Ghazal 18, Verse 7x


be-navaa))ii tar .sadaa-e na;Gmah-e shuhrat asad
boriyaa yak naisitaa;N-((aalam buland aavaazah thaa

1a) poverty/'voicelessness'-- the fresh/juicy sound of the melody of fame, Asad
1b) the fresh/juicy sound of the melody of fame-- poverty/'voicelessness', Asad

2a) the reed-mat was a whole reed-thicket-world [of] loud/lofty noise
2b) the whole reed-thicket-world [of] loud/lofty noise was a reed-mat


navaa : 'Voice, sound; modulation; song; air; --a certain musical tone or mood; riches, opulence, wealth, plenty; subsistence; --prosperity; goodness or splendour of circumstances;--a splendid situation; --a happy life'. (Platts p.1157)


be-navaa : 'Without provisions or furniture; without prosperity or splendour in condition; indigent, destitute; ... -- be-navaa))ii , s.f. Indigence, destitution, beggary; mendicancy'. (Platts p.204)


tar : 'New, fresh; green; young, tender, soft; juicy, moist, damp, wet, wet through, saturated (with moisture, or grease, &c.); refreshed, revived, gladdened'. (Platts p.314)


.sadaa : 'Echo; sound, noise; voice, tone, cry, call'. (Platts p.743)


na;Gmah : 'A soft, sweet voice; --a musical sound or tone; --melody; song; modulation; trill, shake'. (Platts p.1144)


shuhrat : 'Divulging, publishing; publicity, notableness, notoriety, celebrity, reputation, renown, fame, rumour, report'. (Platts p.738)


((aalam : 'The world, the universe; men, people, creatures; regions; kingdom (in comp., e.g. 'vegetable-kingdom'); --age, period, time, season; state, condition, case, circumstances; a state of beauty; a beautiful sight or scene'. (Platts p.757)


buland : 'High, lofty, tall; elevated, exalted, sublime; loud'. (Platts p.165)


aavaazah : 'Noise; loud talk = aavaaz ; report; rumour, fame'. (Platts p.101)


He says that 'My poverty became the fresh, happy sound of the melody of fame, because my reed-mat, which was made of reeds (bamboo), contained within it the loud harmony of the whole world's reed-thickets-- such that some verse emerged from my tongue, and its echo resounded in the whole world'. That is, poverty made my excellence shine. The emergence of great fame from poverty doesn't necessarily happen, but to Mirza the melody of fame necessitated a reed-flute, and a reed is necessary for a reed-mat, so that he was forced to bring in this word.

== Zamin, p. 53

Gyan Chand:

The meaning of be-navaa))ii is lack of possessions; that is, poverty. The meaning of navaa is also 'voice'. Thus, according to the [Indo-Persian dictionary] bahaar-e ((ajam , the word be-navaa))ii means not only 'poverty' but also 'voicelessness'. In this verse, 'poverty' is intended. 'Voicelessness' is only by way of an iihaam ,

yak naisitaa;N ((aalam : This is a very suitable device for manifesting the rank of Ghalib. From a flute [nai] a voice emerges, and it's made of bamboo, so that the reed-thicket became a treasury of voices. In order to show the power of buland-aavaazii he has said yak naisitaa;N ((aalam ; that is, a jungle full of bamboos.

A reed-mat is made of twigs of bamboo; thus because it has a distant relationship with a flute, he has declared it too to be a sign of buland-aavaazii . Besides this, the straw mat is also a sign of poverty, and usually a straw mat has no other capacity. Now he says that however much noise/commotion of somebody's fame there would be, in reality there's poverty to just that extent-- not only of worldly goods, but rather with regard to human qualities too. The proof is the straw mat, that makes a great deal of noise but is absolutely mute/speechless. The truth is that if the straw mat would be lifted up, then there's plenty of rustling/crackling. He's declared the sound to be the proof of fame.

== Gyan Chand, pp. 90-91


MUSIC: {10,3}

For background see S. R. Faruqi's choices. This verse is NOT one of his choices; mostly for completeness, I have added it myself. For more on Ghalib's unpublished verses, see the discussion in {4,8x}.

Don't we just have to love a poet who can mess with our minds like this? The verse is a densely interwoven texture of wordplay, yet it still does seem to be saying something-- or rather several somewhat confusing somethings. But the intriguing specificity of that little reed-mat keeps goading us onward to try to nail it down a bit. (On the reeds from which the mat is woven, see {10,3}.)

At the heart of the verse is an exploration of the doubleness of be-navaa))ii . Officially it means 'poverty, destitution'; indeed, that's the only meaning that Platts recognizes. But as Gyan Chand points out, it's impossible not to read it also literally as 'voicelessness', the state of not having navaa , a word with a first meaning of 'voice, sound' (see the definitions above); and there's some precedent too, at least in Indo-Persian, for reading it that way. (And of course, 'voicelessness' can be just as good an image of poverty and helplessness as 'alienness' or 'isolatedness' [;Gariibii].)

Building on the two fully activated senses of be-navaa))ii , the verse proceeds to explore the dichotomies of poverty/obscurity versus loftiness/fame on the one hand, and voice/sound versus voicelessness/silence on the other. Because what I call the 'symmetry' effect (if A=B, then B=A) has been set up in both lines, we can't even be sure whether whether the real subject in the first line is be-navaa))ii (1a) or .sadaa (1b); or similarly whether in the second line it's boriyaa (2a) or aavaazah (2b).

If we look for example at (2a), then the single straw mat is 'a whole reed-thicket-world of loud/lofty noise/fame'. Even the compounded, imposing-looking grammar of 'reed-thicket-world' followed by 'lofty noise/fame' doesn't bother to connect itself in any lucid way-- is it a 'lofty the way a reed-thicket-world is lofty' kind of noise/fame, or is it a lofty 'noise/fame of a reed-thicket-world'?

It's easy to think 'sufism' here, or to think 'paradox'. But the great and lofty fame belongs to not just any world-- it's specifically that of a 'reed-thicket' world. Is that something lofty (because the reeds convey musical sounds, and thus expressive prowess)? Or is it something rustic or insignificant (because a world consisting of a reed-thicket doesn't sound all that impressive)? If we reverse the order, it doesn't really help with the problem. We simply can't tell whether the line aims to set up a maximally powerful contrast (extreme humility versus royal pomp), or to offer a piquant mediating presence somewhere in between (a 'world' that is also a modest reed-thicket).

Similarly, there's a way to read (1a) that sounds almost like a fashionista's aphorism ('Pink is the navy blue of India', 'Navy blue is the new black', etc.). It's easy to imagine 'Silence is the new sound of publicity', or 'Poverty is the new guise of celebrity', as joining the queue of such dicta. Perhaps the line is working toward this kind of aphorism. But still, there's an uncertainty at its center. For the word .sadaa has a first meaning of 'echo', which could readily have, like the 'reed-thicket kingdom' in the second line, a mediating sense between 'voicelessness' and a 'melody'.

In short, the more we struggle with this verse, the less we can be sure where it's really trying to go. Is it exalting poverty/voicelessness and a straw mat, or is it deprecating fame and worldly pomp? (Or is it really doing something else, something more subtle?) And the word tar particularly bothers me; in a verse full of social rank imagery and above all of voices, why do we need the overtones of 'fresh, moist, juicy'? I can't see how it fits in. At least it's always a pleasure to follow such complexly interleaved imagery, and to realize how cleverly Ghalib forces us to do such tough mental work. It's so alluring, it's a siren song, it feels as though any moment there might be a spectacular breakthrough from darkness into the light of Ghalib's uniquely brilliant 'lamp-display'.

Compare {15,11}, another verse that juxtaposes poverty and wealth in a piquant but maddening way.

Note for meter fans: Here we have naisitaa;N , scanned = - = . In {10,3} we have nayastaa;N , scanned - = = . Meanwhile the spelling remains unchanged. For many more such conveniently permitted fluctuations, see the Glossary in the Practical Handbook of Urdu Meter.