Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ghalib's 'Strife of Coquetry'

One of the unique features of the Ghazal form of poetry is that each she’r (couplet) does not depend for thematic continuity on the other couplets. It is complete by itself, and can be quoted in isolation. This, however, is not a mandatory condition. There is a form of ghazals called the musalsal ghazal (continuous ghazal), where the entire ghazal presents one theme and should be read as a unified whole.

It is not always easy to classify a ghazal as a continuous one. Take this one by Ghalib for example (the translations are taken from Sarfaraz Niazi’s book Love Sonnets of Ghalib, although I have changed the Sarfaraz Niazi’s translation from ‘after my death’ to ‘after me’, as I think ‘after me’ is more open to interpretation than ‘after my death’).

husn ghamze ki
husn ghamze ki kashakash se chhuta mere b’aad
baare aaraam se hain ahl-e-jafa mere b’aad

Freed of the constant strife of coquetry is Beauty, after me
Finally, the oppressors are at ease, after me
mansab-e-sheftagi ke koi qaabil na raha
hui ma’azooli-e-andaaz-o-adaa mere b’aad
No one remained worthy to fill the ranks of mad lovers
The style and coquetry have been dethroned, after me
shama’a bujhti hai to us mein se dhuaan uthta hai
sholah-e-ishq siyaahposh hua mere b’aad
A streak of smoke billows out when a candle is extinguished
The flame of love has taken a black mourning garb, after me
khoon hai dil khaak mein ahvaal-e-butaan par y’aani
un ke naakhun hue mohtaaj-e-hina mere b’aad
My heart bleeds in the grave, at the consternation of the beloved, as
Her nails now go begging for henna, after me
darkhur-e-arz nahin jauhar-e-bedaad ko jaa
nigah-e-naaz hai surme se khafaa mere b’aad
No one worthy of facing her talent for cruelty is left behind
The prideful eye is deprived of antimony, after me
hai junoon ahl-e-junoon ke liye aaghosh-e-vida
chaak hota hai girebaan se judaa mere b’aad
The frenzy is bidding farewell to lunatics
The slit is separating from the collar, after me
kaun hota hai hareef-e-mai-e-mard-afgan-e-ishq
hai mukarrar lab-e-saaqi mein salaa mere b’aad
“Who dares to taste the heady wine of love that knocks men out?”
Repated is the call on the lips of the cupbearer, after me
gham se marta hoon ki itna nahin duniyaa mein koi
ki kare t’aaziyat-e-mihr-o-wafa mere b’aad
I’m dying of sorrow that there is no one left in the world
Who would condole at the death of love and faithfulness, after me
aaye hai bekasi-e-ishq pe rona Ghalib
kis ke ghar jaayega sailaab-e-balaa mere b’aad
Tears exuding at the helplessness of love, O Ghalib
To whose abode would this destructive flood go, after me

In addition to the above, Ghalib had written two more verses, but he might not have been very satisfied with the poetic merit of these verses as he expunged them while publishing his Divan-e-Ghalib. I could not find any translations for these verses, so I have tried very rudimentary, almost literal, translation myself.

tha main guldasta-e-ahbaab ki bandish ki giyaah
mutafarriq huye mere rufaqaa mere b’aad
I was like the straw that binds the flower-bunch of friends
All my friends went their own ways, after me
thi nigah meri nihaan khaana-e-dil ki naqqaab
be-khatar jeete hain arbaab-e-riya mere baad
My sight was like the cover of the abode of the heart
Fearlessly live all masters of deceit, after me
Here the entire ghazal focuses on the singular theme of what would happen after the poet (dies). So does that mean that this is a continuous ghazal? Some experts like Mihr actually proclaim it to be so, but others differ. I would quote Frances W. Pritchett’s commentary on this ghazal to explain why this does not qualify as a musalsal ghazal. On her wonderful website on Divan-e-Ghalib, Frances Pritchett define a musalsal ghazal as “a ghazal that is meant to be read as a unified whole, with all its verses intact and in the order given on the page. Such ghazals tend to be narrative…” and then goes on to say about the above ghazal:
With a refrain like mere b’aad (after me), this ghazal is bound to have a certain degree of semantic unity. Mihr wants to classify it as a continuous ghazal, but perhaps that's a bit too strong. For if the verses were rearranged, or some added or subtracted, we wouldn't be able to detect the fact (except in the case of the opening-verse and closing-verse, of course, for formal reasons). Thus it's clear that the ghazal has no narrativity or ongoing, sequential internal organization, which is usually part of the definition of a continuous ghazal.
In other words, while all the verses of this ghazal represent a common theme, each verse is complete both semantically and in terms of thought, and does not depend on the other verses. Thus, it does not qualify as a continuous ghazal.

The commonality of theme across this ghazal made it very apt for a situation in the 1954 film Mirza Ghalib, when the character played by Suraiya dies and this song plays in the background while we see her coffin being carried (check the below clip at the 07:37 mark).

Here’s another version of the ghazal sung by Mehdi Hassan:
And one by Abida Parveen: