Ghazal 167, Verse 1


be-i((tidaaliyo;N se subuk sab me;N ham hu))e
jitne ziyaadah ho ga))e utne hii kam hu))e

1a) through imbalances, we became [the most] 'light' among them all
1b) because of immoderations, we became trifling/debased among everybody

2) the more we/they became great/large, only/emphatically so much less/small we/they became


i((tidaal : 'Temperance, moderation; evenness, equilibrium; symmetry; the happy mean (in quantity or quality); frugality, temperance, sobriety; a state (of health, &c.) in which the four humours are well balanced, sound health'. (Platts p.60)


subuk : 'Light (not heavy); light-footed, expeditious, active, nimble; light, frivolous, trivial, trifling; shallow; futile; unsteady; undignified, degrading, debased; delicate, slim'. (Platts p.633)


As much as we went beyond our limit, that much we diminished in people's eyes. (180)

== Nazm page 180

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, 'To the extent that we transgressed beyond our limit, to that extent we became 'light' in people's eyes'. (241)

Bekhud Mohani:

Our 'immoderations' made us debased/vile. As our immoderations increased, to the same extent we kept becoming debased/vile. (325)



This is the kind of verse that shows the commentators at their least helpful. After checking all the commentators I've been seriously using for this project, I have to report that not one of them devotes more than a sentence or two to this verse, and not one of them disagrees with, or goes beyond, what Nazm says.

And yet surely this verse is carefully framed to be full of enjoyable ambiguities! The first line contains in 'imbalances' [be-itidaaliyaa;N] one of Ghalib's famous multivalent pluralized abstractions (for more examples see {1,2}) with a wide range of meanings-- does it refer to repeated episodes of the speaker's lacking (see the definition above) 'moderation', or 'frugality', or 'temperance', or 'sobriety', or 'health'? Some of these lacks may be thought of as morally reprehensible, but surely a lack of 'sound health' is not.

Moreover, even more piquantly, the term may refer to a lack of equilibrium among the four humors of the body-- perhaps even to a form of creative imbalance, an 'artistic' temperament of some kind. Or the 'imbalances' of temperament could even be ascribed to others (to 'all'), since nothing in the line links them explicitly to the speaker; or they could be some kind of broader societal 'imbalances' or states of 'disequilibrium', such that rash judgments might be made without any real justification.

Because of this ambiguous pluralized abstraction, the speaker attained the equally ambiguous state of being subuk (see the definition above), which has a range of meanings from the desirable ('active, nimble, slim') to the undesirable ('shallow, futile, debased'). Ghalib's other uses of the term confirm this wide range of possibilities: to be subuk-dast in {62,5} is a desirable quality; to be subuk-sar in {126,2} is not.

Nor does this exhaust the ambiguities of the first line. The phrase sab me;N can certainly mean, as the commentators rightly say, 'among everybody' in the sense of 'in popular opinion'. But it can also mean literally 'among them all', in the sense of the superlative: the leading possessor of some quality among or 'in' [me;N] the whole group being compared.

To resolve all these ambiguities, what other recourse do we have than the second line? And even at first hearing, or first glance, it's clear that Ghalib is going to take a wicked delight in tormenting us. There are two separate clauses, each with a masculine plural verb, and an unstated subject. The first line provides two masculine plural subjects: sab and ham . Here are the two primary, obvious readings:

=To the extent that 'we' became more/greater, 'we' became less/smaller. (This is the commentators' reading: others despised us for our vaulting ambitions. But it can also be read as a paradox about ego and pretentiousness.)

=To the extent that 'they' became more/greater, 'they' became less/smaller. (Because of 'imbalances', we became the most nimble, lively and active of the lot; as for the rest, the more pompous, grandiose, pretentious they became, the less capable they were and the less they really amounted to.)

Through a slightly freer use of the grammar, it's also possible to mix and match:

=To the extent that 'we' became more/greater, 'they' became less/smaller. (As we became 'lighter' and nimbler, our activity and capability increased; as for the rest, they then looked much less fit and impressive by comparison.)

=To the extent that 'they' became more/greater, 'we' became less/smaller (The more grandiose and pretentious-- and 'heavy'-- they became, the more 'light' and 'nimble' we seemed by comparison.)

Putting together the penumbra of multiple ambiguities in the first line, with these four permutations of the second line-- the verse seems like a decision tree. Where does it end up? Anywhere or nowhere, or any place in between, just as the reader pleases. Verses like this one are really do-it-yourself meaning-machines; that's why I call them 'generators'.