Ghazal 49, Verse 9


nashshe ke parde me;N hai ma;hv-e tamaashaa-e dimaa;G
baskih rakhtii hai sar-e nushv-o-namaa mauj-e sharaab

1) in the curtain/screen/guise of intoxication, it is absorbed in the spectacle of the mind

2a) to such an extent it has a mind/'head' for 'growth and increase', the wave of wine
2b) although it has a mind/'head' for 'growth and increase', the wave of wine


nashaa : 'Intoxication (lit. & fig.), drunkenness; — headache or crop-sickness (from over-drinking); — intoxicating liquor or drug, an intoxicant'. (Platts p.1139)


pardah : A curtain, screen, cover, veil, anything which acts as a screen, a wall, hangings, tapestry; film, fine web, ... ; secrecy, privacy, modesty; seclusion, concealment; secret, mystery, reticence, reserve; screen, shelter, pretext, pretence'. (Platts p.246)


ma;hv : 'Erasing, erasure; cancelling; effacing, obliterating, obliteration; abolition; extinction; —adj. Erased, effaced, obliterated; forgotten; abolished; annihilated; —overpowered (by), struck or astonished, thunder-struck; fascinated, charmed, captivated; mad (from love), distracted (with terror or grief); —engrossed, absorbed, wrapt (in)'. (Platts p.1010)


dimaa;G : 'The brain; head, mind, intellect; spirit; fancy, desire; airs, conceit; pride, haughtiness, arrogance; intoxication; high spirits (produced by stimulants)'. (Platts p.526)


nashv : 'Intoxication, drunkenness; exhilaration (from wine, &c.), hilarity'. (Platts p.1141)


nashv : 'Being intoxicated'. (Steingass p.1404)


nushuu : 'Creating; living; growing up'. (Steingass p.1404)


namaa : 'Growing, increasing; rising (water); rising (as the price of provisions)'. (Steingass p.1425)


nushuu-o-namaa : 'Growth and increase'. (Steingass p.1404)


nashv-numaa : 'Growing up'. (Steingass p.1405)


That is, the attention that wine paid to nurture and growth, turned into intoxication and rose into the head, and the words 'mind' and 'head' have a mutual affinity. (46)

== Nazm page 46

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, the wave of wine, in the guise of intoxication, is absorbed in the spectacle of the mind. And this is because it has an ardor for nurture and growth. The meaning is that the way thought gradually makes progress and advances very greatly, in the same way the intoxication of wine, having arrived in the mind, keeps advancing. (89)

Bekhud Mohani:

Since the wave of wine has regard for the flourishing and growth of the mind, it mounts into the wine in the form of intoxication and contemplates the mind. (113)

Owen Cornwall:

If we invoke all the Persian nuances of the vocabulary, the wordplay is multiplied. Steingass gives ma;hv-e tamaashaa as a Persian idiom in its own right, meaning 'astonished at the spectacle' (Steingass p.1191). There's also a Persian sense of nashv (from a different root) that means not only 'being intoxicated' but also 'inquiring whence (news) comes' (Steingass p.1404).

If ma;hv is interpreted as erasure (though absorption and astonishment work well in other readings), then we can ask whether the spectacle of the intellect is the agent of self-erasure or the impediment to be erased.  In other words, is the spectacle of the intellect the means of revelation, or the impediment of revelation?  In common Sufi idiom, once the senses have been stilled and self-erasure has occurred, the wine of divine revelation can fill the mystic by means of the active intellect as though he were an empty goblet. However, the spectacle of the mind could also be an obstacle to revelation, one more over-stimulating sensation that distracts from the annihilation of self.  It appears to be left to the reader to decide which one works best. 

Then, I was overcome with sheer terror when I realized another node of meaning multiplication:
Besides mind/intellect, dimaa;G can also mean 'intoxication, arrogance, fancy'. On one hand, this allows for a hilariously tautological interpretation of this verse: The wave of wine, in the veil of intoxication is astonished at the drunkenness although it has a head for tippling.  (This would be some drunkeness to see!)

In another light, this node adds to the fruitlessness of looking for a moral stance in this couplet: is (even) the wave of wine astonished (haughtily) by the spectacle of drunkenness? Or absorbed (in wonderment) by the spectacle of the mind/intellect?  Then, turning on the dual meaning of baskih , we are left to ask: Is it is in a state commensurate with its desire for development/intoxication or in such a state despite such an inclination?

And of course, there were more possible meanings, but I need to go for a run now or else my head will explode. (Mar. 2009)


TAMASHA: {8,1}
VEIL: {6,1}
WINE: {49,1}

Like {49,7}, this verse plays with the two possibilities of baskih . If we read it as 'to such an extent', as in (2a), we see line two as the cause and line one as the result. Because the wave of wine is so concerned with nurture and growth, it uses intoxication as a kind of cloak to screen itself while it pursues its real mission: studying-- and perhaps shaping or invigorating-- the (drinker's?) mind.

And if we read baskih as short for az baskih , 'although', as in (2b), then line two is read concessively: although the wave of wine is concerned with nurture and growth, nevertheless it is so entranced by the spectacle of the (drinker's?) mind that it simply veils itself within the cloak of intoxication and watches quietly, in fascination. On the double possibilities of baskih , see {13,5}. And let's not forget that the spectacle [tamaashaa] of the mind can have a mystical as well as a this-worldly sense; for more on this, see {8,1}.

Describing the wave of wine as 'having a mind/'head' for', sar-e , adds an extra source of pleasure. (Isn't it fortunate that the English idiom is so similar?) 'Head' of course has an affinity with 'mind', as Nazm points out; and the head and mind are the locus of intoxication. The effect is almost to suggest that the wave of wine too succumbs to a kind of intoxication. After all, the intoxication that the wave of wine uses as a 'curtain/guise' in the first line might perfectly well, grammatically speaking, be an intoxication felt by the wave of wine itself.

Then, there is the remarkable Persianized phrase nushv-o-namaa , meaning 'growth and increase'. From the Steingass definitions above, it's clear that both short vowels can alternate between u and a , while the uu can phonetically turn to v . And if nushv is rendered as nashv , it is indistinguishable from the related nashv that means 'intoxication' (see the definitions above)-- so that the verse achieves a spectacular feat of both wordplay and meaning-play.

The result is that this verse becomes an undecidable 'generator'-- since the imagery is so abstract and the abstractions so multivalent (who can tell who's really doing what to whom?), we really have to put the elements together for ourselves, and interpret them as we choose.

Our guest commentator Owen Cornwall is a grad student in Persian and Urdu at Columbia. His comments not only suggest additional lines of interpretation, but also reassure me that I'm not the only person made crazy by reading Ghalib.

Note for meter fans: The tashdiid that converts nashe into nashshe has been inserted for metrical purposes.