Ghazal 150, Verse 1


zindagii apnii jab is shakl se guzrii ;Gaalib
ham bhii kyaa yaad kare;Nge kih ;xudaa rakhte the

1) when our life passed {'in this shape' / wretchedly}, Ghalib

2a) will even/also we remember that we used to have a Lord?
2b) how even/also we will remember that we used to have a Lord!
2c) as if even/also we will remember that we used to have a Lord!



[1858, to Taftah:] Listen, Sahib! That person who feels an ardor for some pursuit, and without further ado he would pass his life in it-- the name of this is 'enjoyment/luxury' [((aish]. Your turning your attention toward poetry, is a proof of your refinement of spirit and elegance of temperament. And brother! The fame of this poetry-spreading of yours enhances my reputation too. In this art my condition now is that the path of poetry-composition, and my previously composed verses-- I've forgotten all of it. But indeed, one and a half verses of my Hindi poetry-- that is, one closing-verse and one line-- are still in my memory. Sometimes when my heart begins to sink completely, then five or ten times this closing verse comes to my lips: {150,1}. Then when I feel very anxious and upset, I recite this line and fall silent: [the second line of {228,10}].

Let no one think that I'm dying of grief over my own dismal and ruined state. The sorrow that I feel, I can't at all express; but I can give a hint of it. From among those of the English community [qaum] who were murdered by the hands of those disgraced ['black-faced'] black ones, one was my patron [ummiid-gaah], and one was my kind advisor, and one my friend, and one my confidant, and one my pupil. Among the Hindustanis, some dear ones, some friends, some pupils, some beloveds. Thus every one of them was mingled with the dust. How harsh is the grief for one dear one! The one who would be a mourner for so many dear ones-- how could his life not be difficult? Alas! So many friends died, that now when I die there won't even be anyone to mourn for me.

[As the Qur'an says,] 'Verily we are for God, and verily to Him we shall return.' (Arshi p. 309)

==Urdu text: *Khaliq Anjum, vol. 1, pp. 280-81*
==another trans.: Russell and Islam, pp. 152-53


is shakl se is an idiom of which the meaning is, in a bad state. (161)

== Nazm page 161

Bekhud Dihlavi:

Oh Ghalib, when our life passed in such bad circumstances, how will we say that we used to have a Lord? (216)

Bekhud Mohani:

Then in the second line, Mirza has done a deadly feat.... That is, our situation is such that we can't even think that we are servants of the Lord. If He had created us, and were our Lord, then we wouldn't be ensnared in these difficulties. That is, not to speak of the Lord-- no master can wish such indignity on his slave. This is not a verse, but a masterpiece of poetry. (290)



Our life has passed 'in this shape'-- that is, no doubt, 'wretchedly', as Nazm confirms. But still, there are many kinds of wretchedness: surely every miserable life is miserable in its own way. The clever use of 'in this shape' invites (or requires) the reader to speculate and imagine-- was it simply a matter of more misery, , or unadulterated misery, or some special kind of misery?

The second line makes masterful use of the triple possibilities of kyaa . All three of the readings resonate wonderfully with the first line. Since our life has passed 'in this shape'-- then what?

=Perhaps we ask a genuine yes-or-no question (2a): will we, or won't we, remember that we used to have a Lord? A plausible case could be made either way; we are mulling it over.

=Or perhaps we exclaim (2b): how yearningly we'll remember that we used to have a Lord, and how in those days we were much better cared for! Or else we'll remember it urgently, even if futilely, because we're desperate and want to renew our connection ('there are no atheists in foxholes').

=Or perhaps we exclaim just the opposite (2c): we won't by any means remember that we used to have a Lord: he's abandoned us so long and so thoroughly that his very name is hard to recall. Perhaps, of course, we've abandoned him too, so that the connection of loyalty and memory has been doubly broken on both sides.

And then the bhii , with its alternatives of 'even we' (although you wouldn't expect it from us) and 'we too' (since we'd do what everybody else does under those circumstances), creates additional ramifications for the reader to savor.

The question of time also looms large. We seem to be looking back on our whole life, and describing all of it as wretched. So when was the time when we 'used to have' a Lord? Before birth (in some garden of Paradise)? In infancy? Or did we keep on desperately praying, even when we received no response? (The jab in the first line, rather than agar , makes it improbable that the perfect form of the verb is really working as a subjunctive, as it is in {111,7} and elsewhere.) And when will we do the future behavior specified by yaad kare;Nge , if not in some mystical afterlife?

And the question only deepens when the reader reflects that the verb is actually rakhte the , literally 'to keep' or 'to maintain' a Lord. It almost puts the Lord into the category of household possessions (one 'keeps' a car, after all). Think of the anti-theistic force of {93,2x}, or {174,10}.