Ghazal 4, Verse 8x


hai kahaa;N tamannaa kaa duusraa qadam yaa rab
ham ne dasht-e imkaa;N ko ek naqsh-e paa paayaa

1) where is the second step of longing, oh Lord?
2) we found the desert of possibility [to be] a single/particular/unique/excellent footprint


tamannaa : 'Wish, desire, longing, inclination (=ārzū); reqnest, prayer, supplication, petition'. (Platts p.337)


dasht : 'A desert, a steppe, an arid plain; a forest'. (Platts p.518)


imkaa;N : 'Possibility, practicability; power; contingent existence (in contrast to vujuub or necessary existence)'. (Platts p.82)


ek : 'One, single, sole, alone, only, a, an; the same, identical; only one; a certain one; single of its kind, unique, singular, preëminent, excellent'. (Platts p.113)


There is no doubt that through the power of his name [since 'Asad' means 'lion'] he was a lion of the thickets of themes and meanings. Two things have a special connection with his style. The first is that 'meaning-creation' and 'delicate thought' were his special pursuit. The second is that because he had more practice in Persian, and a long connection with it, he used to put a number of words into constructions in ways in which they are not spoken. #496#  But those verses that turned out clear and lucid are beyond compare.

People of wit did not cease from their satirical barbs. Thus one time Mirza had gone to a mushairah. Hakim Agha Jan 'Aish was a lively-natured and vivacious person.... He recited this verse-set in the ghazal pattern:

'If only you understand your own composition, then what have you understood?
The pleasure of composition is when one speaks and the second understands

We understood the speech of Mir, we understood the language of Mirza [Sauda]
But his speech--he himself might understand, or God might understand'

For this reason, toward the end of his life he absolutely renounced the path of 'delicate thought'. Thus if you look, the ghazals of the last period are quite clear and lucid. The state of both [earlier and later poetry], whatever it may be, will become apparent.

From elderly and reliable #497#   people I have learned that in reality his divan was very large. This is only a selection. Maulvi Fazl-e Haq, who was unequalled in his learning, at one time was the Chief Reader of the court of Delhi district. At that time Mirza Khan, known as Mirza Khani, was the chief of police of the city. He was a pupil of Mirza Qatil. He wrote good poetry and prose in Persian. In short, these two accomplished ones were the intimate friends of Mirza Sahib. They constantly met together in a friendly way and discussed poetry. They heard a number of ghazals [of Ghalib's]. And when they saw the divan, they persuaded Mirza Sahib that these verses could not be understood by ordinary people. Mirzā said, 'I've already composed all this much. Now what remedy can there be?' They said, 'Well, what has been done has been done. Make a selection, and take out the difficult verses.' Mirza Sahib gave the divan into their care. Both gentlemen looked it over and made a selection. That is the very divan that we today go around carrying pressed to our eyes like spectacles!

==this trans: Pritchett and Faruqi, Ab-e hayat, pp. 405-06 (slightly edited)
==Azad, aab-e ;hayaat , pp 495-497


The world is commonly referred to as the 'world of possibilities,' ((aalam-e imkaa;N . The poet has used dasht in the place of ((aalam ('world, universe,' or 'state, condition'), which conveys the poet's subjective atititude towards this world, which is vast and yet barren and unattractive for him.

The craving within the human heart is boundless; it is always reaching out for newer horizons. In face of it this world of myriad charms and endless possibilities seems only lacklustre, a wilderness, and its vastness only the extent of one footstep. The poet's passion demands vaster regions.

The world is only one footprint, i.e., it indicates only that someone has been here. But that person's journey didn't end here, he has gone forward leaving his footprint behind, only one print. The world is considered to have been brought into existence by God because of a desire on His part to manifest Himself and to look at Himself. But this manifestation is still much less in magnitude to God's glory. God's desire did not find total fulfilment of expression here. Many more worlds are still behind the veil. Even the present world is constantly going through changes. (1970, 26-27)

Gyan Chand:

This verse causes me to remember the dwarf [vaaman] avatar from Hindu mythology. In order to embarrass some king, he [=Vishnu] came in the guise of a Brahmin, and asked him for three paces' worth of land on which to build a hut. The king agreed. In one footstep, the dwarf encompassed the whole world; in the second, the underworld [paataal]. No space at all was left for the third footstep.

Ghalib says, how can the breadth of our longing be described! The whole world, and all its possibilities, are only one footprint. Where has our longing even placed a second footstep? Where is there even scope for it? (67)


DESERT: {3,1}

For background see S. R. Faruqi's choices.

Not just everything in the universe, but everything that is possible, everything imaginable, everything conceivable, becomes 'one' footprint. The use of ek to describe the footprint adds a further clever touch of multivalence (see the definition above): is the footprint single, or specific ('a certain'), or 'only' a footprint, or a 'unique' or 'excellent' footprint? To illustrate these affirmative possibilities of the ek , consider how elegantly Mir uses it in M{336,8}:

miir-o-mirzaa rafii((-o-;xvaajah miir
kitne ek yih javaan hote hai;N

[Mir and Mirza Rafi' [Sauda] and Khvajah Mir [Dard]--
how singular/unique/excellent these young men [habitually] are!]

In the present verse, no matter what kind of a footprint it is, we've left it behind; in a single step we're long gone, and what worlds, oh Lord, are left for us to conquer? (Maybe only the inner world of kindness and compassion for each other.)

The forceful internal rhyme of paa paayaa adds emphasis and a sense of impatience. Some critics have actually carped about it, considering its repetitiveness a 'defect' [((aib] and speculating that the awareness of this flaw is what caused Ghalib to omit it from the published divan. Among much other counter-evidence, a more than sufficient refutation of this view is found simply in the presence of {26,7} in the published divan.

And what a phrase is dasht-e imkaa;N , 'desert of possibility'! Is it a 'desert' because it is full of redundant, useless, already-explored possibilities? Or is it a 'desert' of possibility in the sense that there is no possibility there? Or is it a 'desert' because we already know, even before exploring them, that in this world every possible possibility is finite, trivial, worthless, unhelpful? (Just the kind of questions, in fact, that we might ask about a 'desertful' of roses.)

Compare {102,1}, an almost equally extravagant verse that may (or may not) apply to God. And compare {93,3x}, the only other unpublished verse that's almost as famous-- and as brilliant-- as this one.

Compare also a verse of Mir's that picks up on the 'world of possibilities' [M{715,7}]:

kahii;N ;Thaharne kii jaa yaa;N nah dekhii mai;N ne miir
chaman me;N ((aalam-e imkaa;N ke jaise aab phiraa

[I didn't see anywhere here, a place to remain, Mir
in the garden of the world of possibilities, I wandered off like water]

Mir also offers a much more sinister vision of that first 'footstep', in M{745,6}.

GHALIB'S UNPUBLISHED VERSES: It's astonishing that this marvelous early verse was treated by Ghalib as a stepchild and left unpublished throughout his lifetime. And it's far from alone in that melancholy status. When I used to discuss all this with Faruqi, he always pointed to it as a mystery. He finally gave it as his best guess that Ghalib felt that the verses that he omitted wouldn't add appreciably to his reputation, so he just never took the trouble to go back and pick them up later on. The largest group of these unpublished verses were from 1816, with another group up to 1821. It should also be kept in mind that Ghalib was never able to maintain a substantial library of books or manuscripts, since many circumstances of his life-- his shifts from one house to another, his travels, his financial vicissitudes, the chaotic disruptions of 1857, even something like an unusually heavy rainy season (see {48,7})-- conspired against stability. So he might never have had a good occasion to sit down and seriously revisit the full set of his early unpublished verses; he might not even have had convenient access to them.

Later critics have usually claimed that Ghalib repudiated his early verses. As an example of such views, consider the highly tendentious and unreliable account provided above by Azad; it's full of his sly, dexterously anti-Ghalib insinuations. Sometime I'd like to go into this whole question in much more detail. In the meantime, please note that this present ghazal, {04}, is itself quite early (1821), and surely it can't reasonably be called anything other than simple and straightforward. (For one interesting thematic comparison, juxtapose the very early unpublished {223,6x} to the late {98,10}.)

On this website, when (1) published ghazals have unpublished verses, and when (2) these verses are singled out by Faruqi in his selection, then I provide commentary on them. We've already seen examples of this inclusiveness in {03}; but I've chosen the present brilliant verse to be the occasion for more general discussion. Even when I don't provide commentary on the unpublished verses, their texts are fully accessible. For each ghazal, click on the 'Raza 1995' link and in Raza go to the page indicated, and you'll see the whole ghazal; the verses not marked with a miim (for muravvaj ) are the unpublished ones. All unpublished verses presented in the main ghazal sequence are marked with an 'x', like the present one, {4,8x}. (I also once in a while include with a ghazal a few formally identical unpublished verses from a contemporary unpublished ghazal; these are always clearly marked as such.)

The main 'ghazal index' page also includes a separate index of all the entirely unpublished ghazals, linked HERE; these are presented with access to commentary wherever possible. (There really isn't that much commentary available on them.) In addition, the recently published Zamin Kanturi commentary also includes unpublished ghazals.

Ghalib's unpublished early ghazals and verses are well known from reliable manuscript sources, and it's hard to accept the fact that he chose not to include more of them in any of the four published editions of his divan that he oversaw in his lifetime. However, that was the choice he made. In the Persian preface to the first published edition of his divan (1841) he included the following ornate disclaimer: 'It is hoped that the poetry-composing poet-praisers, finding scattered [paraagandah] verses outside of these pages, would not consider them to have been blackened by the scratching of the vein of the pen of this treatise, and would not think the poem-gatherer [Ghalib] to be honored by praise, or reproached by blame, concerning those verses' (text given in Raza 1995, pp. 87-88; trans. by Owen Cornwall, July 2014). This disclaimer is one of the two pieces of evidence often cited to show that Ghalib rejected his own unpublished ghazals; but note that Ghalib does not say or imply that he himself had composed the verses he so firmly repudiates.

To my mind, this elaborate caveat seems most probably to be aimed at the problem of other poets' verses that were either ignorantly, or satirically, or teasingly ascribed to Ghalib; such false ascriptions so vexed Ghalib that he was driven to obscene abuse of the perpetrators; for discussion, see {219,1}. For examples of how fake verses were satirically ascribed to Ghalib by other poets, see 'The Meaning of the Meaningless Verses', pp. 264-266. There's a lot to be said on this subject-- certainly in 1828 Ghalib was very far from repudiating the unpublished verses, as can be seen from the many unpublished verses included in Gul-e Ra'na.

The only other piece of relevant evidence I know of is the letter translated and discussed in {155,3}. It's a very late and tendentious letter, and contains several obvious, manifest, provable falsehoods. So it's an extremely weak reed on which to lean. But 'natural poetry' fans are rarely put off by weak evidence; many of them would rather dismiss Ghalib's complexities than seriously engage with them. In any case, at our late point in time we will almost certainly never be able to know exactly why Ghalib left so many of his early verses unpublished, or exactly how he decided which ones to include in his divan. (Ghalib himself, and at least one of his friends, spoke of his preparing his published divan as an inti;xaab or 'selection', which is probably the best general explanation; verses may be omitted from an inti;xaab for many reasons other than their being 'rejected'.)

By contrast, for an example of some late verses that Ghalib clearly did want to have included in his divan but that late in his life remained unpublished, see {216,1}. (Such genuine verses are NOT to be confused with apocryphal verses wrongly attributed to Ghalib; for discussion of these, see {219,1}.)

When C. M. Naim, my teacher, started the Annual of Urdu Studies, he chose this particular unpublished verse as the sole adornment of the cover of every single issue. I think it was worthy of the honor. Just for pleasure and nostalgia, here's what the covers looked like: