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!!!

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Ghalib - Kabhii nekii bhii us ke jii mein

I fondly remember this one as another Ghalib classic that was an instant hit with me, on the very first read. Once again, it is one of the rare Ghalib creations whose every sher springs quite obligingly to comprehension, without becoming any less deep for that. And what I really love about this poem is the plethora of colloquial expressions - both interjective and adverbial - that are dotted all over it. It is almost as if Ghalib was trying for a deliberately 'swingy' air to this ghazal - and succeeded consummately!

kabhii nekii bhii us ke jii mei.n gar aa jaaye hai mujh se
jafaaye.n kar ke apnii yaad sharmaa jaaye hai mujh se

कभी नेकी भी उस के जी में गर आ जाये है मुझ से

जफायें कर के अपनी याद शर्मा जाये है मुझ से

Even if, on occasion, kindness comes to her mind, for me
remembering her oppressions, (she) shies away from me

A fairly straightforward sher, it presents a sweet paradox.

Nekii means 'goodness' or 'benevolence' - hence the poet concedes the possibility that the even the habitually cruel Beloved might, on occasion, be experiencing fits of kindness towards him. But even in these rare moments of virtue, she thinks of all the past occasions when she has subjected him to cruelty, and consequently shies away from any contact with him, out of shame. However, since 'shying away from him' is the very essence of the cruelties that the Beloved is accused of in the first place, this makes for a true Catch-22 for the poor Lover!

khudaayaa, jazbaa-e-dil kii magar taasiir ulTii hai
ke jitnaa khii.nchtaa huu.n aur khi.nchtaa jaaye hai mujh se

खुदाया, जज़्बा-ऐ-दिल की मगर तासीर उल्टी है

के जितना खींचता हूँ और खिंचता जाये है मुझ से

Oh god, the effect of heart's passion is probably inverted!
for the more I pull, the more (she?) keeps getting pulled (away) from me

What a divine sher this is!

Khudaayaa is an interjection - the way one would say "Lord in heaven!" in English - which can be used for prefacing any astonishing or vexing observation. And magar, which we tend to use in the sense of 'but', is more frequently used in Persian in the sense of 'possibly' or 'probably', as we discussed a couple of posts back. Tasiir, a word of Arabic origin, denotes the effect or influence of something on something else (in traditional medicine, for instance, herbs and even specific food items are supposed to have a 'hot' or 'cold' tasiir, depending on whether they tend to raise or lower the body's temperature).

This delightful sher is based on some truly clever word-play, involving the literal and figurative senses of jazb, jazbah, and khiinchnaa. Jazb is Arabic for 'absorption', 'drawing in' or 'attraction'. 'Attraction' in the sense that one uses in Physics, I mean - the actual property of pulling an object towards oneself (for instance, a magnetic field is called a jazb-e-maqnatiisii in Arabic). The word jazbah used in the first line draws upon a similar root, and is used in the sense of 'passion' or 'fortitude'. Khiinchnaa is, of course, the act of 'pulling', as we tend to use in everyday Hindi, and khinchnaa is the associated intransitive verb.

With that in mind, look at the brilliant way this very simple - some would even say trite - idea is presented in the sher. "There's something very contrary, even warped, in the very way that the passion of one's heart affects things", complains the Poet to the almighty - the second line going on to substantiate the complaint by pointing out that the more he pulls, the more things tend to pull away from him.

Most commentators naturally assume that the 'object' that is being subjected to these futile pulls is the Beloved, and that is the most natural implication, of course. But, in its context-lessness, the complaint could also be about the thwarted efforts of the Lover to 'gather in' whatever he is struggling to keep in his possession - his sanity, his self-control, optimism about obtaining the Beloved, his reputation and social standing, etc.

The deliberate use of jazbah in the first line, instead of any other synonym for passion, is quite clearly meant to evoke the sense of jazb, as a counterpoint of the 'khiinchnaa-khinchnaa' interplay of the second line.

The special charm of the sher comes from the implied confidence of the Poet that it is something warped in his own pulling-power because of which the Beloved is passively driven further away - and not because of an active effort on her part to keep her distance!

vo bad-khuu aur merii daastaan-e-ishq tuulaanii
ibaarat mukhtasar, qaasid bhii ghabraa jaaye hai mujh se

वो बद-खू और मेरी दास्तान-ऐ-इश्क तूलानी

इबारत मुख्तसर, क़ासिद भी घबरा जाये है मुझ से

she (is) ill-natured, and my tale-of-love (is) protracted
to cut a long story short, even the messenger gets alarmed by me!

Oh, totally wonderful! Ghalib again pulls off brilliant word-play here - even while the basic idea behind the sher remains charmingly simple.

A dastaan is a fable or tale in Persian tradition, usually of epic proportions, with many a sub-plot and numerous twists and turns. In everyday speech, the word is often used in ironical tone, to denote an unnecessarily drawn-out account of something. Ibaarat, on the other hand, is a multivalent word denoting, among other senses, 'speech' or 'expression'. And mukhtasar means 'abbreviated' or 'shortened'.

The sher principally draws its 'punch' by cleverly leveraging the idiomatic expression 'ibaarat mukhtasar', which (conveniently) has an almost exact English equivalent in 'to cut a long story short'. In the first line, the poet presents a basic situational conflict - the Beloved is of a foul-tempered, impatient nature; while the account of love that the Lover wishes to have conveyed to her is almost interminable.

The second line is delightfully colloquial - as if impatient to explain why the statement in the first line poses a problem, the Poet summarises that even the messenger begins to panic at the prospect of having to hear though his long
dastaan, let alone the Beloved. However, this is when the ibaarat mukhtasar of the second line is interpreted in the above idiomatic sense. If one chooses, instead, to read it literally, the second line can also mean that it is the difficult prospect of having to 'cut short' such an interminably long story (when he recounts it orally in front of the fiery-tempered Beloved) that is giving the shivers to the messenger!

udhar vo bad-gumaanii hai, idhar ye naatavaanii hai
na puuchhaa jaaye hai us se, na bolaa jaaye hai mujh se

उधर वो बद-गुमानी है, इधर ये नातुवानी है

ना पूछा जाये है उस से, ना बोला जाये है मुझ से

Over there there's that suspiciousness, over here there's this powerlessness
neither is she able to ask, nor am I able to speak!

Very cute! Once again, a sher that seems almost too simplistic, even a trifle trite, but nevertheless manages an elegantly stark beauty.

It is in its very 'unsaidness' that the appeal of the sher lies - the use of idhar and udhar to implicitly stress the metaphorical 'distance' between the Lover and the Beloved, and the lovely tonal symphony of bad-gumaanii and naatuvaanii to denote the psychological distance them. A special charm is added by the fact that the sher doesn't make explicit what it is that fails to be asked, and conveyed, between these mis-matched protagonists, across their physical-psychological separation!

sambhalne de mujhe ai na-ummiidii kyaa qayaamat hai
ki daaman-e-khayaal-e-yaar chuutaa jaaye hai mujh se

संभलने दे मुझे ऐ ना-उम्मीदी क्या क़यामत है

कि दामन-ऐ-ख़याल-ऐ-यार छूटा जाये है मुझ से

let me find my feet, o lack of hope, what disaster is this!
that the daaman of the Beloved's thought is slipping out of my (hand)!

Exquisite! What a delightful colloquial touch the first line has! Both 'sambhalne de mujhe' and 'kyaa qayaamat hai' being picturesquely interjective expressions of hand-wringing despair, set apart by an explicit 'calling out' to the poet's own 'lack of hope'!

And the outstanding second line then goes on to indicate the cause of this despair - the poet realises he is beginning to lose grip on the daaman-e-khayaal-e-yaar!

Daaman-e-khayaal-e-yaar is one of those magical composite expressions that only Ghalib seems to be able to come up with so easily! Daaman is a word we've encountered often in the past - the nuances of meaning and idiom it lends itself to are too numerous to list, but one common sense in which one figuratively evokes this trailing part of a woman's dress is as a source of 'shelter' or 'refuge' for her admirers.

Until now, the poet, although aware of the inaccessibility of the Beloved herself, was able to live on because he had the
daaman of her fancy, of thoughts about her, to comfort himself under. His despair now is occasioned by the realisation that the constant thwarting of his hopes has brought him to a state where even this tenuous source of sustenance is beginning to slip out of his grip! No wonder, he is moved enough to evoke qayaamat or the day of reckoning!

Note also the extremely clever choice of words - the sambhalne de mujhe is a common interjection that would be roughly equivalent, in a figurative sense, to an English expression like 'let me get a grip on myself'. However, the literal translation would be 'let me find my feet' or 'let me regain my balance'. The literal sense of the words, therefore, allows one to picturise a situation where the Poet, walking behind the Beloved holding an end of the daaman-e-khayaal about her, has suddenly lost his balance, and is thus in danger of losing his hold on the said daaman - and the entire sher is thus an evocation of this dramatic moment!

Another bit of possible cleverness is in the way the first line ends with 'kyaa qayaamat hai!'. Once again, the expression is a standard one capturing extreme dismay - something like the English 'what a nightmare this is!'. However, the literal meaning ('what a doomsday it is!') can also be alternatively read as a straightforward question - "is it doomsday?". In an alternative reading, therefore, the Poet is simply chiding his 'lack of hope' - "Come on! Is it already doomsday that you are causing even the daaman of her thoughts to slip out of my hands?"

Brilliant, isn't it?

takalluf bar-taraf nazzargii mai.n bhii sahii lekin
vo dekhaa jaaye kab ye zulm dekhaa jaaye hai mujh se

तकल्लुफ़ बर-तरफ़ नज्ज़ारगी मैं भी सही लेकिन

वो देखा जाये कब ये ज़ुल्म देखा जाये है मुझ से

Formality aside, I too am admittedly a spectator; but
(that) she be seen, (how) can I ever (bear) looking upon this crime!

One of my favourites! With such penetrating candour does Ghalib capture the sort of hypocrisy that all we males can (guiltily) identify with, doesn't he?! Howsoever surreptitious one's own appreciation of the object of one's affection may be, the glances of others always seem so much more unworthily lecherous!

Takalluf bar-taraf, which translates literally to 'formality aside', is almost exactly equivalent to English expressions like 'frankly speaking' or 'to tell you the truth' - a sense which led me to think of these words as appropriate for a blog title, of course! :-)

The main point of the sher is the word-play involved in the dual use of dekhaa jaaye in the second line. The first usage refers simply to the Beloved being 'viewed', while the second is used idiomatically - when something is declared as being of the sort that dekhaa nahin jaaye, the idea is that it is too painful to bear looking at, i.e., completely unacceptable to put up with. The clever usage of the same words in two different senses, combined with the nazzaragii of the first line, makes for a nicely 'visual' overload in this entire delightful sher!

hue hai.n paa.nv hii pahle nabard-e-ishq mei.n zakhmii
na bhaagaa jaaye hai mujh se na Thahraa jaaye hai mujh se

हुए हैं पाँव ही पहले नबर्द-ऐ-इश्क में ज़ख्मी

ना भागा जाये है मुझ से ना ठहरा जाये है मुझ से

It is the feet that have first been wounded in the battle of love
I am neither able to run, nor able to stay

Very sweet! A warrior who takes a hit on his feet early on in battle is in an unfortunate situation indeed - for a foot injury, while not immediately fatal in itself, would make both 'fight' and 'flight' options virtually impossible to carry out! Clearly, the battle is going to go rather badly from hereon, for one so injured!! And it is precisely in such a situation that the Poet feels himself in, vis-a-vis the Beloved - it's a fight he can't possibly win, but he hasn't the strength to flee from it either.

qayaamat hai ki hove muddaii kaa ham-safar Ghalib
vo qaafir jo khudaa ko bhii na sau.npaa jaaye hai mujh se
क़यामत है कि होवे मुद्दई का हम-सफर गालिब

वो क़ाफिर जो खुदा को भी ना सौंपा जाये है मुझ से

What a disaster, Ghalib, that (the one who) is becoming a fellow-traveller of the Enemy
(is) that (very) infidel whom I am unable to entrust even to the almighty!

Typically for Ghalib, the maqtaa almost seems to 'save the best for the last'! Muddaii is derived from the extremely multivalent word muddaa, and can have several meanings including a 'plaintiff', 'claimant', 'enemy' or 'schemer'. Here, it is evidently used for the Poet's rival for the Beloved's affection.

This delightful sher draws upon the fact that the popular Islamic farewell greeting is khudaa-haafiz, which translates to something like "May God be your protector" (haafiz is literally 'guardian').

Clearly, the Beloved is not someone whom the Poet finds easy to bid goodbye to - but by deliberately evoking the literal meaning of the words constituting the greeting, the Beloved is shown as someone whom the Poet, out of possessiveness, feels incapable of handing over even to the Almighty, even though such a custody would do her good, since she is otherwise a godless infidel! And, tragedy-of-tragedies - One who is so treasured that even God seems an untrustworthy guardian for her, is now on the verge of departing in company of the Rival!! Qayaamat hai, indeed!

Monday, 14 April 2008

Ghalib - husn-e-mah garche baa hangam-e-kamaal achchaa hai

Back when I was first introduced to Ghalib, this charming ghazal had emerged as a very early favourite - it was one of the rare ones at the time whose every sher (or almost every one) seemed readily accessible, without the need for a clarificatory discussion or read. Even now, many summers later, it remains a much loved piece, for its delightful maqtaa, if nothing else - which is undoubtedly one of the best-known and most-quoted shers of urdu shaayarii.

husn-e-maah garche ba hangaam-e-kamaal achhaa hai
us se meraa maah-e-khurshiid-jamaal achhaa hai

हुस्न-ए-माह गरचे बा हंगाम-ए-कमाल अच्छा है

उस से मेरा माह-ए-खुरशीद-जमाल अच्छा है

albeit the beauty of the moon, when (it is) full, is fine

better than that is my 'moon with a sun's beauty'

A fairly straightforward sher, a standard instance of ghazal hyperbole in praise of the Beloved's luminous charms. The idea being that while the Full Moon is impressive to look at, it occurs only periodically - in contrast, the Beloved is a 'moon' whose beauty is more like the sun's - i.e. always on at full intensity. And hence the latter is, clearly, a higher-quality product.

hangaam means a 'season' or 'time', while kamaal denotes something which is 'complete' or 'perfect'.

bosaa dete nahi.n aur dil pe hai har lahzaa nigaah
jii mei.n kahte hai.n ki muft haa.nth aaye to maal achhaa hai

बोसा देते नहीं और दिल पे है हर लहज़ा निगाह

जी में कहते हैं कि मुफ्त हाँथ आए तो माल अच्छा है

(she) doesn't bestow a kiss, and (yet her) eye is constantly on (my) heart

(in her) mind (she) says, 'if one gets it free, it is worthwhile merchandise'!

Cute! To expect a kiss from the Beloved is so audacious a hope in the Ghazal world that this particular sher could never be read in anything but humorous vein. And hence the second line, with its tongue-in-cheek characterisation of the Beloved as a scheming bargain-hunter, provides a fitting finish to it. Must have been a sure-shot crowd-pleaser in oral recital!

Note that the thought that is seen running through the Beloved's mind (in the second line) could be interpreted in two different ways - in one, she acknowledges to herself that the Lover's heart is worth having, but feels that it would be a truly great bargain if she could somehow acquire it without making any payment. In the alternative reading, she feels that the 'merchandise' in question is basically worthless, and hence is acceptable only if it is being given away for free... Both readings make for enjoyable commentaries on the 'commerce' of this stylised love.

aur baazaar se le aaye agar TuuT gayaa
saagar-e-jam se meraa jaam-e-sifaal achhaa hai

और बाज़ार से ले आए अगर टूट गया

सागर-ए-जम से मेरा जाम-ए-सिफाल अच्छा है

Whenever it broke, (I) got another from the market

my cup of clay is better than Jamshed's cup

We spoke about the famed cup of Jamshed while discussing an earlier Ghalib classic. The Poet, in this charming sher, mocks this world-revealing wonder, by comparing it unfavourably with the more easily replaceable clay cups he drinks out of. After all, he reasons, Jamshed doesn't enjoy the luxury of simply stepping out to the market to get a new one if his wondrous goblet were to break!

If one thinks about it, there lurks a fairly deep philosophy of sorts behind those seemingly light-hearted words, doesn't there?!

be-talab de.n to mazaa usme sivaa miltaa hai
vo gadaa jis mei.n na ho khuu-e-sawaal achhaa hai

बे-तलब दें तो मज़ा उसमे सिवा मिलता है

वो गदा जिस मे न हो खू-ए-सवाल अच्छा है

(If one) gives without being asked, one gets another pleasure in it

that beggar is preferable in whom there is no 'habit of asking'

siwaa is used in the sense of 'other than' [as in expressions like 'us ke siwaa' in everyday speech], hence the first line indicates that when one shows generosity without being requested for something, there is a 'different' sort of enjoyment to be obtained. [The sher cleverly doesn't commit itself to the interpretation that this special pleasure accrues to the 'giver' alone - indeed, the recipient would also enjoy a gift more if he obtains it without undergoing the humiliation of asking for it]. And hence, reasons the second line, a beggar who isn't given to constantly begging for alms is to be preferred, since he allows the potential donor to indulge himself with such spontaneous generosity.

The sher is obviously directed at the Beloved - a cunning attempt to convince her that she should bestow favours on the poor poet, even without waiting for him to ask for them...!

un ke dekhe se jo aa jaatii hai mu.nh pe raunak
vo samajhte hai.n ki biimaar kaa haal achhaa hai

उन के देखे से जो आ जाती है मुह पे रौनक

वो समझते हैं कि बीमार का हाल अच्छा है

Since (my) face lights up from her looking (at it)

she assumes that the patient is in good health

What a delightfully paradoxical state of affairs, isn't it?! The poor Lover, suffering from the ultimate ailment of the heart, isn't even destined to receive the sympathy that the Beloved might normally have shown a mortally ill patient. Because the mere fact of her looking at him makes his face light up with such a healthy-looking glow that she naturally assumes the convalescent is doing just fine! A regular catch-22 situation for the afflicted Lover, this!!

dekhiye paate hai.n ushhaak buto.n se kyaa faiz
ek baraahman ne kahaa hai ki ye saal achhaa hai

देखिये पाते हैं उश्शाक बुतों से क्या फैज़

एक बराहमन ने कहा है कि ये साल अच्छा है

Let (us) see what favours Lovers obtain from idols (this time)

A Brahmin has said that it is a good year (ahead)!

Once again, what a masterpiece sher this is! So light-hearted, and yet it captures such a delightful mood of wry scorn!

Given that the Beloved is usually characterised as an idol, the sher cleverly plays with ambiguity about the identity of the buts whose blessings are being sought by the Lovers of the world. However, since brahmins, the religious authority of a but-parast religion, are expected to have inside information on the 'mood' of all idols, if they say that the coming year is a good (i.e. auspicious) one, Lovers may legitimately nurse hope that the Beloveds are going to be less unyielding than usual... however, the mocking tone of the first line makes it clear that the Poet expects these pious hopes to be dashed, whatever be the predictions of brahmins and sooth-sayers...

ham-sukhan teshe ne farhaad ko shiriin se kiyaa
jis tarah kaa ki mei.n ho kamaal achhaa hai

हम-सुखन तेशे ने फरहाद को शिरीन से किया

जिस तरह का कि किसी में हो कमाल अच्छा है

The pick-axe put Farhaad in conversation with Shireen

of whatever sort one might have, a proficiency is good

The sher again evokes the Farhaad-Shireen fable we spoke about last week - particularly the version of the story where Farhaad kills himself with his digging implement (a teshaa is something like an adze, although I had spoken of a spade in the previous post), and Shireen, on discovering his corpse, uses the same tool to herself commit suicide. The fable stresses how the blood of both these doomed lovers got mixed as one, as it flowed down the channel Farhaad had been digging for so long (for the milk-river to flow through). Metaphorically, this shared death is seen as the poetic equivalent of the lowly-born Farhaad and the lofty queen finally being able to become conversation-partners (ham-sukhan), and the sher makes the point that it was the pick-axe which managed to bring about this improbable union of speech. Going on to stress that an 'ability' [as mentioned in the first sher, kamaal denotes 'perfection' or 'consummation', used here in the sense of an 'accomplishment' or 'proficiency'] is worth having for everyone and everything, and is to be admired even if it vests in a mere digging instrument!

katraa dariyaa mei.n jo mil jaaye to dariyaa ho jaaye
kaam achhaa hai vo jis kaa ma'aal achhaa hai

कतरा दरिया में जो मिल जाए तो दरिया हो जाए

काम अच्छा है वो जिस का म'आल अच्छा है

If a drop (were to) mix into the sea, (it) would become the sea

(any) enterprise is worthwhile if its denouement is good

A fairly straightforward simile here, not too originally put. The basic idea captured in the first line is the sufistic emphasis on an individual's quest for a merger into the cosmic unity, taking the example of a rain-drop losing its identity when it falls into the sea, but acquiring all the substance and consequence of the water body in the process [in hindi, we commonly use dariyaa for a river, but the persian original of the word denotes a sea]. The second line uses the simile to point out that as long as one achieves this desired assimilation into the Almighty, the exact path one follows to get there is unimportant.

khizr-sultaan ko rakhe khaalik-e-akbar sar-sabz
shaah ke baagh mei.n ye taazaa nihaal achhaa hai

खिज़्र-सुलतान को रखे खालिक-ए-अकबर सर-सब्ज़

शाह के बाग़ में ये ताज़ा निहाल अच्छा है

May the great Lord keep Khizr-Sultan flourishing

In the King's garden, this new plant is good

Khizr-Sultan was one of Bahadur Shah Zafar's sons, and the above sher was obviously recited as a tribute to the royal patron, probably actuated by some recent incident or conversation about the virtues of the young prince. sar-sabz would literally mean 'green-headed', and is used in the sense of 'thriving' or 'prospering'.

ham ko maaluum hai jannat kii hakiiqat lekin
dil ke khush rakhne to Ghalib ye khayaal achhaa hai

हम को मालूम है जन्नत की हकीक़त लेकिन

दिल के खुश रखने को गालिब ये ख़याल अच्छा है

I (do) know the truth about heaven, but
to keep (one's) heart content, Ghalib, it is a good thought

Isn't that an absolutely outstanding maqtaa? So easy on the ears, so colloquially accessible, and yet so profound!

In its most common reading, of course, the entire sher is seen as one unit, as something being said by the Poet - "Sure, I do know what the reality about heaven is, but it is, nonetheless, a useful contrivance to satisfy one's heart with". However, an alternative reading goes one step further, to split the two lines - with the first line about 'knowing the reality about heaven' itself being described as a conviction that some people like to delude themselves with, in order to keep their hearts assuaged...!

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Ghalib - Naqsh fariyaadii hai kis kii shokhii-e-tahreer kaa

OK, this is where it all begins!

No, really - not to sound overly
dramatic, but this was the very first ghazal in Ghalib's published divan - and so enjoys a semi-legendary status in the annals of urdu poetry. The great man himself considered it among his best - which is why he chose it to open the published divan with, of course. The fame of the ghazal rests, to an extent, on its famous first sher, which was supposedly criticised, in Ghalib's time itself, as being too obscure for understanding. Ghalib is said to have reacted to this with customary disdain. Understandably - since it is truly among the classiest two lines ever composed. But, the other shers in the ghazal are no less of a treat either. Let's have a look.

naqsh fariyaadii hai kis kii shokhii-e-tahriir kaa
kaagazii hai pairahan har paikar-e-tasviir kaa

नक्श फरियादी है किस की शोखी-ए-तहरीर का

कागज़ी है पैरहन हर पैकर-ए-तस्वीर का

(Against) whose mischief-of-writing is the sketch a complainant?

"Papery" is the garment of every face in the painting

In the time-honoured calligraphic tradition of the Arab-Persian (as also the Chinese) world, writing and painting tended to merge into a single art form. Hence the 'tahriir' in the first line can more appropriately be thought of as 'draughtsmanship' rather than 'writing', although the word is more commonly used in the latter sense.

To unravel this deeply philosophical sher, one needs to be aware of a tradition common to Persian courts, wherein a member of the public wishing to complain against an injustice would make an appearance in the king's court, dressed in garments made of paper. The idea being, one imagines, to highlight the abjectness and distress of the aggrieved party.

With that in mind, let us look at the sher. In a painting drawn on paper, every figure, face or symbol may metaphorically be seen as 'dressed' in paper. Hence, by implicitly referring to the above custom, Ghalib is able to imply that the 'components' of a painting are united in complaint. The first line then rhetorically asks against
whose 'mischief' of writing/sketching this complaint is directed.

In classical Perian/Urdu poetry, it was customary for the first verse of a Poet's divan to be devoted to
praise of the Almighty. Ghalib shows his typical contrarian streak here, by opening his divan with a questioning of the motives of the Creator in designing the world. Clearly the 'picture' being evoked in the sher is the Universe as a whole, and the implied 'mischievousness' is a commentary on the capriciousness of the celestial artist. But, this being ghalib, the tone isn't directly accusing - instead, the rhetorical question of the first line deliciously suggests a barb, while the second line, by offering such obviously contrived 'evidence' in support of the accusation, immediately manages to rob it of offence, without diluting its palpable justification. And one is left with a poignant 'picture' of the meaninglessness and helplessness of human existence - condemned to follow the diktats of a script it has little control over.

Due to the special status it enjoys, this sher has almost been
over-analysed, with multiple paragraphs devoted to it by virtually every commentator. One point often emphasised is that 'shokhii' is meant to evoke a 'changeable, quicksilver' kind of naughtiness - hence the 'shokhii-e-tahriir' against which the denizens of the world are complaining is basically the transient, protean nature of existence. But the words themselves are general enough to allow us to evoke the perversity of the Creator in any of its forms, of course.

kaav-kaav-e-sakht-jaaniiha-e-tanhaaii na puuchh

subh karnaa shaam kaa laanaa hai juu-e-shiir kaa

काव-काव-ए-सख्त-जानीहा-ए-तन्हाई न पूछ

सुब्ह करना शाम का लाना है जू-ए-शीर का

Ask not about the (difficulty of) digging through the thick-skinnedness of solitude

To turn evening to morning is like bringing forth the river of milk

The expression 'Kaaw-Kaaw' is used to describe the act of laboriously digging or burrowing through something - or, metaphorically, for any kind of hard toil. 'Kaaw' itself is a diminutive of the Persian word 'Kaawish', which means an 'excavation' (or, metaphorically, an 'investigation') and is believed to share a common etymology with the English 'cave'. Kaaw-Kaaw is, undeniably, a very evocative expression, lucidly and onomatopoetically capturing the effort involved in digging through something hard and unyielding.

To understand the sher, one needs to be familiar with the Farhad-Shireen fable, which we've had occasion to refer to in the past. Farhad, a stone mason, is supposed to have glimpsed Shireen, the queen of King Khusrau, and fallen madly in love with her. The king, amused on being told of the lowly man's audacious ardour, perversely promises to hand Shireen over to Farhad if he is able to dig a channel through the insurmountable Koh mountain, in order to bring the legendary river of milk (that lay behind the mountain) to his kingdom. Farhad immediately sets to work, and such is his passion that he manages to reach almost the mouth of the river in a few years. Alarmed, the
duplicitous king sends word to Farhad that Shireen has died, on hearing which he splits his own head with his spade. In some versions of the tale, Shireen (who, in the interim, has also come to appreciate this exceptionally devoted admirer) rushes to the site on hearing of the King's plan, and on finding Farhad already dead, kills herself with the same spade. Farhad's herculean digging through the mountain to free the river of milk has come to epitomise a 'labour of love' in the poetic world.

Ghalib evokes the legend, and goes on to imply that clawing through an entire night of separation from the Beloved is no less onerous than digging through a mere mountain!

The 'sakht-janeehaa' of the first line would translate literally to 'toughness of life', meant to imply the difficulty of 'killing' solitude. However, 'thick-skinned' is probably a more accurate capture of the metaphoric sense implied in the sher.

jazbaa-e-be-ikhtiyaar-e-shauq dekhaa chaahiye
siina-e-shamsiir se baahar hai dam shamsiir kaa

जज़्बा-ए-बे-इख्तियार-ए-शौक़ देखा चाहिए

सीना-ए-शमशीर से बाहर है दम शमशीर का

(You) should see the uncontrollable determination of ardour!
the breath/edge of the sword is outside the chest/sheath of the sword.

What a brilliant sher this is! It hinges on typically Ghalib-ish word-play, because 'dam' which is commonly used to mean 'breath' (or, by implication, 'life') of a person, is also a word used to describe the sharp edge of a sword or scimitar. Similarly, 'seenaah' which describes a person's chest, would refer, in the case of a sword, to the sheath in which the weapon is contained when not in use.

To say 'the sword-edge is out of its sheath' has the ring of an ominous warning - of an imminent slaying to come. However the more common meaning of 'dam' makes the same line sound like the sword's breath is, literally, jumping out of its chest - a lucid picturisation of 'uncontrollable determination of ardour' in itself! For the 'ardour' of a sword is obviously directed towards the act of killing, and so eager is the sword to fulfill its ghoulish purpose that its 'breaths are literally on the edge' [sorry - couldn't resist it!] :)

aagahii daam-e-shunidaa.n jis kadar bichhaaye
muddaa ankaa hai apne aalam-e-taqriir kaa

आगही दाम-ए-शुनीदाँ जिस कदर चाहे बिछाए

मुददा अंका है अपने आलम-ए-तक़रीर का

intelligence spread (its) net of hearing however it likes

the meaning of my world of discourse is (like) the anqaa-bird

In arabic tradition, the mythical 'anqaa' bird is a fabulous creature that is impossible to catch - in fact, it is famous for its ability to dissolve into nothingness whenever somebody tries to grab it. Muddaa is an extremely multivalent word that can mean anything from 'meaning' or 'purpose', to 'intention' or 'point'.

Ghalib cutely uses the anqaa-legend to his advantage, to describe how elusive the hidden meanings of his verses can be. Probably anticipating that this particular ghazal, because of the obliquely allusive nature of many of its shers, would challenge the understanding of more than one listener, he tosses off a direct challenge to his critics - acknowledging unabashedly that his poetry is just as difficult to 'grasp' as the Anqaa, no matter how hard the members of the cognoscenti strain their understanding. ['Aagahee' can stand for intelligence, as much as knowledgeableness or vigilance]. Such mischievously masterful arrogance comes to but a few, doesn't it?

bas ke huu.n Ghalib asiirii mei.n bhii aatish zer-e-paa
muu-e-aatish-diidaa hai halkaa merii zanjiir kaa

बस के हूँ गालिब असीरी में भी आतिश ज़ेर-ए-पा

मू-ए-आतिश-दीदा है हल्का मेरी ज़ंजीर का

Inasmuch as, even in imprisonment, (I) am, Ghalib, (with a) fire beneath the feet
a link of my chain is (merely like) an ignited hair

A typically classy Maqtaa, typical of Ghalib in its ability to evoke a complexly picturesque image in the mind. In this case, the image is one of a hair that has just been ignited ('moo-e-aatish-deedaa' would translate literally as a 'hair that has seen a flame'). When a strand of hair is set alight, it tends to 'curl up' into ashen whorls that somewhat resemble the concatenations of a chain. Ghalib expertly uses this image - by making the protagonist say that even though he is in fetters, he retains such a fiery restlessness in his feet ('aatish zer-e-paa' is an expression meant to convey a similar sense as 'like a cat on hot bricks') that the links of the his chains have become as insubstantial as the whorls formed by burning hair-strands.

The 'bas ke' in the first line is a contraction of the colloquial 'az bas ke' which is used in the sense of 'to such an extent that'...