Ghalib on Inheritance and Worthiness

sul:tanat dast bah dast aa))ii hai
jaam-e mai ;xaatim-e jamshed nahii;N

1) the kingship has come from hand to hand
2) the glass of wine [is] not the {signet-ring / seal} of Jamshid

Translation and commentary on Desertful of Roses.

This week we depart from the ethereal realms of Paradise and reflection on the Divine. Rather we reflect with Ghalib on kingship, inheritance and worthiness.

First on the structure of the verse itself. Note that the logical connection between the two lines seems more loose than usual. But we know that a good she’r must display the quality of “rabt” or connection/relationship between its two lines. The challenge faced by the Ghazal writer is how to connect the two lines such that the relationship is clear and yet open to several interpretations. We have seen on many earlier occasions that Ghalib is the master of this art. FWP outlines several possibilities inherent in this verse.

In this verse, first we learn that kingship passes from hand to hand, or in other words, is inherited. So far so good. Merely a routine observation, though made very economically. Next we learn that a glass of wine is not the seal of Jamshed (a King of Ancient Persia). What does this mean? Firstly, note that a glass of wine is a complex metaphor in the Ghazal universe, on par with the wine tavern (mai;xaanah), the garden (gulistaaN), the Beloved (maashooq), the nightingale (bulbul) and so on. It can stand for life affirmation and rakishness (rindi) as opposed to the life-denying, asceticism of the preacher. It can also stand for the vehicle of mystical experience (wine).

Thus Ghalib may be saying that unlike kingship which we know is merely inherited (regardless of worthiness), a glass of wine, or the mytical experience only comes to those worthy of it. It is not like the seal of Jamshed which either belongs only to Jamshed himself, or perhaps is passed on as kingship is, via inheritance or via bloody conquests and wars.

One way to get this interpretation directly, and a way which also connects the seal of Jamshed to the notion of kingship, is to read ;xaatim-e-Jamshed” as the subject rather than object of the second line, which the Urdu flexible word ordering allows us to do. So the second line becomes, “the seal of Jamshid is not a wine glass,” rather than “the wine glass is not the seal of Jamshed.” This allows a direct reading of the entire verse as: Kingship is inherited. The Seal of Jamshed (a symbol of Kingship) is not a wine glass that will only go to those worthy of it.

Ghalib plays often with these ideas of worth and the wine goblet. Two other examples come to mind. One cited by FWP:

mujh tak kab un kii bazm me;N aataa thaa daur-e jaam
saaqii ne kuchh milaa nah diyaa ho sharaab me;N

1) when did the going-round of the cup, in that one’s gathering, come as far as me?

2a) may the Cupbearer not have mixed something into the wine!
2b) might the Cupbearer not have mixed something into the wine?

And another one:

girnii thii ham pah barq-e tajallii nah :tuur par
dete hai;N baadah :zarf-e qada;h-;xvaar dekh kar

1) the lightning of glory/manifestation should have fallen on us, not on [Mount] Tur
2) they give wine [only after] having seen the capacity of the cup-drinker

In both verses, Ghalib plays with the question, “who is worthy of the wine?” or in order words “who is worthy of love/life/the mystical union/divine experience?” In the second verse the theme of merit or worthiness is more explicit. In a wine tavern, they hand out wine only according to the drinkers capacity to drink it. Similarly Ghalib boasts that the divine lightening bolt that fell on Mount Sinai (when the Ten Commandments were revealed to Moses), should have fallen on him instead, because is more worthy of it! The first verse is more oblique on matters of worthiness. Ghalib asks, when was I ever worthy of the wine-glass in that company? Now that is has come to me, I suspect something is fishy.

Please do visit this verse and its commentary on The South Asian Idea for contemporary relevance and meaning.

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