Ghazal 155, Verse 1


kaar-gaah-e hastii me;N laalah daa;G-saamaa;N hai
barq-e ;xirman-e raa;hat ;xuun-e garm-e dihqaa;N hai

1) in the {work/tillage}-place of existence, the tulip is wound-equipped

2a) the lightning of the harvest of comfort/rest is the hot blood of the farmer
2b) the hot blood of the farmer is the lightning of the harvest of comfort/rest


kaar : 'An action, work, thing, affair; business, occupation, labour, art, profession, trade, commerce; effect, impression; exigency, need; tillage, agriculture; strife, contention, war, battle'. (Steingass p. 1001)


saamaa;N : 'Furniture, baggage, articles, things, paraphernalia; requisites, necessaries, materials, appliances; instrument, tools, apparatus; provision made for any necessary occasion, necessary preparations; pomp, circumstance'. (Platts p.627)


[1866(?), to Shakir:] daa;G-saamaa;N , like the expression anjum-anjuman ['with stars for company', referring to a solitary person] is that individual whose property and equipment [sarmaayah-o-saamaan] is a wound/scar. The existence [maujuudiyat] of the tulip is founded on its display of a wound/scar; otherwise, other flowers too are red in color.

After that, please understand that for flowers or trees or grain, whatever is sown, the farmer is forced to do the labor of plowing, planting, watering. And in the exertion, the blood becomes warm. The poet's point [maq.suud] is that that existence is merely grief and toil. That blood of the cultivator's which has been warmed through tilling and work, that itself is the lightning of the harvest of the tulip's comfort/rest. The fruit of existence [;haa.sil-e maujuudiyat] is a wound/scar, and a wound/scar is the opposite of comfort/rest, and an aspect of grief. (Arshi, p.279)

==Urdu text: Khaliq Anjum vol. 2, p. 845
==another trans.: Daud Rahbar, pp. 277-78


[He quotes Ghalib's own commentary.] The gist is that existence is disastrous. If someone seeks to attain comfort/rest here, then that comfort/rest becomes exactly a calamity itself. The farmer works ardently, and heats his blood, for the sake of the tulip, but from that the tulip receives a wound/scar. (166)

== Nazm page 166

Bekhud Mohani:

[Janab Shaukat says,] 'In this verse and in its lines there's no mutual connection. For goodness sake-- between a tulip and a workshop, what relationship is there? If the first line were like this: gulsitaan-e hastii me;N laalah daa;G-saamaa;N hai [in the garden of existence, the tulip is {wound/scar}-equipped], then some affinity would also emerge. Even so, the second line has no tie to the first line.'

If the learned commentator had recalled that here kaar is for tilling, and kaar-gaah means 'a place of sowing', then this objection would not have arisen. Now the tie between the lines too will probably [;Gaalib;an] have become manifest. (299)



This verse is a member of one of Ghalib's most striking and cryptic-seeming sets; for the other verses about lightning, harvests, and human desire, see {10,6}.

Shaukat's objection, as indignantly reported by Bekhud Mohani, does seem unduly picky: although in Urdu kaar-gaah is indeed normally used to mean 'workshop', its potential range, as a place of kaar , is much wider, especially in Persian (see the definition above). In Persian more than in Urdu the extension of kaar , literally 'action' or 'deed' or 'task', into other domains is very conspicuous: not only 'tillage' but also 'need', 'effect', and 'strife, war' are among the possibilities. It's hard to believe that the youthful and highly Persianized Ghalib didn't mean for these possibilities to come to our minds.

To look closely at the first line is to see that these possibilities open up the range of meaning considerably. The little verb 'is' creates the ambiguity. It shows us the tulip, in the kaar-gaah of the world, in a state of possessing a daa;G . (On the tulip's daa;G , see {33,1}.) But how does it acquire that wound/scar? Does it (1) bring it with it into the world (since the moment the tulip opens out it shows its characteristic mark)? Or does it (2) become equipped with this mark in the course of its life (since the kaar-gaah of the world surely has means for creating such a mark)?

Then in the second line, we find that 'the farmer's hot blood' is 'the lightning of the harvest of comfort/rest' (or vice versa, of course). It's impossible not to interpret this in the light of the second line of the spectacular {10,6}, in which 'the essence of the lightning of the harvest' is 'the farmer's hot blood'. Such an obscure, fascinating, ominous insight into the world! But in the present verse, whose is the comfort/rest? It could very well mean (1) the farmer's own comfort/rest; or it could mean (2) the comfort/rest of the tulip, if we assume that the farmer is a tulip-gardener.

Moreover, the interpretation of each of these lines is part of the larger question of the relationship of the two lines to each other. Do the two lines describe two aspects of the same situation? If so, we might think of (2a)-- if the tulip is wounded or scarred, perhaps the farmer's hot blood has burned it like lightning. Or do the two lines describe two different situations that are perhaps suggestively parallel? If so, we are pushed again toward (2a)-- the tulip is equipped with a painful wound, and similarly the farmer has ruinous lightning-blood. Or do the two lines describe two contrasted situations? If so, we'd be inclined toward (2b)-- the tulip just passively 'has' a wound, but the farmer's lightning-blood actively goes around creating wounds in others (or even in himself?).

In the case of this verse it might be thought that such questions are moot, since in the letter quoted above Ghalib himself has given an explanation based on (2b). If we hadn't already thought of interpretation (2b), Ghalib's explication would certainly cause us to do so. But can, or should, it cause us to rule out interpretation (1)? I would argue that it cannot, and should not. For remember, Ghalib's divan was a published work, and had been so (in a series of editions controlled by Ghalib himself) for a quarter of a century before the letter above was written to a single recipient in the last few years of Ghalib's life. Obviously Ghalib can't have seriously intended to restrict people's general reading of the verse, or he would have (and could have) taken much earlier and more energetic measures for the purpose. Suppose this letter had been lost in the mail, or had been destroyed somehow by its recipient? Then no one would ever have had access to this interpretation (as indeed we have no access to any of Ghalib's thoughts on the great majority of his verses). Obviously that possibility didn't bother Ghalib a bit.

This little ghazal is a unique case: we have (some of) Ghalib's thoughts on each of its three divan verses (out of the eight he originally composed). For Ghalib never took any special measures to explain his own verses, other than responding, as in this case, to haphazard requests from individual correspondents. Which also brings up the strong possibility that he gave the kind of interpretations suited to the needs of the moment and the particular correspondent (on this see the case study in {155,3}). Perhaps he simplified, or gave one meaning rather than two or three, because he thought his correspondent would be happier with something simple; or perhaps he gave only one meaning because he thought his correspondent had too many fancy notions already and should be brought back to a central one.

Since we don't know, there's no point in giving such excerpts from his letters any overpowering or definitive weight. Although it's also true that we'd be completely delighted to have more of his thoughts on his own poetry! And it's also true that he knew by this late point in his life that many recipients were saving his letters for future publication, so that the odds were reasonably good that any particular letter might live on. But there's still no evidence that he made any efforts to shape people's general interpretive notions about his verses; perhaps he despaired of doing so. I've written more about some of these issues in 'The Meaning of the Meaningless Verses'.

There are other issues of literary theory here too, about the autonomy of the text and the validity of interpretation, but let's not even get started on all that. It's a marvelous verse, isn't it? The first line, with its almost deliberately choppy, bumping rhythm, is the kind that stays lodged in the mind. The idea of a wound/scar as 'equipment' gives rise to many thoughts, most of them grim.