Posted: Tue Oct 08, 2019 5:20 pm Post subject: MIRZA GHALIB
By:Shikoh Mohsin Mirza
How Ghalib's genius took ghazal to new heights and depths:
AATEY HAI(N) GHAIB SEY YEH MAZAMEEN KHAYAL MEE(N)
GHALIB SAREER E KHAMAH NAVA E SAROSH HAI
(These ideas visit the imagination from the beyond: in the scratchings of the reed pen (I hear) the angel’s song.)
In this couplet, Ghalib expresses the age-old belief that the provenance of poetry is divine and mystical. The sound of the reed pen, substituted metonymically for poetry, is likened to the voice of an angel to emphasise the role of inspiration in a poet’s vocation.
The grating sound of a reed pen scratching on paper suggest the exacting efforts of creativity — ‘I was sentenced to the hard labour of writing prose and poetry,’ laments Ghalib in a letter. Through all this, Ghalib references the artist’s perennial struggle to mirror and embody in the earthly world the sacred essence of the beyond.
The couplet is vintage Ghalib – lyrical, dense, polysemous, metaphysical, and endowed with universal content. Ghalib wrote countless Urdu couplets of this kind, in which the sheer microcosmic intensity of his ashār captivates the readers’ mind and heart. He owed this accomplishment as much to his unique imagination and mastery of Urdu language as to his access to two traditions of ghazal form.
Comprising a series of closed couplets, similar to heroic couplets in English, the ghazal form’s natural tendency is to craft either an epigram or an aphorism — a fact that was exploited by Ghalib in all its varied possibilities. The ghazal’s sher, being syntactically and thematically an independent entity, compels the poet to cultivate a style that is allusive, symbolic, and, most importantly, resonant with images and metaphors found in the tradition of ghazal poetry reaching as far back as the seventh century CE in Arabic, and to the eleventh century in Persian. The form poses a creative challenge to poets, spurring the more ingenious to extend the boundaries and possibilities of the ghazal, both thematically and structurally – and Ghalib did exactly that.
Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib was born in 1797 at Agra at a time when the British were strengthening their hold in north India, particularly in Delhi and Agra. In such turbulent times, life was chaotic and uncertainties prevailed. The Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II was already reduced to a titular head: in 1803 General Lake captured Delhi and pensioned him off.
These conditions were hastening the decline of the feudal nobility to which Ghalib belonged. His ancestors had always held important positions in army or court, and Ghalib could do no better. As a member of the gentry, Ghalib could either choose to follow his ancestors into the army – now under the British an impossibility – or be a man of letters.
For centuries, in Delhi, a rich literary culture prevailed at court and at large – particularly symbolised by the popular custom of mushaira (poetry readings). Literature served not only as a cultivated pastime and entertainment, but also a means to earning esteem and prestige in society. When a poet’s artistic accomplishments caught the eye of a rich and powerful nobleman, he earned rewards as well as patronage, ensuring economic security.
But now literary culture was beginning to serve another purpose. It provided a refuge from the loss and humiliations of real-life disempowerment, and, as a consequence of nostalgia for the past, hyperbole, contrived language, and an obsession with rhetorical devices became paramount – all signs of escapism and decadence.
Around 1812, Ghalib had shifted to Delhi, a city supposed to provide better avenues in life. Ghalib had already started writing poetry in Urdu, but as Persian was the literary language of the cultivated elites, he taught himself the language. Soon, he was writing poetry in Persian and winning praise. He followed as his model the poetry of Mīrzā Abdul-Qādir Bēdil (1642–1720), an accomplished Indian poet of sabk-e hindī (the characteristic Indian style of Persian poetry).
Ghalib’s first collection of Persian poetry was published in 1845 as mayḵāna-ye ārzū. He maintained that he chose Persian as it provided better opportunities for self-expression, and always considered his Persian poetry to be superior to Urdu. Whatever his opinion of his Persian poetry, he had published the first version of his Urdu divan in 1841, which established him as the foremost Urdu poet of his era, only matched by Sheikh Muhammad Ibrahim Zauq (1789–1854), the poet laureate at the Mughal court.
By 1850, Urdu was the language of court, where Ghalib regularly participated in mushairas. Eventually, emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, an accomplished poet himself, acknowledging his talent and achievements, appointed him as his poetry mentor at the death of Ibrahim Zauq.
Though he was ridiculed and condemned by contemporary rival poets for writing incomprehensible poetry, Ghalib was experimenting and innovating – in both style and content – in his ghazals. His letters, collected and published during his life time, provide evidence that he was a conscious innovator, compulsively refining his expression and drawing out new meanings from the restricted thematic world, thereby continuously expanding poetic possibilities.
He enriched Urdu poetry with images and symbols with wider philosophical appeal, and his best ashar throb with sincere and profound sentiments that succeed in raising ghazal to a higher level than the frivolous and superficial depiction of love.
It is impossible to appreciate Ghalib’s genius and uniqueness till we read his ashar closely, by entering the world of their associations and allusions. The following brief analyses of four of his couplets illustrate Ghalib’s characteristic style and technique:
AAGAHI DAAME SHUNEEDAN JIS QADAR CHAAHE BICHHAAYE
MADA ANQAA HAI APNEY AALAMEY TAQREER KA
(However intelligence casts its net of reason: the meaning of my poetic world will ever elusive be.)
The couplet was written in defiance of the rival poets who ridiculed Ghalib’s recondite poetry as meaningless and beyond comprehension. Ghalib uses original metaphors and conceits to transcend a simple rebuttal of his detractors. It requires some explaining.
The mind may spread its net of reason striving to understand the meaning of the poet’s words, but as the mythical bird anqa can’t be caught, the sense of his words would never be grasped. Ghalib invariably described abstract ideas and thought in concrete images and symbols for greater impact – here, the net of reason and the allusion to the anqa, the mythical bird, serving that purpose.
The word anqa is used in Urdu idioms to suggest rarity, and a sense of elusiveness. However, there are other nuances of meaning that must be unravelled. Since anqa is an imagined bird, it represents imagination and contrasts with the reason of the first line, thereby implying the traditional conflict between reason and imagination. The poet’s ‘alame taqreer’—literally, ‘world of speech’, and figuratively, poetry – requires imagination to understand, and not the rigid and abstract reasoning which seems helpless before it.
ASAL E SHUHUD WA SHAHID WA MASHAHUD EEK HAI
HAIRAAN HU(N) PHIR MUSHAHIDA HAI KIS HISAAB MEE(N)
(The essence of what is seen, (the one) who sees, and all seen is one and the same
At a loss I am, (not knowing) how to account for the act of seeing.)
Indeed, the couplet is about the mystical philosophy of wahdatul wajūd (unity of existence), but Ghalib nuances and twists the conventional theme to pose a question that is simultaneously sceptical and profound. Despite the idea in wahdatul wajūd that the essence is fundamental, it’s the act of perception that creates all discrete entities that we see around. While essence exists in a timeless domain, the perception of things exists in the temporal realm.
Ghalib destabilises this understanding by asking a subtle question: in which of these realms does the act of seeing exist? For if the act of seeing did not occur, neither would there be discrete differences, nor the need for speaking about discovering their essence.
By asking this question, Ghalib seems to indicate that essence and its diverse manifestations are inextricably tied to each other. This highlights the paradoxical nature of existence, where we are bound to perpetually strain to appropriate the many as the one.
LIKHTEY RAHEY JUNUUN KI HIKAYAT E KHUN CHAKAAN
HAR CHAND ISS MEE(N) HAATH HAMAREY QALAAM HUEY
(We persist in writing blood-soaked chronicles of passion (obsession)
even though our hands are repeatedly cut off.)
The key word junūn stands for revolution, the sense made obvious from the words – blood-soaked chronicles and the cutting off of hands. Writing the history of revolutionary acts is essential, despite the attendant perils, to keep their memory intact for future generations. Qalam here has two meanings. The first refers to a reed pen, which requires a constant sharpening of the writing end with a knife to make them it write again.
The other, linked meaning is decapitation. By implication, the more the hands of poets – by synecdochic application, suggestive of the heads of revolutionaries – are cut off, the more they redeem their real purpose – turning into reed pens that write about and usher in revolution for posterity to emulate.
HAI GHAIB E GHAIB JIS KO SAMAJHTEY HAI(N) HUM SHUHUUD
HAI(N) KHWAAB MEE(N) HUNUZ JO JAAGEY HAI(N) KHWAAB MEE(N)
(What we take as manifest (just) points to the (inscrutable) mystery of the beyond;
those who wake up in a dream are still in a dream.)
This couplet is a genuine forebear of the Borgesian logic that describes the relationship between metaphysical reality and the illusion that this world is. We take shuhūd (signs) as the manifestations of essence, as perceptible signs of God’s realm and being, yet the terrifying fact is that we see them existing in an unreal, illusionary world. By living in this world, where we make do with arbitrary signs, how can we know the essence and the transcendent reality we yearn for? We are condemned to live within an illusion (majaz) from which it is impossible to know the transcendent reality (haq).
As these ashar reveal, Ghalib revelled naturally in delving into the complexities of ideas, reinvigorating thought with original images and symbols that strain towards new horizons.
Generally, it is less known that Ghalib contributed to the development of Urdu prose also with the publication, just before his death in 1869, of two collections of his letters, Ud-i-Hindi (The Indian Lute) and Urdū-ye moallā (The Urdu Sublime).
Published at the behest of his friend-publisher Munshi Shiv Narayan, these letters are written in a conversational tone and the colloquial idiom of Urdu, thus supplanting the ornateness of the prevalent style. The spontaneity and warmth of prose and the range of subjects, from the gossipy to the philosophical and the aesthetic, single-handedly helped transform the idiom of Urdu from the stilted style of his compatriots into a versatile instrument of expression.
Mirza Ghalib was a Shia and has praised Murtaza Ali wa Ahl Bait in his poetry.
GHALIB NADEEM E DOST SEY AATI HAI BU E DOST
MASHGUL E HAQ HUN BANDAGI E ABU TURAB MEY
Galib says, From friend's friend I feel fragrance of friend. I am involved with Haq, through remembrance of Abu Turab.
Abu Turab is one of the titles given by Prophet Muhammad to Mowla Ali. Literary Turab means earth or dust in Arabic. Abu Turab means 'father of dust'. Earth, planets, stars, and heavenly bodies in universe are made up of dust particles. Agriculture products come out of fertile dust, minerals are buried under dust, all kind of sand is dust. In other words Ali is one who controls and balances the earthly bodies in universe.
In Ismaili terminology turab is equated with iman, faith.
It is interesting to note that Ali Muhammad Jan Muhammad Chunara in his Urdu translation of Ismaili history NURUN MUBIN quoted the above couplet in the beginning of preface.
Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, popularly known as Mirza Ghalib, was a celebrated poet of his times. His work is much-loved by poetry lovers all over the world and today on his 221st birth anniversary.
BOOKS Updated: Dec 27, 2018 19:17 IST
Hazaaron khwahishein aisi ke har khwahish pe dum nikle,
Bahut nikle mere armaan lekin phir bhi kam nikle
Penned by the celebrated Urdu poet of his times, Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, popularly known as Ghalib, we’ve heard these lines in several renditions, in films, as a film’s title, a song by Jagjit Singh and so much more. The theme of this ghazal is understood in terms of Ghalib’s love interest. In near-direct translation, it means all of Ghalib’s thoughts and desires are never enough. Even if some of those desires and thoughts are fulfilled, all of them can never be attained.
Born in Agra on 27 December 1797, Ghalib’s first love was always Dilli (Delhi) about whom he writes, “I asked my soul: What is Dilli? She replied: The world is the body, and Dilli is its life.”
This love was beautiful and most definitely reciprocated. The city and its residents have loved him as much, and even nearly 150 years after his demise. Ghalib’s work remains alive in the hearts of the lovers of Urdu and poetry in general.
In the words of Gulzar Sahab, “Ghalib is very important for everyone. You should know about him even if you are not familiar with his language. His poems, his lifestyle, his behaviour everything is a great inspiration. At a time when people used to carry their religion on their shoulders, Ghalib talked about humanity. The man lost seven children and carried a huge sadness inside him but despite that he was known for his sense of humour".
How the Ghazal traveled from 6th-century Arabia to Persia, India and the English-speaking world. The literary form has been adopted by many different cultures and adapted for a variety of languages.
This is an excerpt from the Preface to 'Hazaaron Khwahishein Aiesi': The Wonderful World of Urdu Ghazals, selected, edited and translated by Anisur Rahman, HarperCollins India, detailing the journey of the Ghazal across time and space.
The trajectory of the Ghazal is unlike that of any other literary form that has had a history of traversing beyond its spatial confines. A brief tour through the passages of this poetic form and its diverse routes would reveal both its uniqueness and universal appeal.
When the Ghazal moved out of the Arabian Peninsula, it found a hospitable space in medieval Spain where it was written both in the Arabic and the Hebrew languages.
In yet another instance, we have the Ghazal reaching out to west African languages like Hausa and Fulfulde.
Even while these Ghazals developed their own marks, they also kept close to the Arabic model by retaining the traditional Arabic metres and forms.
It was only when the Ghazal reached Persia in the middle of the 8th century that it started developing its own contours even while it did not entirely disengage from the formal patterns of the Arabic Ghazals.
Later, the Persian Ghazal acquired its definite character when it developed its own stylistic marks in refurbishing the matla, the first line (sher)of the Ghazal, and evolving a pattern of refrains (radeef) as the last unit of expression in the second line of each sher.
It also defined the length of the Ghazal from seven to 15 shers, and made way for the poets to use their signature in maqta, the last sher of the composition.
Abdullah Jafar RUDAKI (Ismaili poet), the first canonical Ghazal writer of Persia towards the end of the 9th century, was followed in chronological order by other major poets like Sanai Ghaznavi and Fariduddin Attar in the 12th century, Sadi Shirazi and Jalaluddin Rumi in the 13th and Hafiz Shirazi in the 14th century.
The Persian Ghazal matured further after the classical models in the subsequent centuries but it always distinguished itself for two of its most distinctive qualities: its acute mystical preoccupations and its keen philosophical concerns.
The Ghazal written in Persian, the dominant literary language of central Asia and India, made remarkable impact and proved quite consequential in the development of the Ghazal as an archetypal form of poetic expression in the East.
Even the poets who wrote in other languages looked towards Persia for mature models. Turkey, for example, being another destination of the Ghazal, offered yet another variation on the Persian Ghazal.
Ali Sher Navai of Afghan descent, who was supposed to be the founder of Uzbek literature, brought it closer to new linguistic habits and exposed it to the extinct Chagatai language of Turkey in the mid-15th century, and Fuzuli brought the Ghazal to Azerbaijani Turkish in tone and tenor at the beginning of the 16th century.
Outside Arabia where it originated, and Persia where it matured, it was in India that the Ghazal found its most hospitable destination.
Even though the Ghazal in India is sometimes traced back to the 13th century in the works of Amir Khusrau, its Urdu incarnation is rightly identified in Mohammad Quli Qutub Shah towards the latter half of the 16th century, and Vali Deccani in the succeeding century.
Looking back, one may clearly notice that it has passed through several stages of development in form, content and language, ever since its first flowering in the Deccan and its subsequent branching out in various directions of India.
While prominent literary centers like the Deccan, Delhi and Lucknow created competitive conditions for the development of the Ghazal, several others spread over the length and breadth of the country championed their own features of style.
All of them contributed together in constructing a larger and comprehensive tradition of Ghazal writing which has kept growing ever since.
The most remarkable feature of the Ghazal in India which stands out quite prominently is that the poets of various linguistic, regional and religious affiliations joined hands to broaden its thematic and stylistic frontiers and impart to it a unique resilience that has stayed with it through all the phases of literary history.
The Ghazal, as a literary form which has no other approximate form in any of the literature, has long elicited the attention of poets writing in several Western languages.
When the Orient lured Germany in the 19th century, the Ghazal reached there with the translations of Persian works.
Friedrich Schlegal, an Orientalist who studied Sanskrit, chose to make his bold experiments in this form.
His contemporary, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, imitated Persian models, translated Ghazals, and wrote under the Oriental influence and published his collection, West-ostliche Divan.
We also have, in the same line of descent, Friedrich Rückert, another Orientalist, writing his Ghazals and publishing them in Ghaselen.
August Graf von Platen, a master of 12 languages, is yet another example who practiced this form, adhered to the Persian form of rhythm and rhyme through his qaafia and radeef, and published his collections Ghaselen and Neue Ghaselen.
In modern times, the Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca wrote his Ghazals, called gecelos, and included them in his last collection of poems, Divan del Tamarit, which also reflected his ever-abiding interest in Arab Andalusian culture.
The appeal of the Ghazal traveled in other directions as well, which is exemplified by compositions in languages as diverse as French, Italian and English.
In modern times, the Ghazal found its larger acceptance in the English-speaking world.
Adrienne Rich, John Hollander and Robert Bly in America, Jim Harrison, John Thompson, Phyllis Webb and Douglas Barbour in Canada, and Judith Wright in Australia are just a few of the many poets who brought the Ghazal to new literary spaces, as they experimented with this form and made way for many others to emulate.
On being introduced to Ghalib during the death centenary year of the poet in 1969, and on translating his Ghazals, Adrienne Rich developed an instant liking for the form. Later, she wrote her Ghazals independently and published 17 of them in Leaflets as “Homage to Ghalib” and, subsequently, nine more in The Will To Change as “The Blue Ghazals”.
In her Collected Early Poems, she acknowledged her debt and wrote: “My Ghazals are personal and public, American and Twentieth Century; but they owe much to the presence of Ghalib in my mind: a poet, self-educated and profoundly learned who owned no property and borrowed his books, writing in an age of political and cultural break-up.”
Similarly, the Ghazal caught the imagination of John Hollander to the extent that he defined its poetics and wrote a Ghazal on the Ghazal, a kind of definitional piece, following the strict discipline of the form with its qaafia and radeef falling in place.
At a remove from Rich and Hollander, we have quite a few Canadian poets making their forays into this form.
Jim Harrison, who published 65 of his Ghazals in Outlyer and Ghazals, was aware of the Arabic and Persian Ghazal tradition and knew of Rich’s excursion into this form.
He is one of the more prominent poets to discover the Ghazal and find space for all that he considered crude and queer to write about, along with all that was normal and natural.
“After several years spent with longer forms,” he said, “I’ve tried to regain some of the spontaneity of the dance, the song unencumbered by any philosophical apparatus, faithful only to its own music.”
Another poet, John Thompson, in his carefully crafted Ghazals in Still Jack also valued the freedom that the Ghazal afforded, but he did not mistake it for surrealist or free association poems violating a sense of order.
Instead, he valued them as “poems of careful construction performing controlled progression” with no deliberate design upon the reader. He found in it a way to test the limits of imagination that might lose the track of reason, if left unguarded.
Yet another variation in the writing of the Ghazal may be seen in Phyllis Webb’s Sunday Water and Water and Light. She evolved the concept of “anti Ghazal” and found in them a space for “the particular, the local, the dialectical and private”.
She degendered the form and resorted to a subversive way by de-valorising the female figure, which the Ghazal had been traditionally valorising ever since its inception.
A much more radical position was adopted by Douglas Barbour in his Ghazals included in Visible Visions and Breathtakes.
He chose to try the limits of sound and form by modulating breath as a mode of expression and bringing it closer to performance poetry.
With this entirely new mode of apprehension, Barbour added yet another facet to the fast emerging body of the North American Ghazal.
“Indeed, a very particular sound, for example, caught my imagination,” he said, “when I thought of Ghazals, the sound of breathing itself. There was a form and there was a breath. And there appeared what I call the breath Ghazals.”
Compositions by Douglas Lochhead in Tiger in the Skull and Max Plater in Rain on the Mountains may be read alongside the compositions by the North American poets.
The prominent Australian poet, Judith Wright, who began as a traditionalist, turned quite experimental towards the end of her career when she too experimented with this form in a section, “Shadow of Fire”, containing Ghazals in her collection, Phantom Dwelling.
In her departure from the traditional Ghazal, she maintained thematic continuity in her couplets and gave her compositions a title.
Like all other poets, she too executed a variety of experiences in her couplets like the experiences of warfare, birth, growth, decay, contemporary life and the inevitability of the human fate.
In the hands of all the poets mentioned above, as also many others who practiced this form, it may be marked that they treated the Ghazal with great respect and curiosity.
It was an immigrant form for them in which they saw the prospects of simulation and assimilation to enrich their own poetic capital. They saw in it the possibility of exploring newer areas of experience that could be expressed in manners hitherto unknown in the European tradition.
Carrying the argument further, I should like to assert that the Ghazal in English acquired its definite face and form with Agha Shahid Ali who wrote his own Ghazals, but more importantly, he created a condition for the poets to write their Ghazals, observing its formal requirements.
He despaired over the way poets treated this form as a way of writing free verse, which he thought was a contradiction in terms if one wanted to write a real Ghazal.
Considering their efforts “amusing”, he brought them face to face with the rigorous demands that the Ghazal made.
Compositions by Daine Ackerman, John Hollander, WS Merwin, William Matthews, Paul Muldoon, Maxine Kumin, Keki N Daruwalla, to name just a few, included in his Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English, amply show how far the Ghazal had moved towards meeting the rigorous demands of the form after Ali’s intervention.
TODAY'S PAPER | OCTOBER 15, 2019
COLUMN: GHALIB’S FAVOURITE GHAZAL
Mehr Afshan Farooqi
In the course of my journey with Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib’s Divans, I noticed how he carefully chose verses from his ghazals when he made the selection for publication. For example, the very first and extremely powerful ghazal in his Divan, ‘Naqsh Faryadi Hai Kis Ki Shokhi-i-Tehreer Ka’ originally comprised nine verses. There were seven in the 1821 Divan (Nuskhah-i Hamidiyyah), and two more were added in 1826. But when the 1841 Urdu Divan was published, this ghazal had five verses. Indeed, the verses that Ghalib dropped were no match for the ones he retained. To clarify my point, I will present the dropped verses from this famous ghazal; they are intricate and adorned with unfamiliar phrases which makes them difficult to read:
“Shokhi-i-nairang sayd-i-vehshat-i-taoos hai
Daam sabze mein hai parvaaz-i-chaman taskheer ka”
[Vividness of illusion makes the timid peacock captive
Grass becomes the net that holds back the peacock’s flight]
In the first line, what could be “vehshat-i-taoos”? How is it related to “shokhi-i-nairang”? What is meant by “shokhi-i-nairang”? The second line makes us stumble on “parvaaz-i-chaman taskheer”. Ghalib likes to use the peacock imagery, especially in his early verses. Here he gives a unique meaning to the well-known fact that the peacock does not like to fly. In this verse, the peacock, because of his vehshat [timidity] does not go far and is deprived of the colourfulness of the garden. If the peacock were to fly (parvaaz) high over the garden, he would be free of the limits imposed by timidity and see the colourful world.
The beauty in this verse lies in the play with reversal of colours. The peacock is vividly coloured, but cannot fly and misses the colours of the garden. He becomes a captive of the net hidden in the green grass (daam sabze mein hai); that is, he likes to stay on the ground. Perhaps such a complex verse in the opening ghazal might have thrown off readers. We can tease more meanings from this verse and delight in its complexity, but I’ll move on to the next verse:
Naal aatash mein hai tegh-i-yaar se nakhcheer ka”
At first, I quite disliked this verse. How can this even be regarded as Urdu, I thought, as I stumbled while reading aloud. The string of izafats [possessives] in the first line make it sound more Persian than Urdu. In any case, this verse embodies the acme of restless anticipation expressed through the idiom ‘naal aatash mein’. This refers to a practice followed by enchanters or sorcerers of writing the name of the one who was to be tormented on a horseshoe (naal) and putting it in fire. Ghalib says that the beloved’s prolonged, flirtatious coquetry, which involves inventing new ways of teasing, exquisitely protracts the poor lover’s eagerness to die. The poor lover and victim of the beloved’s charms, who is craving for his head to be chopped (zauq-i-qatl), is burning like metal in fire.
This verse is about the poignancy of emotions at the time of parting (vida) narrated through the metaphor of brick-making (khisht). Bricks are set in containers that hold them. Thus, the brick is in the embrace of its container and doesn’t want to be parted from it. The brick’s heart is filled with pain when receiving the last embrace before being placed for construction (taameer). The building’s foundation made from these bricks will be filled with water (sail).
This ghazal does not have the maqta [signature verse] Ghalib first wrote:
“Vehshat-i-khwaab-i-adam shor-i-tamasha hai Asad
Jo mizhah johar nahin ainah-i-taabeer ka”
Ghalib’s verse exemplifies a preferred theme in ghazal poetry: the mystique of the mirror. Mirrors were made of iron or steel and their surface was polished to improve their reflective capacity. The polishing created very fine lines that were known as the mirror’s jauhar. Jauhar can be described as the motes or particles of the mirror that constitute the vision inside the mirror. Eyelashes are compared to the fine lines created by polishing; thus, they can be jauhar, too. Persons who do not have the jauhar-like eyelashes cannot claim to have seen the vision (of existence or creation) in the mirror. What they see are the terrifying dreams in the state of non-existence. There is a lot to contemplate in this verse. There is an obvious play between khwaab [dream] and taabeer [interpretation]. Although this verse does resonate the ontological theme of existence and non-existence, perhaps it is too complicated to be parsed. Maybe Ghalib made the right choice by excluding this one?
The longest ghazal in Ghalib’s Divan is of 17 verses, each one as beautiful as the one preceding or following it. It was written after 1821, appearing for the first time in the 1826 Divan. When Ghalib published his Urdu Divan in 1841, he made very careful selections. This ghazal in its entirety is the last one in the ghazal section. In the course of my study of Ghalib’s manuscript Divans as well as published Divans, I noticed that the arrangement of ghazals within the broad category of radeef [refrain] was not the same except for the fact that ‘Naqsh Faryadi...’ was always the first ghazal and ‘Muddat Hui Hai Yaar Ko Mehman Kiye Huay’ was invariably the last.
Ghalib has a formidable reputation of being a cerebral poet who deliberately seeks to complicate themes with far-fetched metaphor. This is true; yet, Ghalib has given us some of the most achingly beautiful verses that capture desire in so many colours. Every verse in the following ghazal, by the young Ghalib, invokes longing for the beloved. I guess it was also his favourite because he kept it in its entirety, not pruning a single verse. I close with my favourite verse from this brilliant ghazal to illustrate Ghalib’s mastery in evoking emotion:
“Dhunde hai phir kisi ko lab-i-baam par havas
Zulf-i-siyeeh rukh pe pareshan kiye huay”
[Desire again searches for someone on the terrace lip
Dark tresses carelessly flowing over her face]
The columnist is associate professor in the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Virginia
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, October 6th, 2019
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