Monday, December 28, 2015

Ghalib’s ‘Unpublished’ Ghazal - Mumkin Nahin …

Ghalib Unpublished

It was Ghalib’s 218th birth anniversary yesterday. I spent the day poring over some of his unpublished ghazals, which are available on Dr. Frances Pritchett’s site here. I focussed my attention on three ghazals that are written in the same pattern i.e. same meter, rhyme and refrain. Although the rhyme chosen by Ghalib for these ghazals is quite uncommon, through his sheer mastery on the language he came up with as many as 25 different verses in these three ghazals. It was interesting that while two of them were written during Ghalib’s heady days of youth around 1816, the third came at the fag-end of his life in 1867. The last one is the one I’ve chosen to write about today. The tone of this ghazal is quite sad, almost an expression of helplessness.

मुमकिन नहीं कि भूल के भी आरमीदा हूँ

मैं दश्त-ए-ग़म में आहू-ए-सय्याद-दीदा हूँ

Mumkin nahin ki bhool ke bhi aarameedah hoon

Main dasht-e-gham mein aahoo-e-sayyad-deedah hoon

(आरमीदा = relaxed; दश्त-ए-ग़म = forest of grief; आहू-ए-सय्याद-दीदा = deer that has seen the hunter)

In the opening verse, the poet sets the tone.for this ghazal - a lament about his condition, with strong overtones of self-pity at times. In this verse, the poet mentions that he is so grief-stricken that it is impossible for him to be relaxed and calm. His situation is like that of a deer who is so scared after seeing a hunter in the forest that he cannot stop running.

हूँ दर्दमन्द जब्र हो या इख़्तियार हो

गः नाला-ए-कशीदा गः अश्क-ए-चकीदा हूँ

Hoon dardmand jabr ho ya ikhtiyaar ho

Gah naalah-e-kusheedah gah ashk-e-chakeedah hoon

(दर्दमन्द = miserable; जब्र = force; इख़्तियार = liberty; गः = sometimes; नाला-ए-कशीदा = a long lament; अश्क-ए-चकीदा = oozing tears)

Continuing with a description of his misery, the poet says that he is always in a state of misery, whether perforce or by choice. Sometimes he is like a long-drawn cry of lament, and sometimes just like a drop of tear uncontrollably oozing out of the eye.

जाँ लब पे आई तो भी न शीरीं हुआ दहन

अज़ बसकि तल्ख़ी-ए-ग़म-ए-हिजराँ चशीदा हूँ

jaan lab pe aayi to bhi na sheereeN hua dahan

az-baskih talkhi-e-gham-e-hijraan chasheedah hoon

(जाँ लब पे आई = on the verge of death; शीरीं = sweet; दहन = mouth; अज़ बसकि = Inasmuch as; तल्ख़ी-ए-ग़म-ए-हिजराँ चशीदा = one who has tasted the bitterness of the sorrow of separation)

This verse involves wordplay among words having a strong affinity i.e. lab, dahan and chasheedah; talkhi and Sheereen. They say death is cure-all. A lifetime of suffering magically disappears at the time of death. However, the bitterness of the sorrow of separation is so strong that even arrival of death cannot sweeten it.

Addendum: U. V Ravindra has an interesting interpretation:

You suggest the meaning of "inasmuch as" for "az bas-kih", but I wonder if he hasn't actually employed it in the sense of "to the extent that, extremely" (इस हद तक).
The way I'm reading this couplet, this latter meaning seems to make for a rather interesting interpretation. I see a play on words here -- in addition to lab-dahan-chasheedan and talKhi-sheereen -- between hijraaN-AND-jaaN lab pe aanaa. One notes with considerable interest that, in Urdu poetry, death is all too often indistinguishably linked with visaal, and one contrasts that with hijr. At the same time, one also observes that "jaaN lab pe aana" is synonymous with the impending arrival of death, of _getting a taste of death_, if you will. With this, the picture now emerges of Ghalib telling us, "I have developed such a taste for the bitterness (talKhi) of the pain of separation (hijr), that even the promise of the sweet taste of union (sheereeni) I experience in the throes of death (visaal) holds no fascination for me."

The delectability of the contrast is in noting that the visaal is ostensibly going to be with the same beloved in whose hijr Ghalib is virtually at death's door, and yet, he's clinging to the hijr and rejecting the promised visaal because he prefers the delicious pain of the former to the untrustworthy (to him) pleasure of the latter. I don't know about you, but to me this multi-layeredness is quintessentially Ghalibian in its entire construction from beginning to end.

नै सुब्ह: से 'अलाक़ा न साग़र से वास्ता

मैं मा'रिज़-ए-मिसाल में दस्त-ए-बुरीदा हूँ

nai sub.h se ‘alaaqa na saaghar se wasta

main ma’ariz-e-misaal mein dast-e-bureedah hoon

(सुब्ह:= rosary; 'अलाक़ा = affinity; saaghar = wine glass; ma’ariz-e-misaal mein = as an example; dast-e-bureedah = amputated hand)

The poet laments the fact that he is no longer a master of his own free will. He can no longer choose either the path of piety or the pleasures of debauchery - like an amputated hand that can neither hold a rosary nor a cup of wine.

हूँ ख़ाकसार पर न किसी से है मुझको लाग

नै दाना-ए-फ़ितादा हूँ नै दाम चीदा हूँ

hoon khaaksaar par na kisi se hai mujhko laag

nai daana-e-fitaada hoon nai daam cheedaah hoon

(ख़ाकसार = ‘like dust’; लाग = enimosity/ love; दाना-ए-फ़ितादा = scattered seed; दाम चीदा = carefully laid trap)

This verse doesn’t resolve well in my mind. The connection between the two lines doesn’t appear seamless. This is further complicated by the ambivalence of the word ‘laag’ that can mean both love (attachment) and hatred (enmity). What the poet is probably saying is that he does not blame anyone for his lowly existence and holds no enmity. He might be lying in dust, but he’s neither like seeds that have fallen on the ground and can be used to catch birds, nor a carefully laid trap to ensnare them.

जो चाहिए नहीं वो मेरी क़द्र-ओ-मन्ज़िलत

मैं यूसुफ़-ए-ब-क़ीमत-ए-अव्वल ख़रीदा हूँ

jo chahiye nahin wo meri qadr-o-manzilat

main yusuf-e-ba-qeemat-e-awwal khareedah hoon

(क़द्र-ओ-मन्ज़िलत = dignity and value; क़ीमत-ए-अव्वल = first offer; ख़रीदा = bought)

This verse rests on the story of Joseph (Yusuf), where he was auctioned as a slave at the lowest possible price. The poet says that his true worth is not realized, much like Yusuf, who would eventually turn out to be a Prophet, was sold off very cheaply as a slave.

हरगिज़ किसी के दिल में नहीं है मेरी जगह

हूँ मैं कलाम-ए-नग़्ज़ वले ना-शुनीदा हूँ

hargiz kisi ke dil mein nahin hai meri jagah

hoon main kalaam-e-naghz vale naa-shunidaah hoon

(कलाम-ए-नग़्ज़ = a fine composition; वले = but; ना-शुनीदा = unheard)

This verse is like a continuation of of the earlier verse as the poet once again laments the fact that his worth is totally ignored by people. No one values him – he is like a rare and fine composition that no one has heard. There is another flavour to this verse if one assigns a boastful tone to it – Of course, no one values me! How can they, when they do not have the capacity or the refined taste to appreciate me!

अहल-ए-वर'अ के हल्क़े में हरचन्द हूँ ज़लील

पर ‘आसियों के ज़ुमरे में मैं बर-गुज़ीदा हूँ

ahl-e-vara’a ke halqe mein harchand hoon zaleel

par ‘aasiyon ke zumre mein main bar-guzeedah hoon

(अहल-ए-वर'अ = pious, chaste people; हल्क़े = circle; हरचन्द = although; ज़लील = disgraced, आसियों = sinners; ज़ुमरे – company; बर-गुज़ीदा = chosen one)

After complaining about bot being valued in the earlier verses, the poet unapologetically changes his stance with a defiant tone of ‘so what’? He says that although the pious might not find him worthy of his company, the sinners do give him an exalted place.

पानी से सग-गुज़ीदा डरे जिस तरह असद

डरता हूँ आईने से कि मर्दुम-गुज़ीदा हूँ

paani se sag-guzeedah dare jis tarah asad

darta hoon aaine se ki mardum-guzeedah hoon

(अहल-ए-वर'अ = pious, chaste people; हल्क़े = circle; हरचन्द = although; ज़लील = disgraced, आसियों = sinners; ज़ुमरे – company; बर-गुज़ीदा = chosen one)

Thiis final verse is a bit problematic. While the meaning is self-evident, the connection between the two lines appears very tenuous and unsatisfying. I hope someone helps me ‘understand’ this one. We all know that hydrophobia is one of the complications of rabies caused by dog bite. Ghalib is equating that with his own situation where he has been ‘bitten’ by men and that has led to a situation that he is scared of looking into the mirror. Now how does it relate to hydrophobia caused by dog bite? Is the first line talking about a dog contracting rabies and hence hydrophobia when another dog bites it? That might make some sense if the reason for the dog being scared of water can be ascribed to it seeing its own image in the water and mistaking the image to be of the other dog that bit it. In that case,  the second line links well with it i.e. A man ‘bitten’ by another man is scared of looking at the image of any man, including his own. Still, this seems like a very contrived analogy to me.

Addendum:  In a discussion on this she’r, U. V Ravindra gave his explanation, which made a lot of sense to me. I’m quoting it here verbatim:

“I think the "paani-aaina" pairing is used for the sake of ri'aayat-e-lafzi (economy of words), to depict, on the one hand, the similarity between the two as reflective objects, and, on the other, to throw light on Ghalib's misplaced anxieties. Just as hydrophobia is a symptom, not the cause, nor even the effect, of having been bitten by a rabid dog: the real cause being the inability to drink liquids, which gives rise to the irrational fear of liquids themselves, so also is spectrophobia, the fear of mirrors, the result of misplaced anxieties that are the symptom of Ghalib's having been "bitten" by 'that human' (or all men*): the real cause being his own inability to form a relationship (with 'that human', or all humans), which gives rise to the irrational fear of mirrors. The mirror is an apt allegorical device here as it is the object which he sees his own reflection.
The other interesting question is whether Ghalib is blaming himself (cf. aaina) for his affliction or 'that man' (cf. mardum.gazeedah).

*PS: "bitten by all men" seems an unlikely cause of Ghalib's misfortune here. I think he's specifically talking about one person. This is also in line with the image of rabies he's conjuring up, here: one doesn't need to be bitten by "all dogs", just one 'bad dog', to contract hydrophobia.”


  1. Deevan-e-Ghalib Kaamil Nushkha-e-Gupta Raza, Tareekhi Tarteeb Se by Kalidas Gupta ‘Raza’
  2. Index of Ghalib’s unpublished ghazals on Desertful of Roses by Frances Pritchett