Sunday, 25 May 2008

Ghalib - Koi din gar zindagaanii aur hai

A short sweet ghazal, this one. The principal point of interest in it is a clever exploitation of the multivalence of 'aur' - in the radif. While we use the word in day-to-day language to mean 'and' (which gives it a sense of 'more' or 'additional'), it also admits an (almost equally common) alternate meaning of 'different' or 'something else'. Ghalib plays delightfully with this duality in almost every sher of this ghazal.

Koi din gar zindagaanii aur hai
apne jii mei.n hamne Thaanii aur hai

कोई दिन गर ज़िन्दगानी और है

अपने जी में हमने ठानी और है

If life is for a few more days / if life is different some day

In my mind I have resolved something else / In my mind I have resolved more (of the same)

A delightfully worded sher, that straightaway illustrates the full strength of the specific verbal multivalence that Ghalib has selected to explore in this ghazal, with aur. The two alternative senses of this word, when applied to either line of the opening sher, give rise to four possible permutation-combinations of 'complete' thought processes, each of them equally valid and poetically suggestive:

a) If my life is to continue for a few more days, I have resolved on doing something quite different (from whatever I have been busy with so far)
b) Even if my life is to continue for a few more days, I have resolved even more strongly to continue doing whatever I have been busy with
c) If, someday, my life is different (from what it is now), I have resolved to do something different from what I am doing in this life
d) Even if, someday, my life is different (from what it is now), I have resolved even more stongly to continue doing whatever I am doing in this life

See? Such wealth of meaning, and he hasn't even begun explaining yet what the subject of the resolve is!

As in many of the best shers, the sheer unsaid-ness of the words allows them to be applied to just about any kind of 'resolute' intent. However, if we wish to stick to the standard Ghazal stylisation, the obvious candidate would be the poet's single-minded pursuit of the Beloved. In which case, the various senses evoked above would translate to either a gritty determination on the part of the Poet (to not be dejected by the unrequited-ness of his love), or else a bitter sigh of regret (at having 'wasted' his time on such a futile pursuit), or perhaps even an explicit 'threat' to the unyielding Beloved that his patience has been tried to the limit, and if he is to continue living any longer, he intends to do something else (perhaps to adopt more drastic means to attract her attention, or else abandon his devotion to her altogether...?)

aatish-e-dozakh mei.n ye garmii kahaa.n
soz-e-gamhaa-e-nihaanii aur hai

आतिश-ऐ-दोज़ख में ये गरमी कहाँ

सोज़-ऐ-गमहा-ऐ-निहानी और है

Does such heat exist (even) in the fires of hell?!
the burning of hidden griefs is more/something else!

Once again, both senses of 'aur' would give valid, and enjoyable, interpretations of the sher. The burning of concealed pain is either 'more' than that caused by the hell-fires, or even a sort of hotness that is in class completely 'different' than what one would have to suffer in hell!

There is some word-play intended here too. Dozakh can also mean, apart from hell, 'a belly'. Hence the sher could also be a comment on how the concealment of 'griefs of the heart' is a greater source of discomfort than the pangs occasioned in one's tummy by mere hunger.

baar-haa dekhii hai.n un kii ranjishe.n
par kuchh ab ke sar-garaanii aur hai

बार-हा देखी हैं उन की रंजिशें

पर कुछ अब के सर-गरानी और है

Again and again have (I) seen her indignations
but this time the ill-will is more/something else

haa is used for pluralisation in Persian, hence the 'baar-haa' would correspond to 'baar-baar' or 'kai baar' of everyday speech. garaan is literally heavy, and hence sar-garaanee is literally 'heavy headedness, but has a general negative nuance of dissatisfaction, displeasure, pride or ill-feeling.

The 'target' of the sher is obviously the Beloved (either the earthly one or the one in the azure). But the sher, simple as it is, does capture a delightfully helpless sense of 'dread', doesn't it? The poor Lover is quite used to suffering the displeasure of the Beloved, but now, completely inexplicably, she is suddenly even more displeased than before (or, alternatively, her displeasure has taken on a completely new complexion, hitherto unseen... or as we would say in English, is 'quite something else'). What has caused this sudden escalation in temper? And what is the haplessly uncomprehending Lover to do, except quake in apprehension?!

de ke khat mu.nh dekhtaa hai naamabar
kuchh to paigaam-e-zabaanii aur hai

दे के ख़त मुंह देखता है नामा-बर

कुछ तो पैगाम-ऐ-ज़बानी और है

having given the letter, the messenger (continues to) watch the face
(surely) there is some other/additional verbal message!

Probably the most exquisite sher in this ghazal! Even more indirectly than the previous sher, this one captures such a palpable sense of unsaid dangers looming vaguely over the horizon!

Just look at the delightfully evocative 'vignette' that is captured in these two simple lines... [The 'duration' of the scene is almost momentary. And yet...!] The messenger has just handed over a letter from the Beloved to the Lover. From past precedent, it is almost certain that the Beloved would not have penned words that can be described as kind. But the messenger has obviously also been told to convey some additional message, through his tongue. Oh dear, how much more drastic must these words be if even the Beloved, heartless as she is, chose not to commit them to paper?! And is that why the messenger is hesitating to articulate them too? Perhaps even he feels ashamed uttering something so abusive, something so glaringly undeserved?? The sher says nothing, but ends up saying so much...!

In the alternate sense of aur, the Beloved could have sent a letter that confines itself to socially acceptable civilities... but the message she has asked the messenger to convey verbally is obviously quite different from the polite salutations contained in the letter!

In either reading, the sher has this delightful air of 'time paused dramatically'... the poet obviously expects lightning to strike in a moment...but for the moment, there is just this ominously pregnant pause!

kat-e-amaar hai.n aksar nujoom
vo balaa-e-aasmaanii aur hai

कात-ऐ-अमार हैं अकसर नुजूम

वो बला-ऐ-आसमानी और है

Stars are often cutters of lives/ages
(but) that 'calamity of the skies' is something else!

Lovely! Wonderful play on words, once again!

While nujoom is literally 'collections of stars', the word is, more often than not, employed specifically to refer to 'celestial influences' in astrological contexts. Amaar is the plural of umr, which means 'lifetime' or 'age'. And, as in the english word 'age', the word can also be used to mean a 'period of time'. Hence, it is quite true to say that stars & constellations act to 'cut off' amaar, because they do, of course, help us 'mark out' time-periods - by 'marking the end of' days, months and years!

And, by implication, they also 'cut off' our lives, when our 'time is done'. However, when it comes to 'cutting off lives', the 'calamity (descended) from the heavens', i.e., the Beloved, is quite in a class by herself! The stars, powerful as they are, can never hope to match the potency of her 'life-cutting abilities'! The description of the Beloved as a
balaa-e-aasmaanii not only allows Ghalib to highlight her implied 'angelic' origins, but also serves to point out that the sher works wonderfully if it is seen to be referring to the 'celestial' Beloved!

Note that even in this sher, the two alternate senses of 'aur' can be evoked. While the principal reading of the sher seems to concentrate on the 'different' or 'something else' sense of aur (as outlined in the above paragraph), the sher can also be saying that while stars are the 'usual' causative factor behind the 'cutting off of lives', the Beloved acts as an additional agent to deliver the same result - because of which even people whose 'time has not yet come' may be laid waste, if she were to set her capricious mind to do so!

ho chukii.n ghalib balaaye.n sab tamaam
ek marg-e-naagahaani aur hai

हो चुकीं गालिब बलाएँ सब तमाम

एक मर्ग-ऐ-नागहानी और है

All calamities are (now) finished, Ghalib
there remains (just) one more - the unanticipated death

And a classy maqtaa to end things off! The full gamut of calamities has visited the poor poet, one by one, until they have exhausted themselves. There now remains just one more to put up with... namely, a sudden, unanticipated, death! But the very fact that the sher 'anticipates' its coming means that it would not really be 'naagahaan' - so a nice paradox is set up by the words! Even apart from this bit of cleverness, what a sweetly fatalistic air the sher wears, nahin? It is almost celebratory, the observation that all possible disasters have now been dealt with - and there remains just the final one to dispose off!

While the principal sense of aur invoked in this maqtaa is obviously one of 'more', it does admit the evocation of the 'different' sense too. In this alternative reading, the sher would be saying something like, "all possible calamities are now over. The sudden death that remains, is something different, i.e., it is not a calamity at all!" Which is to say that after having braved all that a cruel fate had in its armoury, the poet regards death almost as a palliative... something to look forward to!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Ghalib - Kyoon jal gayaa naa taab-e-rukh-e-yaar dekh kar

Here's the other Ghalib ghazal you recommended, Deepti. I find this one a little patchy - while many of its shers are comparable with the best in the entire Divan, a few seem somewhat so-so.

kyuu.n jal gayaa na taab-e-rukh-e-yaar dekh kar
jaltaa huu.n apnii taaqat-e-diidaar dekh kar

क्यूं जल गया न ताब-ए-रुख-ए-यार देख कर

जलता हूँ अपनी ताक़त-ए-दीदार देख कर

Why did (it) not (get) burnt up on seeing the glow of the Beloved's face?
I am jealous on seeing the strength of my (own) sight!

The sher turns on a somewhat too-obvious leveraging of the dual meanings of 'jalnaa' - i.e. the physical act of burning, as well as 'feeling jealous or envious' of something. The overall idea is still a nice one, though. The poet is suffering the after-effects of having glimpsed the Beloved's face (which has left him 'burning' in a tumult of desires), and he envies his sense of sight, which could 'absorb' the divine incandescence of the Beloved's face without immediately being scorched. [Moreover, if it had been so scorched, it would have saved the Poet the subsequent suffering, so it isn't simply jealousy that is causing the Poet's discontent against the 'thick-skinnedness' of his sight.]

aatish-parast kahte hai.n ahl-e-jahaa.n mujhe
sar-garm-e-naalaahaa-e-sharaar-baar dekh kar

आतिश-परस्त कहते हैं अहल-ए-जहाँ मुझे

सर-गर्म-ए-नालाहा-ए-शरार-बार देख कर

People of the world call me a fire-worshipper
seeing (me) ardent for spark-sprinkling laments

Rather picturesque. The poet's preference for fiery cries (sharaar-baar is 'raining sparks') makes him seem like a Zoroastrian worshipper of fire. The fire-imagery is helped by the 'sar-garm' wording, which means 'eager' or 'zealous' but has a literal meaning of 'hot headed'.

Since, in the Islamic milieu that these lines were written, being an aatish-parast would have been considered as scandalously sacrilegious as being a but-parast, the sher displays Ghalib's typically naughty desire to puncture religious pomposity.

kyaa aabruu-e-ishq jahaa.n aam ho jafaa
ruktaa huu.n tum ko besabab aazaar dekh kar

क्या आबरू-ए-इश्क जहाँ आम हो जफ़ा

रुकता हूँ तुम को बेसबब आज़ार देख कर

What dignity of love (can there be, in a place) where torture is commonplace?
I am held back, upon seeing you tormenting (everybody) without reason.

Rather nicer! The Poet complains against the indiscriminate way the Beloved is going about dispensing her oppressions. This is a privilege, he reasons, that should be reserved for him, her true lover, and not for all and sundry! After all, the cruelties that he used to receive at the hands of the Beloved were what lent 'dignity' to his (otherwise unrequited) love - if even that exclusive right is now lost to him, what self-respect can he continue to claim?

aataa hai mere qatl ko par josh-e-rashk se
martaa huu.n us ke haa.nth mei.n talwaar dekh kar

आता है मेरे क़त्ल को पर जोश-ए-रश्क से

मरता हूँ उस के हाँथ में तलवार देख हर

(she) comes to kill me off, but from the frenzy of envy
(I) die seeing the sword in her hand

A little contrived, this. The Beloved is coming to slaughter the Poet, but he is dying of jealousy on seeing the sword she is holding in her arm (the implication being, presumably, that she should, instead, be holding him?!) As paradoxes go, it isn't bad (watching her coming to kill me kills me off anyway, thus depriving her of the pleasure of actually killing me?) but the chain of reasoning does seem somewhat forced. Unless I am missing something here...

saabit huaa hai gardan-e-miinaa pe khuun-e-khalk

larze hai mauj-e-mai terii raftaar dekh kar

साबित हुआ है गर्दन-ए-मीना पे खून-ए-खल्क

लरज़े है मौज-ए-मय तेरी रफ़्तार देख कर

The murder of creation (mankind) stands proved on the wine-flask
the wave of wine trembles, seeing your gait

This one's much nicer!

(literally, God's creations) is a way of describing mankind. The Beloved's swaying walk habitually causes 'genocide' among the poor unfortunates on her path. And since the deliberately nymph-like oscillations of her gait are similar to the walk an inebriated person, it is the poor wine-flask that stands at risk of being blamed for this mass-murder caused by her. And it is idiomatic usage in Urdu to say that a victim's 'blood is proved on the neck of' the person who has committed the homicide [recall the 'dare kyon meraa qaatil' sher from one of the first Ghalib ghazals we looked at]. And it is because of this danger of being blamed for the murder of innocent bystanders that the 'wave of wine' pauses, trembling in fear, as it is being poured down the neck of the wine-flask! But since wine, in idiomatic usage, bears a somewhat blood-like gulaabii hue anyway, this 'pausing' in itself also contributes (at least metaphorically) towards proving the 'blood on the neck' of the wine-flask. The end result is a delightfully self-reinforcing set of images, of blood, drunkenness, wine gurgling tremblingly down the necks of flasks, and the Beloved (or perhaps even the saaqii, as a proxy) sashaying, with lethally contrived innocence, through all this!

vaa hasrataa! ki yaar ne khiinchaa sitam se haa.nth
ham ko hariis-e-lazzat-e-aazaar dekh kar

वा हसरता! कि यार ने खींचा सितम से हाँथ

हम को हरीस-ए-लज्ज़त-ए-आज़ार देख कर

Oh, desires! For the Beloved pulled (back) her hand from oppression
seeing me greedy for the enjoyment of (her) oppressions!


The Beloved realises that the Poet is lapping up, with perverse relish, all the cruelties she is heaping on him! Upon seeing his enjoyment of her tortures, she immediately denies him even this perverse pleasure - by stopping the oppression! But what does that mean? Is she going to suddenly become indulgent towards him? Or merely indifferent? In most cases, the 'oppression' that the Beloved is accused of is nothing more than complete indifference anyway, so perhaps this 'stoppage of oppressions' might actually result in her acknowledging his presence - either with appreciation or with abuse...? The reader is left with paradoxical uncertainty about exactly what is going to happen next, but the deliciousness of the situation is still palpable. "Oh, desires!" indeed!

bik jaate hai.n ham aap mataa-e-sukhan ke saath
lekin ayaar-e-tab-e-khariidaar dekh kar

बिक जाते हैं हम आप मता-ए-सुखन के साथ

लेकिन अयार-ए-तब-ए-खरीदार देख कर

I sell myself along with the merchandise of (my) discourse
but (only) after seeing the measure of the quality of the customer

A master poet does not like to sell his compositions to just any buyer. But when a truly discerning customer does come forward, the poet is ready to sell even himself along with the verses! Which is just a picturesque way of saying how much of a poet's 'self' goes into his verses, of course - no wonder he finds it difficult to hand them over to someone who wouldn't appreciate their true worth, irrespective of the remuneration offered to him!

I wonder if this sher could possibly have been composed as a tribute to a patron or sponsor whose kindness Ghalib was enjoying at the time...(it dates from before the time when he was in Zafar's court, so it couldn't have been addressed to the latter).

zunnaar bandh, subhaa-e-sad-daanaa toR Daal
rah-rau chale hai raah ko hamvaar dekh kar

ज़ुन्नार बाँध, सुबहा-ए-सद-दाना तोड़ डाल

रह-रऊ चले है राह को हमवार देख कर

Tie a sacred thread, break the hundred-beaded rosary!
A traveller walks after seeing the even-ness of the road...

Oh, brilliant!!

A zunnaar is the Brahmin's sacred thread (a janeyu, as it is called in Hindi), while a subhaa is the Islamic rosary, usually made by stringing together ninety-nine beads, which are used to keep count with the fingers while performing tasbeeh.

The sher impishly advises the listeners to give up the Islamic rosary for the Hindu sacred thread, on the argument that the thread presents a 'smoother' path (towards God?) than the more 'bumpy' rosary!! And it is only natural for a traveller to prefer easier roads, isn't it??

Clearly, while the intent of the sher is merely to amuse, or leave the listener slightly scandalised, it does betray Ghalib's usual disdain for religious symbolism and ritual ostentation!

in aabilo.n se paa.nv ke ghabraa gayaa thaa mai.n
jii kush hua hai raah ko pur-khaar dekh kar

इन आबिलों से पाँव के घबरा गया था मैं

जी खुश हुआ है राह को पुर-ख़ार देख कर

I had panicked due to these blisters of (my) feet
the heart has gladdened on seeing the path filled with thorns!

Very cute!

The theme of the crazed Lover wandering the desert, and in the process acquiring large blisters on his feet, and then the 'kindness' of the thorns in pricking open the blisters, is a long-established association of ideas in the Ghazal world. The above sher doesn't break any particularly new ground, therefore - but it is still an innovative presentation of a time-tested (if somewhat ghoulish) stylisation!

kyaa bad-gumaan hai mujh se ki aaiine mei.n mere
tuutii kaa aks samjhe hai zangaar dekh kar

क्या बाद-गुमान है मुझ से कि आईने में मेरे

तूती का अक्स समझे है ज़न्गार देख कर

What suspiciousness (she) has about me, that in my mirror
seeing the rust, (she) assumes (it) to be the image of a parrot!

A somewhat cryptic sher, it apparently turns on the common practice of placing a mirror in front of a (talking) parrot, in order to prompt it to talk (the bird mistakes its image for another bird).

is the greenish film that used to get formed, over time, in the brass-framed mirrors used in the past (basically a sort of rust, due to the oxidation of copper). The sher seems to draw upon some sort of analogy of the poet 'talking to himself' in his madness, or at least a suspiciousness harboured by the Beloved that he is crazed enough to talk to himself, because of which she sees (perhaps metaphorically) the green verdigris on his mirror as the imagined image of a parrot...?

girnii thii ham par barq-e-tajallii na tuur par
dete hai.n baadaa zarf-e-kadaa-khaar dekh kar

गिरनी थी हम पर बर्क़-ए-तजल्ली ना तूर पर

देते हैं बादा ज़र्फ़-ए-कदा-ख़ार देख कर

The lightning of manifestation was to fall on me, not on the Tur mountain
Wine is offered after seeing the capacity of the cup's consumer!


The allusion in the first line is to the Koranic version of the episode where the Ten Commandments were granted to Moses on Mount Sinai (also known as Mount Tur) - wherein God is said to have manifested himself (upon the request of Moses) in the form of a blinding bolt of lightning that pulverised the entire mountain, and caused Moses to become unconscious.

In this sher, the Poet grandiosely declares that the bolt of lightning (which is nothing lesser than God himself manifest!) should have fallen not on the undeserving mountain that was unable to bear its force, but on the Poet! And what reasoning does he have to offer to justify this claim - why, the simple observation that even wine is poured out according to the 'capacity' of the drinker!! What delightful arrogance! What divine pretension!! And perhaps even a biting hint about 'cowardice' of the Almighty in avoiding 'squaring off' against an equal adversary...?

sar phoRnaa vo ghalib-e-shoriidaa-haal kaa
yaad aa gayaa mujhe terii diiwaar dekh kar

सर फोड़ना वो गालिब-ए-शोरीदा-हाल का

याद आ गया मुझे तेरी दीवार देख कर

The breaking of (his) head by that maddened Ghalib
It came back to my mind, on seeing your wall

The maqta is wonderful, as ever! The love-crazed Ghalib ended his life by banging his head on the Beloved's wall - and the wall remains as an enduring reminder of that incident, as also, by implication, of the (wall-like?) implacableness of the Beloved herself...!

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Faiz - Mere Dil mere musaafir

And this one is brilliant too! Another astounding tribute to Ghalib by Faiz, where he manages, with admirable innovativeness, to incorporate an entire sher from the Ghalib ghazal "yeh naa thii hamaarii kismat", which we've looked at earlier, towards the end of this nazm.

This particular nazm is among the last few works of Faiz. It appeared under the title 'dil-e-man, musaafir-e-man' [which is Farsi for 'heart of mine, traveller of mine'], as part of a compilation whose name was identical to the first line of the nazm i.e. 'mere dil, mere musaafir' and which was published in 1981, while Faiz was in semi-voluntary exile (following Zia's coup) in Beirut and London, editing the Afro-Asian Writers' magazine Lotus. The poem is a touching account of the pangs of exile from one's homeland.

Mere dil, mere musaafir
huaa phir se huqm saadir
ke watan-badar ho.n ham tum
de.n galii galii sadaaye.n
kare.n rukh nagar nagar kaa
ke suraag koii paaye.n
kisii yaar-e-naamaabar kaa
har ek ajnabi se puunchhe.n
jo pataa thaa apne ghar kaa
hamei.n din se raat karnaa
kabhii is se baat karnaa
kabhii us se baat karnaa
tumhe kyaa kahuu.n ke kyaa hai
shab-e-gham burii balaa hai
hamei.n ye bhii thaa ganiimat
jo koii shumaar hotaa
hamei.n kyaa buraa thaa marnaa
agar ek baar hotaa

मेरे दिल, मेरे मुसाफिर
हुआ फिर से हुक्म सादिर
की वतन-बदर हों हम तुम
दें गली गली सदायें
करें रुख नगर-नगर का
कि सुराग कोई पायें
किसी यार-ए-नामाबर का
हर एक अजनबी से पूँछें
जो पता था अपने घर का
हमें दिन से रात करना
कभी इस से बात करना
कभी उस से बात करना
तुम्हें क्या कहूं की क्या है
शब-ए-गम बुरी बला है
हमें ये भी था गनीमत
जो कोई शुमार होता
हमें क्या बुरा था मरना
अगर एक बार होता

My heart, my traveller
the order is again passed
that you and I be exiled
(that we) may call out from street to street
(that we) may turn from town to town
(in the hope ) that (we) can find some clue
of a Beloved messenger
(that we) may ask every stranger
the address that used to be our home

In the middle of alien streets
we (must) turn our days to nights
sometimes talking to this one
sometimes making conversation to that one

what shall I tell you (about) how it is
the night of pain is (truly) a trial
(but) even this would be welcome to me
if there was some count to it
(for) when did I object to dying
if it were to happen (only) once?

watan badar is literally 'outdoor from the country' [badar is a conjunct: ba+ dar]. A sadaa is a cry or call, often used for the street-calls of a mendicant (which is the sense meant in the poem). Ganeemat is literally something that one obtains by good fortune (the exact meaning is 'booty' from war) used here to denote something regarded as fortuitous or as a blessing.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Faiz - Raushan kaheen bahaar ke imkaan hue to hain

What gems you pick! It is one of my most favourite Faiz ghazals; a piece of poetic brilliance that just throbs with hope...!

Published in
dast-e-saba, this ghazal appeared under the title 'August 1952', and shows that in the early phase of his trial in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy case, Faiz still retained an astonishingly positive frame of mind, and an almost desperate confidence that things were on the verge of improving... .

Like many of Faiz's poems, this one poses severe problems of translation because of the specific linguistic device it uses to convey its very particular nuance of emphasis - one which is almost impossible to capture in English, for want of an equivalent verbal qualifier. The radif of this poem is 'hue to hain' - where the crucial 'तो ' adds, to the second line of every sher, a sense that can be captured at best inadequately in English through phrases like "At least this much has happened", or "this much has admittedly happened". Because of this qualifying word, each sher can be seen as words of encouragement offered to someone who is losing hope...where the 'someone' can, of course, be the poet himself too.

Raushan kahii.n bahaar ke imkaa.n hue to hai.n
gulshan mei.n chaak chand girebaa.n hue to hai.n

रौशन कहीं बहार के इम्काँ हुए तो हैं

गुलशन में चाक चंद गरेबाँ हुए तो हैं

Somewhere, the possibilities of spring have shone out
A few collars have been rent in the rose garden

Imkaan, in Arabic, means a 'reality' that is still in the realm of the potential or possible, that depends on some other condition being satisfied to come into existence [It is distinguished from wujoob, which is a reality that is already mandated or made necessary by the circumstances and is thus bound to occur; or from wujood, which is a reality that is already in existence]. The word is, therefore, used to denote the 'possibility' of something happening - or figuratively for the 'hint' or 'suggestion' of something about to happen. Its use in the sher above is quite inspired, suggesting a spring that is not yet actually there, but trembles tantalisingly in the realm of the possible. And the second line's beautiful picturisation of collars being torn in the rose-garden is meant to evoke, of course, the 'opening of buds', in anticipation of this promised spring...

The entire sher, therefore, throws up a deliciously engaging picture of a garden, so far caught up in the grip of autumn, but where imaginations have started being teased with the possible arrival of spring... One doesn't need to be reminded, of course, of the political symbolism behind this picturesque imagery!

ab bhii khazaa.n kaa raaj hai, lekin kahii.n kahii.n

goshe rah-e-chaman mei.n ghazal-khwaa.n hue to hai.n

अब भी खज़ाँ का राज है, लेकिन कहीं कहीं

गोशे रह-ऐ-चमन में ग़ज़ल-ख्वाँ हुए तो हैं

Autumn's regime still prevails, but, here and there
nooks in the garden-paths have started singing poems

Divine! The way the second line specifies that it is the ghoshe (corners, nooks, secluded dead-ends) of the garden-paths that have started breaking into song, suggests that these are not just happy songs they are singing, but possibly subversive 'anti-establishment' anthems, against the prevailing reign of autumn! Once again, one has to admire Faiz for being able to 'package' an intensely political message in such breath-taking loveliness!

Thahrii huii hai shab kii siyaahii vahii.n magar
kuchh kuchh sahar ke rang par-afshaa.n hue to hai.n

ठहरी हुई है शब की सियाही वहीं मगर

कुछ कुछ सहर के रंग पर-अफशां हुए तो हैं

The night's blackness lingers on (at the) same place, but
the colours of dawn are (beginning to) flutter their wings a bit

What loveliness! The contrast is not just between the inkiness of the night and the 'colours of the morn', but also between the immobility of the night, and the hesitant, but brave, attempts of the dawn-colours to spread out their wings, to take to flight... [Par-afhaan is how one would describe a young bird fluttering its partially formed wings, as it tests their growing readiness for its maiden flight.]

In mei.n lahuu jalaa ho hamaaraa ke jaan-o-dil

mehfil mei.n kuchh chiragh farozaa.n hue to hai.n

इन में लहू जला हो हमारा के जान-ओ-दिल

महफ़िल में कुछ चिराग फरोज़ाँ हुए तो हैं

Whether (it be) our blood, or (our) life and heart, that were burnt in them
a few lamps have shone on the assembly

Lamps that can dispel the darkness of an age, that can awaken an entire people to action, are not fueled by oils and waxes, of course... they draw their light from greater sacrifices. But, at the end, one does have the light... !

haa.n kaj karo kulaa ke sab kuchh luTaa ke ham

ab be-niyaaz-e-gardish-e-dauraa.n hue to hai.n

हाँ कज करो कुलाह के सब कुछ लुटा के हम

अब बे-नियाज़-ऐ-गर्दिश-ऐ-दौराँ हुए तो हैं

Yes, tilt your cap (jauntily), for having lost everything, we
have now become independent of the cycles of age

Profound! An almost sufistic summary of the desirability of renunciation... of escape from the meaningless meanders of time (we have spoken earlier of the multivalence of the word gardish). But what a delightfully airy way to capture the carefree state of someone who has lost everything (don't you just love that 'tilt your cap crazily!'?). And also a profound political message to those who are completely disenfranchised - it is precisely they, who have no stakes in the status quo, who are best placed to work for a new social order...

be-niyaaz would literally be someone who has no need to ask something from someone, someone who is without want, without need. It is also an adjective used in Islamic discourse to describe the Almighty. Therefore, its usage in the sher above, with all the attendant nuances
, is not accidental.

Ahl-e-qafas kii subh-e-chaman mei.n khulegii aankh

baad-e-sabaa se vaadaa-o-paimaa.n hue to hai.n

अहल-ऐ-कफ़स की सुब्ह-ऐ-चमन में खुलेगी आँख

बाद-ऐ-सबा से वादा-ओ-पैमाँ हुए तो हैं

(It is) in the garden-morning that the cage-dwellers shall awaken

Pledges and promises have been made to the morning breeze

Isn't that lovely? I can't quite figure out how he's done it, but Faiz somehow manages to lucidly capture the stomach-wrenching sense of 'determination' with which these covenants, howsoever futile, have been entered into! Doesn't he?

hai dasht ab bhii dhasht, magar khuun-e-paa se Faiz

ser-aab chand khaar-e-mugiilaa.n hue to hai.n

है दश्त अब भी दश्त, मगर खून-ऐ-पा से फैज़

सेर-आब चंद खार-ऐ-मुगीलाँ हुए तो हैं

The desert is still a desert, but with the blood of feet, o faiz

a few acacia thorns have, at least, become watered

Once again, truly delicious! ser-aab is literally 'full of water', and is used in the sense of being 'well watered' or 'moistened' or 'succulent'. Mugiilaan is the name of the acacia bush (Mimosa Arabica, also commonly known in India by the names of babul or kiikar) which grows profusely in desert conditions and sports some really frightening looking thorns! The blood that drips from the feet of desert-travellers may be insufficient to make the wildernesses verdant, but it can serve to soften the thorns that line the wilderness, and thus ease the path of those destined to follow them...

Note that there is some gentle word-play here too by Faiz... since the 'faiz' in the first line can be seen not only as the mandated use of the takhallus, but also in its literal sense of 'bountifulness' 'munificence' or 'copiousness' - signifying the 'generosity' of the feet-blood in so irrigating the thorns!

Friday, 9 May 2008

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

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

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

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

फिर ग़लत क्या है कि हम सा कोई पैदा न हुआ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

उल्टे फिर आए दर-ऐ-काबा अगर वा ना हुआ

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

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

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

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

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

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

सब को मक़बूल है दावा तेरी यकताई का

रू-ब-रू कोई बुत-ऐ-आइना-सीमा ना हुआ

Everyone accepts your claim to singular-ness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

तेरा बीमार बुरा क्या है गर अच्छा ना हुआ

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

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

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

siine kaa daagh hai vo naalaa ki lab tak na gayaa

khaak ka rizk hai vo qatraa ki dariyaa na huaa 

सीने का दाग है वो नाला कि लब तक ना गया

ख़ाक का रिज़्क़ है वो क़तरा कि दरिया ना हुआ

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

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

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

नाम का मेरे है जो दुःख कि किसी को ना मिला

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

हमज़ा का किस्सा हुआ, इश्क़ का चर्चा ना हुआ

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

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

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

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

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

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

कतरे में दिजला दिखाई ना दे और जुज़्व में कुल

खेल लड़कों का हुआ, दीदा-ऐ-बीना ना हुआ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

थी ख़बर गर्म कि गालिब के उड़ेंगे पुरज़े

देखने हम भी गए थे पर तमाशा ना हुआ

The rumour was hot that pieces of Ghalib would fly!

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

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

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

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

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

How can one NOT love this man???

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Faiz - Ravish Ravish hai vahii intizaar kaa mausam

A Faiz ghazal from dast-e-sabaa today - penned during his incarceration in the early 50s. Among many other gems, this is an excellent example of how Faiz could adopt, and adapt, the classical imagery of urdu poetry to denounce, and rouse opinion against, an oppressive political regime.

The 'radif' contains the word 'mausim', the corrupted form of which (mausam) we use in everyday speech to mean 'season'. In its original sense, the word would translate more broadly as 'time and place' for something.

As with anything by Faiz, the sheer sound of the verses, as they are read aloud, is hauntingly moving, even before one delves into implied meanings and nuances.

ravish-ravish hai vahii intezaar kaa mausim
nahii.n hai koii bhii mausim bahaar kaa mausim

रविश-रविश है वही इंतिज़ार का मौसिम

नहीं है कोई भी मौसिम बहार का मौसिम

On every turn, (there) is that same season of waiting
The season of spring is not (among) any of the seasons

We had encountered ravish while discussing an earlier ghazal - the word commonly means something like a 'gait' or 'walk' or 'carriage', but also figuratively denotes a 'custom' or 'practice' or a 'fashion'. Hence, when one says 'every ravish' one is saying something like 'on all occasions' or 'everywhere'. However, the word is also used in a more specific context - to mean an avenue or path laid out in a garden, for walkers. Hence, when used in a sher like the above, with its evocation of a continuous, all-pervasive wait for the spring, the word has a specially beautiful resonance, with the imagery of a garden being automatically brought to mind, even without explicit mention.

giraa.n hai dil pe gham-e-rozgaar kaa mausim
hai aazmaaish-e-husn-e-nigaar kaa mausim

गिरां है दिल पे गम-ए-रोज़गार का मौसिम

है आज़माइश-ए-हुस्न-ए-निगार का मौसिम

Weighing heavily on the heart is the season of quotidian concerns
it is the season for testing the beauty of the Beloved

It is truly when 'everyday' worries - of earning one's bread, of getting from day to day - oppress the heart, that one can test the effectiveness and power of that ever-available avenue of escape - namely, the contemplation of the Beloved's charms!

is literally a beautiful painting or effigy, used figuratively to denote the Beloved. Given the ghazal's broad political undertones, it is clear that the 'painting' being evoked here is a lot more ambiguous than merely a flesh-and-blood woman.

Note also that this sher constitutes a second 'matlaa' or opening verse, in which both lines contain the radif. The occasional insertion of a second matlaa was classically meant to demonstrate a poet's prowess, and most of the old-time greats have shown off such flourish in some of their ghazals.

khushaa nazaaraa-e-rukhsaar-e-yaar kii saa'at
khushaa qaraar-e-dil-e-beqaraar kaa mausim

खुशा नज़ारा-ए-रुखसार-ए-यार की सा'अत

खुशा करार-ए-दिल-ए-बेकरार का मौसिम

Happy is the moment of sighting the Beloved's face
Happy is the season (that brings) relief to the agitated heart

Relatively straightforward. Qaraar is literally a state of 'rest' or 'quietude', and its negated form is commonly used in the ghazal vocabulary to denote the anxious and troubled state of a Lover's heart. 'Khushaa' is an interjection, used in the sense of "How happy...!" or "How fortunate...!"

hadiis-e-baadaa-o-saaqii nahii.n, to kis masraf
khiraam-e-abr-e-sar-e-kohsaar kaa mausim

हदीस-ए-बादा-ओ-साकी नहीं, तो किस मसरफ

खिराम-ए-अब्र-ए-सर-ए-कोहसार का मौसिम?

(when) there is no story of wine and saaqii, of what worth
(is) the season of the cloud's drift over the mountains?

Masraf literally means 'expenditure' or 'cost' - used here in the sense of the 'value' of something. Khiraam means 'gait', specifically an elegant or graceful way of walking or moving. Kohsaar is literally 'mountainous'.

Hadees stands for fables or stories describing the experiences of the Prophet. However, the word also has an alternative meaning of 'renouncing' or 'forswearing' off something. Hence Faiz could have been aiming for some clever word-play here, in effect packing in two contradicting meanings - in one, the season of the clouds' movement is felt to be of no attraction unless accompanied by the stories of the saaqee and wine-cup; in the other, it is felt to be of interest only if the saaqee and wine-cup have been renounced (because if they haven't been, who has time to sit and appreciate anything else?)

nasiib sohbat-e-yaaraa.n nahii.n, to kyaa kiije
ye raqs-e-saayaa-e-sarv-o-chinaar kaa mausim

नसीब सोहबत-ए-यारां नहीं, तो क्या कीजे

ये रक्स-ए-साया-ए-सर्व-ओ-चिनार का मौसिम?

When the Beloved's company is not (in one's) destiny, what (is one) to do
(with) the season of dancing shadows of the cypress and chinaar?

More of the same. Isn't that really picturesque imagery in the second line, though? The 'dancing hour' of the tree-shadows!

ye dil ke daagh to dukhte the yuu.n bhii, par kam kam
kuchh ab ke aur hai hijraa.n-e-yaar kaa mausim

ये दिल के दाग तो दुखते थे यूँ भी, पर कम कम

कुछ अब के और है हिजरां-ए-यार का मौसिम

these heart's wounds used to ache even otherwise, but (with) lesser (intensity)
This time, the season of separation from the Beloved is something else!

Once again, the words are simple - but there's a lovely balance, an engagingly colloquial touch, in the 'kam kam' of the first line, and the 'kuchh ab ke aur hai' of the second.

yahii junuun kaa, yahii tauq-o-daar kaa mausim
yahii hai zabr, yahii ikhtiyaar kaa mausim

यही जूनून का, यही तौक-ओ-दार का मौसिम

यही है जब्र, यही इख्तियार का मौसिम

This itself is the (season of) madness, this itself the season of manacle and stake
this itself (the season of) coercion, this itself the season of choice

A tauq, in Arabic, is an iron neck-ring, a sort of collar, that a prisoner or a slave is forced to wear [someone so 'collared', even if an animal, is described as a mutavvak]. A daar in Persian is a gallows, or a wooden stake on which a criminal is impaled. Jabr is 'compulsion', 'constraint', or the (violent) imposition of force. While ikhtiyaar is 'self control' or 'choice'.

The sher suggests, tongue-in-cheek, that despite oppression and controls, the junoon of those so victimised still leaves them with 'freedom of choice', with power over themselves. Once again, the entire imagery could be simply an evocation of the constant state of rebellion against the oppressive (earthly or celestial) Beloved of the stylised ghazal tradition, of a 'call to action' to one's comrades in arms...

qafas hai bas mei.n tumhaare, tumhaare bas mei.n nahii.n
chaman mei.n aatish-e-gul ke nikhaar kaa mausim

कफ़स है बस में तुम्हारे, तुम्हारे बस में नहीं

चमन में आतिश-ए-गुल के निखार का मौसिम

The cage is in your control; (but) not in your control, is
the season (when) the rose's flame blooms in the garden

Once again, in this sher (as in the next two) the 'political' message screams out so sharply, with such stentorian grandeur and needling defiance, that it is only the (deliberate) external veneer of standard ghazal stylistics which could have permitted Faiz to pen this while under the control and censorship of his oppressors.

sabaa kii mast khiraamii tah-e-kamand nahii.n
asiir-e-daam nahii.n hai bahaar kaa mausim

सबा की मस्त खिरामी तह-ए-कमंद नहीं

असीर-ए-दाम नहीं है बहार का मौसिम

The mad pace of the wind is not under (any) noose
the season of spring is not trapped in (any) web

A kamand is a noose, lasso or snare. [It is also used to denote a rope ladder, normally used by thieves to scale a wall or by an attacking army to breach a fort's turrets]. Daam is a net or trap, used for ensnaring small animals or birds. Aseer is a captive, or someone bound down.

balaa see, ham ne na dekhaa to aur dekhenge
furogh-e-gulshan-o-saut-e-hazaar kaa mausim

बला से, हम ने न देखा तो और देखेंगे

फुरोग़-ए-गुलशन-ओ-सौत-ए-हज़ार का मौसिम

Who cares! (Even) if we did not see (it), others shall see
the season of the splendour of the garden, and of the nightingale's call!

Isn't it deliciously defiant, this devil-may-care confidence that righteousness and beauty shall, ultimately, prevail? And furogh-e-gulshan-o-saut-e-hazaar is not the sort of expression you will get from too many wordsmiths!

is literally 'illumination' or 'light', used habitually in the sense of 'honour' or 'glory'. Saut describes a 'voice' or a 'cry'. And hazaar is the oft-shortened form of 'hazaar-dastaan' or, literally, '(bird) of a thousand tales', which is how a nightingale is picturesquely described!

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Ghalib - Jaur se baaz aaye par baaz aaye kyaa

Another classy gem from the Master! The 'kyaa' in the radif allows Ghalib to play around consummately with his typical inshaiyaa style in this lovely piece.

jaur se baaz aaye par baaz aaye.n kyaa
kahte hai.n ham tujh ko mu.nh dikhlaaye.n kyaa

जौर से बाज़ आये पर बाज़ आयें क्या

कहते हैं हम तुझ को मुह दिखलायें क्या

(she) renounced oppression, what what would (she) renounce?
(she) (now) says 'how can I show you my face?' / (she) says, 'should I (now) show you (my) face?!'

This is Ghalib doing what he does best - the playing with idiomatic usage, the highlighting of situational absurdities. The sher turns not just on word-play, as it seems on first reading, but is also a commentary on social/cultural constraints.

In its most obvious interpretation, the sher leverages a popular idiomatic usage - when one has slighted or otherwise offended someone unjustly, the reluctance that one would feel, out of shame, to subsequently 'face' him is often captured in a picturesque colloquial phrase that translates literally to 'what face would I show him?'

Drawing upon this usage, the sher above evokes a hypothetical situation wherein the habitually merciless Beloved has finally realised the injustice of her cruelties and abjured them...but now she feels such shame at her past behaviour that she shies away from facing the Lover (the second line, in this sense, translates to the idiomatic "what face (can) I show you?"). However, since her refusal to show him her face was pretty much the
substance of her cruelties towards him, her professed renunciation is, therefore, of little use to the Lover - and hence the first line's lament of 'oh great, but what has she renounced?!'

The sher can also be read in an alternative, equally delicious, sense. In this, the Beloved is seen to be saying something like: "OK, so I renounce oppression! What now? Do you actually expect me to show you my face?!"

The idea being that the showing of her face to the importunate Lover is, in any case, completely unimaginable in a
purdah society - hence the Beloved can hardly indulge the Lover in this respect, even if she wished to. The sher is thus a testy response by the Beloved to the constant whining from the Lover, entreating her to relinquish her 'cruelties' - "What cruelties?", she asks exasperatedly, "would you have that I actually show you my face?". In this sense, this sher, for once, punctures the constantly evoked accusation of heartlessness that the Ghazal world subjects the Beloved to, on account of her aloofness - an 'aloofness' that is as much imposed on her, as on the uncomprehending Lover.

raat din gardish mei.n hai.n saat aasmaa.n
ho rahegaa kuchh na kuchh ghabraaye.n kyaa

रात दिन गर्दिश में हैं सात आसमां

हो रहेगा कुछ ना कुछ घबरायें क्या

day and night, the seven skies are in cycle
something or the other will come to pass, why panic? / should we be panicking?

Very classy!

Gardish translates literally to 'revolution' or 'going round and round', but has many figurative connotations, ranging from misfortune (things 'spiralling out of control') to 'aimless wanderings'.

The sher above uses the literal sense of gardish to evoke the celestial revolutions of the heavens, i.e. the constant shifting of heavenly forces, which play capriciously upon the fortunes of humans. In a situation where all seven heavens are in a state of such indeterminate motion, reasons the Poet, while we can be certain that all this will lead to some consequence, it is impossible to predict what that may be. Hence, why bother to panic just as yet? Let us wait and see what happens, first!

In an alternate reading, however, one could interpret the final ghabraayen kyaa not as a dismissive 'why bother?' but as an actual question 'should we worry?'. The second line then acquires more baneful overtones - 'something or the other is surely going to happen! Shouldn't we be panicking a little?'

laag ho to us ko ham samjhe.n lagaav
jab na ho kuchh bhii to dhokhaa khaaye.n kyaa

लाग हो तो उस को हम समझें लगाव

जब न हो कुछ भी तो धोखा खाएं क्या

If there were animosity, I would take it (to be) attachment
when there is nothing at all, what delusion can one foster?

Typical Ghalib brilliance again! laag and lagaav are words drawn from common etymological roots, but the former has a much greater wealth of meanings than the latter. The 'root' sense of the word seems to be something like 'appositeness' or 'concurrence' (it is used in maths to mean 'ratio') which allows the word to denote both positive and negative senses of 'facing each other'. Hence one possible sense in which the word is used is 'rancour' or 'hostility'. Lagaav is more straightforward, and means 'attachment' 'bond' or 'propensity'. It takes a Ghalib to spot the tonal as well as the semantic potential in juxtaposing the two words in this way!

The meaning of the sher is, of course, fairly obvious - the Poet is ruefully complaining that if the Beloved ever abandoned her aloofness, even to show some overt sign of anger towards him, he could delude himself into mistaking it as a sign of affection. As things stand, however, she refuses to even acknowledge his existence, making it difficult to entertain even self-delusions of this sort! What delicious helplessness, what lasting futility, is captured in that complaint!

ho liye kyuu.n naamaa-bar ke saath saath
yaa rab apne khat ko ham pahu.nchaaye.n kyaa

हो लिए क्यूं नामा-बर के साथ साथ

या रब अपने ख़त को हम पहुँचायें क्या

why did I fall in step with the messenger?
Lord! Should I deliver my message (myself)?!

So sweet! Such is the eagerness of the Lover to ensure 'express delivery' of his letter to the Beloved, that he impatiently walks along with the messenger, only to realise, when he is almost at her doorstep - 'God, what am I doing? Am I going to deliver my letter myself?!' The absurdity of the situation, and his own realisation of it, make for a truly charming picture, don't they?

Alternately, there could be a more ominous sense of doubt captured here - perhaps the Poet doesn't, at some subconscious level, trust the messenger to actually deliver the message to the Beloved (he could even be a secret rival for her affections - who knows?) and hence feels compelled to accompany him - to ensure that he actually does go all the way to the Beloved's abode. The second line could then be a belated 'conscious' realisation of the messenger's untrustworthiness - 'Why am I accompanying him this way? Oh God, yes! It is probably best to deliver it myself, isn't it?!'

mauj-e-khuun sar se guzar hii kyuu.n na jaaye
aastaan-e-yaar se uTh jaaye.n kyaa

मौज-ऐ-खून सर से गुज़र ही क्यूं ना जाए

आस्तान-ऐ-यार से उठ जाएं क्या

even if a wave of blood were to wash over the head
would I rise from the threshold of the Beloved?

In ghazal stylisation, the Lover is often pictured prostrated over the threshold-stone of the Beloved's house [an aastaanaa-bos or 'threshold-kisser' is an image evoked to imply extreme devotion to someone]. In the above sher, the Poet stresses his determination to spend the rest of his time with his head so recumbent on the Beloved's doorstep, even if waves of blood were to flow over his head. The 'wave of blood' is, of course, a proxy for any sort of doomsday scenario - the point being that no matter what calamity might befall him, he has no intention of rising from that favourite perch of his!

However, take a look at an alternative brilliant reading of the above sher that was pointed out to me by someone - in this, the first line is translated not as an evocation of a 'hypothetical' possibility, but as an actual question - 'why shouldn't a wave of blood wash over the head?', and the second line is then not about the Lover rising from the Beloved's doorstep, but an ominous expression of wonderment about 'who knows what' might rise from her doorstep!

See what I mean? The whole thing would, in this sense, read something like - "Sure, why shouldn't a wave of blood pass over the head? Who knows
what all can well up from the Beloved's threshold?" The idea that the Lover's head is recumbent on the threshold then becomes merely 'implicit' - the emphasis is on the oppressiveness of this threshold - a 'wave of blood' is just one of the many tests and ordeals this threshold could bring down on the hapless aastaanaa-bos Lovers prostrated on it. The nasalised plural ending of the jaayen of the second line would, in this reading, be an emphasis on the plurality of ordeals in the threshold's armoury!

umr bhar dekhaa kiyee marne kii raah
mar gaye par dekhiye dikhlaaye.n kyaa

उम्र भर देखा किए मरने की राह

मर गए पर देखिये दिखलायें क्या

Throughout life, (I/she) awaited (my) death
(now) I have died - let us see what (she) shows me / (but) see what I have to show for it!

Oh, sooo brilliant! This sher plays around cleverly with so many nuances and meanings that translating it is, quite frankly, frustrating!

One reason for its amazing multivalence is the way the sher omits to specify any 'subject', in either of its lines. Who is it that has waited for death throughout the life [kisii kii raah dekhnaa is idiomatic usage for 'to await someone'], and whose death, for that matter? And, in the second line, who is it that is supposed to dikhlaao something to whom? Depending on the identities one chooses to attribute to all these unstated subjects, various permutations of meaning can be drawn from the sher, too numerous to actually list!

In its most common reading, the sher is saying something like - 'throughout my life, I waited for my death. Now I have died - let us see what 'they' shall show us'. The 'they' being of course, some higher power, from whom the Poet expects to now receive favours that were denied to him during life. The obvious contender is the Beloved, of course - but not just the earthly one. The 'tone' of the sher is wondering, but there is also a palpable sense of niggling doubt, of suspiciousness, that this whole 'driving him towards his death' might have been a deliberate artifice, and 'their' oppressiveness is unlikely to cease even post-mortem!

In another reading (in my opinion, a more delicious one), the second line is saying something quite different, changing the entire mood of the sher. In this sense, the first line stresses how the Poet has spent the entire duration of his (otherwise futile and ineffectual) life, talking about his eventual death, as if death would somehow redeem him, or prove his worthiness to the uncaring Beloved. But then the whammy of the second line - 'OK, now I am actually dead. But look, what do I have to show for it?!' The mind-numbing realisation that even that much predicted, much talked about, much deified, death is, after all, something that amounts to very little (either in redeeming his mis-spent existence, or in making a visible impact on the Beloved) - that is the sort of poignant pathos the sher captures in this alternative reading! Nice?

puuchhte hai.n vo ki ghalib kaun hai
koi batlaaye ki ham batlaaye.n kyaa

पूछते हैं वो की गालिब कौन है

कोई बतलाये की हम बतलायें क्या

'Who is Ghalib?', she asks!
Someone tell (me) - what should I tell (her)?!!

And then the maqtaa, of course! Such brilliance!!!!! [a fellow fan once asked me - if one was to place all of Ghalib's maqtaas one on top of the other, couldn't one construct a stairway to heaven?] :-)

In all seriousness, this an absolutely divine sher? Despite the colloquial simplicity of its words, the sheer multiplicity of possible meanings makes it one of the best that even Ghalib ever penned. Hold your breath, as we launch into it!

It is well-nigh impossible to pin down the tone in which the 'question' of the first line is asked. Does the Beloved ask this with a genuine desire for enlightenment? ["Who is Ghalib?"] Or does she do so with feigned, artful, ignorance ["Ghalib? Who's that?!"] Or with a contemptuous sneer? ["And just who is (this) Ghalib?! (A nobody, obviously!)"]
Or maybe the Beloved has barged imperiously into the assembly, demanding 'Can I know who this 'Ghalib' is?!', obviously bent on some sort of retribution (perhaps he has written her an audacious letter, which has irked her?). Clearly, how you choose to read the 'question' can completely change the mood of the entire sher.

But it is in the infinite possibilities of the second line that the sher really takes off! The translation I've provided above only scratches the surface - that is how one would read the line, if the emphasis is placed on the kyaa. Even in this limited reading, isn't the sher delicious? Say, the question is a sincere one by the Beloved - still, what is the poor Lover
to respond - after realising that despite his having spent a lifetime in worshipping her, she remains ignorant of even his identity?! And if the 'question' is one of feigned ignorance or a deliberate taunt, a response becomes even more difficult, of course - in effect, there is no response! And hence, the Poet is quite justified in seeking the help of an unspecified koi in trying to find an appropriate answer.

But this reading of the second line - 'Someone tell me what I should tell her!' is just one possible reading, of course. An alternative places the emphasis not on the kyaa but on the batlaayen - and the sher is then read as: 'Someone tell me, should I (really) tell her?' See? The mood of the second line changes, becomes much more challenging (or, alternatively, fearful!), irrespective of which of the senses of the first line you begin with! This time the Poet is not really lost for an answer - he is just wondering if he should actually convey the response. Perhaps the response that is hovering on his lips is a 'crushing' one - and he wishes to spare the artful Beloved...? Or perhaps the 'first line' situation being evoked is the last one we considered above (where the Beloved is angrily demanding to be shown who Ghalib is, so she can begin to berate him), and the Poet is wondering how prudent it would be, under the circumstances, to own up to his identity?! Best to keep silent, perhaps?

A third reading of the second line would place the emphasis on the ham. In this sense, the line would be translated as: "Someone tell (her)! For what should I tell her?!" See? The second line now becomes an appeal for someone to take over the responsibility of answering the Beloved's question - for the Poet himself, of course, is incapable of providing an appropriate response [in this reading, the ki of the second line would translate loosely as 'for' - as in 'for what should I tell her?']. This reading goes with almost any of the possible 'tones' in which one could read the first line, of course!

And it doesn't end yet, the magic - for Ghalib is being very, oh very, clever here. Remember this is the maqtaa, so his takhallus has to be evoked. But 'Ghalib' also has a very specific meaning - of someone who is 'victorious', someone who has 'prevailed'.

Now, reread the sher - do you see?!! The translation of the first line would go - "She asks - (so) who is the victorious one?" And then one could evoke any of the possible readings of the second line - "Someone tell me, what should I tell her?" OR "Someone tell me, should I tell her?" OR "Someone tell her; for what should I tell her?"

Do you see the situation being evoked? To really appreciate this interpretation, one should see this maqtaa as the poetic parallel of the situation evoked in the immediately preceding sher (we have spoken earlier about how 'placement' of the shers can often add spice to their interpretive overtones, haven't we?). [It also becomes much more delicious when one recalls that one could be talking not just about the earthly Beloved, but possibly also the Celestial one].

OK, so this is the scene - the life-long 'duel' between the Lover and Beloved has drawn to a close. The Lover lies vanquished on the ground, the victorious Beloved stands ready to administer the final coup-de-grace, but pauses, dramatically, to 'rub in' her triumph - "So,
who won?!" And the Lover, smiling quietly to himself (or secretly to the watching bystanders), has this masterful sher to respond with!!!