Ghazal 191, Verse 8


bojh vuh sar se giraa hai kih u;Thaa))e nah u;The
kaam vuh aan pa;Raa hai kih banaa))e nah bane

1) that burden has fallen from the head-- [the one] that having been lifted, wouldn't become lifted
2) that task has confronted/befallen-- [the one] that having been done, wouldn't become done



First, the theme is extremely good; second, by making the structure of both lines similar he has made the verse even more trim. (215)

== Nazm page 215

Bekhud Dihlavi:

In both lines he has expressed his difficulties. The verse is clear and simple, and extremely eloquent. (274)

Bekhud Mohani:

The way in this verse a picture of the mood/state of a person's becoming on some occasion entirely helpless is seen-- it is rarely seen [elsewhere]. (377)



ABOUT EXPRESSIONS WITH nah bane : Here's the clearest example in the whole divan of the common, colloquial idiom that has the form banaa))e nah bane , u;Thaa))e nah u;The , and the like. The form also appeared in the second line of {191,1}, but since there it was amalgamated with another idiom, baat banaanaa , it's easier to get a sense of it here; see also the second line of {191,9}, with lagaa))e nah lage . The logic underlying the usage is illustrated by Bekhud Dihlavi in his commentary on {191,6}. As can be seen in Bekhud Mohani's commentary on {191,9}, the idiom can be used in the habitual as well (though the subjunctive is more common). Deliberately paradoxical forms like u;Thaa))e nah u;The , '[in a state of] having been lifted, would not get lifted', and banaa))e nah bane , '[in a state of] having been done, would not get done', use the transitive verb in a past participle form (with the hu))e permissibly omitted). Other, related examples: {163,3}; {175,3}.

The clunkiness of my translations is the fault of English, since the Urdu sounds elegant and smashingly, in-your-face paradoxical. The use of transitive and intransitive forms of the same verb creates not only a spinning-one's-wheels effect, but also some good sound and rhythm effects as well. This idiomatic construction is at the heart of the whole ghazal; other verses gesture toward it without presenting it as transparently as in the present case. (It's also suggested, though not so clearly, in {29,4}.)

And surely this is also a verse of mood. It's so simple, but it feels ineluctable. The moment when the iron enters your soul, when you first know that you will die, when you first lose someone or something you can never replace. That moment of first awareness of something like a block of granite-- the 'burden' (of awareness? of vulnerability? of doom?). It used to be manageable, you used to have it balanced on your head, you were able to pretend it wasn't there. But now it's irrevocably fallen: you can't even lift it, and there it is monumentally beside you and with you, from now on.


The year was 1979, the place was Lahore; I'd just arrived, bent on reading Ghalib straight through and figuring out how to analyze Urdu meter. A friend introduced me to a gentleman whom I'll call Falan (as in falaa;N ) Sahib, who was a teacher in a boys' school, and was interested in Urdu literature. When he learned that I was studying Ghalib, Falan Sahib asked me if I knew this present verse, and what I thought it meant. I replied by describing, as well as I could in my somewhat awkward Urdu, what I now call the 'fill-in' device: the way the very abstractness of the verse both enables and compels the hearers to interpret it personally, in whatever way most deeply speaks to their own inner life.

'Yes, yes,' said Falan Sahib compassionately, 'I used to think that myself, but then I had the good fortune to learn from Maulvi So-and-so Sahib, who has spent decades making a careful study of Ghalib, what the real meaning of the verse is. Would you like me to tell it to you?'

'Oh yes, please do!' I said eagerly. I was thrilled at my good fortune, for wasn't this exactly what I'd come here to Lahore for-- to absorb the special traditional wisdom of the real ahl-e zabaa;N , to study at the feet of cultural insiders who had grown up with the ghazal world for their whole lives?

'Well,' said Falan Sahib, 'You know how in all the pictures of Ghalib, he's wearing one of those tall Turkish hats?'

'Yes,' I said a little pallidly, feeling the first small chill of premonition but pushing it firmly away.

'One day,' said Falan Sahib, 'Ghalib went to visit his beautiful beloved. But they were interrupted. Somebody knocked on the front door, and Ghalib had to flee by the back door. As he hurried away, his tall hat fell off. His dilemma was that if he stopped to pick it up, he would be seen; but if he left it lying there, the hat itself would be recognized. So the hat was the burden that fell from the head, and picking it up was the task that couldn't be done.'

By now I was really irritated-- just because I'm a foreigner, does he think I'm a moron? I kept my head down until I could control my expression; then I looked up coolly, waiting for him to burst out laughing. But he was looking benevolent, pleased at having generously shared his superior knowledge with an amateur. I prolonged the pause as much as I possibly could, searching his face for the smallest sign of irony or humor. But since there wasn't any, I finally managed to say in a heartfelt tone, kamaal hai ! This he took as an awestruck tribute, and also as no more than his due.

And then even while the general social conversation continued, I realized that Falan Sahib had given me a remarkable gift. He'd given me a charter, a sanad , for my own work on Ghalib. Fran, I said to myself, never mind that you're very far from being a culturally authentic ahl-e zabaa;N type -- you just go ahead and interpret Ghalib freely, from your own perspective, as best you can. Because nothing you could come up with in your entire life would be half as silly as what Falan Sahib has just said.

Falan Sahib's gift has been both a comfort and a spur to me over the years, and I'm glad to share it with other cultural outsiders too. Such unfortunate 'natural poetry' tendencies also crop up in the commentators, though rarely to this degree: for a similar 'fill-in' example, and further discussion, see {70,3}.

For an equally powerful 'fill-in' verse by Mir about human vulnerability, see M{1039,3}.