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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Ghalib, Constable, Qureshi Sahib, Pritchett & I

This is another post triggered by Pamela Constable's essay Ahu and Me. The earlier post you have most likely not read is Nawwab & I: Pamela Constable's Ahu. [In Orwellistan you would have been reported to the Bureau of Latent Readers by now.]

Ahu, as she explained in her essay means 'deer' in Afghan Dari. It is pronounced daeri and refers to the dialects of Persian language spoken in Afghanistan.

When I read Ahu it triggered this part of a couplet, most probably by Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib - sar-panjah-e mizhgaan-e aahuu from somewhere deep in the recesses of memory vaults.

My late Ustaad Hifzul Kabir Qureshi had explained that verse in one of our weekly Ghlaib meetings. He was know as Toronto's Baba e Urdu, and in those early days his house was the magnet for all visiting scholars of Urdu. I had the privilege of sharing evenings with the likes of Ali Sardar Jafri, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Akhtar ul Iman, Ahmed Faraz, Wajida Tabassum, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Kaifi Azmi, Ralph Russel, Aziz Ahmed, Muhammed Omar Memon, Frances Pritchett, Shamsur Rehman Faruqi, Gopi Chand Narang, Carlo Coppola, Munibur Rehman, C M Naim, Annemarie Schimmel, Shan ul Haq Haqqi, Jagan Nath Azad, Bekul Utsahi, Jamiluddin Aali, Kishwar Nahid, Jon Elia, Wali Shaheen, Iftikhar Arif and Saqi Farooqui. And subsequently through them I met Malik Ram, Jeelani Bano, Maikash, Nida Fazli, Qurratul Ain Haider, Ismat Chughtai, Intezar Hussain, Enver Sajjad and many more.

Every Wednesday evening the seven of us would gather, come snow or rain, and read, discuss and try to interpret five or six couplets from Ghalib. Yes, those were the days! We brought our own limited insights and consulted sharahs (earlier interpretation by Ghalib scholars.) And tried to understand and sometimes reinterpret his couplets from our diverse backgrounds.

We were an eclectic bunch. Pandit H was a social worker, AC was an advertising executive, HS a newspaper editor, JN a nuclear scientist, TC (and M when she would join us) were house makers and yours truly. Each couplet was read, analysed and scrutinised enthusiatically under Qureshi Sahib's patient tutelage.

When Ahu triggered sar-panjah-e mizhgaan-e aahuu I tried to find the source on my own and failed. On an impulse I wrote to a lady I had met earlier at Qureshi Sahib's home. Prof. Frances Pritchett would know the source, my intuition told me.

So I fired off an email explaining my dilemma. In less than an hour I had received her succinct reply:"Here's the shi'r."

-- urdu script -- devanagari -- diacritics -- plain roman -- more information --


asad ham vuh junuu;N-jaulaa;N gadaa-e be-sar-o-paa hai;N
kih hai sar-panjah-e mizhgaan-e aahuu pusht-;xaar apnaa

1) Asad, we are such a madness-moving {helpless / head-and-foot-less} beggar
2) that the {comb/'head-claws'} of the deer's eyelashes is our back-scratcher

This was from Prof Frances Pritchett's labour of love.

*"A DESERTFUL OF ROSES: the Urdu Ghazals of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib" (in progress)
*"A GARDEN OF KASHMIR: the Ghazals of Mir Muhammad Taqi Mir" (in progress)
*Selections from published work, including work done in collaboration with S. R. Faruqi
*"Urdu Meter: A Practical Handbook"
*"The Dastan of Amir Hamzah"

Back to the Ghalib's couplet in FWP's words:

The poet chose to present this as an individual verse [fard], not part of a ghazal (as it originally was). The first line is an in-your-face paradox: 'I am such a (with vuh as a vigorously colloquial replacement for something like aisaa ) madly swift-moving, helpless-- literally, 'headless and footless'-- beggar'. The oral poetics of mushairah presentation then provide a delay, and several repetitions of the first line.

When (after suspense and curiosity have built up) the second line finally resolves the situation, even the knower of ghazal convention must stop and think a minute before both sides of the coin become properly unified. I am so madly fast a runner that I outrun even the deer, who races along behind me, breathing down my neck but unable to overtake me; thus I feel his eyelashes on my back. At the same time, I am so helpless, so hapless, so headless-and-footless a beggar that I am like the famous Majnun in the wilderness: the animals sympathize with me in my solitude and suffering. Since I am too weak to move, the deer comforts me by coming up to me and rubbing its nose on my body, and scratching my aching back with its eyelashes.

The impossibility of both these conditions existing at once, and the flagrant delight of the assertion that they do, is part of the exuberance and metaphysical wit of the Ghalibian ghazal. It is also an accurate representation of the heights and depths of passion. To be a lover is to be both hyperactive and helpless, both omnipotent and undone. The verse 'proves' its point with a perfect claim that works both ways.

It's also a perfectly brilliant mesh of interlocking wordplay. The commentators among them have done a good job of bringing it out, so I won't bother repeating it all.

Here's my long-ago attempt at a translation (1985).

If you had gone to the first link, you would have read the sharah interpretaion of this verse by Nazam Tabatabai, Vajid, Bekhud Dihlavi, Bekhud Mohani, Josh Malihabadi, Ghulam Rasul Meh'r, Chisthi and Shamshur Rehman Faruqi in English, and the original couplet in Urdu, Devanagri or Roman scripts.

There were occasions when unbeknownst to them these Ghalib scholars would agree on one interpretation, at other times they would disagree and yet other times they would add nuances to the interpretation of the ghazal or couplet.

Thanks for this trip down memoryville Pamela. And thanks FWP for the prompt response. If there is a reward in after life, you have earned it here with your labour of love.


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