Ghazal 155, Verse 3


ham se ranj-e betaabii kis :tara;h u;Thaayaa jaa))e
daa;G pusht-e dast-e ((ajz shu((lah ;xas bah dandaa;N hai

1) how would the sorrow/pain of restlessness/weakness be endured by us?!
2) the wound/scar is [showing] the 'back of the hand' of weakness; flame is with a straw in its teeth


betaab : 'Faint, powerless; agitated, restless, uneasy, impatient (syn. bechain ); -- devoid of splendour, lustreless' (Platts p.202)


taab : 'Heat, warmth; burning, inflaming, pain, affliction, grief; anger, indignation, wrath, rage; light, radiance, lustre, splendour; strength, power, ability'. (Platts p.303)


pusht-e dast maarnaa : 'To put away from, to reject, to abandon'. (Platts p.263)


pusht-i dast bar zamiin nihaadan : 'A gesture of respect'. (Steingass p.251)


[1866(?), to Shakir:] The 'back of the hand' is an aspect of weakness. And 'to seize straw, or grass, between the teeth' [;xas bah dandaan-o-kaah bah dandaa;N giriftan] too is an expression of weakness. Thus, in a state/world [((aalam] in which the wound might have put the back of its hand on the ground, and flame might have taken a straw between its teeth, how would the the sorrow of restlessness be borne by us?

My dear sir! In the beginning of my composition of poetry [fikr-e su;xan], I used to compose Rekhtah in the style of [the complex Persian poets] Bedil and Asir and Shaukat. Thus the closing-verse of one ghazal [{357x,1}] was:

:tarz-e bedil me;N re;xtah likhnaa [the original verse has kahnaa]
asad ull;aah ;xaa;N qiyaamat hai

[to write Rekhtah in the style of Bedil--
Asadullah Khan, is a devastation/'Doomsday'!]

From the age of fifteen years to the age of twenty-five years, I always composed [likhaa kiyaa] imagined/fanciful [;xayaalii] themes. In ten years, a large divan became collected. Finally, when discrimination [tamiiz] came [to me], then I put aside [duur kiyaa] that divan. The pages I utterly [yak-qalam] tore up. By way of example, I permitted ten or fifteen verses to remain in the present divan.

Protector of servants! There's no need for correction of your prose. This special path of your composition is interesting and free of flaws. Please don't abandon this style. And if you wish to imitate me and favor me, then please study seriously 'Panj Ahang' [panj aahang] etc., my [Persian prose and verse] writings, and advance your practice [mashq]. (Arshi p.279)

==Urdu text: Khaliq Anjum vol. 2, pp. 845-46
==another trans.: Daud Rahbar, pp. 279-80
==the quoted verse about Bedil, in which Raza gives kahnaa instead of likhnaa : *R109*


The meaning is that we will not be able to endure that sorrow, and it will slaughter us. By 'hand of weakness' is meant that hand that is weak through absorbing a shock. For this same reason, he has given for it the simile of straw, and for the wound a simile of flame. And 'to place the back of the hand on the earth' has the meaning of expressing helplessness. It's obvious that straw cannot endure the calamity of flame, which burns it up and obliterates it. And 'to take a straw in the teeth' also has the meaning of an expression of weakness. This second aspect emerges from the meaning of this verse: that is, the flame-wound of my 'hand of weakness' has taken a straw in its teeth. On my behalf it is expressing passion, such that it will not be able to endure the sorrow of restlessness. After recounting the meaning of all these three verses, the late author writes, [Ghalib's further comments given above]. (167)

== Nazm page 167

Bekhud Mohani:

[He quotes Ghalib's comments about this verse, and also the early verse given above.] Whatever Mirza wanted to say, he said. In my view, the meaning of the verse is also that which would emerge from the words, whether that would be in the author's mind or not. I consider an extremely clear and easy meaning of this verse to be as follows: 'When the wound has become 'with the back of the hand of weakness', and the flame is becoming 'with straw in the teeth', then how can the sorrow of restlessness be borne by us?' That is, when restlessness has made the wound and the flame, which are entirely fire, so weak-- then we who are human, how can the tyrannies of restlessness be endured by us? (300)



To take a 'straw in the teeth' is a classic sign of submission and surrender; for another example, see {10,3}. For fire itself, unable to endure the 'restlessness', to take a straw in its teeth has a wild quality of paradox and impossibility. Showing the 'back of the hand' through weakness suggests submission, repentance, rejection of earlier behavior (see the related idiomatic definitions above.) The idea is that the hand has been placed flat on the ground, in submissive weakness or helplessness. Further examples: {1,6x}; {369x,2}. It's hard to see any such piquant relationship between the hand and the wound as there is between straw and flame, but there may be some missing bit of idiomatic correlation that we no longer recognize.

But then, how do the two lines fit together? Are the 'wound' and the 'flame' (perhaps in the form of a perpetually burning passion, heart, etc.) aspects of the lover's own being, such that both lines basically describe the same situation? Or are there three independent entities, the lover, the wound, and the flame, all troubled beyond endurance by the 'sorrow of restlessness / weakness / dimness'? After all, we know that the lover is restless and weak in any case; the fact that a wound throbs and bleeds, and that a flame flickers and dances, could also be seen as signs of restlessness and/or weakness (two qualities that seem contradictory but so often go together). Ghalib seems to endorse the second reading; but I agree with Bekhud Mohani that the poet's comments do not limit interpretation; for more on this see {155,1}.

There's some nice wordplay: how can we endure or bear or 'lift' [u;Thaanaa] the sorrow of restlessness, when the 'hand' is flat on the ground? But it's betaabii that ties the whole verse together: its range of meaning includes restlessness, weakness, and dimness, all appropriate in varying ways to a lover, a wound, and a flame. It's based on the negation of taab , an even more protean concept (see the definition above). Moreover, because of the multivalence of the i.zaafat , the sorrow 'of' betaabii can mean sorrow that (1) is caused by it; (2) pertains to it; or (3) consists of it, so that the interpretive possibilities are further multiplied.

Ghalib's supposed rejection of his early verses:

Since Ghalib's letter quoted above goes on to say more about his own poetic style, I've translated all the relevant material from it. I've done so with all the more interest because the latter passage in the letter is frequently cited by 'natural poetry' advocates to argue that Ghalib himself saw the error of his cerebral, awkward, artificial, etc. early style, and rejected it. It's a cliche in Ghalib criticism to depict him as turning to 'natural poetry' in his later, 'mature' style. One can see how this cliche developed, but it's also easy to see how greatly it oversimplifies the real state of things. I don't want to argue the whole case at present, but I do want to point out some problems with this famous and oft-cited letter. The main problem is that it's really a tissue of hyperbolic falsehoods, so that to trust it as an accurate account of Ghalib's poetic views is decidedly rash. Here are some of its inaccurate claims:

First: it's not true that even in his early ghazals, Ghalib 'always' composed highly fanciful or cerebral poetry. There are certainly a number of counterexamples: consider {04}, {35}, {85}, {116}, {131}, {148}, {164}, {196}, {210}, and {233}, just for a start, and if I were going to make the whole case I would marshal a number of other relatively straightforward early ghazals and verses (including {25,10x}, {261x}, {378x,9}, {417x,3}; {420x,7}) as well. There's also the intriguing case of {206}, with its four notably 'difficult' verses that Ghalib chose for the divan, followed by a very simple closing-verse ({206,5x}) that he omitted. (And to complete the other half of the case, I would also cite some very difficult and complex late verses, such as {20,6}, {231,1}, and {232,4}.)

Second: it's not true that Ghalib later 'rejected' that whole early divan, or 'utterly tore up' its pages in some kind of disgust that was based on a newly-achieved power of 'discrimination'. If you look at the 'Names' index under 'Ghalib', you'll see the verses on which he has commented in various letters. When he discusses the early ones, he only once (in the case of {28,1}) expresses even the smallest hint of disapproval or literary doubt. This present ghazal, {155}, is a typical example: it's a very early ghazal, very complex-- and as he explicates it, he shows no sign at all of distaste or apology, or of any desire to distance himself from it. In fact he wrote to Aram on April 19, 1859, 'From where will I send you Hindi [=Urdu] ghazals? The printed Urdu divans are defective/incomplete [naaqis]. Many ghazals are not in them. The [early] manuscript [qalamii] divans, that were perfect and complete [atamm-o-mukammal], have been looted' (Khaliq Anjum vol. 3, p.1070).

Third, and most conspicuous: it's not true that Ghalib permitted only 'ten or fifteen' of his early verses to remain in his published, muravvaj divan. Of his very early ghazal verses (composed by around 1816), about 296 are present in his published divan; of his slightly later ghazal verses (composed by around 1821), about 399 are present in his published divan, for a total of 695 verses out of 1,459, or a little less than one-half of the whole published divan. I've done the count using Kalidas Gupta Raza 1995; there might be a small margin of error in my count, but not much, and the main point is clear. Ghalib's estimate in this letter of the number of early verses retained in the published divan is thus something like 65 or 70 times too low; this kind of discrepancy could hardly happen by accident.

So since he obviously wasn't making an accurate report of his own past literary choices, what was he really up to in that letter? Perhaps he was merely enjoying a fit of rhetorical extravagance-- the idea of 'utterly' tearing up the old divan is described with the adverb yak-qalam , an enjoyably appropriate piece of wordplay in its own right (see {71,7} for another example). When it came to recounting the alleged follies of his long-ago youth, he was nothing if not uninhibited; as a case in point, see {139,1} for the two directly contradictory accounts of his youthful romantic experience that he wrote in almost simultaneous letters, perhaps five years before the present letter about his youthful poetic experience.

In addition to amusing himself with extravagance, whimsy, and wordplay, he was surely also trying to head off his correspondent from some idea of writing extremely complex verse or prose, in emulation of the flashy juvenile Ghalib. Ghalib seems in his letter to be acting as an Ustad, and earlier in the letter has offered 'correction' for a few of Shakir's verses, before launching into the explanation of {155}. If the four verses quoted in the letter are any indication, Shakir would indeed have been well advised to concentrate on simple rather than baroque verse and prose. So Ghalib's account may have been designed to turn himself into an example of the attitude he was recommending to Shakir; this was, after all, just what he was doing in the letters quoted in {139,1}.

For more on Ghalib's unpublished verses, see {4,8x}.