Ghazal 208, Verse 5

{208,5}*

mat puuchh kih kyaa ;haal hai meraa tire piichhe
tuu dekh kih kyaa rang hai teraa mire aage

1) don't ask what state/condition is mine, after/behind you
2) you look at what mood/aspect/condition is yours, {before / in front of} me

Notes:

rang : 'expression, countenance, appearance, aspect; fashion, style; character, nature; mood, mode, manner, method; kind, sort; state, condition'. (Platts p.601)

Nazm:

If in place of teraa mire aage ['yours, before me'] there were meraa tire aage ['mine, before you'], then the beauty of the verse would be greatly increased. But because it was against the ground, the author reversed it, and in this too one meaning has been created: 'look at your own indifference and beauty with my eyes-- and from that, guess what my state must be in separation from you'. (235)

== Nazm page 235

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, don't ask me what state is mine, in separation from you. Rather, look at what mood/aspect is yours, before me. That is, having come before me, to what extent you become restless and anxious. Exactly this state becomes mine, in separation from you. (292-93)

Bekhud Mohani:

Why do you ask what happens to me in separation from you? Look at what state is yours, before me. That is, when you are before me, what kinds of coquetry you show, and what kind and degree of effect your beauty creates on me. When in union with you, such things happen to me, and my heart remains restless, then in separation from you whatever might happen to me is minor.

[Disagreeing with Nazm:] No such thing. From saying it in this way two excellences have been created. The first is that Mirza has departed from the common highway; and this action is the special virtue of Mirza's temperament. The second is that the beloved's airs and graces, embodied and corporeal, begin to come before the gaze of the hearer. (417)

FWP:

SETS == GENERATORS; I AND; INEXPRESSIBILITY; PARALLELISM

What a complete break from the tone of the previous four verses! Here in this spectacularly brilliant and playful verse, effects both utterly simple and radically unresolvable have been created. Notice that we're completely through with the cosmic imagery, and with pontificating about the universe. Now we're back confronting the beloved, the action that's at the center of the ghazal world.

The first line invokes the 'inexpressibility trope'-- 'don't ask' what shape I'm in, as I follow humbly and helplessly behind you, for it's indescribable, it's beyond all words, and so on. This kind of thing is the ghazal's stock in trade, and we expect that the second line will give us some details: how I'm suffering, how I'm dying, etc. Under mushairah performance conditions, needless to say, we're made to wait as long as possible to hear the second line.

And in classic mushairah-verse style, even the beginning of the second line doesn't give us much. It's not till the last possible moment, when we hear that teraa , that the full pleasure, wit, and shock-value of the verse suddenly hit us. For as abruptly as possible the tables are turned: the beloved is told to think instead of how she herself looks in the lover's eyes.

If this were what I call a mushairah-verse, everybody would exclaim vaah vaah with genuine delight, and then, having fully 'got' the verse, having drained it of its effect all in one imaginative gulp, would be ready to move on. But of course, that turns out not to be what happens. Having 'got' it, we then have to ask ourselves what we've 'gotten'-- and the initial sense of comprehension melts away. The results can be seen in the disagreements among the various commentators. To the possibilities they suggest, my student Zahra Sabri adds one more (Apr. 2009): that the lover is so enslaved that in order to know his mood, the beloved literally only has to consult her own, and she'll find it mirrored in him.

For what exactly does it mean to tell the beloved 'you look what mood/aspect is yours, before me'? What mood/aspect are we talking about? Her beauty? Her absolute power? Her cruelty and disdain? Her untrustworthiness? And since this verse is inshaa))iyah to the max, we then realize that we also don't know what state of the lover's is referred to in the first line-- if it's inexpressible, why so? Is it the usual wretchedness turned up to full volume, or might it be something else? Might the lover be entertaining, even if futilely, some visions of revenge or retaliation? Is the tone beseeching, sarcastic, objective, wry, reassuring, desperate, hostile?

And what exactly is the logical (or emotional) connection between the two imperatives? Given the complexity and multivalence of the relationship between the lover and the beloved in the ghazal world, all kinds of connections are possible. The verse is framed so cleverly that the two parallel injunctions-- don't ask about me; do look at my view of you-- vary together across an almost unlimited range of possible readings, and leave us completely unable to 'fix' any one reading for the verse.

That being said, I have my own favorite reading, and while it's just one member of an indefinitely large set, I want to lay it out here for sheer pleasure. My reading takes careful note of the two intimate imperatives that frame the lines: the beloved is abruptly commanded, 'don't do this, do that'. No attempt is made to soften the commands, or to put them in any kind of context, or to placate her in any way. So perhaps there's indeed an element of (playful?) threat implied. The person who's 'in front' may be at a disadvantage, unable to see what's behind his or her back; the person who's behind may be in a position of power.

In the ghazal world, the lover is often hard put to come up with a threat sufficiently ominous to have any meaning to the indifferent, or even actively hostile, beloved. But in the larger world of lyric poetry, the threat/promise of the lover/poet's power is very clear. Shakespeare's sonnets return again and again to this theme (see for example 18, 19, 55, 60, 81, 107). Sonnet 63 spells it all out:

Against my love shall be, as I am now,
With Time's injurious hand crush'd and o'er-worn;
When hours have drain'd his blood and fill'd his brow
With lines and wrinkles; when his youthful morn
Hath travell'd on to age's steepy night,
And all those beauties whereof now he's king
Are vanishing or vanish'd out of sight,
Stealing away the treasure of his spring;
For such a time do I now fortify
Against confounding age's cruel knife,
That he shall never cut from memory
My sweet love's beauty, though my lover's life:
His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
And they shall live, and he in them still green.

Thus the poet says to the beloved, in threat and promise: be good to me, because your beauty is brief, doomed, and decaying; remember that I can make your brief moment of beauty immortal-- or not, just as I choose. In short, 'don't worry about how I look to you, worry about how you look to me'. Ghalib's verse can easily be read as alluding-- in an understated but similarly ominous way-- to exactly this threat/promise. For another such allusion, see {148,1}: 'my madness is your fame, indeed'.

The verse also offers some well-constructed wordplay. If what you're not to 'ask about' is, appropriately, a 'situation', then what you're to 'look at' is, literally, a visible 'color' (and only by extension a 'mood' or 'aspect'). The first line is also framed by the distinctive paired sound effects of puucch and piichhe .

Above all, there are the word-plays and meaning-plays and sound effects of meraa tire piichhe versus teraa mire aage . Having memorized and recited this verse myself, and having taught it to generations of students, I can testify that there's a strong tendency to confusion at the ends of both lines. The semantics make it harder, not easier: you have to simply wrestle the verse into your memory by brute force, through multiple repetitions. Surely this entanglement of you and me, behind and before, points also to a kind of multiple-mirror effect. Between lover and beloved, is it really so clear who's in fact doing what to whom?

For more 'you and I' verses, see {71,2}.