Monday, 29 March 2010

Ghalib's 'jab tak dahaan-e-zakhm'

jab tak dahaan-e zakhm nah paidaa kare koi
mushkil hai tujh se raah-e sukhan vaa kare koi
ʿālam ġhubār-e vashat-e majnūñ hai sar-ba-sar
kab tak khayāl-e turrah-e lailā kare koī
afsurdagii nahii;N :tarab-inshaa-e iltifaat
haa;N dard ban ke dil me;N magar jaa kare koi
rone se ay nadiim malaamat nah kar mujhe
aakhir kabhii to uqdah-e dil vaa kare koi
See Prof. Pritchett's wonderful site 'A desertful of roses' for text & commentary.

Till the mouth of the wound gravid utterance attain
All paths to your ear, mere aporias detain
Majnun's footy blister has raised a dusty twister to pervade the Plenum's plane
Whom, longer, in imaginal Limbo, can Lailah's locks limn sane?
Not Civility has a freezing center, all heating, guests to gain
Save my sleeting heart, she enter, who entered ere as pain.
Cup companion, my tears' flood to slow, reprove not- no reproof is vain!
That my Noah's knot of the heart's rainbow, the Saqi sooner obtain


Anonymous said...

These are so focused on wordplay and sound, and so full of inversions, that they're almost literally incomprehensible, esp. to a person who doesn't know the original. Could you reclassify them as verbal works of art, jazz riffs on the original shi'r? Does poetry have to mean something? Perhaps they can be original English poems of sound? Otherwise, if they're trying to help people approach Ghalib's verses, I don't see how they can really do that.

For example, in the second line of the first shi'r, do the paths detain the aporias, or the aporias detain the paths? The level of abstraction is such that a reader could only guess.

And in the second shi'r, the second line bears no relation at all to what the Urdu actually says.

And the third and fourth shi'rs I can't recognize at all. Maybe they are from his Persian divan?

Yet certainly the verses have a baroque vitality of their own. Do you consider them to be, potentially at least, verses from English ghazals?

windwheel said...

Fair cop Guv!
The difficulty here is to prove that I'm am in earnest and that there is some relationship, however tenuous, between Ghalib and my ravings.

The word 'paida' in the first line suggested giving birth rather than creation to me. The difference being that in giving birth, something from the other is required. Hence 'gravid utterance'. That paths are detained- i.e. become longer and don't reach their destinations- by something, or that something detains them seems quite poetic to me. In the original the word 'vaa' is more poetic but I can think of no English equivalent which might achieve the same effect.
In English, footy- has the meaning of football, a passion with young men- to say Majnun has a footy blister suggests that his madness is as intense as the ordinary fan's passion for his team. The aim is to make Majnun's passion something real and familiar. A dusty twister- i.e. a tornado of dust- is raised up by Majnun (as happens in the film Kung Fu Soccer). Now from the Wizard of Oz and so on, we have the notion of a tornado as linking different ontological realms. Hence Alam here is the Plenum, but the Plenum as a limit of something else of higher dimension- the plane being 2 dimensional.
Thus, apart from some homely touches 'footy' and 'twister' the meaning is not different from the literal- 'The world is the dust raised by Majnun's frenzy from end to end'.
In the second line I am interpreting 'khayal' in Arabi's sense. Still 'imaginal Limbo' is merely an intensification of the literal 'thought' since the thought of Lailah's head adornment is clearly unavailing and can't be kept up indefinitely.
The word locks suggests a restraint- as of a strait jacket- and is used for that reason.
In the third couplet, I'm focusing on afsurdagi as frozenness = (Platts) P افسردگی afsurdagī (abst. s. fr. next, q.v.), s.f. Frozenness; frigidity, coldness; numbness; dejection, melancholy, lowness or depression of spirits. Normally, the joyous welcome of a guest is not associated with freezing. However, to keep the guest eternally within itself perhaps the heart should freeze over! This is permissible in this context because she will only enter the heart as 'dard' i.e pain. Here the intensification I permit myself is the notion that the pain she has already caused is as nothing to what remains in store. At present my heart is merely 'sleeting'- soon it will instantly freeze anything it comes into contact with.
In the fourth couplet I focus on 'naadim' as cup companion and get the (elided) conceit that the drinking buddy is afraid my tears will dilute the wine to the point where it will lose its power to intoxicate thus bringing disgrace to the Saqi.
To make the couplet poetic to the English reader I introduce a completely new imagery based on the Biblical flood- the rainbow being the mark of God's covenant with Noah (a famous drunk).

Many thanks once again

Anonymous said...

Unless one creates a wound-mouth,
there is no way to open the way of communication with you.

2. The world from beginning to end consists of the dust of Majnun's frenzy;
how long then must one keep paying attention to Laila's hair?

3. Melancholy is not capable of instigating a loving attentive response,
yet perhaps if one becomes pain itself, one can find a place in the heart.

4. Friend, do not reproach me for weeping;
after all, sooner or later, someone must undo tbe knot of the heart.

Full translation of the ghazal by Shamur Rehaman Faruqi is given at

It is much more clear. For example the line 'unless you create wound mouth' shows clearly the need for creation of wound mouths for the stated purpose viz. opening the way of communication. Greatness of Ghalib is brought out by showing the caliber of the man. Previously though path of communication may or not have been open, still nobody was mentioning necessity of wound mouth. This is a very good translation for English, because major English poets are not mentioning the need for wound mouths constantly.
2)The second couplet is mentioning the story of Qais Majnun who went completely mad due to his love for Lailah. It requests information 'how long must we keep paying attention on that lady's hair. It is a very relevant question and should be addressed by leading English scholars as they may not be aware that this field of research exists. Again, the words and meaning of the translation are very simple.
3)The third couplet is revealing this wisdom 'Melancholy is not capable of instigating a loving attentive response' This is very brilliant because the word melancholy means 'sad'. It is a gem of wisdom showing people that by putting sad face and showing mental depression you will not attract the fair lady.
The translation is very good. It shows high literary value by using cultured words and diction.
4)The first line is full of poetic beauty. He says 'Friend, do not reproach me for weeping.' The idea is that the poet is weeping so much that his friend says 'do not weep so much. There is no need. It is not a good thing you are doing going on and on weeping. People are looking at you. They think you are a big nuisance and cry-baby. Kindly stop it.'
The beauty of the English translation is it uses just one word- viz. reproach- to suggest all of the above.

Ghalib often wrote rubbish because such was the practice at the time. However, good quality English translation- like one given by Prof. Faruqi- can open the eyes of people to truth of Urdu poetry and mentality such as continues to flourish to this day.

windwheel said...

Many thanks for your comment. I had read the article mentioned and also the Prof. Sahib's book 'the secret mirror'. I wanted to give a rhyming rather than free response to the poem.
Maybe Ghalib wasn't deliberately writing shit but declaiming extempore? Then he was performing an experiment in Social Linguistics and his Divan can give us valuable evidence of why audiences at mushairas, or rap concerts or whatever, give it up for shit?