Sunday, January 12, 2014

Wahshi Ban Sayyad Ne … Ghalib’s Unpublished Ghazal

wahshi ban sayyad

After attempting an interpretation of one of Ghalib’s unpublished ghazals last month, I turn to another unpublished one. This is believed to have been written by Ghalib in the 1816, when he was around 19 years of age. Many of his poems during this time were complex both in terms of words, as well as metaphors and meaning. It was for this reason he got rid of many of them while publishing his deevan.

Like the last one, I came across this one in an audio compilation where Ghulam Ali sang 4 out of the 5 verses in this ghazal.

Listen to the audio first.

Now I would attempt to interpret this ghazal. Like most of Ghalib’s ghazals it was quite an effort first to get the meanings of the words and then to make sense out of them. Needless to say, despite the numerous frustrating attempts at deciphering the verses, the feeling of achievement on being able to do so was worth the effort. I don’t claim to have understood these verses completely but they’re at least a little less obscure in my mind.

वहशी बन सय्याद ने हम रमख़ुर्दों को क्या राम किया
रिश्ता-ए-चाक-ए-जेब-ए-दरीदा सर्फ-ए- क़ुमाश-ए-दाम किया

(वहशी = wild, cruel; सय्याद = hunter; रमख़ुर्द = scared, taken to flight; राम = tame; रिश्ता = thread; चाक = a tear, slit; जेब = opening at the neck and bosom of a shirt; दरीदा = torn; सर्फ = to use; क़ुमाश = anything picked up here and there, silken cloth; दाम = net, trap)

This she’r rests on a classic metaphor from the ghazal world where the beloved is a hunter and the lover, a helpless prey. Ghalib adds to it another basic metaphor of a lover at the height of his passion and unrequited love wanders around here and there tearing his collar. So the basic idea in this she’r is that the beloved uses the threads of a torn collar to make a trap, with an intention to tame/ensnare the lover who has run away. But the beauty of this she’r lies in the various dimensions added to the basic meaning. First, the use of the multivalent word ‘kya’ transforms the first line into either an exclamatory utterance or a simple question:

  • How (cunningly) has the hunter trapped us! (Exclamatory)
  • Has the hunter trapped us? (Question)

The next is the use of the word ‘wahshi’, which can mean both wild (like a madman) or cruel. Some what are the two interpretative possibilities of the first line?

  • The beloved has turned even more cruel
  • The beloved has turned into a madman (like the lover)

Now let’s look at what these interpretations lead to:

  1. The beloved is so cruel that she wants to recapture (tame) the lover who has escaped. And how does she do that? She uses the threads from the torn collar that the lover has left behind and uses it to make the net to ensnare the lover. In other words, she is using the result of the lover’s misery (the torn collar) to cause him more misery (a trap).
  2. The beloved can also be ingenious in approach. What if the beloved pretends to be mad just like the lover and pretends to be tearing her own collar. The lover might get fooled into believing that this person is another of his kind and will be drawn towards the person. And then the lover would do what the original intention was – to trap the lover. The gender neutrality in ghazals makes this interpretation very valid.

Apart from the interpretations there are some verbal and semantic affinities that make the she’r richer:

  • The sound affinity between ‘ramkhurda’ and ‘raam
  • The use of the word ‘ramkhurda’, which means someone who is running away, together with the act of tearing the collar, building the classic imagery of a lover running like a madman and tearing his collar
  • The use of the word ‘qumaash’, which also means a silken cloth, contrasting beautifully with the image of a tattered collar, and also depicting something more appealing to draw the lover’s attention.

'अक्स-ए-रुख़-ए-अफ़रोख़्ता था तस्वीर ब-पुश्त-ए-आईनह
शोख़ ने वक़्त-ए-हुस्नतराज़ी तमकीं से आराम किया

('अक्स = reflection, image; रुख़ = face; अफ़रोख़्ता = lighted, furious; ब-पुश्त = behind; आईनह = mirror; शोख़ = bright, mischievous, capricious; हुस्नतराज़ी = beauty adorning; तमकीं = dignity, grandeur, authority; आराम = rest, become still)

Is there an element of narcissism on the part of the beloved here? The first line simply says that the image of the glowing face was like a picture behind the mirror. The second line can be interpreted in two ways depending on how you treat ‘tamkeen se aaraam kiya’. It can mean ‘rest with dignity’ or ‘took rest from power/authority’. Similarly, ‘afrokhta’ can mean burning with fury, or glowing/illuminated. Now let’s look at these two interpretations:

  1. The beloved is standing in front of the mirror adorning her beauty. While interacting with the lover she demonstrates her authority and power, but when she is alone, in front of the mirror, she lets her authority rest and indulges in the narcissistic pleasure of appreciating her beauty. What would have been a furious face (‘afrokhta’) while exercising authority, in now a beautifully glowing face (‘afrokhta’). She is so taken by her own beauty that her image literally freezes and appears like a picture in the mirror.
  2. A subtle difference in meaning appears if you consider that while adorning her beauty, she rests with dignity. She is still indulging in narcissism and becomes still like a picture, but this time she does that with dignity.

Another pleasure of this she’r comes from the contrast between ‘shokh’ or capricious with ‘aaraam’ or stillness.

साक़ी ने अज़-बहर-ए-गिरेबाँ-चाकी-ए-मौज-ए-बादह-ए-नाब
तार-ए-निगाह-ए-सोज़न-ए-मीना रिश्ता-ए-ख़त्त-ए-जाम किया

(अज़-बहर-ए = on account of; गिरेबाँ-चाकी = tearing of the collar; मौज = wave; बादह-ए-नाब = pure wine (without mixing anything); तार = thread; निगाह-ए-सोज़न = eye of the needle; मीना = a decanter, bottle of wine; रिश्ता = thread; ख़त्त-ए-जाम = a line or a mark in a cup)

This one has to be the most abstruse among all verses in this ghazal. There is wave of wine tearing its collar, the bottle has an eye of the needle, the cup has a line, and there is some thread, literally, meant to bring it all together. Just what is going on here? Ghalib himself provides some help through some of his other verses. It appears that wine glasses used to have some sort of a mark to show the maximum level up to which a glass should be filled, and Ghalib has used this imagery in a few other verses. Wave of wine is another such metaphor. Ghalib in fact wrote an entire ghazal with ‘mauj-e-sharaab’ as the refrain. The imagery here is that wine, with all its inherent ebullience and fervor, is agitated and creates waves when constrained within the bottle. Ok, so we got two things – the wine is agitated in the bottle, and the cup has lines, but collar-tearing and the needle! Let me try this…

The wine is restless in the bottle, and is billowing like waves, and since the waves appear like a v-shaped collar, it could imply that the wine has gone mad like a lover and is tearing away its collar. And how could this collar be sewn or what is the cure for the wine’s restlessness? It should be poured into a cup. And as you pour wine from a long-necked bottle into a cup, it would appear that the neck of the bottle is like a needle, and the stream of wine that flows out of the bottle is like a thread running through the eye of that needle, and it eventually becomes the line on the cup i.e. the cup is filled to the maximum extent permissible. In other words, the stream of wine flowing out of the bottle is the thread that has sewn the torn collar of the wave of wine. Or, the agitation of the wine in the bottle has been curtailed as the wine makes its way into the cup. Phew!

This is an extremely intricate imagery that really doesn’t amount to much once you decode it. Meaning-wise, I don’t see many layers in this she’r. But I must admit that decoding this puzzle was both pleasurable and frustrating at the same time.

मुहर ब-जाए-नामह लगाई बर लब-ए-पैक-ए-नामह-रसाँ
क़ाबिल-ए-तमकींसंज ने यूँ ख़ामोशी का पैग़ाम किया

(मुहर = seal; ब-जाए = instead of; नामह = letter, message; बर = upon; पैक = courier; नामह-रसाँ = letter carrier; तमकींसंज = one with authority)

The lover sends a letter to the beloved in the hope that he would receive a message in return. But what does the beloved do? Instead of putting a seal on reply, she puts a seal on the lips of the letter bearer, thus sending a message of silence back. Not only is the reply a silence, it also carries an order from the authoritarian beloved that the lover should also maintain silence and not write any messages henceforth. A classic example of a cruel beloved that seems to be everywhere in the ghazal universe.

I am not sure how valid is the English phrase ‘sealed with a kiss’ is in the world of Urdu literature, especially in Ghalib’s times, but it opens an interesting possibility for this she’r. Instead of sealing the reply with a kiss, the beloved plants a kiss on the lips of the messenger, thereby sending a message to the lover that the he better keep his feelings to himself as she finds even the messenger more worthy of her love than him. Or, in an imagery in contrast to the cruel nature of the beloved, she was so happy to read the lover’s letter that she immediately expressed her joy by kissing the messenger. The kiss was the reply - a reply where no words were spoken, but a silence that is more eloquent than words.

शाम-ए-फ़िराक़-ए-यार में जोश-ए-ख़ीरासरी से हम ने असद
माह को दर तस्बीह-ए-कवाकिब जा-ए-नशीन-ए-इमाम किया

(फ़िराक़ = separation; ख़ीरासरी = state of an agitated mind; माह = moon; दर = like; तस्बीह = rosary; कवाकिब = stars; जा-ए-नशीन = one who takes the place of; इमाम = largest bead of a rosary)

Here is a simple thought beautified by an elegant metaphor. What does a lover do on a night of separation? His mind is agitated and he can hardly sleep, so he spends his time counting stars. Ghalib has equated the stars with the beads of the rosary. He counts starts like one would turn the beads of a rosary. But the rosary has one large bead at the center where one must return after completing each cycle. In the rosary of stars, the lover has made the moon as that center bead, where his thoughts return after each counting cycle. And, as we know in the world of poetry, the moon is equated with the beloved. In other words, the lover keeps returning to the thoughts of the beloved, the agitation of his mind increases, and he moves on another cycle of star counting.

  1. A Desertful of Roses by Frances W. Pritchett
  2. Deewan-e-Ghalib Kaamil Nuskhah-e-Gupta Raza, Tareekhi Tarteeb Se by Kalidas Gupta ‘Raza’