Ghazal 174, Verse 7

{174,7}

ham-su;xan teshe ne farhaad ko shiirii;N se kiyaa
jis :tara;h kaa kih kisii me;N ho kamaal achchhaa hai

1) the axe made Farhad a speech-sharer with Shirin
2) of whatever kind that might/would be in anyone, perfection/accomplishment/excellence is good

Notes:

kamaal : 'Completion, conclusion; perfection; excellence; something wonderful, a wonder'. (Platts p.847)

Nazm:

In the first line there is 'obscurity' [ganjalak], and in the second one a 'clash' [tanaafur], and between the two lines the connection is not good either, and the theme too is nothing at all. (195)

== Nazm page 195

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, Farhad was a young laborer, and his beloved Shirin was a woman from a greatly wealthy family and was extremely lofty in rank. But his accomplishment in stone-carving gave Farhad access to Shirin and made him a speech-sharer with her. In the world, accomplishment is an extraordinary thing. People of accomplishment have access even to kings. (253)

Bekhud Mohani:

[Disagreeing with Nazm:] There's no knowing what 'obscurity' is in the first line; the line is clear. Indeed, in kih kisii me;N there's no doubt a 'clash', two 'k' sounds have come together. The lines themselves are telling of their connection; the Lord knows where this 'lack of connection' is!

Now there remains the theme. It is not such as would be able to be presented in proof of Ghalib's accomplishment [kamaal]. But no fault can be seen in it. There is certainly this merit: that the poet has molded into a poetic form a common idea-- that no matter what kind of accomplishment it may be, it is good. And he also showed the importance of accomplishment-- that where is Farhad the stone-cutter, and where is a princess and queen like Shirin! It was accomplishment alone that made the two speech-sharers. (342-43)

FWP:

SETS

It's an angular, awkward, disquieting verse, isn't it? The commentators take it at face value, as a small sententious lecture on the virtues of education and self-improvement. They ignore the conspicuous ways in which this moral lesson is undercut.

The first line seems unsettling on the face of it. One problem is the role of the 'speech-sharing' between Farhad and his beloved Shirin. In the versions of the story that I've usually encountered, Farhad and Shirin never really met each other at all-- he falls in love by seeing her from a distance, and she is unaware of his passion until his funeral procession passes by her window. Since there are so many versions of the story in various genres and languages, there are definitely some in which the two do converse, but Ghalib must have known that any 'conversation' that they had was peripheral at most, and figured not at all in Farhad's doom-- which was based on a task, and a lie, arranged by Khusrau. But see the image below, which shows a visit paid by Shirin to Farhad while he was digging; it illustrates a scene from Nizami's famous version of the story.

The second, and more obvious, problem in the first line is the role of the 'axe' itself. A reference to Farhad's 'axe' makes anyone who knows the story think first of his great, impossible task or ordeal of stone-cutting (he's not called 'Kohkan' for nothing)-- and then of his use of the axe to commit suicide (see for example {3,6}). Neither of these axe episodes is closely tied to conversation with Shirin, and both of them-- monumental, grim, and deadly-- loom over Farhad's whole fate.

So after we've heard the first line, we're left puzzled by its incongruities, its perverseness, its generally unbalanced quality. We're hoping the second line will bring us some clever, witty, philosophical resolution or explanation of these problems-- but even if it doesn't, after the first line we're at least very much on the alert for future problems, for things that are not what they purport to be.

Then what do we find in the second line? A sort of faux-naif, Pollyanna-ish truism. Everything in the first line has already conspired to 'problematize' the second line, and such an impossibly un-problematical, such a blandly problem-denying, second line is screaming loud and clear, 'Doubt me!' Needless to say, we do. Even without the highly doubt-demanding first line, the very tone of the second line would demands disbelief. Is it really always good for anybody at all to have any skill at all? And in this case, haven't we just seen a major, big-time counterexample-- a case in which somebody's skill probably didn't get him the good claimed for it (conversation with his beloved), and definitely did get him deceived and killed? Doesn't the second line have the false good cheer of someone trying to skate smoothly over a horrible moral and ethical chasm? (Someone like a Polonius?) Ghalib has set up for us a deliberately sententious little maxim that he not only invites us, but unmistakably and forcefully enjoins us, to doubt. Is he speaking ironically, or with a radical cynicism?

But then, of course, we can also have doubts about our doubts. This is, after all, a lover speaking. For Farhad to imagine himself in communion with his beloved through his hope and passion, through the reward promised for his stone-cutting ordeal-- what could be more lover-like? (And maybe he does manage to have a brief conversation with Shirin during his ordeal.) And for Farhad then to die of love-- for a true lover, what better fate is possible? It's just conceivable that, since the lover's whole cult of pleasure-in-pain is the bedrock of the ghazal world, the lover is speaking with complete seriousness, urging everybody to go out and learn a skill, so they can perhaps be lucky enough to attain a degree of 'accomplishment' that will permit them to experience the fate of Farhad.

For another example of Ghalib's complex, unresolvable thoughts about Farhad and Shirin, see {42,6}. This verse also seems to belong to the 'snide remarks about famous lovers' set; for more, see {100,4}].