Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ghalib sets off for Mount Sinai

This week, Ghalib at his irreverent best.


kyaa far.z hai kih sab ko mile ek-saa javaab
aa))o nah ham bhii sair kare;N koh-e :tuur kii

1a) is there an assumption/obligation that all would get a similar answer?
1b) what assumption/obligation is there that all would get a similar answer?
1c) what an assumption it is-- that all would get a similar Linkanswer!

2) come on, won't you? let's even/also us take a stroll around Mount Tur

Click here for translations and commentary on The Desertful of Roses. Parallel commentary on The South Asian Idea.

This verse is impossible to interpret until we understand the significance of Mount Sinai (koh-e-tuur). As many readers will be aware this is the mountain on which Moses goes in order to ask God for an appearance, so that his people would believe that Moses was truly a prophet. The answer (jawaab) that Moses receives is "No! You cannot behold the radiance of God." (I am not sure what the exact words are according to the Quran. I am giving the gist here). There follows a bolt of divine lightning which burns the mountain and strikes Moses down.

Now for Ghalib's take on this story. Frances Pritchett, who offers us the translations above, calls this verse "mischievous." We could call it downright cheeky and insolent (gustaaKh). Why so? There are multiple reasons for it. First, taking the verse as a whole there is the basic premise: "it is not necessary/why is it necessary that everyone should receive the same answer (No!)? Come let us try our own luck, who knows maybe we will be graced by the vision that was denied Moses." This is already a cheeky proposition. But the way it is made, as Pritchett notes, is even better. Ghalib uses the expression "sair karna," i.e. to take a stroll. So we are not setting out determined or prepared or afraid or any such thing. We are just out for a stroll and we will see if we might not get a glimpse of God.

As the parallel commentary on The South Asian Idea notes, we see in the two lines a link to tradition (via the symbolism of Mount Sinai) and to modernity (via the questioning of received wisdom). The questioning is effected via the clever use of "kyaa" which as the translation above shows is compatible with a few different readings. A derisive reading, "as if everyone would get the same answer, what a thought!" or a more innocent question "what is the necessity of everyone getting the same answer?"

Finally let talk about the structural properties of the verse itself. As always, the suspense is withheld till the last minute. We don't get the full import of the verse, or indeed in this case, we do not understand anything specific about what is being said until we hear the rhyme word, tuur. Fran Pritchett makes this point very well. Next, commentators of this verse have also noted the use of the very colloquial "aao nah" which we use in contemporary language as an expression of familiarity. If fact all the words used are of a simple nature. The power of the verse lies in the bringing together of simple words and sentiments with the complex valences associated with a significant event (Moses going to Sinai).

From the point of view of theme-creation (mazmuN afiirnii) I wonder if one can point to a novel theme being generated here to do with "cosmic sawaal-jawaab" the questions posed by humans and answers given by life. This theme would be a sort of variation on the more traditional sawaal-jawaab between the lover and the beloved in which also the lover repeatedly asks the question only to receive the predictable answer (No!). Perhaps readers who know more poetry would know of a precedence for this "cosmic sawaal-jawaab" theme.

1 comment:

  1. hello..
    i follow ur blog.
    nice post..this one..infact all were brilliant. ghalib's satire blended with unorthodox appeal to tradition creates tremendous aesthetic experience. after reading ghalib one wonders: ab woh ranaai- e khayaal kahaan!