Ghazal 23, Verse 1

{23,1}

asad ham vuh junuu;N-jaulaa;N gadaa-e be-sar-o-paa hai;N
kih hai sar-panjah-e mizhgaan-e aahuu pusht-;xaar apnaa

1) Asad, we are such a madness-moving {helpless / head-and-foot-less} beggar
2) that the {comb/'head-claws'} of the deer's eyelashes is our back-scratcher

Notes:

jaulaan : 'Wandering up and down, wandering about; moving or springing from side to side... moving round ... coursing; ... Fetters, irons'. (Platts p.398)

 

panjah : 'A hand made of ivory (to scratch the back with)'. (Platts p.270)

 

pusht-;xaar : 'A claw or scraper of ivory, or wood, &c. (shaped like the human hand) with a long handle, to scratch the back'. (Platts p.648)

Nazm:

The juxtaposition of asad [literally, 'lion'] and deer is apparent. Through being 'madly-moving' he has implied that the deer remains behind me and with its 'back-scratcher' rubs against me from behind. The word gadaa ['beggar'; also, 'pillow, back-cushion'] is for its affinity with 'back-scratcher'. By saying 'limbless' [literally, 'without head and foot'] he means that I have not even a back-scratcher; if I have any at all, it is the deer's eyelashes. The grounds for similitude between 'comb' and 'eyelashes' and 'back-scratcher' are apparent; that is, all three have something like the same form. First he has used 'comb' as a simile for 'eyelashes', then 'back-scratcher' as a simile for 'comb'. (24)

== Nazm page 24

Vajid:

Urdu text: Vajid 1902 {23}

Bekhud Dihlavi:

Oh Asad, we are a limbless beggar, and our display of madness and wildness is famous even in remote places, for we have achieved supremacy even over Majnun. (It is said that a deer always used to come to Majnun, and Majnun used to use its eyes as a simile for the eyes of Laila.) Mirza Sahib displays his own state of madness as more perfect than Majnun's. And he says that the comb of the deer's eyelashes is his back-scratcher. That is, in the state of madness/wildness I leave behind even a wild creature like the deer; even he cannot outdo me. (49)

Bekhud Mohani:

All these words-- madness, moving, beggar, helpless [be-sar-o-paa , lit. 'without head and foot'], comb [sar-panjah , lit. 'head-claws'] of the deer's eyelashes, back-scratcher-- have an affinity among themselves. (58)

Josh:

This verse too should be considered a gorakh-dhandaa ['a labyrinth or maze....any complicated or puzzling plaything, or machine, &c'. (Platts p.924)].... How can one get hold of these elaboratenesses? (84)

Mihr:

One excellence of this is that in the state of madness, while wandering in the desert he is moving so fast that even the deer, which is famous for bounding along, remains behind him. For this reason its eyelashes act as a back-scratcher. (99)

Chishti:

In this verse there is neither attractiveness nor movingness, neither poeticness nor meaningfulness; he's only put together an enchanted realm [:tilism] of words....the theme of the verse has become 'the story of Hamzah' [as in {22,7}]. (326)

Faruqi:

This verse is founded on wordplay .... and in this verse Ghalib's beloved technique of paradox, too, shows itself with full effect.

.... The paradox is that on the one hand he shows such swiftness in 'madness-moving' that he's emerged ahead even of the deer, and on the other hand such destitution that he doesn't even have 'head and foot'. It's clear that when he has no head and foot, then how can he run? The other aspect of the paradox is that when head and foot are not present, then he doesn't exist. And when he doesn't exist, then that deer too is imaginary, whose eyelashes he uses as a back-scratcher. Then, there's the further pleasure in sar-panjah that when he has no sar [head], the sar-panjah [lit. 'head-claws'] of the deer's eyelashes is present. The affinity of sar-panjah with 'back'-scratcher is also worthy of notice.

Consider some other affinities .... jaulaa;N also means 'chain', so we can suppose madness to be a chain as well, in which we are bound and are being dragged around.

In this verse affinity arises among several words by virtue of .zil((a , a figure involving words that have a mutual connection among themselves, but in which that connection gives no evidence about the meaning of the utterance.... For example, asad [lion] and panjah [claws] have the connection of .zila(( . (1989: 42-43) [2006: 52-53]

FWP:

SETS == WORDPLAY
MADNESS: {14,3}

The poet chose to present this as an individual verse [fard], not part of a ghazal (as it originally was). The first line is an in-your-face paradox: 'I am such a (with vuh as a vigorously colloquial replacement for something like aisaa ) madly swift-moving, helpless-- literally, 'headless and footless'-- beggar'. The oral poetics of mushairah presentation then provide a delay, and several repetitions of the first line.

When (after suspense and curiosity have built up) the second line finally resolves the situation, even the knower of ghazal convention must stop and think a minute before both sides of the coin become properly unified. I am so madly fast a runner that I outrun even the deer, who races along behind me, breathing down my neck but unable to overtake me; thus I feel his eyelashes on my back. At the same time, I am so helpless, so hapless, so headless-and-footless a beggar that I am like the famous Majnun in the wilderness: the animals sympathize with me in my solitude and suffering. Since I am too weak to move, the deer comforts me by coming up to me and rubbing its nose on my body, and scratching my aching back with its eyelashes.

The impossibility of both these conditions existing at once, and the flagrant delight of the assertion that they do, is part of the exuberance and metaphysical wit of the Ghalibian ghazal. It is also an accurate representation of the heights and depths of passion. To be a lover is to be both hyperactive and helpless, both omnipotent and undone. The verse 'proves' its point with a perfect claim that works both ways.

It's also a perfectly brilliant mesh of interlocking wordplay. The commentators among them have done a good job of bringing it out, so I won't bother repeating it all.

Here's my long-ago attempt at a translation (1985).