Ghazal 91, Verse 10


kahte ho kyaa likhaa hai tirii sar-navisht me;N
goyaa jabii;N pah sijdah-e but kaa nishaa;N nahii;N

1) you say, 'What is written in your fate/'forehead-written'?'

2a) as if on my forehead there is not the mark of idol-prostration!
2b) is the mark of idol-prostration on my forehead not speaking?


sar-navisht : 'Lit, 'written on the forehead'; destiny, fate, lot, fortune'. (Platts p.649)


goyaa : 'Saying, speaking;... --a speaker... --adv. As you (or as one) would say, as it were, as though, so to speak; thus, in this manner'. (Platts p.928)s


That is, why do you ask me my fate and autobiography [sar-gu;zisht]? The mark of prostration itself is describing my situation. (90)

== Nazm page 90

Bekhud Dihlavi:

The meaning is that on my forehead the mark of idol-prostration can be seen, and this itself is my fate and destiny. (143)


[The inquirer/addressee is not the beloved, because then instead of 'idol-prostration' he would have said something like 'prostration to you'.] From the word 'as if' [goyaa] it appears that in the verse there's not straightforward speech, but rather he's talking to himself. Because if it were straightforward speech, then instead of 'as if' he would have said some word (like 'look', 'what', etc.) that conveys straightforward address. Thus the probable [;Gaalib] likelihood is that although the speaker is addressing somebody else, in the second line what he's said he has spoken in his heart, or to himself, or under his breath.... The perfection of his eloquence [balaa;Gat] is that without mentioning the real answer [that will be given after this private parenthetical remark], he has only established the foundation for this answer, and left the rest of the matter to the reader/listener.

The second point is that if we suppose there to be an iihaam in goyaa , then this meaning too can be brought out: 'Isn't the sign of idol-prostration on my forehead saying that in my fate idol-prostration is written?'

There's one more extremely important point. Whether the mark on the forehead be made by idol-prostration or prostration before God, the mark in both cases is basically the same. Thus a person who's not acquainted with the state of affairs can't decide, merely from seeing the mark, whether this is the mark of idol-prostration or prostration before God. Nevertheless, the speaker is sure that the moment people see the spot on his forehead, they'll realize that this is the mark of idol-prostration. That is, the speaker considers that apart from idols, there's no other being worthy of prostration. The very meaning of prostration is idol-prostration.

== (1989: 118-19) [2006: 140-41]


IDOL: {8,1}

One of the signs of an especially pious Muslim is supposed to to be doing so many prostrations that a sort of semi-permanent mark appears on his or her forehead where it has touched the ground so often. Here, the presence of that mark is put to wonderfully effective use: it's combined with the equally traditional idea that one's fate-- sar-navisht , literally 'head-written'-- has been inscribed on one's forehead at birth.

The use of goyaa in the second line generates two interpretations: the more common 'as if' or 'so to speak' one, and the literal 'speaking' one. For discussion and more examples of this multivalence, see {5,1}. Faruqi rightly points out that on either reading, the speaker's matter-of-fact assumption that 'the very meaning of prostration is idol-prostration' adds to the piquancy of the verse.

Can the addressee not be the beloved, though? Faruqi feels not, but it seems to me that a lover might well speak abstractly or detachedly in such a situation, even to the beloved. All the more so since, as Faruqi also points out, the second line appears to be said under the lover's breath, as he mutters indignantly to himself.

The result of all this is excellent wordplay, of course, but (as almost always with Ghalib) meaning-play as well. We have Indic/Persianized pairs of words for speaking [kahte ho , goyaa], writing [likhaa , navisht]; we have the sar and the jabii;N . And in the second line we have some elegant sound echoes: jabii;N , nishaa;N , nahii;N . Isn't it a lovely, adroit verse? We have the spoken and the written-- and both are trumped by the unspoken and unwritten, by the very nishaa;N , 'mark', itself.