Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ghalib: In captivity I retain the power of flight

After a longish break, we are back with Ghalib. This time we have selected a verse remarkable for its simplicity and its power.

huu;N giriftaar-e ulfat-e .sayyaad
varnah baaqii hai :taaqat-e parvaaz

1) I am captured/captivated by love/affection of the Hunter
2) otherwise, strength for flight is still left

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

Before we get to interpretations, a note on the construction of the verse. As we have seen on this blog before, and as Fran Pritchett often points out in her commentaries, the positioning of the lines and words usually are the result of great thought. We see that at work here. Upon hearing the first line, our first thought might be that the poet is going to tell us what happens to him in this state of captivity. Perhaps some lament on his helplessness or something about how enjoyable this bondage of love is, etc. But Ghalib delivers a completely contrary idea. The lover is thinking of flying away! What heresy! And yet, not really, because does he actually fly away? Of course not. But "I am just saying, I could fly, I retain the power of flight...I am just saying..." And via the skillful use of parvaaz, the metaphor of ensarement and hunting is complete.

Coming t0 the interpretations, they turn on who the "sayyaad" (hunter) is in this story. The simplest reading is the earthly beloved, the beuatiful one who has ensnared the lover in her love. So despite having the physical strenght to get up and walk away from it all, the lover is simply unable to do so. Anyone who has experienced romantic love will know what this is about. Moving on and enlarging the scop;e of our reading, the Hunter can be, as Nazm and Josh both read it, "wordly relationships." So here, the trappings of the maerial world ensanre and bind us in captivity "lovingly." We have it within us (as humans) to escape these bonds and to be free, but the attachment (ulfat) to the world and its attractions keeps us unfree. In this reading it is a simple lament of one who has discovered the transience or ephemeral nature of the world and yet lacks the capacity to trascend it. A typically Ghalibian moment. Awareness without trascendence. Knowledge without action.

A few other readings are possible. If the hunter is not the earthly beloved but rather the Divine Beloved of Sufi thought, then the verse says: I am ensnared in the love of the Absolute/God. That is why I remain a Believer. Otherwise I retain the power to fly (or in this case "to doubt"). This reading doesn't sit too well with the general Sufi inclination of Ghalib's thought, but on the other hand it fits right in with his impish sense of humor. It says, look I have the power to break free of the bondage of your love, O Divine One, but your love keeps me here. For anyone other than Ghalib I would not suggest such as reading!

Finally, more in keeping with the socio-political dimensions of our project, the hunter can be our beloved leaders, politicians, even institutions in our society who are objects of our affection and who keep us from being free. For more along these lines see the post on The South Asian Idea.