Ghalib: Heart is a Mirror and Mirror a Heart

This week we have chosen a lesser known and complex verse which nonetheless offers richly rewarding readings.

az mihr taa bah-;zarrah dil-o-dil hai aa))inah
:tuu:tii ko shash jihat se muqaabil hai aa))inah

अज मिहर ता बा-ज़र्रह दिल – ओ – दिल है आइनह
तूती को शश जिहत से मुकाबिल है आइनह

1) from sun to sand-grain– heart; and heart is a mirror
2) {from / by means of} the six directions, a mirror confronts the parrot

Translation and commentary on Desertful of Roses. Parallel commentary on The South Asian Idea.

The most straightforward reading is offered by Bekhud Mohani on Desertful of Roses:
“From the sun to the sand-grain– that is, everything in the world– is a heart, and the heart is a mirror. Thus the parrot sees a mirror in every direction. That is, the world is a mirror-house, in which the mystical knower sees his own face in every direction.”

The parrot is a well-used metaphor for the poet since at least Khusro, if not earlier, since it, like the poet is famous for its sweet speech (shirin sukhan). There is something very intriguing about the image Ghalib constructs in the second line. The poet surrounded on all sides by mirrors: an infinite number of reflections surrounding him. But lets take the verse in detail.

The first line, as FWP points out, has a flowingness (ravaangii) created by the phrase dil-o-dil. Semantically, the line can easily be read as two separate thoughts as outlined above: the world is a heart and the heart is a mirror. However, other readings are not ruled out. Breaking the first line after sand-grain, we get ‘from sun to sand-grain, heart after heart is a mirror.’ But this does not substantially change the meaning, particularly given the more specific context of the second line. A more radical departure from the interpretation given above would be to take advantage of Urdu grammar which allows “dil hai aainah” to be read both as “heart is a mirror” and “mirror is a heart.” Thus, we interpret the first line as the whole world (or each aspect of the world) is heart-like and the mirror too is a heart. Why privilege the mirror separately? Is it not part of the world as well. Yes and no. The mirror is of the world and also reflects the world. It is thus like the heart (or in modern terminology consciousness or the brain), which is also part of the world and at the same time reflects it. Thus both heart and mirror are united in this property and the equation works both ways (heart = mirror).

Coming to the second line. As I said, here Ghalib constructs a highly memorable vision, almost Borges like in its exploitation of the mirror theme (I will write something soon exploring the Ghalib-Borges parallel a bit further). The parrot/poet/seeker wherever he turns is confronted by a mirror or is confronted by the heart/consciousness. Wherever we turn we find both a conscious reality and we find ourselves reflected in it. Further we cannot rule out a double meaning of finding ourselves face to face with ourselves. We face ourseleves everywhere as ego that we are unable to get rid of, but we also face ourselves because we know that the atman (self) and brahman (universe) are One.

The language of mirror and confrontation is used by Ghalib in a Persian verse that I have blogged about before:

Ghalib chuN shaKhs-o-aks dar aainah-e-Khayaal
ba Khveshtan yaki o do char khudiim ma

Ghalib, like the person and the reflection in the mirror of thought
With ourselves we are one annd we confront ourselves

Mirrors are particularly favored by Ghalib’s paradox-loving nature, because of that aspect I alluded to earlier of mirror being part of reality and also reflecting it, as do minds.

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