Ghazal 161, Verse 5


hai kuchh aisii hii baat jo chup huu;N
varnah kyaa baat kar nahii;N aatii

1a) it's somewhat of a such-like matter, that I'm silent
1b) it's just a casual/happenstance thing, that I'm silent

2) otherwise-- don't I know how to talk?


aise hii : 'Just so, precisely; --as if, as though, so to speak; --accidentally, casually; without motive or reason (= yuu;N hii )'. (Platts p.113)


aisaa : 'This-like, such, of this sort; like ( = saa )'. (Platts p.113)


That is, don't cause me to say it-- it's best to remain silent. The intent is a complaint, and through fear of disgrace the beloved forbids it. (173)

== Nazm page 173

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, 'It's better that you don't cause me to say it-- don't just casually cause disgrace to yourself'. The meaning is that I've learned those secret matters, to speak of which raises the fear of disgrace. (231)

Bekhud Mohani:

I know how to speak, but the matter itself is so secret that to say something is to be killed at once. If the background of the looting of Delhi and the destruction of the royal family is kept in mind, then the interpretation of this verse is significant. (310)


The idiom [baat kar nahii;N aatii] is also present in Mir Muhammad 'Asar' Dihlavi. He says (Divan, p. 38):

;haal-e dil mi;sl-e sham((a raushan hai
go mujhe baat kar nahii;N aatii

[the state of the heart, like a candle, is illumined
although I don't know how to talk] (314)



How determined the commentators are, about assigning a particular context to that first line! Bekhud Mohani even seems to feel that it involves some kind of Lost Secret of the Mughals, despite the fact that it was composed before 1857.

But in savoring the obvious, in-your-face ambiguity (1a), I have Ghalib on my side, for this is a case much like the one he defends in {160,1}. To paraphrase him slightly, 'The words are the meaning. Why should the poet tell his purpose, and what he knows? Mysteriously he says, I will say nothing.' Exactly, and QED. The first line perfectly captures the deliberately vague way that people allude to things when they want to suggest a vast, unrevealable mystery, so as to tantalize their audience while giving nothing away.

But there's another, and piquantly opposite, way to read the first line as well: as a claim of casual happenstance, randomness, something with no particular meaning (1b); see the definition of aise hii above. Platts's definition compares the expression specifically to yuu;N hii -- and in {111,16} we can see how there too the verse takes full advantage of both possibilities: the specifying ('like this') and the emphatically non-specifying (just somehow, for no particular reason, 'like this'-- said with an implied shrug of the shoulders).

And for dessert, we have the enjoyable interlinear wordplay: the first line features baat ('matter, affair') and chup honaa ('to be silent'); while the second line provides baat karnaa ('to speak'), which most cleverly speaks to (sorry, sorry!) them both.

And finally, how can we forget that the person who's saying 'don't I know how to talk?' is, in at least some mediated sense, Ghalib himself, one of the supreme word-framers in the language? There's an extra little frisson of pleasure in that awareness.