Ghazal 10, Verse 1


sataayish-gar hai zaahid is qadar jis baa;G-e ri.zvaa;N kaa
vuh ik guldastah hai ham be-;xvudo;N ke :taaq-e nisyaa;N kaa

1) that Garden of Rizvan of which the Ascetic is a praiser to such an extent--
2) it is a single/particular/unique bouquet in the niche of forgetfulness of us self-less ones


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)


:taaq : 'An arched building; an arch; a cupola, vault; a recess (in a wall), a niche; a shelf; a projecting part, a cornice, a ledge, &c.; a window; a balcony; --adj. & s.m. Single, sole; uneven, odd (opp. to juft ); singular, rare, unique, unmatched, unequalled, unrivalled'. (Platts p.750)


To compare heaven to a bouquet in the niche of forgetfulness of the self-less ones is an entirely novel simile which has never been seen anywhere.
==Urdu text: p. 139 in Hali, Yadgar-e Ghalib


To 'put something in a niche', or put it 'at the top of the niche', is an idiom for forgetting about it, and to put it 'in the niche of forgetfulness' is even more of an exaggeration. And here the word 'bouquet' has produced this beauty: that people put bouquets in niches for decoration. And the second point is that the Garden has been interpreted as a bouquet in a lowly place; this too is not devoid of beauty. But this beauty is associated with style and rarity [badii((]; there is no excellence of meaning. (10)

== Nazm page 10


Urdu text: Vajid 1902 {10}


In this verse the beauty of style and rarity themselves are of no common order. To demean paradise with such a suitable word as 'bouquet', and then to do it in such a way that it is lower than the low and to make that very thing a cause of adornment (they arrange bouquets in niches) is no laughing matter. This is a high order of innate wit.... Then look at the use of 'self-lessness' with 'niche of forgetfulness'-- it creates a novel form of wordplay upon wordplay. When we've forgotten ourselves, why wouldn't we forget a commonplace bouquet like Paradise?....

It should also be kept in mind that 'niche of forgetfulness' is a metaphor; by using it in its dictionary meaning Ghalib has created a reversed metaphor. This too is a special trait of Mir and Ghalib's. (1989: 32-33) [2006: 42-43]

Owen Cornwall:

[A special commentary page on several verses.]

Arthur Dudney:

The image of a bouquet in the “niche of forgetfulness” [t̤āq-i nisyān] is a striking one because it has a contradiction at its heart. Logically, we would put something like a bouquet into a t̤āq in order to display it rather than to forget it, as Nazm argues above. In the modern context, it would be like keeping a vase in “the display case of oblivion” or upon “the coffee table of disregard”. The Urdu idiom “to keep something in the niche” privileges the notion of putting something away to ignore it but nonetheless there is a potential for ambiguity because niches are also used for displaying things. Ghalib is therefore explicit in both this verse and 111,2 that the t̤āq in question is one of forgetting.

Although Ghalib arguably handles it with greater aplomb, similar attention to the dual function of a t̤āq as a place to put things away and to keep them visible was operative in Persian poetry. Siraj al-Din Ali Khan Arzu’s Tambīḥ al-Ġhāfilīn [An Admonition to the Heedless, c. 1744 CE], a blistering criticism of the poetry of Arzu’s contemporary Shaikh Ali Hazin, quotes a distich that immediately reminded me of Ghalib’s t̤āq-verses. Hazin writes:

kitāb-i haft millat māndah dar t̤āq-i farāmūshī
marā sīpārah-yi dil bas kih nīkū fāl mī bāshad

The book of the seven nations* remaining in the niche of forgetting
For me, a chapter** of the heart would be enough for good fortune [fāl]. (1981: 33)

*That is to say, according to Steingass, “Seven original creeds from which all others are derived.” So we should understand this as the book of original scripture. (Arzu strenuously objects and says that because there are four “mażhab”s [creeds] and seventy-two “millat” [nations], the number seven makes no sense here.)

**One of the thirty sections into which the Quran has been divided.

Here the metaphor of the niche of forgetting is used to set up a contrast between the whole of revealed scripture and a fraction of it that dwells in the heart: I can put away the whole of scripture—I don’t need it, after all—and yet by keeping it on display in a t̤āq,I recognize its value. Indeed, I acknowledge its notional superiority to what I have in my heart (and maybe other people need all of it) but I can’t use it. The contrast between what is contained in a book and in the heart produces a number of interesting possibilities (scholastic learning versus emotion, complexity versus simplicity, external versus internal corroboration of truth, etc).

Hazin’s verse has particular affinities to each of Ghalib’s t̤āq-verses. In 10,1, the niche is used to belittle something that should not be belittled, in Ghalib’s case the garden of Paradise and in Hazin’s revealed scripture. (Undoubtedly the symbol of the garden of Paradise as a bouquet, which causes Hali to gush with praise in the quote above, adds a level of enjoyment that Hazin’s verse lacks.) In {111, 2}, there is an interplay between memorialization and forgetting similar to Hazin’s verse. There the “bric-a-brac” of by-gone parties both serves as a reminder of how great a time we had but also implies that we should forget it because there is no going back. It is an act of remembering to forget. Likewise, Hazin’s verse asks us to remember that there is revealed scripture but to forget it in favor of what is in the heart. (--July 2011)

The full expression "t̤āq-i nisyān" was used by Arzu in prose and so must have had some currency in eighteenth-century Indo-Persian. In the preface to Ḳhiyabān-i Gulistān, his commentary on Saʿdis Gulistān, he writes by way of apology “and this manuscript because of the [unreadable] of circumstance and the changing of night and day for a time remained in the niche of forgetting” [wa ān nusḳhah bah sabab-i tamānʿ-i (?) rozgār-o taḥawwul-i lail-u nihār muddatī dar t̤āq-i nisyān māndah ]. If he were alive today, he would no doubt say the same thing about his email inbox. (--June 2012)


BEKHUDI: {21,6}

This verse is so lovely, so witty, and so complexly enjoyable!

It belongs to a set that I call 'snide remarks about Paradise'; for more examples, see {35,9}. But the verse is careful to emphasize that the snide remarks apply to that particular Garden of Rizvan which the Ascetic praises-- and thus not necessarily to any other. For perhaps the one he's praising is not the real one! It might be only a petty floral vision framed in his own limited and conventional imagination. The relative clause structure makes this possibility quite real, and of course wonderfully piquant and enjoyable.

By turning the immortal Garden of Rizvan into a mere bouquet, we self-less ones also destroy its immortality and condemn it to start withering almost at once. Moreover, if this one is one single [ik] bouquet, we probably have others as well, of equal or greater glory. And all of them, of course, have been tossed aside casually, because in our self-less state we know far more beautiful realities.

Yet apart from this obvious reading of ik , consider all the others in the definition above. The verse might not mean to dismiss the bouquet so casually, but to describe it: a 'certain' one, or a 'unique, singular' one, or a 'preeminent, excellent' one. Any of these readings, needless to say, would give a different, and differently piquant, slant to the verse.

On the 'niche of forgetfulness', compare {111,2}; for an idiomatic use, see {214,14x}.

The semantic affinity between ek and :taaq (see the definitions above) is also remarkable, and doubly enjoyable since the primary meaning of :taaq as 'niche' is so apparently unrelated.

About :taaq : A :taaq is, in North Indian architectural terms, a niche consisting of a small shelf set into the wall, with a simple or elaborate arch over it. These niches can be used for preservation and/or display of small objects (often lamps, incense, perfume, flowers, or vases, or other decorative items), or can appear entirely as architectural adornments.

Here's a classic view of some of the elaborate, purely decorative white marble wall-niches in the Musamman Burj, Agra Fort:

And here are many sizes and shapes of niches set into the walls of an old haveli in Sheikhupura, near Lahore; some are very wide and shallow, and are meant mostly to serve as frames for paintings:

In a less lavish home, with plain plaster walls, you can still have relatively pretentious niches like this one:

You can also have strictly plain and utilitarian niches-- even on an outer wall, for convenient storage of small items needed on the veranda: