Ghalib on quest, motion, and evolution – Journey 2

      November 24, 2013

Ghalib on Quest and Motion – Journey 2

key words: quest, motion

For those not familiar with Urdu ghazals, two pieces of information may be needed to appreciate this discussion. One is that a couplet of a ghazal (an abstract genre of Urdu poetry) is – theoretically and often practically as well – an independent entity and can be read in isolation of the rest of the ghazal (and poetry). Two, traditionally, ghazals of a poet are arranged as per the concluding letter of a couplet (as all couplets end with the same alphabet), in order of sequence of alphabets.

Around a decade ago, I started reading Ghalib casually using the standard book, where the ghazals were arranged as per the concluding letter of the verse – and drew a virtual blank, as the ghazals’ verses are abstract presentation of thought, and the use of symbolic language is the norm; and, to top it, Ghalib coined new symbols and used already prevalent ones in new senses; and not everywhere, a symbol is used in the same sense!

In my view, for a proper discussion on the study of Ghalib’s Urdu poetry, the format of a book is needed. An important reason is that most of Ghalib’s early poetry requires much greater intervention from the reader/ interpreter.

Ceaseless Quest, Motion and Evolution

O’ God, where the next step of longings is?
The desert of possibility, I found to be a footprint.
ہے کہاں تمنا کا دوسرا قدم یا رب ؟
ہم نے دشت امکاں کو ایک نقش پا پایا
है कहाँ तमन्ना का दूसरा क़दम या रब?
हम ने दश्त-ए इमकान् को एक नक़्श-ए पा पाया
hai kahaan tamannaa kaa doosraa qadam yaa rab?
ham ney dasht-e imkaan ko aek naqsh-e paa paayaa

The poet asks God where desires will take us next. And that is so because the poet discovers that whatsoever was once largely considered as conjured up by the imagination had already been concretized.

The poet is bewildered at humanity’s mind-boggling advancements. He wonders what more is in store. What lies in the realm of the future? The reason for such loud thinking is that what cannot be even contemplated by one generation, can be not only visualized but also translated into reality by succeeding generation(s). Just imagine that there was a time, only a few thousand years ago, when humanity did not even know how to produce fire; and during Ghalib’s time, mankind was entering the industrial age. The poet marvels at the ceaseless quest of humanity or motion in the philosophical parlance that has resulted in the world’s evolution.

O Lord, look at the lust for wandering in the wilderness that, after death,
Inside the shroud, my feet move by themselves.
الله رے ذوق دشت نوردی کہ بعد مرگ
ہلتے ہیں خود بخود مرے اندر کفن کے پانو
अल्लाह रे ज़ौक़-ए दश्त नवर्दी केह बाद-ए मर्ग
हिलते हैं ख़ुद बख़ुद मेरे अंदर कफ़न के पांव
allaah rey! zauq-e dasht-nawardee keh ba’d-e marg
hiltey hain khud ba-khud merey, andar kafan key paanw

The poet marvels at the lover’s passion for travelling in the desert, reflected by the automatic movement of his feet beneath the winding sheet containing his corpse.

What a wonderful hyperbole to represent extreme restlessness! Undoubtedly, Ghalib’s continual strivings to explore infinite Nature have yielded rich dividends in the form of exceptional poetry, which mankind continues to increasingly savour with passing time! This verse appears to be a particularised and hyperbolic expression of the spirit of inquiry that results in the manifestation described in the previous one.

  1. Althaf Hussain said:

    Dear Hasan,
    Having evolved through stone, agricultural, industrial to the current knowledge/information age, would a deep understanding of Ghalib’s poetry help humanity to move on to an ‘Age of wisdom’ in the near future ?
    Could our next step of longings be in that direction?
    Best regards,
    Althaf Hussain

    • Dear Althaf,
      Thanks for your interest and observation. I wish and hope that we move towards a society – better for all – as fast as we can. Ghalib’s poetry, perhaps, helps his partisans appreciate life better and deeply, beside providing enjoyment .

  2. Mohammad Zubair said:

    Dear Althaf,

    I wish but I do not think so. Though there are a numbers of books and websites on Ghalib, but rarely you see the deep insight into Ghalib thoughts as Hasan is doing on this website.


    • Dear Zubair, thanks for appreciation of my flirtation with Ghalib’s Urdu ghazals’ verses. You are right that the progressive literature, or progressive interpretation of literature, does not make revolution. I prefer to think – and wish and hope that you, Althaf and others would agree – that it does help spread and/or advance the progressive ideas in the society.

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