Ghazal 222, Verse 1


lab-e ((iis;aa kii junbish kartii hai gahvaarah-junbaanii
qiyaamat kushtah-e la((l-e butaa;N kaa ;xvaab-e sangii;N hai

1) the movement of the lip of Jesus does cradle-rocking

2a) Doomsday is a heavy dream/sleep of those slain by the ruby [lips] of idols
2b) the heavy sleep/dream of those slain by the ruby [lips] of idols is a Doomsday!


sangii;N : 'Stony, of stone, made of stone; hard; firm, solid; strong; thick, stout, close-woven; heavy, weighty; grave, serious; severe'. (Platts p.688)


What Doomsday-sleep must those slain by the ruby lips sleep, that far from being made alive by the lip of Jesus, their heedlessness increases, as if the lip of Jesus is for them a cradle-rocking. The cause of similitude is they always call the beloved's lip the 'Messiah'. (251)

== Nazm page 251

Bekhud Dihlavi:

The 'ruby of the idols' is the ruby lips of the idols. He says, 'What a Doomsday-sleep is the sleep of those slain by the ruby lips of the idols, that even the miracle of the lips of Jesus can't bring them to life!' When he says 'Live', then their sleep becomes deeper. (309)

Bekhud Mohani:

Mirza says that for those slain by the lip of the beloved, Doomsday is a deep dream, and the movement of the lips of Jesus is a cradle-rocking; that is, those who die for the lip of the beloved can neither be made to rise on Doomsday, nor brought to life by the lip of Jesus. (456)


DOOMSDAY: {10,11}
DREAMS: {3,3}
IDOL: {8,1}

In Islamic tradition, the movement of the lip of Jesus restores the dead to life. The exact mechanism seems to be that he says appropriate words, and breathes them over the dead person as he speaks them, and the effect is life-giving. (For an extreme example in which the process backfires, see {9,7}.) 'Cradle-rocking' is something that could (just barely imaginably) be done with the breath, and something that is likely to deepen the sleep of the one in the cradle.

Naturally we're eager to hear more about such remarkable behavior on Jesus's part. And naturally, in the mushairah performance environment, we're made to wait as long as is conveniently possible for the second line. But it's a second line worth waiting for. It answers some basic questions-- but only to tantalize us with new ones. The grammatical structure of the line, 'A is B', offers what I call symmetry: it can equally well be read as 'B is A'.

In this case, the 'B is A' meaning (2b) is exclamatory: the sleep of those slain by idols' lips is, metaphorically, a 'Doomsday'-- it's a disaster, a phenomenon, a devastating thing! As the commentators observe, the dead lovers' sleep is so deep that even the revivifying breath of Jesus not only can't wake them, but actually 'rocks the cradle' for them and deepens their sleep. Does Jesus try to waken them, and is he then surprised to find that he's failed? Or does he recognize that for some reason they have a special need of, or claim to, sleep-- so that he deliberately deepens their slumber? The speculation here is entirely up to us.

But it's the 'A is B' meaning (2a) that's irresistibly Ghalibian. In a milder sense it can mean that those slain by the idols' ruby lips simply sleep through the cataclysm of Doomsday: while everybody else 'arises' (the root of qiyaamat ) when summoned, these particular sleepers perhaps experience merely a confused and passing dream. But in a more radical sense it can mean that Doomsday itself is nothing but a dream or vision experienced by them. They are engaged in a deeper and more powerful 'passion play', in which they have been slain by the ruby lips of idols-- compared to the meaningfulness and potency of that experience, how significant can the lips of Jesus be, or even Doomsday itself? The breath of Jesus is reduced to a mere cradle-rocking breeze, and Doomsday itself to a mere dream or vision. (And the rest of us are then merely dream-figures in the mystical drama of these cosmically powerful lovers.)

There's also spectacular word- and meaning-play. Jesus as a Prophet in the first line is juxtaposed to the 'idols' in the second line. Both have lips of great power: Jesus has his revivifying lips, while the idols have killing lips. But it's not necessarily a direct face-off (sorry, sorry!) that the idols win, for it's possible that Jesus rocks the lovers' cradle deliberately, for reasons of his own. In addition, the idols have 'ruby' lips made of hard red gemstone, like petrified blood, and the sleep of those slain by them is literally 'stony'. The idols' ruby lips raise another question: are the lovers slain by the beauty of the lips themselves, or by the cruel, deadly words that emerge from them?

This is the kind of verse for which I love Ghalib so much. The first line is so arresting, so striking-- and yet, when you think about it, both so meaningful and so complex. Then the second line brings in possibilities that surround it and give it shape, while not only not resolving, but actually enhancing, its complexities. An excellent verse for comparison is the perhaps even more brilliant {61,7}.