Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Lesser Known Ghalib(3): The Mirror of Imagination

The next installment in the series of lesser-known Ghalib verses follows. Click here for my other Ghalib posts. I thought I would pick a Farsi (Persian) verse this time. Ghalib wrote many more verses in Persian than he did in Urdu, though understandably, in India his Urdu divan is far more popular. The story goes that Ghalib himself considered his Farsi ghazals to be far superior to his Urdu ones. I don't know how true the story is, though his opinion seems reasonable for a time in which mastery of Farsi was considered superior to mastery of Urdu. But of course in classic Ghalib style, this opinion of his mentioned above, is subverted somewhat by his own Urdu verse:
jo kahe yeh ke rekhta kyunke ho rashk-e-farsi
gufta-e-Ghalib ek bar use padh ke suna, ke yun!

For the one who asks, how can rekhta (Urdu) be the envy of Persian
Recite to him just one, Ghalib's poetry and say, this is how!

Anyway, after that long preface, here is the verse that caught my eye.

غالب چو شخس و عکس در آینہ خیال

با خویشتن یکی و دوچار خودیم ما

Ghalib chu shaks o aks dar aainah-e-khayaal
ba khveshtan yaki o dochaar khudim ma

Ghalib, like the person and the image in the mirror of imagination
With ourselves we are one and we confront ourselves or
I with myself am one and I confront myself

Although the farsi "ma" is translated as "we", if Farsi like Urdu allows the first person plural to be used by individuals (as in "hum" and "hamara") then probably me and I would be better translations and would make it more effective.

This seems yet another instance of Ghalib's fascination with paradoxes and counter-intuitive assertions. If the first line is taken without any punctuation, he seems to be saying, I am one and yet I also confront myself (in my thoughts), just as a person confronts his image of himself in his own thoughts. Perhaps not too too interesting.

But if we add a comma between "aks" and "dar", then maybe it becomes a little more involved. Or at least then a persons' self-image in the mirror of his thoughts is being compared to his reflection (in a real mirror). A thing and its reflection are two different things, yet they are also the same thing, and if they were not "the same", they would not exist as different entities. Similarly, we ourselves and our mental image are two different things, they confront each other, and yet, they both exist because they are one. Another way to say this is, "if you are the person thinking about yourself then why should there be a confrontation/encounter? The answer is that its like a person and his reflection. Aren't they the same? Yes they are. Aren't they also confronting each other? Yes they are."

Any other takes on this?


  1. #

    Pasha | | | IP:

    yes, in Farsi as in Urdu, “we” can be understood as “i.”

    but in my opinion leaving it as “we” might be more effective. because “we” in this shi`r might be referring to either one of two sets of beings: 1) the individual and his/her reflection, or 2) the poet and his addressees. so “maa” already has more than one referent, and it might be best to bring it out by translating it as “we.”

    in the end there’s something untranslatable about “maa,” because the point is that, like the 30 birds (sii murGh) encountering the Simurgh in `Attar’s Mantiq al-tair, gazing into the mirror produces a state of hairat and indecision (as you note). there is no way to decide whether there is one person (man) or whether there are two (maa).

    btw, i would transliterate the verse using the majhul vowels, which i blogged about recently:

    it would be something like:

    Ghaalib cho shaKhs o `aks dar aa’iina-i Khayaal
    ba-Khveshtan yak-ii o do-caar-i Khvud-em maa

    i’m not 100% sure, but i believe it is “do-caar-i Khvud” rather than “do-caar Khvud.” note that in the second line he doesn’t say “with myself i am one,” but rather, addressing himself, “by yourself you are one. the image of the mirror highlights this convention in the maqta` of the poem wherein the poet speaks to himself, as though he were speaking to his own reflection, and therefore represents himself as already divided within himself. “Ghalib” alone is the you, while the “maa” is “me [the speaker] and Ghalib.”

    do-chaar shudan is for two to become four. that is, there are 2 eyes that meet another 2 eyes, making 4. i don’t know whether in Persian there are constructions like “ek do,” “do chaar” for indeterminate numbers, but if so, this would obviously add another dimension to the shi`r.

    lastly, consider that “Khayaal” may not be “imagination” or thought or self-reflection as we normally understand it. my guess is that Ghalib is referring to the Sufi idea of the `aalam-i Khayaal or imaginal world. the idea that beings in the phenomenal world are reflections of archetypes or identities (a`yaan) in the imaginal world is quite widespread.

    Mar 8, 4:03 PM — [ Edit | Delete | Unapprove | Approve | Spam

    Amit Basole | | | IP:

    For those who find this post and the reply of interest I am pasting below my exchange with Pasha on the verse and related matters.

    My reply:
    This really helps. And I like your argument for retaining the “we” in the translation and as well as the added dimension to khayaal..

    I am still confused though abt a couple of things. The version that I am looking at does say “dochaar” and not “dochaar-i” (its in nastaliq and there is no ye at the end, only the re). And going back to do-chaar shudan, I asked an Iranian I encountered, what do-chaar could mean here. And he said, it doesn’t seem to be do chaar as in 2-4 but dochaar (which the dictionary says can sometimes be written without the vao) as in “to encounter” or “to confront”, which makes better sense here I thought. Perhaps the later derives from the former etmologically, I do not know.

    Second, I thought Khveshtan means ourself and not yourself. So Khveshtan, Khvud-em and maa, are all forms of first person plural are they not? Or perhaps I don’t understand what you are saying. I agree that in the maqta context “yourself” would work nicely as you say, but then maqtas often also refer to the poet in the first person, as in
    Ishq ne Ghaalib nikamma kar diyaa
    Varna ham bhi aadmi the kaam ke


    Pasha responds:
    do-chaar does mean an encounter or confrontation, but it’s derived from the image of two eyes meeting two other eyes and becoming four, at least according to Steingass:

    it’s pretty clear that Ghalib knew about its etymology and recognized it as a particularly suitable word to use in the shi`r.

    the idea of do-chaar having a similar numeric meaning as it does in Urdu was speculation. if your Iranian friend says it doesn’t have that meaning, then it doesn’t. “do-chaar-i” was also an educated guess, and i’m not 100% sure whether there needs to be an izaafat at the end. izaafats are often left out in writing, but again, i don’t really know. what we need is a good dictionary.

    the reason i say that in the first part of the second misra` “Khveshtan” means “yourself” is because he says “ba Khveshtan yak-ii.” the “ii” is equivalent to “[tuu] hai,” so it means “[tuu] Khvud ek hai.” the other way to construe it would be to see it as a single word, “yakii,” which i’ve never seen and can’t find in Steingass. in modern Persian, “yakii” could also be “a one,” i.e. yak the indefinite ending. but in classical it would be “yak-e,” written with a baRii ye. if the edition you’re looking at is Iranian, then it might be indefinite, but given that it’s nastaliq, i assume that it’s South Asian, and they should know that the indefinite in classical Persian is “-e” and not “-ii.”

    btw, qawwalis are a great way to learn which words contain “ii” and which words have “e” (yaa-i majhuul) in classical Persian. i was just listening to Rizwan & Muazzam Mujahid Ali Khan’s “Man-am Khaak-i sar-i kuu-i Muhammad,” and they clearly pronounce the majhuul vowels in the 1st person plural of “to be,” for instance:

    mushtaaq-i aaftaab-i jamaal-i muhammad-em
    maa banda-i muhammad o aal-i muhammad-em


    My reply:
    You’ve probably seen the other post which confirms that the izaafat should be included as you suggested (dochaar-i-khvud). Though I confess that I don’t know how to translate the izaafat in this instance. Isn’t Khvud-em (we ourselves) the first person plural of Khvudam (I myself)? So dochaar-i-Khvud-em would be?

    And as for yaki, the edition I have is indeed South Asian (”Persian Ghazals of Ghalib” I forget the publisher) and spells it with the chhoti ye, like so:
    Of course the dictionary link above defines it as “one, somebody, a certain one”, but I assume thats because they are giving the meaning in modern Persian not classical. So then would you translate the second line as:

    You are one with yourself and we encounter ourself/each other


    Lastly, for that example you gave from the qawwali:

    mushtaaq-i aaftaab-i jamaal-i muhammad-em
    maa banda-i muhammad o aal-i muhammad-em

    The Nusrat version I have heard only sounds like

    mushtaaq-i aaftaab-i jamaal-i muhammad-e
    maa banda-i muhammad o aal-i muhammad-e

    I used to listen to that “e” in the end as a short form of “ast” as they mostly do in spoken Persian. But that used to sit strange, now I see that its actually first person and not third.


    Pasha responds:

    for those of us literate in Hindi-Urdu, qawwalis can provide the best education in Persian! and yes, i also much prefer the classical pronunciation. i am not a master of Persian myself, nor of Urdu for that matter. but i’ll tell you that the best way to translate Farsi is not to translate directly into English — translate into Urdu/Hindi first and you’ll get a much more correct sense of it.

    the addition of the izaafat to dochaar-i Khvud won’t change the meaning at all. so “dochaar-i Khvud-em” is still “we encounter/confront ourselves.” “em” = “[ham] hain” so a Persianate Urdu way of rendering it would be “[ham] dochaar-i Khvud hain.”

    with regard to “yakii,” note that Steingass gives it under the entry “yake” first of all, which means “one, somebody, a certain one.” don’t go by the Persian script that they have on the site for the dictionary: whoever created the site probably doesn’t know of the existence of baRii ye; that’s why you see a chhoTii ye there. further in the entry he does say that “yakii” (with chhoTii ye) means “Unity, oneness; concord, unanimity.” this is another possibility for the shi`r — “we are in concord with ourselves.” but “you are one with yourself” is what immediately comes to mind and is most plausible given the rest of the shi`r. it gives the shi`r good rabt given that Ghalib is talking to himself in the first misra`.

    so the second line, if we take the “-ii” as “[you] are,” is:

    “by yourself you are one, and we confront ourselves”

    but if “yakii buudan” means “to be of one mind,” as Steingass has it, then the shi`r could also mean:

    “we are of one mind with ourselves, and confront ourselves”

    without knowing too much about “yakii buudan,” i would think that the verse admits of both meanings, which is interesting. neither meaning is absurd, they both fit the general sense of the shi`r.

    regarding -em versus e, i’ve wondered about that myself. as i get to know classical Persian better and better, i increasingly imagine that the classical language didn’t have “e” for “ast” — “e” is really restricted to modern colloquial. but i’ve had the same misrecognitions in qawwalis. in one version of Haqq Ali by Nusrat, i seem to remember hearing:

    shaah-i mardaan e `alii
    laa fataa illaa `alii
    sher-i yazdaan e `alii


    Ali is the king of men,
    there is no knight except Ali,
    Ali is the lion of God.

    but knowing what i now know, i suspect that in fact what i was hearing was just a little false vowel (for the sake of meter) on the n’s, which is something you get very often in Persian and Urdu poetry.

  2. Ghalib's mirror is a rusty old shaving mirror- using which it is no longer possible to shave- inherited from Bedil's outdated 'taza gui' modernism.
    Hairat-e-aainah (bewilderment in the mirror) is just another thankless Scholasticism with which the bureaucratic Court poet had to touch base- like Environmentalism and 'Gender and Development' shite that a young I.A.S or I.F.S officer has to genuflect to when writing another meaningless Ministerial speech.
    Ghalib is making fun of this notion. He is showing its bankruptcy.
    Dard pronounced the canonical epitaph on this blind alley
    Har chand aaina hoon par itna hoon na qabool
    Munh pher lé voh jiské mujhé rubroo karen!
    (At every moment, a mirror, but I’m a mirror so much misbelieved
    Frame I whose-so-ever a face, it turns from me with such speed!)
    The game was over by then. Simurgh actually was Huma's shadow for the Colonial puppet King and as Zafar said
    'when nightingale returns not to garden bowers
    Who cares if Owl hoots or Huma hovers?"
    Ghalib's innovation w.r.t the exploded mirror symbol was
    Sach kahté ho- khud bin-o-khud aara hun, na kyoun hua
    BaiTa hai but-e-aaina seema meré aage!
    (Say I’m self-admiring, narcissistic, complacent, what have you
    But, the mirror is less polished than the idol I now view!)
    i.e the guy was trying to found a poetry on haecceity, on radical individual difference, not the usual Monistic shite.
    Incidentally, the point about Attar was that he worked to create a 'Work-fare' state in Nishapur. Bedil too hated mendicancy but ended up parroting the paranoid miserabilistic shehr ashubh special pleading of the socially engaged intellectuals of that period. Thus, Bedil was impotent. He complained that the white beards flourishing around him had actually acquired that colour by being dyed in semen- but that's as far as it went.
    That's why the whole tradition turned to shit. Go thou and do likewise. After all without your gobar- how we can stop reliance on fossil fuels? You shit more than you eat don't you? If not why this pretence that you are engaging with anything other than naked careerism- the project of becoming 'native informants'- the Fouad Ajamis of the next round of regime change?
    Sustainable development requires we all shit more than we eat.
    However, to achieve this we must have consciousness raising and Lokvidya sessions not just for the subaltern but also animals and plants. Wittgenstein said dream of philosophy is to shit higher than your arsehole.
    May God bless you in your enterprise- they also serve who just stand and hate.