Friday, 2 April 2010

Ghalib, ghazal 20- yeh na thi hamari qismat

Click here for audio-

 To be in tryst united, not I could twist my fate
If longer life invited, I'd yet forlornly wait

Did I live on thy oath, know, my life were a lie
Of happiness I'd die! held thy troth to a date

For as feebly as fond entreaty, bindst thy Word
Its sequel, an equal treaty, art surd to sublate

Why was that arrow drawn without brawn, not art?
That, in my heart, it stick, not sever it straight!

Why admonishes like a priest, my old comrade and mate?
If you haven't a pain killer, at least, my pain giver hate!

Were what it mock as 'woe wilful'-  flint struck sparks
Thy Ark's veined rock, would ruck Red sans bate

Anguish is certain arson; know! -the heart must burn
If not to yearn, then to earn, or learn chalk's slate!

By his assent, this night of grief, did an Adam create?
Death's a Thief, or Madam, my ruin can't sate

My grave- ghazal's fresh ground?! Better I'd drowned!
My clay, they claim-jump, with elegies on 'the late'!

His vision can't anoint, who is but a singular viewpoint
Were a second scented... Ah! God alone is Great!

Since Sainthood has its Arabi seal, thy mystic spate
For Drunkard's weal, ope's a  Ghalibian gate!
- Show quoted text -


Anonymous said...

Well, to start with take the third couplet-
tirī nāzukī se jānā kih bañdhā thā ʿahd bodā
kabhī tū nah toṛ saktā agar ustuvār hotā
You must know, from the website 'desertful of roses', that the meaning is, I quote

1) from your delicacy [I/we] knew that the vow/promise had been made/bound weak/loose
2) you could never have broken it, if it had been strong/firm
Prof. Francis Pritchett comments as follows-
'THE BELOVED SEEMS NOT TO BE GOD: This verse has, to my mind, one more claim to fame. It provides a refutation to critics who allege that, in principle, any verse of classical ghazal can be addressed just as well to a Divine beloved as to a human one, and should be so interpreted. This verse would be extremely hard to read as addressed to God. God might be as cruel, fickle, capricious, disdainful, etc. as any human beloved; we might even consider God just as likely to be a promise-breaker. But can we really tease God for being so 'delicate' and weak that He could only break a promise that had not been firmly 'tied' in the first place? It does seem a bit devoid of theological tact.'

There is absolutely no connection between what u write and the poem!

windwheel said...

Here I would take issue with the interpretation ofاستوار
as strong/firm rather than equal/parallel (hence reciprocal)/ bold/ determined. Taking the latter meaning-constellation we get the notion of delicacy as arising out of a lack of reciprocity, itself arising out of an inequality of status. When we play with a child we do not use our full strength. Tentativeness also arises out of inequality or lack of parallelism.

The juxtaposition of ahd and boda (the latter word hinting that what we call existence is a feeble thing compared to 'true' or truer existence in barzakh) is theological rather than mere word play.

In Arabi's system, we move from naql to aql precisely because the knot of taqlid is loosely tied so that we try our strength at it and rise up from the feeble condition of a child towards tawhid. Furthermore, what one is addressing is not 'God' but the khayal (of God).

Clearly it is sheer stupidity for anyone to say that some frail little baggage is too weak to break her own promise. Well, maybe some thick headed Ajax in a farce- but would that Ajax then draw the conclusion that perhaps she had 'tied' her promise in a feeble way? This isn't a play on words- it is proof of imbecility.

Except in the light of Arabi's teachings. Then it's parallel to Hindu Vatsalya based Bhakti.

Still, a romantic meaning remains- her coquetry is tentative and her promises but lightly bind because she has no surety that we are equal to her passion. This reveals a great psychological truth- indeed, it has a Shavian ring- as in 'Man and Superman' - this is the eternal Feminine that draweth ever onward, etc.

Anonymous said...

You say the beloved's tentativeness of coquetry is a sign of her insecurity and lack of trust in the lover's responsiveness-- but you know that's a VERY rare mood for her to be in (though not nonexistent of course). Far more often, she's arrogant as hell. She 'binds' her promises loosely because she's fickle and cruel and/or indifferent.

As for God, are we really going to say that he's weak and/or insecure (which would show ignorance of the lover's potential, which seems un-Godlike)?

The great enjoyableness and with of the WORDPLAY is the only core of this verse, in my view.

All the fancy theology, including ibn Arabi and vatsalya bhava and Shaw and (implicitly) Jung-- well, is there ANY reason to believe that this should figure in our reading of this completely wordplay-based verse? Even if Ghalib knew these thinkers (which basically is not the case), nothing in the verse "potentiates" or "activates" such far-fetched readings. Thus what you're creating is a fine Vivekian riff on the verse, not remotely an interpretation based on its actual process of creation or any reading ever enjoyed, or meant to be enjoyed, by its original audience. Of course a Vivekian riff is a fine thing, but it shouldn't be confused with a reading of the verse itself.

windwheel said...

Many thanks for your valuable comment.
I feel that to test a person is not to show ignorance of their potential but to help them actualize it.
ou always emphasize the fact that the ghazal was a performance in front of an expert audience who took pleasure in anticipating the next radif and, as it were, participating in the meaning creation process. I'm making the assumption that some of the listeners would be of mystical inclination while others might be of more rakish character. This may not be true. Perhaps the audience was fed up to its back teeth with mysticism! Certainly the commentators support your viewpoint. But, I ask myself, was this part of a new mood of suspicion of mysticism- i.e. layered meaning with the haqiqi interpretation flatly contradicting the apparent majazi meaning- dictated by a desire to break with amphiboly so as to enter the modern world of slogans and manifestos and (toba! toba!) Universities and Civil Service exams in which (as Akbar Illahabadi found) Qais is Majnun only to become B.A Pass and Lailah is no where in the picture.
The British, as Ghalib said, could drive their ships and railway trains on but vapor. But it wasn't a metaphorical vapor but actual vapor. Similarly the demand for a univocity in theology and poetry- such that words would no longer be what Prof. Faruqi calls 'dialectical'- would fit well with both the Wahabbi sytle Gymnobiblism as well as the modernizing project of Tanzimat.
Still, the fact remains, that Sufi poetry and theology (though bitterly contested) remains dominant in the sub-continent whereas it has practically disappeared elsewhere.
Can one actually 'cut' the Indian Muslim, or the Urdu language, out of the Sufi tradition?
Can the Muslims of the sub-continent embrace the path of either the Wahabbis or that of Attaturk? Or is it the case that mysticism we will always have with us- this seeming sleep of reason, this dormancy, to be interpreted as Arabi interprets sleep- it being the true wakefulness- death, in the barzakh's horn of light, the true time of effort and creativity?

windwheel said...

Following on, from my previous comment-
t seems to me, you are affirming a doctrine of univocity whereby what is predicated of God is predicated in the same manner and with the same meaning as what is predicated of any other object. Thus you hold 20.3 to be a glaring exception to the supposed rule that a couplet can have equal reference to the All mighty as to the beloved. However, neither Arabi nor Sadr's system is based on a Duns Scotus type of univocity. I've read recently, that Sirhindi and Waliullah were not making a decisive break with Arabi (as I'd previously supposed). I don't know if this is true- but again it raises the question as to whether Ghalib is concerned exclusively with word-play rather than a veiled dialectics of a theosophic type.
Speaking for myself, I'd prefer to read Hafiz as a wine-bibber and the Turk-Shirazi as an actual person rather than some vast astrological metaphor- but in the case of Ghalib, I hesitate. After all, Bedil is in his background.
The difficulty is that I'm not mystically inclined, so I'm bound to get things wrong when trying to get at what a Sufi would see in Ghalib. But, for the Sufi, the thing would be too obvious, too plain, to need spelling out. The whole ghazal would work as a auditory hieroglyph for some gorgeous internal state marking one's progress towards the final theophany.
To get back to 20.3- I think both the 'plain' meaning- From your frail delicacy we knew your oath could but lightly bind/ Had it been strong, you could not have broken it- is compatible with the mystic meaning- where boda is suggestive of existence as but a feeble emanation or shadow, and ahd refers to the Covenant of mere outward taqlid and naql. Then we may say 'out of a delicacy such as is used with one much weaker (since God can not but be strong save by His own will for some Godly purpose) we can know (i.e. gnosis is invoked as the path to this realization) that the outward Covenant binds us lightly. However were there a covenant that was as between equals-i.e if by some imitatio Dei we became worthy of a more equal treaty) it would be so strong that not even you (God) can break it. In other words, the lower taqlidi covenant keeps us apart from God and thus in a feeble state where what is received from God is like a broken promise because we lack strength for any better. However, by considering what would be needed for a strong binding- i.e. equality or reciprocity- we see that Union with God is something not even He could deny (since it would be against His own will and intention.)

windwheel said...

One final point- In fairy tales, the Princess may set an impossible task to the hero. Actually, she takes various guises to help him complete the task- indeed, she could have just done it all on her own!- why then this delay and testing? The answer is the hero has to rise to a position of worthiness before union can be granted.
I wonder whether the beloved who makes it impossible to approach her- who makes false promises- who arranges a tryst at one place and time knowing full well she will be somewhere else with the rival at precisely that moment- is this sort of coquetry proof of her untrustworthiness or a test of our sincerity?
The big playboy will become fascinated by such a creature. He will abandon his many conquests to pursue this one flighty piece. Why? Because, he realizes she is challenging him to acquire that very quality he desires to find in her.

Abdul said...

Heck of a lot of errors here, I don't know where to start- Some shers are tough but even simple ones you get wrong!
You write
By assent, this night of grief, did an Adam create?
Death's a Thief, or Madam, my ruin can't sate

kahun kis se main ki kya hai Shab-e-gham buri bala hai/muje kya bura ta marna gar ek bar hotha
This is plain- "To whom can I speak of this night of grief that is evil and calamity/ Death would not have been bad for me if death came only once.
I think Ghalib is difficult to translate in English- probably a prose poem would be better.

windwheel said...

The story is that when God asked Adam 'Am I not your Lord', Adam replied 'Bala' which signifies both assent and woe- for this reason Existence is full or woe.
The night of Grief is a night of separation. However it also the time of Miraj (ascent).
Granted, my verse is weak.

Anonymous said...

also the sher- hue mar ke hum jo ruswa- you are giving different translation which itself is not clear.

windwheel said...

'One conceit, I think the commentators miss, is the notion that it were better I had drowned rather provide a new mazmun- viz. my tomb- to which I wont be grated priority being 'the late Ghalib'. The idea is that the poet would like to be his own pall-bearer, to decorate his own tomb, to pronounce masterful elegies upon it and so on. After all, the poet's death is his own unique creation. I think this is in the style of Ghalib- and mention of his own janaza should suggest the image forcefully. One can almost see him spinning like a top so that his bier move 'from shoulder to shoulder'!'

Anonymous said...

But, does the "night of grief" in separation from the beloved, really evoke Adam's saying "bala" to God, under entirely different cirdumstances? No doubt it could, IF the poet arranged the verse so as to potentiate that meaning and encourage us to think of it. Here, on the contrary, he's arranged that the rest of the verse has no relation AT ALL with that sense.

windwheel said...

Ghalib has, quite properly, arranged his verse to maximize its mushaira impact. However, the word 'bala' has the Adamic association for educated listeners and Ghalib knows this. Shab-e-gham suggests separation. One type of separation is that of God and Man. But is this separation enforced by some outside force or, in some sense, have we willed it or assented to it ourselves? If Ghalib really wants us to understand that he is verbose witless cry-baby then of course the meaning is- where can I catch hold some idiot who will listen to me explain that the night of sorrow is really not nice and in fact quite evil and bad? The art here is that Ghalib appears like that to idiots (for whom language's true function is to prove that other people really are stupider than themselves, thus giving them an incentive to remain language users- coz other people are so easy to gull) but manages- in what appears his stupidity and redundancy- to raise a theosophic point and link it to ri'jat & palingenesia & so on.
In other words, either Ghalib has indulged in verbosity and redundancy gham plus bura plus bala- coz he was a witless cry baby- or, no, the word of philosophic interest is being highlighted for us.