Ghalib’s "I called it" ghazal

This is a commentary on some verses from Ghalib’s “I called it” ghazal in Farsi. The radif of this ghazal is نامیدمش (naamidamash), I named it or I called it. This radif offers a beautiful way to thematically link the couplets in the ghazal. Several of the verses are about delusions and mistakes. The poet mistakenly takes one thing for another.

Click here for some good Urdu verse-translations of this ghazal. The glossary is taken from Steingass (Persian to English) and Platts (Urdu to English)


دود سودای تتق بست آسمان نامیدمش
دیدہ بر خواب پریشان زد جہاں نامیدمش

duud-e-saudaayi tutuq bast aasamaan naamidamash
diidah bar khwaab-e-pariishaan zad jahaan naamidamash

Black smoke threw a veil, I called it the sky
Eyes hit upon a disturbed dream, I called it the world

تتق tutuq, A veil, curtain; a kind of net-work in tents for keeping of gnats; coats of an onion;

پریشان pareshān, Dispersed, scattered; dishevelled; disturbed, perplexed, confounded, distracted, agitated, afflicted, vexed, sad, melancholy; unfortunate; disgusted;

A سودا saudā (orig. fem. of aswad, ‘black’; see sawād), s.m. The black bile (one of the four humours of the body), atrabilis; melancholy; hypochondria; frenzy, madness, insanity; love;

This she’r and the following two have the same structure: A did B. I called it C.

The matla opens the ghazal with a surreal image. Through the use of words like سودا (sauda) and پریشان (pariishaan) a dark and disturbed mood is created. As the dictionary entries above show, both these words are polysemic and can contribute to many shades of meaning. Let us see a few different options.

The poet in his confused and tormented state of mind has mistaken black smoke for the sky (not a very fanciful image in our sadly polluted times!) and his troubled dreams constitute his reality. The construction diidah bar khwaab-e-pariishaan zad is a great example of personification of abstract things, a technique that tazah gui (sabk-e-Hindi) poets made extensive use of.

duud-e-saudaayi can also be read as “the smoke of insanity, madness, frenzy” etc. Then the reading is that the poet’s madness and frenzy have produced a smoke which in his delusion he takes to be the sky.  In other words, his madness limits his vision and hides the truth from him.

Let us look at the construction the she’r itself. There is a strong connection (rabt) between saudaa in the first misra and pariishaan in the second. Both evoking a sense of frenzy, madness, disorder etc. Second, aasmaan and jahaan are of course connected through similarity. duud connects to aasmaan via difference (smoke is not the sky), as khwaab connects to jahaan (dreaming is not living in the world).

Interpreting this as a comment on the human condition we can observe that we remain trapped in our thoughts and fancies and we mistake it for the world. The use of the word “veil” or “curtain” links this verse to an important Sufi theme, that the manifest world is only a curtain that hides the real world. The ahl-e-nazar can penetrate the veil, alas our poet cannot.


وہم خاکی ریخت در چشمم بیابان دیدمش
قطرہ ای بگداخت بحر بیکران نامیدمش

vahm ;xaaki rii;xt dar chashmam biiyabaan diidamash
qatrah-yi beguda;xt behr-e-biikaraan naamidamash

Imagination threw dust in my eye, I saw it as the desert
A drop melted, I called it the endless ocean

A وهم wahm (v.n.), Thinking, turning anything in one’s mind, imagining, persuading oneself; conceiving a false idea; mind, sense; opinion, conjecture; suspicion, doubt, scruple, caution; fear, distrust; anxiety, apprehension

بیابان biyābān, bayābān, Uncultivated, desert; a desert.

کران karān, A shore, coast, margin, bank, side, boundary; an end;

The second verse continues the theme of “mistaken identity.” وہم (vahm) is a complex word as the dictionary entry above makes clear. “Persuading oneself” or “conceiving a false idea” sits very well with the mood of the verse and the overall ghazal. We know that the dust in our eyes is not really the desert, but we have convinced ourselves that it is. In this verse there are some affinities between the following words: biyaabaan and behr-e-biikaraan, these are opposites of each other in a literal sense (one is defined by absence of water, bii-aab) and the other is defined by nothing but water. To melt (gudaa;xtan) and to pour (rii;xtan) are also nicely resonant verbs. ;xaak is the component of the desert, qatrah is the component of the ocean.


غربتم ناسازگار آمد وطن فہمیدمش
کرد تنگی حلقہ دام آشیان نامیدمش

Ghurbatam naasaazgaar aamad vatan fahmiidamash
kard tangi halqah-e-daam aashiyaan naamidamash

Out of place in my exiled land I thought it my home
The snare of my trap tightened, I called it a nest

آشیان āshyān (S. āsana), آشیانه āshyāna,A nest; a ceiling, roof;–āshyān bastan (sāḵẖtan, kardan, giriftan, nihādan), To build a nest.

To continue the existential theme, we have here once again a lament for the human condition. We know we are exiled from our true (divine) home, and we are not in harmony (naasaaz) in exile, we feel discordant. But we convince ourselves that it is our home. With each tightening of the snare, i.e. with each new desire that traps us here, we fool ourselves by calling it a nest, a home. We mistake our captivity for comfort.

Hence Bedil, using the same metaphor or a bird in captivity, says:
tark-e-aarzuu kardam ranj-e-hasti aasaaN shud
so;xt parfishaanihaa kiin qafas gulistaaN shud

On forsaking desire, sorrow of existence was easy to bear
I “burned” the fluttering of wings and this cage became a garden.

دل زبان را رازدان آشنایھا نخواست

گاہ بہمان گفتمش گاہی فلان نامیدمش

dil zabaan ra raazdaan aashnaayiha nakhwaast
gah bahmaan guftamash gaahii falaan naamidamash

The heart did not want the tongue to know the secrets of its friendship
Sometimes I called her so and so, sometimes I called her such and such.


در سلوک از ہر چہ پیش آمد گزشتن داشتن

کعبہ دیدم نقش پای رہروان نامیدمش

dar suluuk az har che piish aamad guzashtan daashtan
k’aba diidam naqsh-e-paa-e-rahravaan naamidamash

Following the path, I passed by whatever appeared before me
I saw the k’aba and called it the footprint of travelers.
A سلوك sulūk (v.n. of سلك), Proceeding, going by the way; conduct; institution, mode, manner, rule; (pl. of silk) Threads;–sulūk kardan (namūdan), To travel; to follow any rule or institution.

This can be added to one of Ghalib’s “k’aba verses” where he asserts that it is only a symbol or a pointer, not the goal. What does it mean to call the k’aba, “footprint of travelers?” And what is the connection of that with the first line? In the first line we are told that in his journey the poet has not let anything hold him back, he passes by everything, leaving it behind, carrying on towards his goal. What is the goal? Not the k’aba, which would be the conventional goal of a pilgrimage (suluuk). The k’aba, for the poet, is nothing but the footprint of travelers before him, in other words, it is an aid to knowing where to go, a direction-pointer of sorts. Like everything else he has left behind in his spiritual quest, he will leave the k’aba behind too.

This brings to mind Ghalib’s qiblah pointing verse.


بود غالب اندلیبی از گلستان عجم

من ز غفلت طوطی ہندوستان نامیدمش

buud Ghalib andaliibii az gulsitaan-e-ajam
man zi Ghaflat tuti-e-Hindustaan naamidamash

Ghalib was a nightingale from the garden of Ajam
Out of carelessness I called him a parrot of Hindustan

(v.n. of غفل), Doing (anything) inconsiderately; forgetting, neglecting; imprudence, carelessness, negligence, indolence, forgetfulness; unconsciousness, insensibility, stupor; soundness of sleep.

This maqta is justly famous. A beautiful juxtaposition of the two iconic birds of Iran (Ajam) and India, the nightingale and the parrot, respectively.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s