Ghazal 177, Verse 1


shikve ke naam se be-mihr ;xafaa hotaa hai
yih bhii mat kah kih jo kahye to gilaa hotaa hai

1) with the word/name of 'complaint', the unkind one is [habitually] angry

2a) don't say even/also this, that 'whatever you say, it is [habitually] a reproach/complaint'
2b) don't say even/also this, that 'whatever we say, there is [habitually] a reproach/complaint'
2c) don't say even/also this-- for whatever we say, it is [habitually] a reproach/complaint [to her]
2d) don't say even/also this-- for whatever we say, there is [habitually] a reproach/complaint [from her]


gilah is spelled gilaa in order to go with the other rhyme-words of the ghazal


gilah : Complaint; lamentation; reproach, blame; accusation; remonstrance: -- gilah-shikvah , s.m. Complaint, &c.'. (Platts p.914)


shikvah : 'Complaint; upbraiding'. (Platts p.731)


Don't let fall from your lips even this utterance, that is, that 'whatever you say, then it is a complaint'-- for if not a complaint, then the name of a 'complaint' has come upon your tongue. In the first line the author has abandoned the word gilah and adopted shikvah . Although in this situation too the line is metrical, still it has occurred in such a clumsy [;saqal] construction that only a poet can understand it. (198-99)

== Nazm page 198; Nazm page 199

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, she has come to have such a hatred for the word 'complaint' that if even this is said, that she has come to have a hatred for 'complaint', then she considers even this remark to be a complaint. (256)

Bekhud Mohani:

In his heart he says, that uncompassionate one becomes angry at the word 'complaint'. Then, stopping himself, he says, what have I done! I ought not to have said even this, because this too is one kind of complaint. He has composed a very subtle/refined verse. (348)


SPEAKING: {14,4}

This verse has one of those irresistibly (or annoyingly) multivalent Ghalibian grammatical structures that can be put together in a remarkable number of ways. Essentially, the sequence is: [something said or thought] -- [command not to say 'this'] -- [something said or thought]. The command is at a kind of 'midpoint' and can apply either to the former utterance or to the latter one.

In the first line we learn that the unkind (and thus 'complaint'-deserving) beloved gets angry at the very word 'complaint'. We tend to interpret that as we normally would in English-- that she becomes angry at the least little breath of complaint, at the very smallest hint of any accusation against her. This is typical beloved-like behavior-- just as it's typical lover-like behavior to complain (at least inwardly) against her cruelty.

Only when we finally hear the second line do we realize how much more confusingly nuanced the situation really is. In the circumstances, it's not surprising that the lover is warning himself (or somebody else) not to say anything that would annoy her. But what is it that is not to be said, and what kind of imagined dialogue is being considered? The protean role of kih (a specific quote-introducer and/or a versatile general clause-introducer) makes possible a variety of readings:

=In view of [the first line], don't complain that everything she says is a reproach (2a)
=In view of [the first line], don't complain that everything we say brings down upon us a reproach from her (2b)
=Don't say [the first line], because anything we say appears to her to be a reproach to her (2c)
=Don't say [the first line], because anything we say brings down upon us a reproach from her (2d)

Moreover if we take be-mihr to be a vocative ('oh unkind one!') addressed intimately to a tuu (which is legitimate in view of the tuu imperative at the beginning of the second line), then we have 'with the word/name of 'complaint', oh unkind one, you are angry'. Thus the admonition is addressed to the cruel beloved herself, and the 'you' and 'we' are reversed. This reading is definitely a secondary one, but doesn't it add a whole new layer of complexity for us to savor?

The situation in the verse could also be considered on a semantic level, if-- in proper mushairah-verse style-- the delayed punch-word is taken to be gilaa . On that reading, the lover is absolutely serious when he says that she hates the very 'name' of complaint. For the lover is carefully reminding himself not only not to use the word that she hates-- the word shikvah -- but also not to use the synonym gilah either. The fact that he's so minutely parsing his vocabulary choices is what makes it clear-- as we readers relish both her furious nit-picking and his desperate quest to avoid offending her-- what the first line has really told us. For in fact it's not about substance (the beloved resents being reproached) as we had assumed, but actually about the use of a 'name' (the beloved resents the word 'complaint' itself).

However we configure the readings, the verse depicts a sort of 'catch-22' situation. Because the beloved hates 'complaint' so deeply, she in effect angrily complains about the use of 'complaint'. And the lover, for his part, is hardly able to avoid making a complaint about her furious obsession with avoiding complaint. For another case of such clever play with matched synonyms, see {177,3}.

The juxtaposition of kah kih in the second line is also piquant: these two common little words should theoretically be spelled identically, but have been specifically differentiated in Urdu orthographic practice-- the root of kahnaa is spelled, when it appears in isolation, with two separate h letters rather than one (and never with a tashdiid ). By putting these two monosyllables right together the verse makes us notice that they are both the same and different-- just as it makes us notice the same similarity-in-difference connection between shikvah and gilaa .

Note for grammar fans: What exactly is going on with kahte ? I've treated it as though it were really the habitual kahte hai;N , though just to omit the hai;N in a single verb usage like that is not normally permissible. For if we take kahte to be the contrafactual (as it looks to be), then why don't we have a contrafactual result verb ( which would be plain hotaa )? Whichever way we go, it certainly looks as if Ghalib has taken some liberties with the grammar.

This verse always reminds me of one of Momin's, which is much simpler but has its own charm:

be-vafaa kahne kii shikaayat hai
to bhii va((dah-vafaa nahii;N hotaa

[she has a complaint about being called 'faithless'
even so, she's not faithful to her vow]