Saturday, November 8, 2008

Ghalib: The Scream of Silence

kyuu;N nah chii;xuu;N kih yaad karte hai;N
mirii aavaaz gar nahii;N aatii

1) why would I not scream? for she/he/they call(s) me to mind
2) if my voice does not come

We have a classic Ghalibian mind-twister for this week. FWP has a lot of fun with the Catch-22 possibilities of this verse. Click here for her commentary.

In a nutshell, Ghalib confronts us with the following paradox: The unnamed party whose attention the poet wishes to attract only remembers the poet when he is silent. But when he is silent, no dialogue is possible. So he screams in agony but of course the screams go unheeded, because...well they only remember him when he is silent! In the traditional interpretation, the poet is the lover and the party being refered to is the beloved. But of course, as usual Ghalib exploits the ambiguities allowed by Urdu and chooses to omit the subject of the phrase "[he/she/they] remember." So the person(s) being refered to can be not only be the beloved, but perhaps the King or the powers-that-be in general, who usually ignore our protagonist's shouts and pleas. They remember him only when he falls silent. At which point, being silent, he is unable to state his case.

Coming to another recurring theme in this entries; Ghalib's use of Hindi/Urdu idioms. As FWP points out, "yaad karna" has a active meaning of calling into one's presence, not merely recalling to mind which might be expressed as "yaad aanaa." Notice the language of this verse. A very simply Hindustani vocabulary has been used to convey the witty (though not particularly profound) thought.

Politically, this is a very astute summary of the situation that the dispossessed and the marginalized find themselves in. Their screams (Ghalib uses the evocative word chii;x, چیخ which is used even today when referring to the cries of the poor) go unheeded routinely by their rulers. Silence on the other hand can prompt action. Because it can be a sign of more serious trouble brewing (either revolt or disaster).

On a lighter note, this verse also applies to baby-sitting. As anyone who has taken care of a baby knows, its when they go quiet that they are up to the most mischief!

In wittiness (of the Catch-22 paradoxical kind) this verse is equal to:

tire va((de par jiye ham to yih jaan jhuu;T jaanaa
kih ;xvushii se mar nah jaate agar i((tibaar hotaa

1) if we lived on your promise, then know this-- we knew [it to be] false
2) for would we not have died of happiness, if we had had trust/confidence [in it]?

So we are able to subsist on your promise only because we don't believe it. If we did believe in your promise (to come to us) then we would die of happiness!

As always be sure to check out the parallel commentary on this verse on The South Asian Idea.

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