Ghazal 230, Verse 11


begaanagii-e ;xalq se bedil nah ho ;Gaalib
ko))ii nahii;N teraa to mirii jaan ;xudaa hai

1) don't be disheartened at the alienation/estrangement of people/'creation', Ghalib

2a) [if] you have no one, then, my life/spirit/self, there's the Lord
2b) you have no one-- you, my life/spirit/self, are the Lord


begaanagii : 'Strangeness, the being foreign or not domestic; estrangement; shyness'. (Platts p.210)


be-dil : 'Dissatisfied, displeased; heartless, dispirited, dejected, sad'. (Platts p.202)


jaan : ' The breath of life, vitality; life, spirit, soul, mind; self; animation, vigour, energy, force, stamina; the best part, the essence (of a thing)'. (Platts p.372)


;xudaa : 'Lit, 'Having his own law,' &c.; the Supreme Being, God; —lord, master, ruler, owner (chiefly in comp., e.g. naa;xudaa ): '. (Platts p.487)


That is, you have the Lord [;xudaa teraa hai]. And the idiom is only ;xudaa hai . (261)

== Nazm page 261

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, 'Oh Ghalib, why are you dismayed at people's inattentiveness? If in the world you have no supporter or helper, then so be it; after all, there's the Lord.' (317)

Bekhud Mohani:

While reading this verse, a picture of someone despairing and oppressed and rejected by his friends and ensnared in calamity begins to pass before the eyes-- someone to whom the angel of hope is giving comfort. (485-86)



This verse certainly has the impeccably pious and humble meaning that the commentators unite in giving it. But in the same simple, non-flashy phrases there's also a wonderful and very Ghalibian 'mischievousness' that invites the reader to go in another direction entirely.

For just look at the structure of the verse. The problem posed is that 'creation' [;xalq] is heedless or estranged. What the speaker really wanted was some kind of affiliation with his fellow creatures in the world. Plainly, he didn't get it. The first half of the second line makes that failure clear: 'you have no one'. A person in that dire situation will surely settle for almost any kind of consolation prize.

And sure enough, that's exactly what's on offer: 'if you have no one, then there's the Lord'. The desperate recipient of this offer would surely do well to accept it-- but he might roll his eyes, and sigh, and realize inwardly that it's a poor substitute for what he really wants. (Like the plot of a sitcom-- the heroine wants desperately to go out with someone exciting, but only her reliable old boring pal is available.) What a put-down for the Lord! He's to be chosen because he's available, because he's better than nothing. He's a gift horse, a freebie, a ;Ganiimat .The Creator becomes a last-ditch consolation prize, reluctantly accepted in lieu of his own creatures.

Moreover, is the Lord even available at all, is he truly attentive? Or is the lonely, solitary speaker just whistling in the dark? This verse always reminds me of Kent's words in 'King Lear' (Act II, Scene 2), 'Nothing almost sees miracles / But misery'. In Kent's words too is a bleakly elegant ambiguity: does 'almost' modify the subject ('almost nothing'), or does it modify the verb ('almost sees')? And since (almost) only 'Misery' can really (almost) see miracles, how much can we trust such an unreliable, desperate reporter?

Then to take such 'mischievousness' even a step further, there's the wild (2b), which reads not to but tuu . On this reading, the speaker's inner self, or spirit, or 'life', is being reminded of its true identity-- perhaps the way avatars of deities, in Indian story tradition, sometimes have to be reminded of theirs. The spirit shouldn't feel lonesome for want of human companionship; such solitude is only to be expected, for after all, it itself is a, or even the, 'Lord', who is unique, and therefore solitary by definition.

Now I don't want to argue that Ghalib 'meant' this reading; authorial intention is basically undiscoverable in principle, and certainly Ghalib equipped this verse with a much more persuasive and immediately obvious primary reading. But he also framed the verse in such a way that this secondary reading appears quite clearly and unforcedly possible. If someone like me can notice it, how could Ghalib not have noticed it? It can hardly fail to hover in the background of the verse. For another such 'hovering' case, see {95,1}; and for another example with seemingly sacrilegious possibilities, see {32,1}.

Here's an example from Mir, of a similar degree of mischievousness [{905,11}]:

u;Thte ho miir dair se to ka((be chal raho
ma;Gmuum kaahe ko ho tumhaare ;xudaa nahii;N

[if you get up from the temple, Mir, then go and stay in the Ka'bah
why are you sorrowful? --you don't have a Lord?!]