Ghazal 219, Verse 1


hazaaro;N ;xvaahishe;N aisii kih har ;xvaahish pah dam nikle
bahut nikle mire armaan lekin phir bhii kam nikle

1) all the thousands of longings are such that over every longing {I would die / the breath would 'emerge'}

2) many of my wishes were fulfilled-- but still, few were fulfilled

2a) many of my wishes/regrets 'emerged'-- but still, few 'emerged'
2b) my wishes/regrets 'emerged' as many-- but still, they 'emerged' as few
2c) my wishes/regrets turned out to be many-- but still, they turned out to be few


nikalnaa : 'To be pulled or drawn out, to be taken out; to be expressed;... --to be deduced; --to be produced; to be invented; --to be hatched (eggs); --to be performed, or accomplished, or effected; --to be worked out, be solved; --to come out or forth, to issue, to emerge; to appear; to rise (as the sun);... --to find vent; to find utterance, to be uttered; --to go away, to depart, to proceed; to pass away (as life, or time); to secede; --to get out, to escape; to slink away, to give (one) the slip; to break loose'. (Platts p.1149)


armaan : 'Wish, desire, inclination; longing; eagerness; hope; --regret, grief, sorrow; vexation; contrition, remorse; anguish of repentance; ... armaan nikalnaa : To be satisfied, or gratified'. (Platts p.41)


[1858:] Brother Shihab ud-Din Khan, for the Lord's sake, what have you and Hakim Ghulam Najaf Khan done to my divan?! These verses that you've sent-- the Lord knows what son of a bitch [vald al-zanaa] has inserted them! The divan has been printed. If these verses are in the text, then they're mine; and if they're in the margins, then they're not mine. In short, even if these verses would be found in the text, then consider that some accursed prostituter-of-his-wife [zan-jalab] has scratched out the real poetry and and written in this trash. In short, whatever scoundrel is the author of these verses, curses on his father and his grandfather and his great-grandfather, back to the seventh generation of the bastards [vald al-;haraam]! More than this, what can I write?
==Urdu text: Khaliq Anjum vol. 2, p. 694


[1859:] Someone recited this opening-verse before me, and said, 'Your honor, what a fine opening-verse you've composed:

asad us jafaa par buto;N se vafaa kii
mire sher shaabaash ra;hmat ;xudaa kii

[Asad, despite that tyranny, you were faithful to idols--
my lion, bravo! the Lord's mercy be upon you!]'

I said this to him: 'If this opening-verse would be mine, then a curse be upon me!' The fact is that a person has gone around calling himself Mir Amani 'Asad'. This opening-verse and this ghazal are from his revered and honored poetry, and are recorded as such in anthologies [tazkirah]. For three or four years at the beginning I used the pen-name of Asad, otherwise I've been using only 'Ghalib'. And don't you look also at the style of the writing [:tarz-e ta;hriir], and the path of the thought [ravish-e fikr]? My poetry-- and so 'ornamented, varnished, deceitful' [muza;xraf]! This story is at an end.
==Urdu text: Khaliq Anjum, vol. 1, pp. 1072-73
==Urdu text of Hali's version: pp. 115-16 in Hali, Yadgar-e Ghalib


[In an 1865 letter, he cites {219,1}: {70,3}.]


For breath to leave at a longing, is to hasten to fulfill it. Accordingly he says, Why does the breath leave, or why do you go on dying? That is, why are you in such a hurry? In the first line, because of the constraints of the situation, the words 'remain in the heart' ought to be understood to be there. The rest of the meaning of the verse is clear.
==Urdu text: p. 164 in Hali, Yadgar-e Ghalib


The gist is that however many wishes are fulfilled, more than that many are created. Rather than this, it's better that one would renounce longings beforehand. A glimmer of this lofty theme shows itself in this verse, and this is the reason for the excellence of the verse. (249)

== Nazm page 249

Bekhud Mohani:

In my heart are all the thousands of longings, and the longings too are such that their price is life. That is, every single longing is such that if in order to achieve it it would be necessary to give one's life, then there's be no harm/loss.... thus for even one such longing to be fulfilled would be equal to the fulfillment of many longings....

[Disagreeing with Nazm:] This is not the meaning of the verse. (449-50)


This ghazal too was for the royal mushairah, and was printed in the 'Dihli Urdu Akhbar' of 19 June 1853, with other ghazals. (334)



Here's one of the brilliant and famous verses of the divan, the kind that is known by anybody who knows any Ghalib at all.

The verse plays enjoyably with the common verb nikalnaa , 'to come out, to emerge'. In the first line, the usage is relatively straightforward: the breath would 'emerge' from the body, in death. The speaker's longings are such that he would die for every one of them, or die over them, or die at the very thought of them, or die to have them fulfilled, or die in the process of their fulfillment-- but in any case, he'd die.

The use of hazaaro;N emphasizes the inclusiveness: not just 'thousands of longings', but 'all the thousands of longings', every longing he's got. It's the same difference as between 'two' [do] and 'two out of two', or 'both' [dono;N], and 'all three' [tiino;N], so on. The longings may be all those thousands, but the breath is one, so nikle is clearly a singular subjunctive.

When we come to the second line, however, the seemingly repeated nikle is cleverly, and enjoyably, different, for it has now morphed into a masculine plural perfect form: many of my longings 'emerged' (or the longings 'emerged' as many), but nevertheless few of them 'emerged' (or they 'emerged' as few). And here, the many idiomatic senses of the remarkably fertile and colloquially productive nikalnaa come into play; see the definition above for the full range of possibilities. For longings to 'emerge' can mean, among other, things:

=to appear, to be produced (to 'emerge' from nonexistence into existence)
=to be expressed or uttered (to 'emerge' from silence into speech)
=to be accomplished or effected (to 'emerge' from hope into fulfillment); see {6,4})
=to go away, to depart (to 'emerge' from their previous dwelling and move on)
=to turn out to be, to be discovered or revealed as (to 'emerge' from unclearness into full comprehensibility)

Isn't this mind-boggling? Really, what else could happen to a longing (or regret), other than to appear, and/or to be expressed, and/or to be accomplished, and/or to disappear? It might of course also be thwarted or denied-- which can be conveyed in the idea that the above-mentioned things happened to only 'a few' of the longings. Or perhaps the longings don't act at all, but are acted upon, as in (2c)-- they are discovered (by someone) to be something, they 'turn out' (a parallel usage in English) to be something.

The above had all been written before a fruitful discussion with Sean Pue, who pointed out (May 2015) that if we adopt the idiomatic sense of armaan nikalnaa (see the definition above) as 'to be satisfied, or gratified', then the second line would be much simplified, as is shown in translation (2). This seems quite a legitimate and useful point. Yet to my mind, the other multivalent possibilities (2a, 2b, 2c) still definitely hover around, and the penumbra of their presence enhances the verse.

Because of the complexity and enjoyableness of the refrain nikle , in this ghazal I've tried to keep it visible at the end of every line in my translation. One more sense emerges in other verses that isn't available in the present verse: that of 'to come out', the way one would 'emerge' from a building or an enclosed place; for examples, see {219,3}, {219,5}, {219,7}, {219,9}.

Ah, the rewards of fame: *the CEO of Microsoft (mis)quotes this verse (2016)*. And then a reporter *misquotes his misquotation*.

AN APOCRYPHAL VERSE: Over the course of time, this ghazal has come to have often attached to it an extremely well-known and popular apocryphal verse. I'm not sure how old the verse is, but the minimum figure is several decades, as I know from personal experience. Here's the verse:

;xudaa ke vaas:te pardah nah ka((bah se u;Thaa vaa((i:z
kahii;N aisaa nah ho yaa;N bhii vuhii kaafir .sanam nikle

[for the Lord's sake, don't lift the curtain from the Ka'bah, Preacher!
may it not somehow be that here too that same infidel idol would emerge]

Please note: this verse is NOT by Ghalib. Even if you have heard it recited as such, even if in your heart you think it is, it's just not. Ghalib published his own divan four times, and we do know what he composed, and this verse is not his. For a REAL Ghalibian verse on the same theme as this apocryphal one, see the incomparably more subtle and sophisticated {231,6}.

In fact I think Ghalib would have shuddered at the thought of having this verse attached to his name; see the two letters quoted above in which he fiercely repudiates other (second-rate) verses that had been wrongly attributed to him. In the first letter he indulges in obscene personal abuse of the offender who tampered with his poetry; in the second letter he reproachfully asks his friend Aram to look, in making such judgments, at the 'style of the writing' and the 'path of the thought'. (Another such anxious and distressed letter: {193,1}.) Elsewhere he also passionately insists that his own poetry is in no way derived from that of others (see {119,7}).

Nevertheless, many people do think the verse is Ghalib's, and they like it, and they want it to be his. People sometimes give me suspicious stares, or even quite dirty looks, if I say it's not. Jagjit Singh includes it in his sung versions for 'Mirza Ghalib'. One modern commentator, Yusuf Salim Chishti, not only inserts it into the ghazal (as the penultimate verse) without question, but actually discusses it at unusual length and considers it 'the high point of the ghazal and one of Ghalib's best verses' (p. 815).

The case of Ghulam Rasul Mihr is more complex, for he quite properly comments only on the standard nine verses. But someone (maybe a helpful calligrapher?) has inserted two extra verses into the ghazal as calligraphed (p. 695) in his commentary: this apocryphal verse appears as the penultimate verse; and right before it appears the one verse of {219} that Ghalib did compose but chose not to publish in his divan (for more on such unpublished verses, see {4,8x}). Just for the record, here's that one deliberately-omitted verse, which originally appeared in the manuscript version as an extra opening-verse preceding the present {219,1} (Raza p. 326):

zaraa kar zor siine par kih tiir-e pur-sitam nikle
jo vuh nikle to dil nikle jo dil nikle to dam nikle

[please just put a bit of pressure on my breast, so that the tyranny-filled arrow would emerge
if that would emerge, then the heart would emerge; if the heart would emerge, then the breath/life would emerge].

It's not surprising that Ghalib omitted it; some of his unpublished verses are masterful, but this isn't one of them.

Anyway, let's take a moment to return to the implications of the Case of the Apocryphal Verse. There's one more such widely quoted apocryphal verse that I know of: for discussion of it, see {6,1}. And here's a related, though more minor, instance: a Pakistani stamp that misquotes a verse (see {43,3}). (As another case study, some famous verses wrongly attributed to Zafar are discussed in {49,5}; and a fake Persian 'Amir Khusrau' verse, along with other Mirian fakes, is discussed in M{324,1}.)

Taimoor Shahid has provided (May 2013) another even more striking example-- a whole apocryphal ghazal:

He attests to the great popularity and longstanding currency of this ghazal; as you can see on youtube, it's actually been sung by Noor Jehan. (To do her justice, she at least sings the refrain as kiije , which scans, rather than kiiji))e , which doesn't.) But no matter how many singers sing it or reciters recite it, it is just NOT by Ghalib. Here's another example that includes outrageously implausible verses attributed to Ghalib and Iqbal both-- but people are lovingly presenting these in answer to the question, 'What is the best two-liner that you know?'.

In all these cases, people obviously trusted their own knowledge (or memory) of the verses through oral circulation-- trusted it so implicitly that they felt no need to check the verses in a real divan. One could certainly call this carelessness or sloppiness. But isn't it also kind of a perverse compliment to Ghalib, that people are so sure they know his poetry by heart-- even when they don't? They feel possessive about him, as English speakers do about Shakespeare-- even when, in both cases, they mostly don't read him very much, or very carefully. Ghalib might even be somewhat pleased by this admiring cultural embrace.

But if it's an embrace that's merely warm and fuzzy, and doesn't include serious attention to the poetry on which he so prided himself, how deep would his pleasure be? Just think of all the energy that went into buying, clearing out, and setting up for visitors (part of) the last rented haveli that Ghalib lived in-- and then after all that, there was nothing of his to put into it, so it's a mere shell with only some calligraphed verses on the walls, and a wax model of Ghalib, sitting behind glass in a niche, engaged in composition. (Recently I was told that since my visit that wax model has been removed.) Really Ghalib has left us almost nothing except his poetry and his letters. To be represented primarily by his poetry, and secondarily by his letters, is a fate that he would gladly, even eagerly, accept. But he would certainly demand to be represented only by his OWN poetry, and he would HATE to have the second-rate verses of others foisted upon him. In fact he would hate to have even the first-rate verses of others foisted upon him; for discussion of his insistence on self-reliance at all costs, see {9,1}.

Ghalib's last, rented haveli, as it looked when I visited in 2005:


Reported by the Economic Times, Jan. 18, 2017: At a company event in India, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, revealed that the twin passions in his life are poetry and computer science. Perhaps the audience half-expected him to quote a few lines by a famous American or British poet at that point. But what came next was a complete surprise. In a heavily accented voice, Naella quoted the noted 19th century poet, Mirza Ghalib: 

"Hazaaron khwaishein aisi ho, ke har khwaish pe dum nikle, Bahut nikle mere armaan, fir bhi kam nikle."