Ghazal 218, Verse 1


rau;Ndii hu))ii hai kaukabah-e shahryaar kii
itraa))e kyuu;N nah ;xaak sar-e rahguzaar kii

1) it is in a state of having been trampled by the courtiers/runners of the King--
2) why would the dust at the edge/'head' of the road not {swagger / give itself airs}?!


rau;Ndnaa : 'To trample on, to tread down; to ride over; to crush; to lay waste, to destroy;--to tread out (corn)'. (Platts p.608)


kaukabah : 'A star (or stars) of gold, silver, or tinsel, &c. (worn as an ornament or insignia of rank)'. (Platts p.863)


kaukabah : 'A polished steel ball suspended to a long pole and carried as an ensign before the king; a star of gold, silver, or tinsel, worn as ornament or sign of rank; a concourse of people; a royal train, retinue, cavalcade; splendour'. (Steingass p.1063)


itraanaa : 'To exult greatly or unduly (by reason of, - par , wealth, success, &c.); to behave with pride, or self-conceitedness, or boastfulness, or arrogance, or insolence; to give oneself airs (by reason of), to be conceited or vain or supercilious; to act affectedly or coquettishly; to strut, swagger, show off'. (Platts p.15)


kaukabah are those people who remain in the king's ardalii [from 'orderly': servants who run before the royal conveyance]. (249)

== Nazm page 249

Bekhud Dihlavi:

kaukabah are those royal servants who remain in the king's ardalii . Otherwise, the meaning of the verse is clear. (306)

Bekhud Mohani:

kaukabah are the royal servants, the people of the king's ardalii .... It's clear that if the King himself had emerged, what honor would have accrued to the earth-- at the passing of the King's entourage, the dust beside the road is swaggering.

Well-bred people don't address senior ones directly. For example, if they would want to say 'I had come to make my salaam to you', then they'll say, 'I had humbly attended to have audience, with the servants of loftiness'. With this in view, then the meaning will be that the auspicious King has passed by there, thus the earth is swaggering. (448)



Here is a verse of outright royal flattery; the next verse in this ghazal, {218,2}, is another such. (For others, check out some of the references to the King.) It's not the kind of verse we read Ghalib for. But still, its tank isn't quite empty either; there's a small amount of literary juice in it.

From the first line, we expect that something feminine will be humiliated, crushed, perhaps suffering. That something will of course be a noun, rather than a woman-- since the beloved, who is the only woman in the ghazal world (if she's in fact a woman at all), is always grammatically masculine. Under mushairah performance conditions, of course, we are made to wait as long as can conveniently be managed before we can hope to find out more of the story.

The second line is indeed, as Bekhud Dihlavi notes, clear in its meaning. But it's rendered less prosy and ho-hum by some enjoyable word- and meaning-play. For we know that dust is humble by definition, with usually nothing special about it; and the dust at the edge of the road has no claim to fame whatsoever. Moreover, that particular dust has just been 'trampled down' and 'crushed' and 'laid waste' by the King's entourage.

Thus it's all the more remarkable and amusing that this dust, far from complaining or groveling or suffering, engages in a kind of strutting or swaggering. And its attitude has a clever physical correlate: we notice that the dust in question is beside or, literally, by the 'head' [sar], of the roadway. For raising one's head is a classic idiomatic sign of pride or self-assertion: the meanings of sar-kash , literally 'head-pulling-up', include 'proud, arrogant, insolent' (Platts p.648); the meanings of sar u;Thaanaa , literally 'to raise the head', include 'to rise up; to look up; to exalt oneself' (Platts p.649). The behavior of the dust is paradoxical not only in an abstract sense (upon being humiliated, it gives itself airs), but in a literal, physical sense (upon being trampled down underfoot, it lifts up its head).

It's true that technically the 'head' doesn't belong to the dust, but to the side of the road. But the verse is so arranged that we can't help but make the strong association. Indeed, this association is a large part of whatever limited poetic pleasure the verse affords; and the fact that it's a do-it-yourself connection adds to the enjoyment. And there's also an 'elegance in assigning a cause' aspect-- next time we see a cloud of roadside dust floating up, or 'raising its head', or 'swaggering', after being trampled (and thus of course stirred up) by a procession, we'll know the real reason.

The commentators realize that their own readers won't know the word kaukabah , and they are careful to explain it. They follow Nazm in defining kaukabah as ardalii (used as a plural noun), which according to Platts is derived from the English 'orderly' (in the sense in which senior military officers have orderlies as messengers and servants). According to Platts, an ardalii is 'An orderly; a peon in regular attendance on an official; an attendant who runs before his master's conveyance' (p.40). An ardalii is thus a very humble functionary. This is quite a shift of nuance from kaukabah , with its overtones of grandeur and pageantry ('royal train, retinue, cavalcade; splendour'). Maybe it's also the shift from an imperially Persianized model of hierarchy to a (semi-militarized) colonial one?

Here (from wikimedia) is a truly enjoyable panorama of Bahadur Shah (Zafar) and his retinue (1843). Click on the image for a huge scan: