Ghazal 20, Verse 8

{20,8}*

kahuu;N kis se mai;N kih kyaa hai shab-e ;Gam burii balaa hai
mujhe kyaa buraa thaa marnaa agar ek baar hotaa

1) to whom might/would I say what/how it is-- the night of grief is a bad disaster!
2) what harm/bad to me was dying, if it had taken place one time?

Notes:

Hali:

One time when the month of Ramzan had just passed, he went to the Fort. The King asked, 'Mirza, how many days of fasting did you keep?' He petitioned, 'My Lord and Guide, I did not keep one'.
==Urdu text: p. 66 in Hali, Yadgar-e Ghalib

Nazm:

== Nazm page 21

Bekhud Dihlavi:

During the night of grief I am compelled to die thousands of times. I endure the suffering of death, and then I don't die. How excellently he has shown that the night of grief surpasses death! (43)

Bekhud Mohani:

In this verse the rhetorical effect [balaa;Gat] of 'to whom can I say what it is' is enchanting.... This verse is peerless. (50-51)

Josh:

In every verse of this ghazal there is purity of style, easiness, an unattainably simple style/air, and informality of language. And despite all these [colloquial] excellences, a special type of meaning-creation and inventiveness of style are things worthy of praise. (78-79)

FWP:

SETS == EXCLAMATION; INEXPRESSIBILITY

One of the torments of the 'night of grief' is that I'm so alone-- so there's nobody at hand whom I can tell about it. I only know that it's 'bad news'-- burii balaa has that kind of colloquial energy.

The first line is particularly flowing, with its internal rhyme and long vowels, and phrases that closely match the metrical feet. And there is the wordplay of burii and buraa -- the night of grief is such a 'bad' disaster that by comparison I would not have found dying one time 'bad' at all.

But what exactly is so bad about the night of grief? Too much death, or too little? Is death the essence of the night of grief, or is it (vainly) sought as a final refuge from it? The grammar of the second line gives us two choices about dying: agar ek baar hotaa literally means, 'if [it] took place one time,' in the contrafactual. But does that mean that instead of taking place one time, dying took place many times, or that (despite my longing for it) it never took place at all?

Both readings are equally plausible, and both yield witty and appropriate interpretations when joined to the first line. And of course, in the lived suffering of the night of grief, both effects at once are involved, even if paradoxically. When did a little paradox ever get in the way of Ghalib's spectacular effects? On the contrary-- paradox is the name of the game. For a similar but even more strikingly paradoxical invocation of the (not) coming of death, see {161,9}.

Hali's witty little anecdote makes use of exactly the same ambiguity: what does 'I did not keep one' imply?