Ghazal 196, Verse 7


hastii hai nah kuchh ((adam hai ;Gaalib
aa;xir tuu kyaa hai ai nahii;N hai

1a) you are not existence, nor are you in any way nonexistence, Ghalib
1b) there is no existence, nor is there any nonexistence, Ghalib
1c) it is not existence, nor is it in any way nonexistence, Ghalib

2a) after all, what are you [tuu], oh 'Is not'?!
2b) after all, then [to] what is there, oh 'Is not'?
2c) after all, then [to] what is it, oh 'Is not'?


kuchh : 'Something, somewhat, anything, aught; some, any; a little, a few; ever so little; whatever; in any manner or degree, at all'. (Platts p.819)


He's done an extraordinary piece of mischief in this verse-- he's made 'It is not' into a name. He says, 'Neither is there purely existence, as in the case of necessity, nor is there simply nonexistence, as in the case of impossibility. That is, you exist, and also do not exist, so you ought to be named 'Is not'.' (222)

== Nazm page 222


Because he's used the words 'is not', 'is not', again and again in the refrain of the ghazal, by way of mischievousness Ghalib has adopted 'Is not' as his own name. (152)

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, 'Oh Ghalib, when you say that there is neither any existence nor any nonexistence, then tell us-- after all, what are you, oh 'Is not'?' The meaning is that he's made the phrase 'Is not' into a name. He says, oh Hazrat 'Is not', you are neither purely existence, like the Necessary Existence, nor are you nonexistence, like the impossible; in this situation it's necessary that Your Excellency's noble name should be 'Is not'. (279)

Bekhud Mohani:

Out of mischievousness, Mirza has named himself 'Is not'. About existence he says, 'it is not'; about nonexistence he says, 'it is not'. Then, oh 'Is not', after all what are you? That is, when you're neither this nor that, what should we consider you to be? (388)



This verse sets up what must be close to a maximum amount of paradox, in what must be close to the fewest possible words. In the first line the subject is omitted, as is permissible; and since the subject is something masculine singular, it can be 'he', 'it', or 'you' in the intimate form. Then in the second line, the second word can be read either as 'you' in the intimate [tuu] or 'then' [to], which means that the second line cleverly declines to resolve the question of subject.

Then to add a final flourish of 'mischievousness' or ambiguity, Ghalib addresses-- as we can tell by the vocative ai -- someone (or something) called 'Is not'. The words appear to be a quotation, so that 'Is not' seems to speak, and thus to exist; but of course the words themselves may easily be construed to deny the existence of the speaker-- for of course the speaker is literally 'Is not', since here too the subject is colloquially omitted. (Unfortunately, that rendering tends to give a petulant, childish-quarrel flavor in English that is not present in the Urdu.) The 'Is not' whom Ghalib is so playfully addressing could thus be himself or the beloved; it's harder to think of the addressee as God, since 'Is not' isn't a characteristic divine utterance, and seems an inappropriate way to address the principle of life. (For other verses in which the beloved seems not to be God, see {20,3}.)

The supreme example of this kind of open-ended 'generator' verse-- and one that's also full of ambiguity about who or what does or doesn't exist-- is {32,1}.