Ghazal 212, Verse 3


kulfat-e afsurdagii ko ((aish-e be-taabii ;haraam
varnah dandaa;N dar dil afshurdan binaa-e ;xandah hai

1) to the vexation/distress of melancholy, the enjoyment/luxury of restlessness is forbidden
2) otherwise, {patient endurance / 'pressing of teeth into the heart'} is the foundation of a smile


dandaan bar dil afshurdan : 'To bear patiently'. (Steingass, p.537)


In the heart's state of sadness and melancholy and misery and wretchedness, it is forbidden for it to show restlessness and impatience. Otherwise, if he would become restless and chew up the heart, then all its wretchedness would depart.... In this verse, he has declared that in comparison to sadness, restlessness is enjoyment; that is, in sadness is such misery that compared to it, restlessness is enjoyment. (240-41)

== Nazm page 240; Nazm page 241

Bekhud Dihlavi:

The meaning is that melancholy of temperament is such a difficulty that in comparison to it restlessness and impatience have, so to speak, the status of enjoyment. (299)

Bekhud Mohani:

[Disagreeing with Nazm:] The dictionary meaning of dandaan dar dil afshurdan is to endure difficulties, not to chew up the heart. The Lord knows what Janab Tabataba'i is pleased to say! Then in the end to say that there's such misery in sadness that in comparison to it restlessness is enjoyment, is certainly an attractive thing, but between it and the author's meaning is a vast difference. The author says very clearly that to the vexation of sadness the enjoyment of restlessness is forbidden. That is, he (the author) is referring to the restlessness of passion or the stress and agitation of worldly affairs, which in reality are called 'life', and not saying that he considers restlessness better than sadness. (432)



The 'pressing of teeth into the heart' to mean 'enduring difficulties' is a wonderful idiom, and the fact that it's Persian rather than Urdu wouldn't have given Ghalib pause for even a moment. In English we have 'gritting the teeth', and also the idea of 'biting your lip' in an effort to maintain self-control in some difficult situation. Apparently Nazm doesn't know this idiom, which illustrates the riskiness of Ghalib's unabashed incorporation of Persian into the Urdu world.

But equally to the point, the physical shape of a row of teeth pressed into flesh is a semicircle, and thus the 'foundation of a smile'. It might also be the 'foundation of a smile' in a metaphorical sense as well: it might cause so much pain to the heart as to momentarily distract the lover from the greater suffering of passion, and thus cause him almost to 'smile' with relief.

Or perhaps, even more grimly, the only way the lover can imagine ever shaping a 'smile' is in this fashion: his 'smile' might be the objective correlative of his teeth pressed into his heart in gallant endurance and fake good cheer. The Spartan boy with the wolf eating his vitals under his clothing comes to mind. Also, think of 'clenching the teeth' and 'gritting the teeth' as similarly evocative in English.

And how bleak is the lover's state, how harsh the discipline of the 'religion of passion' [ma;zhab-e ((ishq], that even this much 'restlessness', the purely inward gesture of teeth pressed into the heart, is ;haraam to him! And how faithful a votary the lover is, who strictly enforces this discipline on himself. The resonance of afsurdagii (for the lover's general condition) and afshurdan (for the lover's 'pressing' of his teeth into his heart) adds to the effect.

What contrast is that varnah creating? The second line attributes to the speaker would would 'otherwise' be the makings of a smile. Why can't a (grim?) smile emerge? Several possibilities present themselves:

=the vexation of melancholy doesn't allow me to (appear to) enjoy my restlessness, by smiling
=the vexation of melancholy doesn't allow me to smile even at my own hopeless, morbid situation
=the vexation of melancholy doesn't allow me even to restlessly to press my teeth into my heart to help me endure the misery
=the vexation of melancholy doesn't allow me to smile for any reason at all; otherwise, in my heart-embedded teeth I have all the foundation there ever is for a smile

In this verse we can use the 'smile' in excellent, enjoyable, complexly satisfying ways. We can do with it all the things that we unfortunately can't do with the 'teeth' in {212,1}.