Ghazal 118, Verse 5x


aa))ii agar balaa to jagah se ;Tale nahii;N
iiraa hii de ke ham ne bachaayaa hai kisht ko

1) if a disaster came, then we did not flinch/decamp from our place
2) by interposing only/emphatically a piece, we have saved the [king from being in] 'check'


;Talnaa : 'To move, stir; to be displaced, be dislocated (as a bone, &c.); to give way, to shrink, flinch; to retire, make off, get out of the way, sheer off, decamp, disappear, vanish'. (Platts p.358)


iiraa : ( sha:tranj ) vuh muhraa jo shaah ko kisht se bachaane ke liye biich me;N laayaa jaataa hai . ( urduu lu;Gat )


iiraa : 'Striking fire'. (Steingass p.129)


kisht : 'Tillage, cultivation ... division of a crop (as it lies in the field after being cut); — (in chess) check (to the king)'. (Platts p.836)



For background see S. R. Faruqi's choices. This verse is NOT one of his choices; for the sake of completeness I have added it myself. For more on Ghalib's unpublished verses, see the discussion in {4,8x}.

This is a very late ghazal-- it's from 1855, and from 1857 onwards Ghalib virtually stopped composing ghazals. It's unusual for any verses from late ghazals to be omitted from the divan, as this verse was. The commentators seem to have ignored it.

The first line sounds like a conventional boast of courage or manly prowess: 'When disaster struck, we stood our ground!'. Under mushairah performance conditions, there's of course a delay before the hearers are allowed to learn more about the nature of this courageous behavior. Finally, when we're allowed to hear the second line, we learn that what seemed at first to be an act of heroic courage was in fact a chess move-- and one designed to stave off imminent defeat. The speaker interposed a piece on the chessboard, and thus saved his king from being in 'check'.

I thank the members of our Urdu poetry group for indispensable help (August 2021) in getting this far.

It's also possible to form a perverse-seeming variant reading of the second line: 'Only/emphatically by striking fire, we have saved the crop' (see the definitions above). In the ghazal world, the principal danger to the crop or 'harvest' (that is, to the ripe grain standing in the field) is from fire, usually a fire started by a lightning strike. For an illustration and discussion of this situation, see the brilliant {10,6}. In other words, the speaker apparently set fire to the crop, to rescue it from the danger of being set on fire by a lightning-strike. (We of the Vietnam War generation remember claims of 'destroying a village in order to save it'.) This is the act of a madman; are we to conclude that the speaker is insane? Is the mad lover taking his cosmic defiance to fresh heights of absurdity?