Ghalib on the New Year

We are back after a break for the Holiday Season. And what better way to start off the new year than with a verse pontificating on the possibilities of what the year holds in store. Admittedly it hasn’t been a promising start with the Israeli invasion of Gaza and the US Dept. of Labor announcing record breaking layoffs. Lekin phir bhi…

دیکھیے پاتے ہیں عشاق بتوں سے کیا فیض
اک برہمن نے کہا ہے کہ یہ سال اچھا ہے

dekhiye paate hai;N ((ushshaaq buto;N se kyaa fai.z
ik barahman ne kahaa hai kih yih saal achchhaa hai

1) let’s see what grace/favor/benefit lovers find from idols
2) one Brahman has said that this year is good

Frances Pritchett calls this a “sly and witty little verse.” And so it is. Witty, tongue-in-cheek, almost nonchalantly beguiling. The first line is very innocuous, hackneyed even, alluding as it does to a very conventional Ghazal image of lovers (ushshaaq is the Arabic plural of aashiq) obtaining beneficience/grace/bounty from idols, idols here meaning the respective beloveds. But the second line enhances the effect substantially. One can almost imagine the verse being recited in a mushaairaa, where after several repetitions of the first line, we begin the hear the second one, ik barahman ne kahaa hai, and knowing what the rhyme scheme of the ghazal is (since we have heard a few verses being recited before this one), we can feel what is coming, and perhaps in unison we join the poet in exclaiming, yeh saal achchha hai! At that moment we realize that the word “but” or idol in the first line can be taken in two senses, the conventional Ghazal sense of the Beloved and the religious sense of an idol to be worshiped, on which of course Brahmin’s are acknowledged experts.

As Hali notes, Ghalib comments on the fact that for a Lover the only meaning of a “good year” is the year in which he will obtain the grace of his Beloved: “he considers the sole meaning of its being good to be that perhaps this year beloveds might be gracious to lovers, not that this year there would be no famine or pestilence or wars, etc. etc.” But the double meaning of “idol” that Ghalib invokes by speaking of a Brahmin, can take us further. The Lover is hopes for grace not only from the Beloved but from the Supreme Beloved or God, without whose grace, in fact no earthly grace is possible. Let us join Ghalib then in praying for a New Year in which we the seekers and searchers of Divine and earthly beloved find the grace we are looking for.

Please visit the parallel post on The South Asian Idea.

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