Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ghalib: Paradise Lost and a Good Thing Too!

A wealth of Ghalib verses relate to theological or religious notions of the Godhead, of reward and punishment for good or bad behavior, of the nature of true worship, faith and so on. In our series we have seen several examples of these already. The question of the nature of God came up on The South Asian Idea and that prompts the latest post.

:taa((at me;N taa rahe nah mai-o-angabii;N kii laag
doza;x me;N ;Daal do ko))ii le kar bihisht ko

طاعت میں تا رہے نہ مے و انگبیں کی لاگ
دوزخ میں ڈال دو کوئ لے کر بہشت کو

ता'अत में ता रहे न मै ओ अन्गबीन की लाग
दोज़ख में दाल दो कोई ले कर बहिश्त को।

1) so that, in obedience/worship, the attachment/desire of wine and honey does not remain
2) take Paradise, and cast it into Hell

Click here for translation and commentary on Desertful of Roses.
Click here for the parallel entry on The South Asian Idea.

Platts Dictionary: Arabic اطاعت it̤āʻat [inf. n. iv of طوع 'to be or become submissive'], s.f. Obedience, submission, subjection, subordination, fealty, allegiance; observance; reverence, worship, homage; obsequiousness:—it̤āʻat karnā (-), To obey, do the bidding (of);

This verse is from a relatively short ghazal (118) consisting of only four verses. The brief length might be explained by the somewhat unusual rhyme scheme, "isht ko." It is a mischievous, even blasphemous verse. Paradise (bahisht) is famed as the land of flowing honey and wine. The preacher (shaikh, vaaiz) regularly demands obedience and worship from his followers by tempting them with the prospect of paradise. This of course rubs Ghalib the wrong way. Of what use is worship or obedience or submission to God (see above for the Platts entry on the word ta'at) if it is motivated out of a desire for such rewards? So Ghalib says: so that reverence and obedience are not obtained with wine and honey in mind, let us just take Paradise and cast it into Hell. Na rahe gaa baaNs, ne bajegi baaNsuri (a Hindi idiomatic expression, lit. neither the bamboo will remain, nor the flute make its sound, meaning to remove the root cause of some trouble).

The verse's content is shocking but not particularly profound. What makes it work is the chutzpah and the way it is constructed, as also the choice of words. First, as always notice that the first line does not give too much away. It simply makes a general proposition: we are going to do something such that worship is no longer tied to the promise of reward. The second line reveals the momentous nature of what we propose to do. It is fun to try and guess the informed listener's reaction as the verse is recited. As the first line is repeated a few times, our mind starts spinning, "what could be coming?" Then as the second line starts, "cast into hell..." initially it seems only a regular curse (in English "to hell with"). But since we have already h eard the first verse of this ghazal and therefore know the rhyme scheme, our mind is drawn to the word that both fulfills the rhyme scheme and offer a wonderful counter-point to "dozakh" (hell), and that word of course is bahisht (paradise). In a sudden "ah" moment we get the full impact of the verse. This is one of those verses which one gets the full meaning as soon as it is heard and understood.

Lastly the choice of words, once again Ghalib makes full use of Urdu's vocabulary which ranges from Arabic, via Persian to the Prakrit derived languages of the Subcontinent (the languages like braj, awadhi, hindvi that came together to form modern Hindi). So the wonderful word "laag" appears here. A very evocative word that conveys fondness, attachment, desire, the feeling of being entangled, all at once. It works perfectly here because it conveys exactly how attachment to earthly pleasures, which gets int the way of true worship, is simply transferred to heavenly pleasures. The fact of attachment remains and hence the obstruction to true worship also long as we don't do away with the whole notion of paradise. And not only should we do away with Paradise, Ghalib even tells us how we should do it- to hell with it! What excellent wordplay and contrast!

The conversation continues into more contemporary and socially relevant territory on The South Asian Idea.

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