The Lesser Known Ghalib(1): Veil of openness

I thought of doing this series of blog entries on lesser known verses of Ghalib. As lovers of Ghalib know, some of his ghazals, and in particular some of the verses in those ghazals have been made really popular in recent times, mainly because they have been sung by popular artists such as Jagjit and Chitra Singh, Begum Akhtar, Sudhir Narain, and go a bit further back, K.L.Saigal (yes Saigal has excellent renditions of some of Ghalib’s greatest, in his own inimitable style).

But Ghalib’s Urdu divaan, though small by Mir’s standards, is still much larger than the popular ghazal set. So I though I would more or less randomly select verses that appeal to me, either verses from lesser known ghazals or lesser known verses from famous ghazals. Here is the first of the lot, from a relatively lesser known ghazal (Ghazal #198, verse 2):

در پردہ انھیں غیر سے ہے ربط نہانی

ظاہر کا یہ پردہ ہے کہ پردہ نہیں کرتے

dar pardah unhe;N ;Gair se hai rab:t-e nihaanii
:zaahir kaa yih pardah hai kih pardaa nahii;N karte

dar pardah = behind the veil, rabt-e-nihaani = relationship of hiddenness (a hidden connection), zaahir kaa pardah = veil of openness
I have taken the Urdu and the Roman from Frances Pritchett’s site. As usual, Prof. Pritchett collects the available commentaries on this verse and adds her own interpretation. I don’t have a whole lot to add to the excellent interpretations, but my own two cents follow.

In the first line Ghalib informs us of the behavior of (who else?), the beloved. We are told she carries on a secret relationship with “the Other” behind the purdah. So far it is not too remarkable though a bit puzzling (see below), we might think, except for the usual Ghalibian tautness of phrasing. But then the second line delivers the basic paradox, the veil of openness. We are informed that her not keeping purdah (purdah nahi karte) is itself a type of purdah, a type of veil, a way of hiding something. Her affair with the Other is there, only it is hidden in plain view so to speak. By not keeping purdah from the Other, the Beloved seems to announce to the world, “Look there is nothing between us, he is ‘like a brother’ to me. If there were something going on then would I not keep purdah, to convey the appearance of normalcy and to allay any suspicion?” But our lover is smart. He has seen through the deception. He tells us, “Don’t be fooled by this lack of purdah, it is merely the zaahir kaa purdah, the veil of openness in the guise of which all kinds of nefarious activities are going on.”

Try reciting this verse as it might be recited in a mushairah. It is brilliant. Repeating the first line several times, builds up the tension, we are led to expect something fishy afoot. We think to ourselves, “How can some hidden relationship (rabt-e-nihaani) exist within the veil (dar purdah)? Something could be going on between two people (two strangers, remember we are talking about a relationship with “the Other”), if the Beloved meets him like she does everyone else, i.e. by keeping purdah from him. But if she is meeting him inside the purdah, he must be above suspicion (an older male relative, a brother etc).” And the second line does not disappoint. It tells us, “Aha! But thats exactly it. Zaahir ka yeh purdah hai…ke purdah nahi karte!”

Brilliant!

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One thought on “The Lesser Known Ghalib(1): Veil of openness

  1. The point here is that the raqib (rival, other) is also the protector of your love, for God when called raqib means protector.The paradox that we, individually, are living under conditions of Scarcity, mimetic-desire as Rene Girard puts it, whereas our species life is based on mutuality and mimetic-renunciation is brought out by Ghalib with typical irony.The story here is that of an old Sheikh who has enfranchised many slaves and converts enabling them to come up. One day he is pressed to go for a marriage celebration where a sing-song girl makes an appearance. She is beautiful and literate but for some reason starts singing suggestive items. The Sheikh takes his leave and goes home. His disciple- an ex-slave gets worried. The insult to the Sheikh seems to be affecting his health. He sends his wife to speak to the mirasin girl. Girl is engaged in making fun of the old Sheikh with his long beard. She is utterly hilarious. Wife returns to her husband and reports as much. Husband goes to Sheikh and says “I’m about to do a bad thing. I will go and cut off that whore’s head. Sorry, you can’t stop me. I will give my head to the executioner but before that if there is any service for you- tell me I will do it.”Sheikh said “Did she really mention me?””Yes, making fun- the whore!””Then I die happy!”Husband ran to kill the whore. Wife overtook him. She said- “I told that whore that her words upset our Sheikh. He is harmless gentleman- always thinking how he has offended and never thinking what is his due.”Husband said, “You spoke correctly. Don’t stop me now. I will behead her and pay with my life.”Wife said, ” She is dead. When she heard Sheikhji remembered her, she died happy. She said, “I am whore- how I could dream of the Sheikh? Even the dream would be a dishonour to him. So I made fun of him. His name could not stay off my lips. That, somehow, he heard of my offence is enough for me. What was my love except offence? Now, I die in the full tide of consummation.”Sir, consider these points.Only talk shite against what you truly love- not whatever paranoid nonsense has been erected as straw-man for the occassion.Be a virodha bhakta, like Ravana, not yet another, holier than thou, Jane Goodall who knows very well all Indians are monkeys. The veil of what is apparent- i.e. India’s poverty- witholds the secret- only very stupid paranoid White people can help India by teaching them sign language so that they can reference Gandhi and Schumacher while hanging from their tails from tree branches eating bananas.Sir, I think your nueroscience background will give you a real leg up in this. India needs secular people like you to come and explain to us why we shouldn’t have technology, free market, basic human rights etc.May God bless you, Sir. You are able to write about Ghalib without once remembering that he was a Muslim- one step above our witless Brahminism which renders our force-fed, cramming Ustad, intellectuals into bulimics of their own vomit.Bravo, Sir, Bravo!

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