Ghazal 183, Verse 1


kab vuh suntaa hai kahaanii merii
aur phir vuh bhii zabaanii merii

1) when does she listen to my story?!
2) and then even/also that, from my own tongue?



The author has contrived two levels of listening: one, listening; and the other, to listen from my own lips. This feat is the cause of the excellence of the verse, and in meaning such subtle details always give pleasure. All the other words of the verse are are so interlocked [dast-o-garebaan] that it seems that both lines emerge in the very first thought-- he was not compelled to take any trouble [takalluf], such that first he would have composed the lower line, then after thought achieved the upper line. (204-05)

== Nazm page 204; Nazm page 205

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, the first difficulty and trouble is that she doesn't listen at all to my story-- that is, to the state of my difficulties. And then along with this, difficulty is piled on difficulty and trouble on trouble, for when does she listen to it from my own lips? The 'seating' of the words, the trimness of the construction, the elegance of the expression, the loftiness of the thought-- in this opening-verse all these things have been beautifully put together. It's beyond all praise. (265)

Bekhud Mohani:

When does the beloved listen to my story (the state of my heart) at all? And that too, from my own lips? The flowingness of the verse is worthy of praise. In this poem is the clarity of prose. (361)


The whole verse is shaped in the mold of colloquial speech [bol-chaal kii zabaan], and it is entirely a verse of inspiration [aamad]. It is extremely clear and flowing. (408)


In this brief ground, to pull out an unforced and informal opening-verse is worthy of praise. (307)



Here is a simple little verse, entirely inshaa))iyah in structure, so that its questions continue to resonate. But are they rhetorical? ('Of course she doesn't ever listen!') Cynical? ('As if she'd ever deign to do anything of the sort!') Ruefully amused? ('I really don't know why I keep wasting my life on her') Despairing? (Think of {20,1}.)

There's one more possibility-- the tone could be deeply suspicious. What if she's now apparently eager to hear the lover's tale of woe, and that too from his own lips? But he's not a total fool. He asks himself what she can be up to, and how probable it is that she's sincere. And needless to say, the answer isn't pretty. Think of the similar, morbidly ominous question in {97,5}. Is it paranoid? (But then, paranoids have enemies too.)

In Karachi an elderly gentleman once asked me, in a slightly superior way, whether I liked Ghalib or Zauq better. He nodded knowingly when I chose Ghalib. All you foreigners, he said, like Ghalib because you like fancy pyrotechnics and awkward, unidiomatic convolutions of language. And that's because you're not native speakers of Urdu, not real ahl-e zabaan , so you're not able to appreciate the subtle charms of simple, accurate, fluent, colloquial speech. He smiled at me with sympathy for my tone-deafness. I smiled at him with sympathy for his blindness to the joys of Ghalibian complexity.

Nowadays, I'm working on ways to appreciate simplicity and complexity both. Ghalib obviously did, so why shouldn't we? We outsiders who devote years to this poetry eventually become insiders of a sort. And nowadays there are no real insiders left anyway; Ghalib's literary and linguistic world, like Shakespeare's, is one that we all have to work to understand. Even-- or especially-- in the case of (deceptively) simple verses like this one. Notice how uniformly the commentators rave about it.