Ghazal 20, Verse 1

{20,1}*

yih nah thii hamaarii qismat kih vi.saal-e yaar hotaa
agar aur jiite rahte yihii inti:zaar hotaa

1) this was not our destiny/fate, that union with the beloved would take place

2a) if we had kept on living longer, there would have been this very same waiting
2b) if we had kept on living longer, this itself would have been waiting

Notes:

Nazm:

That is, it was better to die. (20)

== Nazm page 20

Bekhud Dihlavi:

It would have been this same waiting which has continued till now. The waiting continued because the lover's heart never despairs of union with the beloved. (42)

Bekhud Mohani:

This is not a verse, but an arrow quenched in the poison of vain longing. (48)

Baqir:

Since waiting is more painful than death, it's good that we died, and were thus saved from the pain of waiting for union with the beloved. (71)

FWP:

SETS == HI
'UNION': {5,2}

This late ghazal is one of Ghalib's most famous classics, performed by a variety of singers, with several verses that people often memorize. This ghazal and {111} are (as best I can judge) his two most commonly translated ghazals; for this reason it comes equipped with a special anthology of translations.

The first line is a plain statement, with no clues about emotional tone. It is being said by someone (the lover, of course) looking back over his whole life and summing it up in a succinct, flat, illusion-free sentence: there was one thing I wanted, and it was not in my destiny to get it. The second line then makes it clear that the lover will not go on living in any case; that fact arouses no apparent emotion. Rather, the speaker just taking a single look behind him, and finding a few words to wrap up what his time in the world has been like.

The subtle delight of this verse is the yihii -- literally, 'this', but with an emphatic or restrictive emphasis-- that we find perfectly positioned at the beginning of the last half of the second line. The meter is one with a foot-pattern ABAB and a quasi-caesura, so that the internal half-line break is especially prominent. As with 'this' in English, yihii can be either an adjective or a demonstrative pronoun. (For a similar example involving vuhii , see {7,5}.)

If we take yihii as an adjective, as in (2a), it modifies 'waiting' and identifies waiting as the sole content of the speaker's life. Although he recognizes that it wasn't his destiny to obtain union with the beloved, that wouldn't have stopped him from keeping on waiting and longing for it; he has waited all his life, and if he had lived longer he would have kept on waiting. With a shrug of his shoulders he recognizes the hopelessness of it all; it's just as well that he's packing it in and moving on now.

If we take it as a demonstrative pronoun, as in (2b), it is the subject for which 'waiting' is the predicate nominative. Not only would life have been devoted to waiting, filled with waiting, but life itself-- and especially living longer-- would itself have have been waiting. How stark and revelatory a statement, and how offhandedly thrown away with a shrug.

This, our first occurrence of the word vi.saal (related to the more common va.sl, as in {5,2}), is a good time to make clear my own view about a point sometimes subject to dispute. I think that those who try to sanitize the ghazal into fleshless mystical purity are the counterparts of those who insist on reading the Biblical 'Song of Solomon' as referring only to the love of Christ for the Church, or some similar abstract relationship.

To me it seems obvious that the ghazal is (among other things) love poetry in the erotic sense. The words usually translated as 'union' do indeed evoke a vision of lovemaking, of an actual sexual encounter, even though often an imagined one. But of course, as is clear from this verse, the very last thing the ghazal is interested in is any kind of cheap sex. Far from it-- it's interested in sex so expensive and valuable that it costs you your whole life, and more. And since it's so utterly worth it, you don't even mind. Even the longing, hope, vision of it is enough to sustain you for your whole life, and would sustain you longer if you were destined to live on.

An example of what seems pretty clearly to be physical union: {97,7}.

Compare Mir's more abstract equation of the lifetime with a period of waiting: M{944,2}.