Ghazal 155, Verse 5x


ay karam nah ho ;Gaafil varnah hai asad be-dil
be-guhar .sadaf goyaa pusht-e chashm-e nisyaa;N hai

1) oh Mercy, do not be heedless! -- otherwise, Asad is disheartened/'heart-less'

2a) a pearl-less oyster-shell is, so to speak, the disdain/'back of the eye' of forgetfulness
2b) the disdain/'back of the eye' of forgetfulness is, so to speak, a pearl-less oyster-shell


;Gaafil : 'Unmindful, forgetful, neglectful, negligent, heedless, inadvertent, inattentive, remiss, thoughtless, careless'. (Platts p.768)


be-dil : 'Dissatisfied, displeased; heartless, dispirited, dejected, sad'. (Platts p.204)


.sadaf : 'The mother-of-pearl shell; mother-of-pearl; — an oyster-shell; a shell; — a pearl'. (Platts p.744)


An oyster-shell without a pearl is heart-less Asad, and the 'back of the eye of forgetfulness' (that is, the inattention of forgetfulness) is the heedlessness of the merciful one-- because of which there is a plea for mercy.

== Zamin, p. 388

Gyan Chand:

Oh mercy of Lordship, don't be heedless of Asad! Otherwise, Asad will remain despairing and broken-hearted. If an oyster-shell would be without a pearl, then it has a similitude with the 'back of the eye' of a cloud of forgetfulness. That is, a cloud of forgetfulness is a sign of heedlessness and averting of the eyes. Asad's being empty too will be a tale-bearer of your heedlessness. The similitude of an oyster-shell is with the eye, and the 'back of the eye'.

== Gyan Chand, p. 388


WARNINGS: {15,15}

For background see S. R. Faruqi's choices. This verse is NOT one of his choices; I thought it was interesting and have added it myself. For more on Ghalib's unpublished verses, see the discussion in {4,8x}.

On 'giving the back of the eye' as an expression of (arrogant or coquettish) disdain, see {61,5}; it also figures in {155,4x}. And of course, the eye is round and white, while an oyster-shell too is roundish and whitish.

The 'symmetry' of Urdu grammar means that if 'A is B', then equally 'B is A', and in this verse both possible readings are put to excellent use.

If we adopt reading (2a), then the line is about a 'pearl-less oyster shell'-- an image that at once recalls the 'heart-less Asad' of the first line, for it's easy to see the heart as the invaluable 'pearl' of one's being. Without the gracious attention of Mercy, heart-less Asad is as doubly worthless and dispensable as the disdainful 'back of the eye' of forgetfulness.

If we adopt reading (2b), then the line is about the 'back of the hand' of forgetfulness-- exactly the attitude of 'heedlessness' and neglect that, in the first line, Mercy is begged not to adopt. An attitude like that is, to a disheartened petitioner like Asad, 'a pearl-less oyster-shell'-- a God who seems to offer 'mercy', but is heedless and unhelpful, so that no 'pearl' of mercy is really available.

Since Ghalib has a number of unpublished closing-verses that praise the Indo-Persian poet Bedil, it's natural to ask whether this one is part of that set. In my view, it's not; nothing in the verse invites such a reading.

Note for translation fans: Isn't it a pity about how 'heartless' can't be used in English for be-dil ? I've contented myself with inserting a hyphen, but for a literary translation it might not work, it might prove too confusing. (How happy I am not to be doing a literary translation!) The problem is similar to that of 'self-lessness'.