Ghazal 194, Verse 5


abhii aatii hai buu baalish se us kii zulf-e mushkii;N kii
hamaarii diid ko ;xvaab-e zulai;xaa ((aar-e bistar hai

1) {right now / even now / as yet} comes the scent, from the pillow, of her musk-filled curls
2) to our vision/sight, the dream of Zulaikha is a reproach/shame to the bedding


ab : 'Now, presently, just now, now-a-days, a little while ago, recently. -- ab-bhi , adv. Even now, yet, as yet, still'. (Platts p.1)


diid : 'Seeing, sight, vision; show, spectacle'. (Platts p.556)


diidaar : 'Sight, vision (= diid ); look, appearance; face, countenance, cheek; interview'. (Platts p.556)


((aar : 'Disgrace, reproach, ignominy, shame; bashfulness, modesty'. (Platts p.756)


The Persian poet Jami (1414-92) includes in his famous masnavi yuusuf-o-zulai;xaa (1483) three dreams that Zulaikha has about Joseph. For the full text of the verse translation by Alexander Rogers (London: 1892, 1910): on the packhum website, go to 'Jami' in the author list, and follow the links. In his 'Preface', Rogers summarizes the plot. These are the relevant 'dream' sections:

=The Seeing by Zuleikha for the First Time of the Sword of the Sun of the Beauty of Joseph in the Sheath of a Dream, and her Being Killed with Love of him by that Sword, p. 35
=The Blowing of the Morning Breeze on Zuleikha, and the Opening of Her Drowsy Eye, p. 38
=The Knotting with Perplexity of the Rope of Anxiety of her Maids from their seeing the Change in the Condition of Zuleikha, and the unloosing by her Nurse with the Point of the Finger of Enquiry of the Knots of that Rope, p. 40
=The Seeing by Zuleikha of Joseph for a Second Time in a Dream, and the Shaking of the Chain of his Love, and Casting him into the Whirl­pool of Darkness, p. 45
=The Seeing of Joseph (on him be Peace!) by Zuleikha in a Dream for the Third Time, and her Asking his Name and Place, and the Return of Zuleikha to Wisdom and Sense, p. 49

There's also a partly verse-translated, partly prose-summarized version of the masnavi done by Charles Francis Horne (1917).


That is, like Zulaikha, for the beloved [diidaar] to appear in a dream is a disgrace for me and a reproach to my bedding. Because this is the bedding the pillow of which is now/still impregnated with the scent of that amber[-perfumed]-curled one. That is, last night itself was a night of union.

It's also worthy of note that if in place of baalish se he had said takyo;N se then there would have been no flaw in the meter. But the late author abandoned takyah and said baalish , although takyah is the word in the idiom. From this his literary style is apparent, that in poetry he gives preference to a Persian word over a Hindi idiom.

Another grammatical matter is that in us kii zulf-e mushkii;N kii the presence of kii in two places is not free of repetition. We cannot call it a flaw, nor can we call it an error; no poet has escaped it. But where the situation would be such that there would be two feminine words together, and there would be an i.zaafat , as here where buu is feminine and zulf too is feminine, then where possible one word ought to be changed and made masculine, and here that was possible. (218)

== Nazm page 218; Nazm page 219

Hasrat Mohani:

Now from the pillow the perfume of the beloved's amber[-perfumed] curls comes. That is, not much time has passed since the night of union. In such a situation, to achieve the vision of the beloved only in a dream is for our bedding a cause of reproach. (150)

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, 'Even now from the pillow the scent of her oiled curls is coming'; that is, it's an event of the night itself when union was vouchsafed to him. Like Zulaikha, for Hazrat Yusuf's vision to be in a dream is a source of disgrace to us, and a cause of reproach to the bedding. (277)

Bekhud Mohani:

To see the beloved's vision in a dream, like Zulaikha, is a reproach to me and to my bedding. Because tonight itself was a night of union; in the pillows the perfume of her amber-scented curls still remains. (384)

Yusuf Ali:

According to [the masnavi of ] Jami, Zulaikha is a beautiful Princess, a daughter of a king of the West (Maghrib). In her youth she dreamt a dream, in which she saw a handsome man, as noble and true as he was handsome, and she fell in love with him. So deep and constant was her love that she pined away for the love of the ideal man of her dream.... She had a second and a third dream, and in the third, she had the courage to ask the man in the vision his name and country. He did not tell her his name, but he said he was the Wazir of Egypt. [She pursues this clue; the real Wazir of Egypt is a eunuch, but she is encouraged by a voice from the Unseen to insist on marrying him anyway; thus, biding her time as a virgin and pining away for the man of her dreams, she hears of the coming of the caravan bringing Yusuf. She manages to get a look at him through the curtains of her litter, then contrives to have her husband buy him at a slave auction, and the Qur'anic story, 12:23-32, begins:]

23. But she in whose house he was, sought to seduce him from his (true) self: she fastened the doors, and said: "Now come, thou (dear one)!" He said: "(Allah) forbid! truly (thy husband) is my lord! he made my sojourn agreeable! truly to no good come those who do wrong!"

24. And (with passion) did she desire him, and he would have desired her, but that he saw the evidence of his Lord: thus (did We order) that We might turn away from him (all) evil and shameful deeds: for he was one of Our servants, sincere and purified.

25. So they both raced each other to the door, and she tore his shirt from the back: they both found her lord near the door. She said: "What is the (fitting) punishment for one who formed an evil design against thy wife, but prison or a grievous chastisement?"

26. He said: "It was she that sought to seduce me - from my (true) self." And one of her household saw (this) and bore witness, (thus):- "If it be that his shirt is rent from the front, then is her tale true, and he is a liar!

27. "But if it be that his shirt is torn from the back, then is she the liar, and he is telling the truth!"

28. So when he saw his shirt,- that it was torn at the back,- (her husband) said: "Behold! It is a snare of you women! truly, mighty is your snare!

29. "O Joseph, pass this over! (O wife), ask forgiveness for thy sin, for truly thou hast been at fault!"

30. Ladies said in the City: "The wife of the (great) 'Aziz is seeking to seduce her slave from his (true) self: Truly hath he inspired her with violent love: we see she is evidently going astray."

31. When she heard of their malicious talk, she sent for them and prepared a banquet for them: she gave each of them a knife: and she said (to Joseph), "Come out before them." When they saw him, they did extol him, and (in their amazement) cut their hands: they said, "(Allah) preserve us! no mortal is this! this is none other than a noble angel!"

32. She said: "There before you is the man about whom ye did blame me! I did seek to seduce him from his (true) self but he did firmly save himself guiltless! And now, if he doth not my bidding, he shall certainly be cast into prison, and (what is more) be of the company of the vilest!"

[After Yusuf is sent to prison, Zulaikha is disgraced, and then makes herself ill with grieving; by the time Yusuf is freed, she's also been widowed.] She, a widow, bereft of youth, honour, beauty, resources, health, even eye-sight, yet cherishes the memory of Yusuf and waters it with her tears.... He knows the true from the false, and he is just. The woman whom he repelled when she was in the bloom of health, youth, and beauty, when she was rich, proud, and high in rank-- now that she is meek, lowly, and sincere, finds favor in his sight. At his prayer her health, youth, and beauty are restored, and they are married in pure and true love. Even so, their love was not perfect until they united their hearts in pure worship to God.

== (Yusuf Ali, pp. 558-61; and 'Appendix VI, Allegorical Interpretation of the Story of Joseph', pp. 594-99)


Right now from my pillow the perfume of the beloved's oiled curls is coming, as if no great amount of time has passed since the night of union. Like Zulaikha to be only a dream-sharer with Yusuf in a dream, for our vision and bedding is a cause of disgrace and reproach. The meaning is that we consider the attainment of union in the world of dreams to be a cause of reproach. (476-77)


Zulaikha saw Yusuf in a dream. And exactly that situation was present with us. Thus, up till now the perfume of her amber[-scented] curls is coming from my pillow. What do I need with a vision [diidaar] of her in a dream? Just now it was the night of union. Therefore a vision of her in a dream is for me and for the bedding a cause of disgrace and reproach, since she had come. (439)


That is, from the pillow of our bedding right now the scent of her perfumed curls comes, as if the occasion of union is very fresh. Zulaikha's dream, in which she had had a vision [diidaar] of Hazrat Yusuf, for us and for our bedding is a cause of reproach. That was only a dream, and this event is reality. The idea is that, like Zulaikha, to obtain a vision in a dream-- neither do we consider that good, nor does the bedding of love consider that good. (320)


Only to this extent, that like Zulaikha we would see our beloved only in a dream-- contentment cannot be obtained. Our beloved comes to us; thus last night she had come, and today, still the perfume of her curls is coming from our pillow. (759)


Like Zulaikha to see the beloved in a dream and to take pleasure in the vision [diidaar] of the beloved is for our bedding a cause of reproach. That is, we would never content ourselves with lying down on the bedding, going to sleep, then the beloved showing her glory/appearance to us in a dream, the way according to the common story Zulaikha in a dream saw the glory/appearance of Hazrat Yusuf. Our beloved herself keeps coming to see us-- just yesterday she was with us. The perfume of her musk-filled curls can be smelled on our pillow. (632)


CURLS: {14,6}
DREAMS: {3,3}

This is a verse unusual in its erotic suggestiveness; for other such verses, see {99,4}. In addition, it belongs to the 'snide remarks about famous lovers' set; for discussion see {100,4}. And it's also conspicuous for the remarkable agreement of the commentators on a single interpretation. There must be some commentator somewhere who disagrees, but none of the ones that I'm using; and certainly the mainstream shows a strong and clear consensus. The verse will thus be a good case study, because I think the commentarial consensus is wrong, and it's convenient to argue against a group of opponents who basically speak with one voice.

In the traditional story, based on Jami, Zulaikha's dreams of Joseph occur long before she's met him, and are romantic, idealistic, and almost mystically pure; on the basis of these dreams she weeps, pines, suffers, and sacrifices her erotic prospects by marrying a eunuch. In the second dream, Joseph enjoins upon her strict chastity, though he does promise her in return some kind of reciprocity in the long run. For details, see the Jami version. Her dreams, in short, are full of romantic and mystical longing and suffering, and are inspired by someone she's never met. They're like the dreams of the lover in the ghazal world, only more so.

So why would such dreams be called 'a reproach to the bedding'? The commentators say that 'Zulaikha's dream' is one that the lover himself might have had, or fears to have, or is trying not to have-- but in any case, one that he's contemplating and firmly rejecting as disgraceful. And why so? Because, the commentators say, he has just spent an erotic night with the beloved, so he not only doesn't need to dream of her, but really ought not to do so-- it's apparently a bit vulgar, or unnecessary, or improper, or even insulting to her (because it implies that her recent real presence hasn't been enough).

But this reading really isn't very satisfactory. For if the dream is like 'Zulaikha's dream', it would be a dream of suffering love-in-separation, and why would a thoroughly satisfied lover have to spend so much energy thinking and worrying about having such a dream in the first place? Why would the lover bother to brood about the comparison between imaginary apples (Zulaikha's lonely dreams of longing) and real oranges (his just-now-ended night of lovemaking with the beloved)? And above all, how un-lover-like of him to be so smug about physical satisfaction! He actually seems to sneer at Zulaikha's lonely dreams of a distant beloved-- the way the 'people of the world' foolishly and vulgarly sneer at the lover himself. How can this be?

Not to worry-- it can't. There's a delightful and irresistible way out. For as so often, that first line is a trick, and we've been the victim of a bait-and-switch operation. In fact it's not apples and oranges, it's apples all the way down. The lover too is a dreamer, and the first line is his dream; in the second line he boasts about the superiority of his dream over Zulaikha's. The lover thus compares Zulaikha's yearning, unfulfilled dream not with his own real physical satisfaction (and the weird and farfetched possibility of his then having a dream like hers), but with his own allegedly very different, more potent dream.

Just look, the lover exultantly says-- 'In my vision/sight/show/spectacle [diid], I can actually smell her perfume on my pillow this very minute! How much better can it get!' Zulaikha's dream, he says, is absurdly and pathetically limited (and un-erotic)-- his own dream is far more vivid, satisfying, sensual, and generally superior. That's why to his vision/view, or in his view, or in his opinion (as the verse takes full advantage of diid ), her dream is a 'disgrace to the bedding', and fails to evoke the full richness of the beloved's erotic presence the way his own vision/show/dream does.

The lover's vision even alerts us to its dreamlike quality through its synesthesia: what the lover can 'see' is not the beloved herself, but merely the scent of her perfume. And where there's diid , there's also implicitly the much more common and semi-synonymous diidaar , as the commentators' own language makes clear, so that the conflation between 'vision' and 'vision of the beloved' and 'beloved' can't help but make itself felt. Of course, we also know that the desperate lover is probably protesting too much: where the diidaar is only a diid of perfume, we're not so far away from Zulaikha's dream after all. In his heart the lover surely even realizes this, which is why his attempt to distance himself from Zulaikha's situation is so urgent (and also perhaps, depending on the tone in which we choose to read the verse, so rueful or even self-mocking).

In short, to recognize that the lover too is imagining or dreaming takes full advantage of the richness of diid , and makes for a more piquant, rakish, complex verse, with a sharper wit and greater connection. The only reason I can think of that this reading didn't occur to the commentators is that they fell into the clever trap of the realistic-sounding first line because of their 'natural-poetry' desire for a real night of union for the lover (although real, erotic, satisfying sex is such a rara avis in Ghalib's ghazal world that that prospect in itself should have set off alarm bells in their heads). For another example of such a clever trap in the first line, into which similarly the commentators all too readily fall, see {90,3}.

For other, similarly ambiguous verses about Zulaikha's dream(s), see {117,5x}; {145,9x}; {145,14x}; {226,8x} // {299x,2}; {343x,1}.