Ghazal 113, Verse 7

{113,7}*

nah jaanuu;N nek huu;N yaa bad huu;N par .su;hbat mu;xaalif hai
jo gul huu;N to huu;N gul;xan me;N jo ;xas huu;N to huu;N gulshan me;N

1) I wouldn't know, am I virtuous or am I evil, but the company [around me] is contrary--
2) if I'm a rose, then I'm in the furnace; if I'm straw/rubbish, then I'm in the garden

Notes:

.su;hbat : 'Companionship, society, company; an assembly, meeting, association; a fair; discourse, conversation, intercourse'. (Platts p.743)

 

mu;xaalif : 'Contrary, opposite, adverse; unfavourable, unsuitable, uncongenial; repugnant, dissentient [=dissenting]; contradictory'. (Platts p.1011)

 

;xas : 'Any useless herb or stick, rubbish of sticks or thorns'. (Platts p.489)

Nazm:

The rose finds its springtime by remaining in the garden, and the straw finds its show of glory in the furnace. If the rose is in the furnace, then it's useless; and if the straw is in the garden, then it's a burden. And my state too is that of 'contrary company'. (122)

== Nazm page 122

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, 'I can't tell at all whether I'm good or bad, but I've been destined for the company of contrary men. That is, if I'm a flower, then I'm in the oven; and if I'm dry grass, then I'm in the garden.' (172)

Bekhud Mohani:

It wouldn't be strange if Mirza had composed this verse in Calcutta, when he was quarreling with Qatil's pupils....

I don't know whether in the eyes of God I'm good or bad, but I certainly know that if I'm good, then this world is a hell for me... and if I'm bad, then this world to me is Paradise. Because in comparison to the pain of Hell, the pain of the world is better than the repose of Paradise. (230)

Faruqi:

[See the reference in {87,11}.]

FWP:

SETS == OPPOSITES; PARALLELISM; REPETITION; WORDPLAY == TRANSLATABLES
FLAME/STRAW: {21,5}
GOOD/BAD: {22,4}
SOUND EFFECTS: {26,7}

Bekhud Mohani makes a stab at a biographical explanation, but unfortunately for his intuitions, the verse dates from more than ten years earlier than the Calcutta trip. (These problems are common with such well-meant but unhelpful attempts to take a 'natural poetry' approach to the classical ghazal.) For a brief survey of the Calcutta trip and the quarrels over Qatil, see Russell and Islam, pp. 45-50.

In fact, Ghalib has a number of verses expressing more or less alienation from his surroundings; see {62,2} for a prominent example.

But surely the real charm of this verse is its lovely wordplay. Look at the pairs it offers us: gul and gulshan , gul and gul;xan , the obviously spectacular set gulshan and gul;xan , and even ;xas and gul;xan . And all these resonances are achieved with what seems to be an effortless simplicity.

Moreover, if we consider the larger structure of the verse, it's clearly framed to be repetitive, rhythmic, and also reflective of a kind of confusion. The first line sets up a radical uncertainty-- I wouldn't know if I'm good or bad. The only thing I'm really able to say is that I'm in the wrong place. Then, in true mushairah style, we have to wait to hear more about this intriguing notion.

In the second line, we find the speaker's situation presented with the plodding explicitness of somebody trying to make sense of a riddle. The line falls into two parallel halves with identical grammatical structures. And what structures! Ghalib has contrived to use 'am' [huu;N] no fewer than four times in the second line, and twice in the first line, although he could easily have reduced the number. This occurrence of the same word six times in a single verse is surely a record. The effect of all this repetition is laborious and, paradoxically, uncertain. The speaker doesn't at all know what he is (good? bad? rose? straw?), or where (furnace? garden?), and the more times he tries to explain his dilemma, the more confused he sounds.

He almost sounds like someone with amnesia, or someone awakening from a coma. Everything around him is confusing, and he feels thoroughly bewildered. The only thing that emerges with clarity, and that only needs to be firmly stated once, is that he's in the wrong place, the wrong company-- everybody around him is hostile and/or repugnant and/or contrary (see the definition above). He finds himself in a kind of nightmare society. Is it his fault (is he 'evil'?), or theirs? Is he better than they, or worse? It hardly matters. Either way, in such society he'll always be alone-- as every passionate, intransigent lover in every society is always alone.

Compare Mir's evocation of his own out-of-place existence: M{1679,9}.