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!”