Ghazal 147, Verse 7x


sho;xii-e i:zhaar ;Gair az va;hshat-e majnuu;N nahii;N
lail;aa-e ma((nii asad ma;hmil-nishiin-e raaz hai

1a) mischievousness of expression is not other than the madness/wildness of Majnun
1b) the madness/wildness of Majnun is not other than mischievousness of expression

2) the Laila of meaning, Asad, is seated in the camel-litter of secrecy/mystery


sho;xii : 'Playfulness, fun, mischief; pertness, sauciness; coquetry, wantonness; forwardness, boldness, insolence, &c.' (Platts p.736)


va;hshat : 'A desert, solitude, dreary place; —loneliness, solitariness, dreariness; —sadness, grief, care; —wildness, fierceness, ferocity, savageness; barbarity, barbarism; —timidity, fear, fright, dread, terror, horror; —distraction, madness'. (Platts p.1183)


ma;hmil : 'That by which anything is supported, that in (or on) which anything is borne; that which carries the double load of a camel, a camel's saddle; a camel litter or dorser (in which women travel)'. (Platts p.1010

Gyan Chand:

The way Laila is concealed [poshiidah] in a camel-litter, in the same way meaning is concealed in the pardah of a mystery/secret. The poet does the mischievousness of expressing it. This is exactly as if Majnun, in madness/wildness, would want to bring Laila out of the camel-litter. Majnun's madness, and the poet's effort, both to a great extent remain fruitless-- that is, meaning doesn't entirely come out from the mystery/secret. (363)


MADNESS: {14,3}

For background see S. R. Faruqi's choices.

As a brilliant 'A,B' verse, this one leaves us to put the two lines together for ourselves. Perhaps the two lines both refer to the same situation (the inability of poetry to capture the absolute beauty of Meaning). Perhaps the first line is the cause, and the second the effect: because Majnun is too crazy to describe anything accurately, the beloved of Meaning remains hidden and on the move. Perhaps the second line is the cause, and the first line the effect (because the beloved of Meaning remains hidden and on the move, Majnun is driven to crazy babbling in his longing to see her). Or perhaps the two lines present different and contrasted situations: mad poets rave on, while the veiled beloved of Meaning pursues her own quite different journey.

It's irresistible for us to take Majnun as representative of poets generally, in his 'mischievousness of expression'; but of course, in grammatical terms the verse could be about him alone, or about mad lovers rather than poets. And of course, what is 'mischievousness of expression'? A deliberate attempt to flirt with the beloved of Meaning? A generalized playfulness and inventiveness of language? A symptom of Majnun's madness? A result of va;hshat in some other sense? (See the definition above for the full range of this usefully versatile noun.)

Note for the literal-minded: The emphasis on 'secrecy, mystery' suggests that the 'Laila of meaning' should be seated not 'on' any ordinary-looking camel-saddle (for an elegant one, see {29,1}), but 'in' something that could veil her from prying eyes. As best I can guess from Platts's use of 'double load' and 'dorser' (which means something like 'carrying-basket, pannier'), we could perhaps imagine the camel-litter as a more elegant and semi-enclosed version of these ('Illustrated London News', 1857):

In a 'dorser' like this (though much more elaborate and sophisticated of course), the 'Laila of meaning' could veil herself quite effectively from prying eyes. But in any case the verse imagines a ghazal kind of traveling, not a real kind. In Mughal times and in Ghalib's India, aristocratic ladies seem almost never to have ridden on camels, in any fashion. Instead, they usually travelled either in discreetly closed palanquins (a crude version of which can be seen in the foreground of the picture above), or in carefully pardah-curtained versions of fancy elephant howdahs like these (1867):

In fact, this photo by Samuel Bourne (1860's?) of 'state elephants' seems to show a couple of suitably enclosed litters:

It's probably no coincidence that the word haudah , which in Arabic referred to a ladies' camel-litter, in Urdu, and in India, came to refer to a similar device for an elephant (Platts p.1240). Compare the use of ((amaarii , a canopied elephant litter, in {164,3}.

Needless to say (at least, I hope it's needless) this is all quite peripheral to our understanding and enjoyment of the verse. But if we can't treat ourselves to an occasional good digression, what's the internet for?