Ghazal 144, Verse 1

{144,1}

piinas me;N guzarte hai;N jo kuuche se vuh mere
kandhaa bhii kahaaro;N ko badalne nahii;N dete

1) in a palanquin, when she passes through my street
2) she doesn't allow the bearers to change even/also shoulders

Notes:

piinas : 'A palanquin...; a kind of boat, a pinnace'. (Platts p.302

Nazm:

Both kandhaa and kaa;Ndhaa are used in the spoken idiom. (153)

== Nazm page 153

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, the way she hates the sight of my face, in the same way she hates my neighborhood too. She doesn't wish to have even the amount of delay in which the bearers would change shoulders. Thus she insists to the bearers that they must change shoulders outside this street, and must quickly pass through it. (211)

Bekhud Mohani:

With badalnaa people say kandhaa , and with denaa they saa kaa;Ndhaa ....

Janab Hasrat [Mohani] says that the taste [ma;zaaq] of this verse is entirely contrary to the glory of Mirza's poetry, which in general he had declared to be purified of commonplace thoughts and words. The taste of this verse is not commonplace; rather, it is that of... 'description of an affair'.... In my view, some event was associated with this verse such that the author himself didn't want to forget it for his whole life. For this reason he didn't remove this verse from his [published] selection. (281)

Baqir:

I have heard that one day Maulana Azurdah passed by Ghalib's street, but since at that time he was in a hurry, he didn't want to stop at Ghalib's house. He urged the bearers to go quickly. They began to change shoulders. But the late Azurdah Sahib didn't allow them to change shoulders. Ghalib saw this situation, and at once composed this verse and sent it to him, at which he himself came to make excuses. (362)

Shadan:

Hakim Momin Khan Sahib, or Mufti Sadr ud-Din Azurdah, was passing by Ghalib's street in a palquin.... [He reports the same anecdote as Baqir does.] If this verse is connected to this event, then there's no objection. But if that was the case, then he ought indeed to have made it an individual verse. If he had made it into a ghazal, then there was no need to include it in his [published] selection. Since the event is not known to anyone except Janab Bekhud Dihlavi, the thought that the verse is in bad taste [bad-ma;zaaq] has occurred to many. (345)

Josh:

The theme is in a commonplace taste [((aamiyaanah ma;zaaq]. (260)

FWP:

SETS

Unlike most verses, this one has generated some real commentarial discussion. Just for the record, let me report that Hasrat Mohani does not say in his commentary what Bekhud Mohani attributes to him; nor does Bekhud Dihlavi in his commentary report the anecdote that Shadan attributes to him. It's quite possible that they had written these things somewhere else, or else the attribution might have been made in error.

I'm not sure in what way the verse is supposed to show a 'commonplace taste'. Perhaps because other poets had used the same theme; or else because it is based on vulgar details of physical behavior (the palanquin bearers and their tired shoulders, their putting down and picking up the palanquin, her nagging at them about details of their arrangements, etc.); or else because it suggests that the lover furtively spies on her behavior and then whines about it to us. But since 'description of an affair' [mu((aamilah-bandii] is indeed considered a traditional sub-class of ghazal verses, Bekhud Mohani is within his rights to invoke it; in such verses details of jealousy, evasions, spying, conniving, etc. are far more common. But it's also true that such detailed 'description of an affair' is not Ghalib's normal vein at all.

Yet there's plenty of leeway in the verse, in its bold contours and its very starkness, for it to be well within Ghalib's real (and extremely broad) stylistic parameters. After all, this is a highly ambiguous verse, and who but Ghalib is the world's champion ambiguity-maker? The verse invites us to ask both why the beloved behaves in this way, and how the lover in fact feels about it. Needless to say, it offers not a ghost of an answer.

No doubt one obvious possible reason for the beloved's behavior is that she hates the lover's very street, and will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid spending any time in it. Yet surely the taking of such pains would also suggest that she has a remarkable concern with what the lover knows about her doings (where is she off to?); or what he thinks of her character (is she off to some lover's house?); or what access he has to her (will he be allowed a glimpse of her in passing?). Does she have to pass through his street at all? Surely, in the warren of streets of a traditional Islamic city, she could take a roundabout route if she chose. Does she want him to know that she is passing through his street (as opposed to avoiding it)? And does she want him to know that she is passing through it at maximum speed (as opposed to lingering)? There is room here for a whole subtle language of signs and hints, such as is almost unavoidable between lovers. Unless the reason for her haste is that she doesn't want the neighbors to notice that she's passing through his street?

Moreover, in what tone is the lover reporting her behavior to us? Perhaps he is ruefully amused by the depth of her aversion. Perhaps he's hopelessly melancholy at her disdain. Perhaps he's boasting of the way she has singled him out for a special show of pique. Perhaps he has contemplated running after her palanquin, or has even done so in the past, so that now he's perversely proud that she doesn't even dare pass through his street except at full speed. Perhaps he wants us to know he observes her behavior so closely that he can even tell what instructions she gives her palanquin-bearers.

And indeed, is her reported behavior a 'fact' at all? How would the lover really know? Most of the time palanquins just go along, with the bearers changing shoulders only occasionally. Perhaps the beloved just goes thoughtlessly through the lover's street, without her bearers happening to change shoulders there. And the poor lover, desperate for her notice, then persuades himself that she has achieved this result through careful tactics. But he's wrong, as we can well guess; he's deceiving himself as he so often does. This is the saddest and bleakest reading: as the lover well knows, hate is a permutation of passion, but indifference is only indifference.

Or-- is the palanquin really even hers? Here's a respectable lady getting out of her (entirely closed) palanquin, behind a protective wall of sheets, and into a private train compartment, c.1900:

The most extravagant care was taken to prevent respectable ladies from being exposed to the gaze of strange men on the street and in other public places. So could the lover even be sure that a passing palanquin was really that of his beloved?

The only truly implausible and depressing idea is that Ghalib is recording in this verse a real-life encounter with his friend Azurdah. What a comedown this would be-- what a weakening of the verse into private language, childish humor, and virtual meaninglessness! The 'natural poetry' movement in Urdu criticism has a lot to answer for.