Ghazal 223, Verse 1


aamad-e sailaab-e :tuufaan-e .sadaa-e aab hai
naqsh-e paa jo kaan me;N rakhtaa hai u;Nglii jaadah se

1) there is the coming of the flood of the typhoon of the sound/voice of water
2) {when / in that} the footprint puts a finger in its ear, by means of the path



To tell the truth, this verse is meaningless, and for this reason is excluded from commentary. But in length [of commentary], there is great scope. First this simile has come into the author's mind: that the trace of a foot on a path is like a finger that has been inserted into the ear. Then, in 'joining lines', he has intended to express the reason for it: that the footprint has inserted the finger of the path into its ear-- what's the reason for this? He expresses this reason: that it is fearful of the sound/voice of the flood. And what is the voice/sound from? Water. But where did the water come from? There's no information about this.... where did the water come from, and why does a typhoon arise from it-- there's no mention of this.

We should understand it this way: that the poet is mentioning the spring season, everything is overflowing with verdure and fertility, and torrents of rain are falling. Every footprint, hearing the typhoon of the sound of water, is fearful of the coming of the flood; and its fear is that when the flood comes, it will obliterate the footprint. From this the meaning emerges that everything in the world feels anxiety about oblivion that pricks like a thorn. But the truth is that this meaning only emerges when it's expressed in these words [of mine].

The other point of discussion about this verse is with regard to the rhyme. [An extensive technical discussion is provided: the argument is that jaadah would, in pronunciation, go oblique like a marked noun before the postposition, and thus wouldn't rhyme with baadah in {223,2} which would not go oblique because the object of the postposition is mauj instead.] (251-53)

== Nazm page 251; Nazm page 252; Nazm page 253

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, everything in the world has a pricking anxiety about oblivion. Therefore even/also the footprint lies there with the fingers of the pathway placed in its ears. It too has conceived a fear that a flood might come; it doesn't want to hear the sound of the torrents. Thus it has put its fingers in its ears, and considers that in the spring season the rain will pour down and obliterate it. (310)

Bekhud Mohani:

[Taking issue with Nazm's criticism:] It's well established that every footprint will be obliterated by a flood. Seeing a footprint on a road manifestly bears witness to this. The phrase 'typhoon of the sound of water' itself tells us that the signs of the coming of the flood are apparent. The sound of the water is entering the ears. Everyone knows that neither does the path provide a finger in the ears, nor does it fear oblivion. These are all poetic personifications [jaa;N aafiriiniyaa;N]. The poet has heard the sound of the swelling waters. When he has himself felt fear, then to him everything begins to seem anxious. When his glance fell on the path, then the thought came to him that it too, hearing the typhoon-turmoil sound of the waters, has felt fear and has stuck its fingers in its ears.

Now he [=Nazm] asks where the water came from. It must have come, in whatever way it could come, from one of those places where water, heaving and roiling, comes from. It's possible that it would be the rainy season, that it might be rain-water. It might be water from a waterfall. It might be water from a rising river/sea. The verse doesn't tell us what kind of water it is. Rather, it recounts an event: that a flood is coming. The words, and the footprint, are in a state such that the meaning toward which the verse would take us, is that very meaning. In addition to this, if consideration would be given to the metaphor, then too the verse gives meaning....

When after asking where the water came from he says, why is a typhoon created by its sound? -- it's obvious that not to speak of a river/sea and a waterfall, when channeled water falls, then the sound of the water falling from the full channels begins to seem like a nearby typhoon. The truth is that the meaning is clear. If anyone would try to complicate it, then that's a deliberate forcing. (456-57)


ROAD: {10,12}

The argument between Nazm and Bekhud Mohani is particularly enjoyable in the case of this verse. This is only one of the set of verses that Nazm declares to be 'meaningless'; for others, see {1,1}. He's being cranky; but then, this verse might make anybody feel exasperated.

For Nazm, the verse begins with a literary inspiration (the idea that the path resembles a finger in an ear), and then develops as the poet tries to justify or explain such an unlikely image. For Bekhud Mohani, the verse begins with the poet walking along a path, hearing the sound of onrushing flood-waters, feeling afraid, and projecting his own feelings onto everything around him. Nazm's view is the classic ghazal one (poetry is made from creative play with poetic materials), while Bekhud is expressing the 'natural poetry' view (poetry is made from actual experience). I won't bother to reiterate all the reasons that Nazm is right about this one.

Nazm then goes on to criticize the verse for not providing a 'cause' or 'proof' of the coming of flood-waters, and of their resembling a typhoon. It's true that in the context of this verse they're entirely unmotivated-- unlike, say, {111,16}, in which they have a clear source that's integral to the structure of the verse. Bekhud defends the verse against this charge by offering an impatient list of places that we all know rushing waters could come from, and pointing out that we all know that rushing waters are sometimes quite loud. Bekhud's argument ad hominem may or may not be persuasive, but I want to offer another defense.

My argument is based on the structure of the first line-- it is meant to rush on like a sudden torrent, unstoppably. It has four i.zaafat constructions in a row, which is a fairly large number even for Ghalib. All four are carefully marked by Arshi; three of the four are metrically compulsory anyway. The only one that's metrically optional is the second one. If we were to break the line there by omitting that one, the line would read 'The coming of the flood is a typhoon of the sound/voice of water'-- a result much more coherent, more 'normal'-- and more humdrum. By contrast, the actual line is torrential, overwhelming in a kind of linear way, like waves of water rushing down a channel.

The first line thus works to bludgeon us with a sort of onrush of entities, one after the other, like waves rolling in. And the little 'is' tells us nothing really about what's going on, except that it's happening right before our eyes-- or rather, ears. So one could defend the unjustifiedness, the ungroundedness, of the flood by saying that its inexplicability, its overwhelmingness, is part of what the verse is about. The flood is suddenly just there-- and about to run, unstoppably, right over us.

After such an intriguing, piquant first line, however, the second is really awful. The main problem is that the 'objective correlative' simply doesn't work. There's just no way that a (personified?) footprint can be imagined as using a 'path' as an earplug or finger in the ear. The worst thing is the size ratio: a finger is much smaller than an ear, whereas a footprint is exceedingly tiny compared to a path. Talk about bizarre! I actually consider this verse a case of 'grotesquerie'. Of course, it may be argued that we're not really supposed to think of a path inserted into the ear of a footprint. But if we're not supposed to take the imagery literally, then there's nothing to the verse at all; it just falls apart into vague fragments.

Compare it for example with the previous verse, {222,1}. In that one we have another very strange image: the lips of Jesus creating a breath that rocks a cradle in which dead lovers sleep. Yet that image, far from being grotesque, is evocative and poetically compelling. (How can I prove this? I can't, of course. As always, I can just report and analyze my own reaction to the verse.)

Or compare {15,10} and {58,9}, two other verses in which powerful, destructive floods are presented. In both cases the floods are unmotivated and unjustified; thus Nazm's criticism, if it were accepted, would have to apply to a number of verses. But how complex, how cleverly integrated, how poetically effective are the uses made of the floods in these two verses! The artificiality and unappealingness of the present verse stand out all the more vividly for the contrast.