly weak defence... “Come on! How can you talk like that!”

Frankly, I do believe this reading would be quite in keeping with Ghalib's personal credo, one that scoffed at empty religious earnestness in the absence of any higher code of behaviour.

While remaining addressed to the Almighty, the Sher also admits other possibilities. Recall the second 'Beloved-centric' interpretation we looked at above? Where, the Beloved was supposed to 'express' her qualities with every utterance, which held the Lover in thrall? Well, the Almighty is much more 'manifest' in his Excellence than any earthly Beloved could aspire to. On every issue, every 'baat', He shows just what He is! How, complains the Poet, can one have a 'conversation' with someone so invariably, so relentlessly 'Godly'??!

Or perhaps the Poet does dare to address words to the Almighty... to which He responds with demonstrations of what He is... the entire exchange making for a fairly stilted sort of conversation, about which the earthly party to the dialogue can quite justifiably complain!!

And one could go on, digging out nuances and meanings, almost ad infinitum. However, my personally favourite reading of this Sher is somewhat particular. Do we even need a Beloved (earthly or divine) here? Could the words not be entirely in the Poet's own mind?... a pensive, wondering soliloquy by a self-doubting solipsist, who is bemused at his tendency to question his own existence 'on every occasion'! “Snap out of it!” he tells himself. “What manner of dialogue, what sort of 'guftagoo' is this? Who am I talking to?”

Very neat, nahin?

na shole mei.n ye karishmaa na barq mei.n ye adaa
koii bataao ki vo shokh-tunD-khuu kyaa yai

ना शोले में ये करिश्मा ना बर्क में ये अदा
कोई बताओ कि वो शोख-तुंड-खू क्या है

Neither in (balls of) fire is there such miracle, nor in lightning such style

Someone tell me what that mischievous sharp-tempered (one) is!

A nice, and entertaining, sher for oral delivery, no doubt... but a little unexceptional otherwise. A typical 'over the top' praise of the Beloved's fiery appeals... her coquettishness and quick temper defy similes – balls of fire and bolts of lightning make for fairly inadequate comparisons to the kind of power she packs! The sher attributes an undeniably 'sexual energy' to the Beloved, and it isn't so much a question of what she resembles as what she actually is!

ye rashk hai ki vo hotaa hai ham-sukhan tum se
vagarnaa khauf-e-bad-aamoozii-e-aduu kyaa hai

ये रश्क है कि वो होता है हम-सुखन तुम से
वगरना ख़ौफ़--बद-आमोज़ी--अदू क्या है

(I am) envious (only) because he (gets to) converse with you!
Otherwise, what fear (do I have) of the Rival's mis-teachings?

Nice! A show of bravado, perhaps? “I don't care if the Rival [Adu, or 'gair' or 'dushman' is one of the principal characters in the cast...remember?] is telling you stories about me! What burns me up is that he is speaking to you!!” Which could be just a desperate attempt to discount the 'stories', of course!

The 'bad-aamozee-e-Adu' or 'bad teaching of Adu' could also stand for the lessons that the Rival himself is headed for, of course... the same 'lessons' that the poor Poet has already learned to his expense... i.e. exactly how heartless and unfaithful the Beloved can be. Obviously, nobody can blame the Poet for not being too concerned about what lies in store for Adu (he might even take some ghoulish comfort in the thought), but he does object to the fact that the villain gets to enjoy the Beloved's company in the interim!!

chipak rahaa hai badan par lahuu se pairaahan
hamaare jeb ko ab haajat-e-rafuu kyaa hai

चिपक रहा है बदन पर लहू से पैराहन
हमारे जेब को अब हाजत--रफू क्या है

The robe is sticking to the body, with blood

Why does my collar now need (any) darning?

Some of the standard imagery in Urdu poetry is intensely sanguinary, of course. May be a little too much, for modern squeamish tastes... but within the well-defined stylisations of the genre, this is an excellent sher for oral delivery.

The specific stylisation being evoked is, of course, the oft-repeated 'chak-e-gareban' scenario, where the frenzied Lover has clawed his collar to shreds, in his ineffectual attempts to ease the burning in his breast. In the process, drawing out so much of his life-fluid that the tattered remains of his robe adhere quite comfortably to his chest, without requiring any repair... the 'lack of need for repairs' could also be stressed because the Lover has reached a state of crazed ardour where the repaired collar would be immediately ripped apart again – so why even bother to stitch it up temporarily?

Some etymological niceties... the word 'jeb', now used mostly to describe any sort of pocket, initially stood for the front portion of a robe's collar, which fell over the chest (it was the Arabs who reportedly began the practice of sewing in a storage compartment under this collar, which evolved into the present shirt pocket). By induction, the word was also sometimes used to stand for the 'heart' which physiologically lay just under the 'jeb'. Hence, Ghalib could have been indulging in some clever word-play here... hinting that not just his collar, but even his heart is now beyond the requirement of a darning needle!!

jalaa hai jism jahaa.n dil bhii jal gayaa hogaa
khuredte ho jo ab raakh justazuu kyaa hai

जला है जिस्म जहाँ दिल भी जल गया होगा
खुरेद्ते हो जो अब राख जूस्तज़ू क्या है

Where the body has been burnt, the heart must have been burnt too

(Why are you) now scrabbling about in the ashes? What do you search?

Again, very nice. And must have been a delight to listen to in a mushairaa... the first line leaves you completely unprepared for what's to come in the second. The taunt is directed most obviously at the Beloved... having ignored the pining Lover to the point where he was finally engulfed in the flames of his agony, she is now scraping the ashes, in (remorseful? perverse? 'trophy-hunting'?!) search for his heart. 'Don't bother yourself', the dead Lover drily informs her, 'it must have got scorched along with the rest of the body'. Rather certainly, in fact, given that it was the incendiary organ in the first place!

Do note the lovely sound effects of the first line, with all the 'j' sounds rolling over each other, and providing a nice counterpoint to the 'justajoo' of the second.

rago.n mei.n dauRne phirne ke ham nahii.n kaayal
jab aankh se hii na Tapkaa to phir lahuu kyaa hai

रगों में दौड़ते फिरने के हम नहीं कायल

जब आँख से ही न टपका तो फिर लहू क्या है

I am not impressed with (it merely) running about in veins
Until it drips from the eyes, what (sort of) blood is it?

Once again, this is an extremely competent sher for listening to. Building upon the audience's pre-knowledge of Ghazal stylisation to enhance the punch of the second line...with the first line providing little prior hint of what's being got at!

As we examined earlier once, in classical imagery, the doomed Lover is condemned to weep tears of blood, until he finally runs out. This, according to the Poet, is almost the only worthwhile function a Lover's blood can perform. If it merely keeps circulating in his arteries and veins, it would only help perpetuate the suffering that a Lover's life is. No, the ultimate purpose, the 'karma' of the vital fluid is quite definite – it must ebb out through the Lover's eyes, in the process draining out his life force and freeing him from a torturous existence, in the process 'proving' the true-ness of his ardour.

vo chiiz jis ke liye ham ko ho bihisht aziiz
sivaa-e-baadaa-e-gulfaam-e-mushk-buu kyaa hai

वो चीज़ जिस के लिए हम को हो बिहिश्त अज़ीज़
सिवा--बादा--गुल्फाम--मुष्क-बू क्या है

The thing for which we would hold paradise dear

other than rose-coloured and musk-flavoured wine, what is it?

Sweet, very sweet! At the oral level, this is once again a sure-shot hit, 'playing to the gallery' by a delightful 'self taunt', made doubly enjoyable by the public knowledge about Ghalib's appreciation for drink. 'Why would we look forward to Paradise', he asks, 'if it wasn't for the fact that we will all get amazing booze there!' But, at a deeper level, the taunt is against the religious obscurantism that sees no inconsistency in advocating strict abstinence in the earthly life, by promising lake-fuls of intoxicating 'kausar' waters in the next world! At a still deeper level, of course, the sher could be not a taunt at all, but an intriguing speculation that paradise might actually offer something even more desirable than the intoxicating drink described in the sher...

piyuu.n sharaab agar kham bhii dekh luu.n do-chaar
ye shiishaa-o-kadaa-o-kuuzaa-o-subuu kyaa hai

पियूं शराब अगर खम भी देख लूँ दो-चार
ये शीशा--कदा--कूज़ा--सुबू क्या है

If I am to drink wine, let me see (check out) a couple of casks too

these glasses, pitchers, tumblers and flasks; what are they?!

Ha Ha! This one was obviously meant to amuse... once again in a deliberate 'play to the gallery'. If one wishes to establish one's drinking prowess, it is wimpish to talk in units of glasses and bottles... one must 'up the ante' a little and start measuring oneself against cask-fuls!

rahii na taaqat-e-guftaar aur agar ho bhii
to kis ummiid se kahiye ki aarzuu kyaa hai

रही ना ताक़त--गुफ़्तार और अगर हो भी
तो किस उम्मीद से कहिए कि आरज़ू क्या है

The power of speech remain no more; and even if it did
with what hope would one say what (one's) desire was?

Having finally capitulated under the burden of pain, the Poet has been left too weakened, too listless, to speak any longer... in abject self-pity, he comforts himself that this is no great loss...even if he could continue to speak, what would be the point? What hope or expectation could have justified articulating his desires? And to whom? The Beloved (either earthly or divine) obviously remains just as unmoved and unapproachable as before!

Note that the 'aarzoo kya hai' articulation could refer to the Beloved's desire too.... the scenario changes slightly... as before, the Lover has been weakened to a state of speechless, and then the Beloved actually does come by...but he is still sufficiently convinced about the wretchedness of his fortune that he can't imagine she could have come to grant him any favours... hence, even if he could still speak, with what hope could he have asked her, 'What do you want?'

huaa hai shaah ka musaahib phire hai itraataa
vagarnaa shahar mei.n Ghalib kii aabruu kyaa hai

हुआ है शाह का मुसाहिब फिरे है इतराता
वगरना शहर में ग़ालिब की आबरू क्या है

He has become the king's associate, (and hence) struts about (all over the place)
Otherwise, what is Ghalib's standing in the city?

Once again, as so often in this Ghazal, this outstanding maqtaa was obviously written for the immediate moment of its delivery! Think of the impact it must have made in a mehfil held under the Emperor's patronage... What an elegant compliment to the patron! – that mere association with him lends honour and standing to one.

Yet, at the same time, there is also a slightly perverse needling sense in the second line, isn't there? For Ghalib was, of course, an acknowledged master of his craft even in his own time... and there could be little doubt in the minds of the listeners about his 'aabroo' in the city... hence the whole thing sounds like a deliberately dramatised taunt at the state of the world, where even a master-poet needs to take on a 'master' in order to make a living (despite his habitually impecunious finances, Ghalib was intensely conscious of the worth of his poetry and scholarship, and the humiliating necessity of finding 'patrons' was something that bothered him no end. He was entirely capable of having risked making a joke of it even within the royal court!)

Monday, 12 November 2007

Baazeechah-e-atfaal hai

This one has long been among my favourites. Principally on account of its first four shers, which lucidly bring out Ghalib's (typical) scorn for the world around, as also for those who would take its workings seriously!

baaziicha-e-atfaal hai duniyaa mere aage
hota hai shab-o-roz tamashaa mere aage
बाज़ीचा-ए-अत्फाल है दुनिया मेरे आगे
होता है शब-ए-रोज़ तमाशा मेरे आगे

To me, the world is (nothing more than) a plaything of kids
night and day, there is a spectacle (in progress) in front of me

This pretty much sets the scene for the next three shers too! Ghalib testily telling you exactly what he thinks of this entire carnival that is the universe... or maybe not testily, but with an indulgent smile... or maybe not even aloud, but pensively to himself... the words themselves provide no clue to the 'mood' they are said in, but are enjoyable in almost any that you choose to read them in!

Even in a sher that seems tossed out with such airy disdain, note the careful choice of words by the master. 'Bazeechaah' is a diminutive of 'baazee', literally something like a 'bout', which carries a distinctly 'adversarial' air... and is therefore a likely comment on the variety of (childish?) conflicts that animate the fates of kings and commoners.

And 'spectacle' is a fairly inadequate translation of 'tamaashaa', of course. The original word carries a more palpable sense of unnecessary drama and theatrics - the dismissive contemporary colloquialism 'what a circus!' might be a closer translation of what Ghalib feels (in the second line) about what he is forced to observe, 'night and day'. Note also that the second line could even mean that the interplay of night and day is
itself a circus in Ghalib's eyes!

It might just be a matter of appealing to one's personal philosophy, but the delightfully irascible way Ghalib goes about relativising the reality of the universe in this sher (and the next three), and by implication scorning those who insist on remaining earnestly caught up in these illusory conflicts, makes this ghazal very very dear to me...

ek khel hai aurang-e-sulemaa.n mere nazdeek 
ak baat hai ijaaz-e-masiihaa mere aage  

एक खेल है औरंग-ए-सुलेमां मेरे नज़दीक
एक बात है इजाज़-ए-मसीहा मेरे आगे

Solomon's throne is merely a game/pastime/recreation/play, for me
(and) the messiah's miracle is (some feat!)/(the same thing)/(merely something talked about)/(something spoken aloud)

A wonderful, truly wonderful sher... fully loaded with Ghalib's naughty word-plays and allusions.

The first line makes the grandiloquent claim that the legendary throne of Solomon seems, to the Poet, to be merely a 'khel'.

Solomon's miraculous throne is supposed to have been equipped with a set of wondrous contrivances which would put on quite a 'show' when the wise King was about to take his seat on it. Now, apart from a game in the sporting sense, 'khel' can also denote a 'play' or a theatrical spectacle. And, the biblical descriptions of the workings of Solomon's throne does make it sound like quite a stage-prop!

However, what I think is the most brilliant part of the first line is the way it ends with 'mere nazdeek'. This is an expression that can very well mean something like 'to me' or 'in my view', and is hence quite in keeping with the kaafiyaa line ending. However, literally, of course, it means, 'close to me'... Now think about this - this Ghazal dates to the 1850s, when Ghalib was enjoying the patronage of Zafar's court. The Ghazal was probably first recited at a royal 'mehfil' oranised by the king, over which Zafar would himself have been presiding. And one can almost imagine that Zafar's throne might
actually have been quite close to where Ghalib, as a leading poet in the gathering, would have been seated... So, could this not have been a totally brilliant way of flattering the royal patron then? Namely, "Close to me, there is a throne, compared to which Solomon's seems like a mere stage-prop"!!!

And after that bit of cleverness, one comes to the totally brilliant second line.

There is unfortunately no adequate English equivalent to the Hindi/Urdu word 'baat' (although French has an almost as rich construct in 'parole'). We are all so used to using this 'carry-all' word in its varied expressions, that its multifariousness doesn't even strike us normally. Depending on context, it can stand for significance [
वाह, क्या बात है!] as also a total lack of significance [ये सब ख़ाली बातें हैं!] And at the same time, it carries that sense of something being said aloud, of course... Ghalib plays with all these senses in the second line.

The 'miracle' that the second line evokes is, of course, any of supernatural feats that the bible records Jesus as having carried out, particularly the three-odd times that he is supposed to have brought the dead back to life by simply commanding them to rise.

Ghalib, by using the ambivalent 'baat', manages to say something that can be read either to mean that these feats are, indeed, something
worth talking about... or alternatively something that is just talk, a superstition perpetuated by the pious! To make a statement that can be interpreted in almost entirely opposing manners, on so vital a point... isn't it totally brilliant?!

And it doesn't stop there. Consider the dismissive Hindustani expression "
सब एक ही बात है!" which means something like 'It is all the same!' The 'ek baat' of the second line could well be read in this sense, which would then seem to suggest that the Messiah's miracles are, in Ghalib's view, pretty much the same kind of thing as Solomon's throne (and we have already heard what he feels about that bit of theatrics!)

Finally, there is the literal meaning of 'baat' of course... namely, something that is 'said'. And, well, that is pretty much
how Jesus is supposed to have performed many of his miracles... by saying aloud a sentence or two!!

वाह, क्या बात है, indeed!

juz naam nahii.n suurat-e-aalam mujhe manzuur
juz vaham nahii.n hastii-e-ashyaa mere aage 

जुज़ नाम नहीं सूरत-ए-आलम मुझे मंज़ूर
जुज़ वहम नहीं हस्ती-ए-अश्या मेरे आगे

I refuse to accept the appearance of the world, except as a (mere) name
(The) existence of (worldly) things is nothing more than an illusion, for me

Sufi philosophising, Ghalib style! The sheer, palpably deliberate, 'over the top' self-importance with which these observations are delivered robs them of the silliness that such grandiloquence might otherwise have carried!

 hotaa hai nihaa.n gard mei.n sehraa mere hote
ghistaa hai zabii.n khaak pe dariyaa mere aage    

होता है निहां गर्द में सेहरा मेरे होते
घिसता हैं जबीं ख़ाक पे दरिया मेरे आगे

In my presence, the desert hides itself in the dust
the sea rubs its forehead in the dirt, in front of me

The final couplet of this unparalleled quartet.

Here, Ghalib brilliantly 'substantiates' the illusoriness of perceived phenomena, which he has been asserting in the first three shers.

The first line, on first reading, seems to be suggesting that the desert lurks out of sight when the poet confronts it... as if in fear of coming face to face with someone who has such knowledge of 'wildernesses'! However, on closer reading, what he is actually saying is, "look, the desert disappears into dust, when I am around"... But then, what
is the desert but for an expanse of dust?? And can it, therefore, ever not hide itself in the dust?? Of what significance is the fear that the poet supposedly inspires in the desert then, if the latter reacts to it by simply...being itself!!

Similarly, the seemingly arrogant claim of the sea 'rubbing its forehead in the dirt' at the poet's feet, is nothing more than a fanciful picturisation of the normal 'lapping of the shores' by its waves... indeed would it even
be a sea if it didn't rub its forehead on the sand like this? Hence, the poet's arrogant imagery of the sea abjecting itself in front of him is immediately revealed as being pompously empty and imagined... as it was meant to be, of course. Because the whole point of the sher is that all appearances of respect, abjection, dominance and subservience in the world are no more real than these fanciful imaginings of this contrivedly self-important poet!

So much so for those who would go about looking for power, prestige and dominance in the world!!

mat puuchh kyaa haal hai meraa tere piichhe 
tuu dekh ki kyaa rang hai teraa mere aage

मत पूछ क्या हाल है मेरा तेरे पीछे
तू देख की क्या रंग है तेरा मेरे आगे

Ask not in what state I am, after/behind you
you see what is your state/colour/splendour/fate, in front of me

The arrogant pompousness of the previous four shers seems left far behind, in a return to the more standard abjectness of the Ghazal world.... but then again, is it really so abject?

This is a very competent sher, its first impression of simplicity being only because it uses admirably common words. Under the surface, it hides layers of meanings that many commentators don't bother to dig into. Most of the richness of the sher comes from the many different nuances that can be ascribed to 'rang' (in the second line), even in ordinary speech.

First of all, note that the first line's use of 'peeche', in conjunction with the 'aage' of the kaafiyaa, makes for an unequivocally unequal contextualisation - between the poet and whoever is being addressed in this sher.

In its most straightforward reading then, the words could be directed as a bitter barb at the Beloved, who has 'moved on' after breaking the poet's heart, but has, in a possibly hypocritical gesture of goodwill (or possibly to mitigate the awkwardness of a chance encounter) just been inquiring about the wellbeing of the poet. Testily, the poet responds - 'please don't bother about how I am faring where you left me behind.
You concentrate on the pleasures you are enjoying wherever you are now'... the 'rang' in this case standing for something like 'rang rangat', or 'splendour and enjoyment'.

But this is just the
simplest reading, of course. Even in exactly the same hypocritical situation (of a chance encounter between the poet and his unfaithful ex), the 'rang' could actually stand for 'colour' in the physical sense... Perhaps the Beloved is 'blushing' shamefully on encountering someone she has been so cavalier towards in the past? Is the poet saying, with ghoulish relish... 'forget about how I am doing... look at your state in front of me!'?

And then again, it may not be so 'situational', of course... the words could be only rhetorically directed at the beloved... 'never mind how I am suffering after your having moved on... think about what impression I carry about
you now, about how you must appear to me after I've seen your unfaithful ways'!

within this last reading, there are various nuances possible. The poet could be advising the Beloved not only to pay attention to how she appears to him in the above sense, but perhaps even physically... namely, pointing out that her beauty, which makes her so heartlessly arrogant and unfaithful, is, after all, an ephemeral thing, and will eventually fade... and then it is the poet who will have the last laugh. Hence the advise could be something challenging like 'just continue to pay attention on your own fate'...

And then, of course, there is always that delicious possibility that the Beloved in question is not the
earthly one. Could the words be a taunt at Almighty himself? "Fine, don't bother to look into my welfare, but do at least think of how unmoving and 'ungodly' you must appear to me!"

Simple? Decidedly not!

sach kahte ho khud-biin-o-khud-aaraa huu.n, na kyo.n huu.n 
baiThaa hai but-e-aaiinaa-siinaa mere aage 

सच कहते हो खुद-बीन-ओ-खुद-आरा हूँ, न क्यों हूँ
बैठा है बुत--ए-आइना-सीना मेरे आगे

You are right, (I) am self-regarding and self-adorning; why shouldn't (I) be?
(A) mirror-faced idol is sitting in front of me!

Ghalib at his brilliant best again!

In its most straightforward reading, the sher is somewhat flat. In effect, the poet has been accused of being vain and a bit of a dandy, and concedes the point by explaining that he can hardly help being somewhat self-obsessed, given that he spends most of his time staring at someone with a face as silvery as a mirror, (namely the Beloved, who is
often deified as a 'but' or idol in the ghazal world).

Which is not a bad defence, of course...for people do feel compelled to 'pretty themselves up' a bit when confronted with a mirror in an elevator, for instance, don't they? However, in this reading, the sher is little more than a smart way of complimenting the Beloved's complexion (or the limpid reflectiveness of her eyes).

But this is Ghalib, and the straightforward reading is merely an appetiser. 'Self regarding' and 'self adorning' admit of much more nuanced meanings than the physical act of looking at a mirror or equipping oneself with fancy sartorial accoutrements. The words could be used in an entirely figurative sense, in the sense of being egoistical, or self-praising (the latter being an accusation that must often have been directed against Ghalib!)

In this reading, the Poet rationalises his self-obsessiveness by pointing out that his attentions are actually directed at the Beloved, but his ability to appreciate her exquisiteness 'reflects back' so positively on his own tastes and discernment, that 'worshipping this idol' makes one appear 'self praising'. Think of any connoisseur talking about the intricacies of his favourite art form, and one gets a handle on the kind of thing being said here!

My personally favourite reading of this sher is, however, a rather different one. It works best if the sher is seen as being directed not to the earthly beloved, but the celestial one. In effect, the poet has been accused of being self-obsessed and self-gratifying (by someone who might be seated in front of him, and hence might well be the subject of his subsequent response). 'Well', he responds, 'the idol I worship is so reflective, that I end up looking only at myself when I regard her!'.
See the 'divine' scorn here? Ghalib is, in effect, telling the Almighty that He is little better than his worshippers. Thanks to His unvarying unmovingness and injustice, when people look at him, they see the same feebleness and foibles that they perceive in themselves! Like a mirror faced idol, God has nothing to offer his parishioners that they themselves can't come up with! Why would one even bother worshipping a God as unexceptional as this? One might as well look out for oneself! In effect, Ghalib is speaking not for himself, but for all of Humanity here!!

phir dekhiye andaaz-e-gul-afghaanii-e-guftaar 
rakh de koii paimaanaa-e-sahbaa mere aage

फिर देखिए अंदाज़-ए-गुल-अफ्शानी-ए-गुफ्तार
रख दे कोई पैमाना-ए-सहबा मेरे आगे

Then look at (my) style of scattering rose (petals) in speech
(if) someone (were to) place a glass of wine before me!

This is a nice and naughty one, even if it doesn't amount to more than a 'standard' acknowledgement of the powers of Bacchus to get one's creative enzymes flowing!

It must have been a particularly nice sher for oral delivery... the patent loveliness (both in terms of its sound as well as its imagery) of the multiply linked expression 'andaaz-e-gul-afshaanee-e-guftaar'; the way the introduction of the wine motif seems to anti-climactically 'puncture' the theatrically expectant air initially created by the first line; the fact that Ghalib's weakness for the bottle was already well known to his listeners; all contribute to add charm and amusement to the sher.

nafrat ka gumaa.n guzre hai, mai.n rashk se guzraa
kyo.n kar na kahuu.n lo naam na un kaa mere aage

नफ़रत का गुमां गुज़रे है, मैं रश्क से गुज़रा
क्यों कर न कहूं लो नाम न उन का मेरे आगे

The suspicion of hatred passes/comes about; I (passed through)/(overcame) jealousy
How can I say 'don't take her name in front of me/mine'?

We had evidence of the amazing multivalence of the word 'guzarna' in one of the Faiz ghazals we looked at earlier – remember? In effect, the word can be used in many ways, some almost antonymous to each other! And it is this which makes the above sher extremely difficult to pin down as regards meaning, at the same time giving it its rare beauty.

In most commentators' reading of it, the poet seems to be making the point that while hearing others talk about the Beloved does make a wave of jealousy wash over him, he is constrained from requesting them to not talk about her in his presence, because doing so might create the impression that the poet harbours some sort of hatred for the Beloved, and can't bear to hear her name.

However, the various senses one can read the guzre-guzraa combination of the first line allows us to invoke a variety of other meanings. Perhaps the poet is saying that the suspicion he had about the Beloved hating him has finally dissipated (it has been 'settled', one way or the other)... and at the same time he has also managed to overcome the jealousy he used to feel on hearing someone speak her name... hence now he has no reason to not converse with people about her (earlier he could not do so either because of his jealousy, or because of the fear that the Beloved might hate him more if she heard that he has been gossiping about her!).

The 'nafrat kaa gumaan' in the first line could also be evoking the suspicion the poet himself used to feel whenever people talked about the Beloved... that they were doing it out of hatred towards him, to torture him further. However, he has now gotten over such fanciful imaginings. Hence it is OK for people to talk about her now, even in his presence.

Finally, the 'lo naam na un ka mere aage' could mean not just “don't take her name in front of me” but also “don't take her name in front of mine”!! Meaning, that he has no reason to stop people from 'linking their names' i.e. talking about their supposed relationship! Because there is no more suspicion of the Beloved hating him, and he has also managed to overcome the jealous hostility that his relationship with the Beloved used to evoke in other aspirants to her favours!

The possibilities multiply...!

iimaan mujhe roke hai jo kiinche hai mujhe kufr
kaabaa mere piiche hai kaliisaa mere aage 

ईमान मुझे रोके है जो खींचे है मुझे कुफ्र
काबा मेरे पीछे है कलीसा मेरे आगे

Piety/Honour/Faith holds me back, (while) infidelity pulls me
the kaabah is behind me, a church in front of me

Ha! Brilliant! 'God' save those whom Ghalib chooses to heap scorn on!!

In this case, the object of his derision is, of course, the earnestness of a religious discourse that gratuitously warned 'true' believers against 'insidious' attempts at proselytism by competing faiths. Ghalib, with his universalistic values and general impatience with small-mindedness, would naturally have found such talk immature and infantile. Therefore, in this sher, he sets up a deliberately and childishly ridiculous picture of a person held in suspended animation, being pulled either which way by the retentive powers of the kaabah on one hand, and the beguiling charms of a church on the other! Sometimes the best way to demolish a discourse is to agree whole-heartedly!!

One can imagine how enjoyable a sher this must have been in its original oral delivery, isn't it? The first line repeated ad-infinitum to build up an expectation of some piously pithy denouement, and then the anticlimax of the second line!!

aashiq huu.n par mashuuk-farebii hai meraa kaam 
majnuu.n ko buraa kahtii hai lailaa mere aage

आशिक हूँ पर माशूक-फ़रेबी है मेरा काम
मजनूँ को बुरा कहती है लैला मेरे आगे

A lover I am, but my vocation is to lead Beloveds astray (or dupe them)
(Why, even) Laila speaks ill of Majnoon (in my presence)/(compared to me)!

Once again, a delightful sher for oral recitation. The poet creates a deliberately roguish and 'sneaky' persona for himself, admitting that he habitually philanders around with Beloveds, or poisons their minds against their true lovers, because of which even Laila succumbs to sharing unflattering confidences about Majnoon with him! Of course 'mere aage' can equally well mean 'compared to me', hence Laila might even be going so far as to make public statements stressing the superiority of the poet vis-a-vis her true lover!!

In another alternative reading of this sher, which few commentators seem to prefer but which, I think, is just as enjoyable, the sher could be a bit of a 'set-up'... in effect, the poet might be trying to highlight that his own love for his Beloved is no less ardent than that of the legendary Majnoon's for Laila. However, there must be some exceptional 'mashooq-farebee' in him which makes the Beloved still speak ill of him! "Why, the whole thing is as ridiculous as Laila criticising Majnoon!!" See...? The taunt than would be directed not at himself, but at the Beloved, who inexplicably fails to recognise her true Lover...!

khush hote hai.n par vasl mei.n yuu.n mar nahii.n jaate
aayii shab-e-hijraa.n kii tamannaa mere aage

खुश होते हैं पर वस्ल में यूँ मर नहीं जाते
आयी शब-ए-हिजरां की तमन्ना मेरे आगे

(one) is happy, but one doesn't die like this during Union!
(perhaps) the wish/desire of the night of separation came (before me)/(to me)!

This is a very nice sher!!

In its commonly accepted meaning, the sher is invoking a delicious irony. The Lover was finally, improbably, united with the Beloved... and, quite expectedly, the momentousness of the moment promptly killed him off (to 'die of joy' was almost certain under the circumstances, wasn't it?). Somewhat put off by this anti-climactic turn of events, the poet wryly observes that people normally don't die when United with their Beloveds – howsoever happy they might be. Hence, in his case, it must be all those 'death wishes' he voiced during the long night of separation, which must suddenly have been answered just when he needed to remain alive!! In its 'jinxed-ness', this is a truly delicious picture! 
However, we can also look at this sher somewhat differently. What if the poet, in the first line, is not dead, but is actually making a wry observation that he doesn't seem to be too affected by the Union with the Beloved...?! It could very justifiably be read as such. In effect, “Ok, I am definitely happy, but I am not exactly dying of joy.” And then, introspectively, he goes on to realise, in the second line, that what he is missing, what is making the Union less than perfect, is a sudden desire, a tamanna, he feels for the 'shab-e-hijraan'!!! 
On first glance, that might seem breath-takingly perverse... but, on reflection, why should it? After all, what can Union offer compared to the infinitely sweet sufferings of separation?? It is not such an unlikely sentiment in the Ghazal world, is it? That strand of lingering doubt... 'this is all very well, but wasn't that glorious longing somehow better, more intense, than this momentary joy??' And do remember that this ghazal began with some nifty relativising of the entire Universe's significance...why should the 'shab-e-vasl' be not treated to the same questioning?? In my view, therefore, reading the second line as “a longing for the night of separation (suddenly) came upon me” makes for a very enjoyable alternative! [a question of 'personal philosophies' again, perhaps? At least for all of us 'commitment-phobic' types!!]

hai mauj-zan ek kuljum-e-khuun, kaash yahii ho
aataa hai abhii dekhiye kyaa kyaa mere aage

है मौज-ज़न एक कुल्जुम-ए-खून, काश यही हो
आता है अभी देखिए क्या क्या मेरे आगे

A blood-sea is (rough with) waves; may it be just that!
let us see what all (remains to) come before me yet!

What makes Ghalib so 'ungraspable' is just this sort of Inshaaiyah versification... where little is actually 'stated'; it is all wishes, expressions of foreboding and rhetorical questions.

The only 'concrete' part of the sher seems to be the observation that a 'sea of blood' is on boil...'wave generating' is the actual expression used, evoking a tempestuous, raging, stormy and blustery body of water (or rather blood, in this case). And what is this ominous 'sea of blood' being talked about here? There are no immediate classical allusions which spring to mind, so one presumes that the imagery is figurative – perhaps the tears of blood that the Lover is famously supposed to shed in copious quantities have now reached proportions where they are threatening to become a veritable ocean, and a stormy one at that!

Having evoked this scary picture of tsunamis welling up in a sea of blood, the poet goes on, totally incongruously, to apparently wish 'kaash yahee ho', or 'may it be this only!' (to use a common Indianised expression!). Which seems totally at odds with the picture of a squally sea of blood! Why would one wish for an ocean of blood anyway? Well, as the second line points out, the poet is uncertain whether the future might not hold even more ominous tests in store for him, compared to which a sea of blood might seem a minor inconvenience! And in any case, you know what they say about a 'known devil'... it is the uncertainty of what the future might throw up that apparently makes the poet 'accept' the sea of blood, provided his misfortunes stop at that!

go haa.nth ko jumbish nahii.n, aankho.n mei.n to dam hai
rahne do abhii saagar-o-miinaa mere aage 

गो हाथ को जुम्बिश नहीं, आँखों में तो दम है
रहने दो अभी सागर-ओ-मीना मेरे आगे

albeit the hand is without motion, (my) eyes do (still) retain life/breath
let the wine goblet remain before me yet!

This is again a celebration of drink...along the lines of the seventh sher above. The air is again slightly facetious – the poet seems to have drunk himself into a state of listlessness, and somebody has sensibly pointed out that the wine goblet should perhaps be removed from in front of him, because he can't, in any case, reach out to pick it up any more. Well, he slurs out, maybe I can't move my hand, but what makes you think I am not continuing to imbibe through my eyes??!!

Other possibilities remain, of course... maybe the 'paralysis' of the hand is brought about not by intoxication, but because the poet is on his deathbed? And he wishes to die with the vision of the wineglass in his eyes... And when one recalls all that wine symbolically stands for in the Ghazal world, over and above the alcoholic beverage, the sher can be much more than a tribute to firewater!

ham-peshaa-o-ham-mashrab-o-hamraaz hai meraa
Ghalib ko buraa kyo.n kaho achhaa mere aage

हम-पेशा-ओ-हम-मश्रब-ओ-हमराज़ है मेरा
ग़ालिब को बुरा क्यों कहो अच्छा मेरे आगे

(he) shares my vocation, my drinks, my confidences
why (do you) criticise Ghalib? (He is) good in front of me!

A masterful maqtaa, as always, from the Great One! And expectedly self-centred, as usual!! 
The sher is evidently directed at somebody who has been badmouthing Ghalib...which could even be the Beloved herself, of course. Apparently, this person doesn't recognise Ghalib by face though, which allows him to indignantly spring to his own defence, without revealing his identity. “I know Ghalib very well – he is of my trade, we drink together, we even swap secrets! He has always been very good in my presence. What business do you have to go about criticising him?” 
Note that while this is undeniably and ignobly sneaky, it is not untrue – for the poet does evidently 'share' Ghalib's trade, drinks and confidences! Only Ghalib could come up with such sly self defence!