Ghazal 21, Verse 1


havas ko hai nishaa:t-e kaar kyaa kyaa
nah ho marnaa to jiine kaa mazaa kyaa

1a) what various joys of action Desire has!
1b) what various joys of action does Desire have?
1c) as if Desire has various joys of action!

2a) if we would not have to die, then what relish is there in life?
2b) if we would not have to die, then what relish there is in life!
2c) if we would not have to die, then-- as if there's any relish in life!


havas : 'Desire, lust, concupiscence, inordinate appetite; -- ambition; --curiosity'. (Platts p.1241)


mazaa is normally spelled mazah , but has been changed to accord with the rhyme.


This seems to be a new thought; and not merely a thought, but rather a fact [faik;T], because whatever activity there is in the world, it is only thanks to the belief that there is very little time to stay here.

==Urdu text: Yadgar-e Ghalib, p. 121


The lustful Rival has obtained his desire-- that is, the joy of action and the pleasure of union with the beautiful one. Now what relish is there in my life?.... A second aspect is also that in the world human beings find no release from lust and desire. If it were not necessary to die, then there would be no relish in this kind of a life. That is, the fruit of life is death. (21-22)

== Nazm page 22


Urdu text: Vajid 1902 {21}

Bekhud Dihlavi:

Here 'joy' means 'longing'. He says, the longing to do work has arisen in hearts only because the time for staying in the world is short. (42)


[Compare his comments on Mir's M{667,1}.]



This ghazal is in a 'short meter'; multivalent exclamations and other such phrases are especially convenient when the poet has such a relatively tight space to work in. (Enjambment is the exception rather than the rule in the ghazal.) Another 'short meter' example: {51}.

This verse-- like many of the verses in this ghazal-- is an example of extreme use of inshaa))iyah techniques. This is a kind of verse that's radically untranslatable; see {20,10} for further discussion.

Above all, this verse, like the other verses in this ghazal, relies on the astonishing-- unparallelled (in English and probably most other languages as well-- flexibility of kyaa ; for more on this, see {15,10}. Since kyaa is the refrain of the ghazal, to take some kind of advantage of its possibilities is a no-brainer. Every single verse does so. And as if to highlight the importance of its role, the second lines of {21,3}, {21,4}, {21,6}, {21,7}, {21,9}, {21,10}, {21,12}, and (triply) {21,13} contain absolutely nothing except linkages of nouns, and kyaa .

It should be noted, however, that kyaa is not some cheap-thrills device that always generates wildly proliferating meanings all over the place. On the contrary: Ghalib uses it with complete control: for one of many counterexamples in which kyaa stays in the background and behaves like a lamb, generating exactly one meaning, see {22,4}.

As usual, the commentators concentrate on sorting out their favorite one (or at the most two) of the numerous possible interpretations. Yet each of the two lines unquestionably gives us three meanings to work with (an enthusiastically affirmative exclamation, a scornfully negative exclamation, and a genuine question), and thus a (theoretical) total of nine when multiplied together, though of course they don't all work equally well.

There's also the 'A,B' question of the relationship of the two lines to each other. Is the verse a reflection on the nature and scope of desire, with an illustration or 'proof' drawn from the knowledge of death? Or is it a reflection on life and death, with an illustration or 'proof' drawn from the nature and scope of desire?

I won't take the space here to diagram out all these permutations, or to repeat my spiel about 'meaning generators' (see {15,10} for more). But I do want to point out one possibility that no commentator has, as far as I am aware, even considered: that maybe the only thing that makes life pleasant is not the sad certainty of losing it before too long, but the joyous certainty of getting out of it before too long. Along the same lines, there's Mir's M{1740,9}, with its three interpretations based on kyaa, and its concern about the pleasurableness(?) of life; I've discussed it in Nets of Awareness, Chapter 8, p. 107.

Basing the verse on a word like havas , rather than ;zauq or shauq or one of the other usual suspects, is also a good tactic, because the range of havas specifically includes lust and desire of low-class sorts, rather than merely the high-flown lover's repertoire. The person with havas doesn't necessarily want to sacrifice himself in some tortuous or rarefied way for his beloved, or for passion itself, as the lover does. The person with havas , the buu al-havas , probably wants whatever he wants and he wants it now. Such a person is really all of us, of course. So we are all fed into the guts of this little 'meaning generator', and forced into realizations that, though varied, are mostly painful. But in {21,5} we revisit the nature of havas , and it's quite possible for it to acquire a surprising dignity. For a clearer example of a positively valued usage, see {112,6}.

Compare Mir's meditation on a similar theme: M{721,1}.