Ghazal 34, Verse 2


yak alif besh nahii;N .saiqal-e aa))iinah hanuuz
chaak kartaa huu;N mai;N jab se kih garebaa;N samjhaa

1) not more than a single alif is the polish of the mirror still/now
2) I have been tearing at the collar ever since I understood {it to be a collar / what a collar was}


.saiqal : 'Polishing, polish, cleaning (arms or tools); furbishing'. (Platts p.748)


[1868, to Pyare Lal Ashob:] First it ought to be understood that 'mirror' is an expression for a metal [faulaad kaa] mirror; otherwise, where are the polish-lines [jauhar] in clear [jallii] mirrors, and who polishes them? When you polish anything made of metal, undoubtedly first a single line will appear; they call that the ' alif of polishing'. When you are aware of this introduction, now understand that thought [in the second line]. That is, from the beginning of the age of awareness there is the practice of madness [mashq-e junuu;N]. Up to the present, perfection in the art has not been attained. The whole mirror has not become clear. Thus if there's that same single line of polishing, well, there it is. The form of tearing is [a vertical line] like that of an alif, and tearing the collar is one of the effects of madness.' (Arshi p.127-28)

==Urdu text: Khaliq Anjum vol. 2, p. 797


That is, ever since I recognized a collar as a collar, I have been tearing it. That is to say, since I understood enough to know that worldly relationships make purity of the spirit impossible, I have renounced the world. But even so, the mirror of my heart didn't become clear. Thus outwardly there's a single alif drawn on the breast of free ones. But so what? for inner purity was not achieved at all. And the collar is a metaphor for worldly relationships, since they are both collars around the necks of mankind. An alif drawn on the breast is the style of free ones, and this theme is constantly used by the Persian poets. And 'not more than' [besh nahii;N] is an expression of contempt, but its Urdu grammar is not simple; it's a translation from Persian. (33)

== Nazm page 33

Bekhud Dihlavi:

My error has become clear to me, and now I've understood that my collar, which I had considered an iron-polishing tool ... in reality is not an iron-polishing tool but just a collar. Now I consider it a useless thing, and I'm tearing it up and am sorry for my error. (65)

Bekhud Mohani:

Free ones make it a practice to write the word 'God' on their breast. Their collar chokes them, and so do relations with the world.... In this verse Mirza wants to show that man's lifetime is not sufficient for mystical knowledge of the substances of the world and of creatures and of the Most High Court, and at the very same time he has also said that renunciation of relationships with the world is in vain. (80)


JAUHAR: {5,4}
MIRROR: {8,3}

Here's another example of a familiar pattern: two separate statements, one in each line, which we are left to connect as best we can without guidance from the verse itself. But in this rare case, we have help from Ghalib's letter quoted above.

Ghalib connects the two lines through the lover's systematic 'practice of madness'. Ever since the lover reached the age of understanding, he has been tearing his collar. By convention the madman's collar is that of a kurta, with a vertical slit-shaped neck, so a tear in it would travel straight down the chest, like the single vertical line of the letter alif.

Although the lover has been tearing and tearing it, it is still not properly t orn: it shows only a single vertical tear, as though the tearing had just begun. Ghalib expects us to connect this line with the 'alif of polishing'-- and thus to link an ideally polished mirror, full of polish-lines, both with the image of an ideally torn collar, of which very little would be left, and with an ideally practiced madness, leading into some transcendant realm of otherness. That ideal, in short, has not yet been achieved.

This is a seriously mystical verse. It basically has no other readings except mystical ones, and its obscurities are dependent in part on Sufistic imagery. For another mystical verse about letters-- in this case, laam and alif both-- see {61,4}.

It's fun to see how impatiently Ghalib brushes aside the idea that 'mirror' could possibly refer to modern glass ones. The idea that actual current social practices could govern the interpretation of ghazal vocabulary moves him to ridicule. Glass mirrors have no polish-marks! And who polishes them?! Because of the clear requirements of the imagery, anybody with half a brain should be able to see that it's a metal mirror!

Once again, we see how the poetry creates its own world, and that world is under no obligation whatsoever to reflect the real world. (For more on Ghalib's extensive set of 'mirror' verses see {8,3}.) To the 'natural poetry' critics Ghalib might reply that the ghazal world is realer than the real world; but he might not; he might just politely suggest that what they needed was a good ustad, since perhaps their poetic training had not been all that it should be.

As Ghalib wrote in an early Persian letter, his ancestors had been soldiers. 'But the love of poetry which I had brought with me from eternity assailed me and won my soul, saying, "To polish the mirror and show in it the face of meaning--this too is a mighty work.... Set your face in the path of poetry"' (Russell and Islam, p. 28).