Ghazal 95, Verse 1


((ishq taa;siir se naumed nahii;N
jaa;N sipaarii shajar-e bed nahii;N

1) passion is not hopeless/despairing of effect

2a) life-surrendering is not a willow tree
2b) life is a betel-nut, not a willow tree [reading supaarii]


taa;siir : 'The making an impression; impression, effect; operation; penetration'. (Platts p.304)


sipaarii : 'Resigning, committing (to another; --used as last member of compounds)'. (Platts p.634)


supaarii : 'Betel-nut, the nut of Areca catechu'. (Platts p.634)


[1858:] I have one verse-set in this meter that I had composed in Calcutta [in 1826]. The occasion for it was that in a gathering, Maulvi Karam Husain, a friend of mine, placed on the palm of his hand a betel nut of very good quality, without any fiber, and asked me, 'Please compose something on this, with similes about it'. Even as I sat there, I composed a verse-set of nine or ten verses and gave it to him, and in return I took that betel nut from him. Now I am thinking-- those verses that come to mind, I will keep writing down. [The italicized verses are those he published in his divan, but didn't include in this letter.] The verse-set:

this glossy betel-nut that is in the Sahib's hand
however much you praise it, it is suitable for it (1)

the pen has its finger against its teeth [in amazement]: how to write of it?
Speech has its head in its collar [with helplessness]: how to speak of it? (2)

[[write of it as the seal on the letter of revered and beloved ones
speak of it as the amulet on the arm of self-adorning beautiful ones (3)]]

[[write of it as the cosmetic [missii]-stained finger-tip of beautiful ones
speak of it as the wound on the side of the liver of mad lovers (4)]]

[[write of it with the similitude of the signet-ring of the hand of Solomon
speak of it as the equal of the breasts of a Parizad (5)]]

connect it to the burnt-out star [of bad fortune] of Qais
speak of it as the musky beauty spot on the heart-attracting face of Laila (6)

suppose it to be the black stone of the wall of the Ka'bah
speak of it as the navel [scent-gland] of the deer of the desert of Khitan (7)

[[if in style you suppose it to be the qaaf in tiryaaq [opium]
in color, speak of it as the newly-sprung greenery of the Messiah (8)]]

if in a prayer cell you declare it to be the tablet of prayer
in a winehouse, speak of it as the seal of the cask of wine (9)

write of it as the cosmetic [missii]-stained finger-tip of beautiful ones
speak of it as the equal of the breasts of a Parizad (4,5)

[[why would you write of it as the lock on the door of the treasury of love?
why would you speak of it as the [point of the drawing-compass of longing? (10)]]

[[why would you depict it as an unobtainable pearl?
why would you speak of it as the pupil of the eye of the Anqa? (11)]]

[[why would you write of it as the button of the robe of Laila?
why would you speak of it as the foot-print of the camel of Salma? (12)]]

In short, there are twenty or twenty-two casual comparisons [phabtiyaa;N]. How could I remember all the verses? The final verse [bait] is this:

suppose the palm of the Servant-protector's hand to be a heart
and call this glossy betel-nut [supaarii] the black spot on the heart [suvaidaa] (13)

==Urdu letter text: Khaliq Anjum vol. 2, pp. 714-15
==Azad's version: Pritchett and Faruqi, pp. 501-02 [somewhat modified toward literalness]
==Hali's account: pp 35-36 in Hali, Yadgar-e Ghalib
==full Urdu text of the poem itself (13 verses): Arshi pp. 131-32
==full Urdu text of the poem itself (13 verses): Hamid pp. 207-08


That is, lover-ship and life-riskingness [jaan-baazii] are hardly a willow-tree, that they would remain deprived of effect and fruit! (96)

== Nazm page 96


He says that passion is not hopeless of effect, because life-riskingness [jaan-baazii] and life-surrenderingness [jaa;N-sipaarii] are not a willow-tree, which will never have fruit. The meaning is that in passion, life-riskingness and life-throwingawayness [jaa;N-fishaanii] will certainly have an effect sometime or other. (83)

Bekhud Mohani:

jaa;N-sipaarii = to sacrifice [nis;aar karnaa ] one's life. A willow-tree bears no fruit. In passion there is effect. Life-surrenderingness [jaa;N-sipaarii] is not a willow-tree. That is, it is impossible that passion would not have an effect. (190)



In this ghazal, the rhyme-words are all intended to end with the same vowel sound; this sound is usually taken to be iid . But in some cases this makes for truly odd effects. Here are some thoughts on the subject from Mohamad Khan (Apr. 2008):

'The as-yet-unwritten history of the vowel shift in Persian from maj'huul ( o , e ) to ma((ruuf ( uu , ii ) is weird and meandering -- unfortunately one can't always identify the classical pronunciation of a Persian word with its modern South Asian pronunciation. This ghazal is to my mind an indication that Ghalib meant for ummiid to be pronounced ummed , which is possible in classical Persian. Personally I'm quite convinced that the rhyme words in the ghazal must be pronounced naumed , bed , jamshed , ;xvurshed , bhed , jaaved , ummed , rather than naumiid , biid , jamshiid , ;xvurshiid , bhiid , jaaviid , ummiid . It is valid to read these as having maj'huul vowels; in the case of jaaved , I've never heard it pronounced as jaaviid in Urdu. Basically, it makes more sense to use the ed endings, which are attested in Steingass, than to turn bhed into bhiid . This indicates that either these maj'huul vowels hadn't yet become ma((ruuf in Ghalib's time, or that Ghalib used the maj'huul pronunciation of ummiid and ;xvurshiid for poetic reasons.'

I find this argument very plausible, and so I've opted for Mohamad's suggested readings of the rhyme-words.

This is a 'short meter' [chho;Tii ba;hr] ghazal, so there's less room in each line for complex effects. As usual, the commentators seem to be satisfied with no effects at all, just a prosy paraphrase. As usual, I look for more. And in this case, the 'more' leaps to the eye-- the wordplay and 'script-play' of sipaarii , which in its normal written form, without short vowel markers, looks exactly like supaarii . (For more on such 'script-plays', see {33,7}.)

Lest I be thought frivolous, note that Ghalib could easily have put the more common jaa;N-ni;saarii or jaa;N-fishaanii or jaan-baazii in exactly the same metrical space. (The latter would fit if it were given a full nuun .) These are the words that the commentators use to explain (and in one case, actually to define) jaa;N-sipaarii , a word they obviously think may be unfamiliar to their readers. (When the word is used once more, in {164,7}, it's clearly there because it can form a rhyme-word.)

Yet Ghalib chose instead to use jaa;N-sipaarii , and to plant (sorry, sorry!) the name of this tree-grown nut exactly beside the name of a tree that doesn't grow nuts-- in a line that could also be read as declaring that one's life is a (useful, enjoyable) supaarii , and not a (relatively sterile) willow-tree. (And what has more 'effect' than betel-nut, the vital ingredient in paan ?) For more information: wiki.

It might be argued that Ghalib had a lofty mind, and wouldn't even have noticed such a mere low-class frivolous pun in the first place. To which I say, hah! Is it likely that someone like me, a latecomer who started studying Hindi at the age of 20, and Urdu even later, could easily notice a bit of wordplay that would remain invisible to Ghalib? Ghalib could hardly have failed to see it (even if he didn't put it in on purpose, as I'm sure he did). If he didn't want his readers to experience it as part of the verse, he could easily have replaced it. Compare a similar effect in {230,11}.

As further evidence (if any is needed) of Ghalib's irreverence and sense of humor, consider his whole impromptu verse-set addressed to the betel-nut. (I'm glad to have a chance to drag it in!) It pulls out all the stops of ghazal rhetoric. We find Majnun, Laila, the Ka'bah, the desert, the wine-cask, the Paris, the beloved, and even the wildly abstract suvaidaa itself (on this term see {3,2}), all pressed into service to praise the betel-nut-- which was a fine one, of course, with no fiber. So why can't the present verse be allowed a touch of that same uninhibited sense of fun?

Thematically speaking, the betel-nut poem is an ode, and formally speaking, it has the structure of a ghazal. Here's the text: Hamid pp. 207-208.

(As a fringe benefit, and further evidence of Ghalib's sense of humor, p. 208 contains a little two-verse verse-set:

don't ask about its rank-- that which his Exalted Highness
has sent me, a roghni roti made of besan-flour

he wouldn't have eaten wheat, he wouldn't have emerged from Paradise
if Hazrat Adam had eaten this besan-flour roti.)