Ghazal 32, Verse 2

{32,2}*

hu))aa jab ;Gam se yuu;N be-;his to ;Gam kyaa sar ke ka;Tne kaa
nah hotaa gar judaa tan se to zaanuu par dharaa hotaa

1) when it became senseless like this with grief, then {what's the harm / 'what grief'} of the head being cut off?
2) if it were not separate from the body, then it would have been laid upon the knee(s)

Notes:

be-;hiss : 'Insensible, senseless'. (Platts p.204)

 

zaanuu : 'The knee; the lap; — zaanuu badalnaa , v.n. To change the knees, to rest the knees alternately (in kneeling); -- du-zaanuu bai;Thnaa , To sit on the hams, to kneel'. (Platts p.614)

 

dharnaa : 'To place, put, put down, deposit, lay, lay down'. (Platts p.543)

Nazm:

Resting the head on the knees in grief is well known; the meaning is clear-- these words are spoken after the head has been cut off. (31)

== Nazm page 31

Vajid:

Urdu text: Vajid 1902 {32}

Bekhud Dihlavi:

In this verse the word 'senseless' has created, along with a proof of the claim, an extraordinary pleasure. He says, when from an excess of grief our head became so senseless that it was necessary to constantly rest it on the knees, then there's no point in grieving over the cutting off of such a head. That is, an excess of grief had made the head useless before it was cut off. The loss of a useless thing is no cause for regret. (62)

Bekhud Mohani:

Although 'like this' doesn't tell us about any special aspect of 'senseless', in this summary a volume of detail is hidden. (77)

FWP:

SETS
[DEAD LOVER SPEAKS: {57,1}]

Nazm is right: the contrafactual in the first part of line two shows that the head has already been cut off at the time these reflective words are spoken. This is not exactly unusual in the ghazal world; we saw it as one possible reading as early as {9,3}. Here, however, it's the only possible reading. The lover is so detached (so to speak!) now that he sounds quite clinical: in the verse he never once claims ownership of the head. Bekhud Mohani points to yuu;N , and doesn't it indeed add to the clinical effect? He sounds like a doctor who has tested the reflexes, found the head rubbery and useless, and quite properly performed an amputation. For more examples of the 'dead lover speaks' situation, see {57,1}.

;Gam kyaa is both literally and colloquially appropriate. Since the speaker's head has been numbed into senselessness by intense grief, 'what grief' or pain will it feel if it is cut off? And since it's now quite numb and useless, 'what's the harm' if it's cut off?

ABOUT SITTING sar bah zaanuu : Equally elegant, and perfectly suited to both meanings, is the idea that the head would have been zaanuu par dharaa . Since the speaker's head had been benumbed and rendered senseless by grief, naturally he would have rested it on his knee in a pose of abandoned sorrow. And since his head is so numb and senseless, it is too floppy to keep itself upright: he would in any case have had to put it down somewhere convenient.

Here's one such 'head on knees' position; it almost automatically conveys misery:

There's also a style of sitting on the haunches, called do-zaanuu bai;Thnaa , that has traditionally been almost ubiquitous in South Asia; the photo below is an example of it. The feet are flat on the floor; the rear end doesn't touch the ground. The knees are bent so deeply that the thighs and calves touch each other; the knees are also spread wide apart for balance. Thus the knees provide a handy rest for the forearms. A person accustomed from childhood to sit in this way can comfortably sustain the position for long periods, and can also move easily around the room in this stance, cooking or doing other tasks. (A person not so accustomed usually can't manage to sit this way at all; nowadays among middle-class urban South Asians it's pretty much a lost art.)

Something like this position too could conceivably be what Ghalib had in mind (if indeed he bothered to form any such physical image of the lover's position at all), since it would enable the head to rest on a knee-- though only on one of them, since the knees must be pretty well separated in order to keep one's balance. On the whole, I think the classic head-on-knees position illustrated above would work better. But really, the whole question is very minor and it's not worth worrying about, since the ghazal world is full of stylization anyway.

More zaanuu verses: {39,7x}; {42,5}; {128,3x}; {172,1}; {212,2}; {213,1}; {217,10x}; [{233,6}].