Mir and Ghalib on the beloved’s street

Recently, while browsing through Frances Pritchett’s excellent online commentary site on Mir Taqi Mir’s poetry, Garden of Kashmir, I chanced upon the following verse:

firdaus se kuchh us kī galī meñ kamī nahīñ
par sākinoñ meñ vāñ ke koʾī ādamī nahīñ

His/her lane is not any less than Paradise
But you won’t find any humans there.

Click here for commentary by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (SRF) and Frances Pritchett (FWP).

آدمي आदमी ādmī (p. 33) A آدمي आदमी ādmī , s.m. A descendant of Adam; a human being; man; individual, person; adult; a sensible, or honest man; mankind; people; husband; wife; servant, attendant, retainer:—ādmī banānā, v.t. To humanize, civilize; to make a rational creature of; to teach manners:—ādmī-pīćhe, adv. Per man; severally, individually; one by one:—ādmī-zād = ādam-zād, q.v.s.v. ādam:—ādmī hona, or ho-jānā, To become a man, attain to manhood; to become civilized, learn manners, &c.; to recover one’s reason; come to one’s senses.

For those familiar with Ghalib, this will immediately bring to mind his:

kam nahīñ jalvah-garī meñ tire kūche se bihisht
yihī naqshah hai vale is qadar ābād nahīñ

Its not like Paradise is any less splendorous than your street
It looks much the same, though its not as flourishing.

Click here for commentary by SRF and FWP.

آباد इब ābād (p. 2) P آباد ābād [Z. āvāda; S. आवास], adj. Inhabited, populated, peopled; full of buildings and inhabitants, populous; settled (as a colony or town); cultivated; stored; full; occupied;—flourishing, prosperous; pleasant; happy.—ābād-rahnā, To be full, stored, flourishing, prosperous, happy or comfortable.—ābād honā, To be full, flourishing, &c.

Clearly the mazmuN (theme) is the same, and it is a common or conventional one: a comparison of the beloved’s street to Paradise. But by comparing the two verses we can see how two masters handle the same theme in their own ways.

Before we comment on the differences, let us look at the similarities. Firstly, as FWP notes, both poets have obviously been to Paradise, in order to be able to compare it to the beloved’s lane. Since Paradise is only accessible after passing from this world, these verses belong to the larger family of verses where the poet speaks “from beyond the grave.” More on those some other time.

Second, the verse structures are very closely matched. It seems likely that Ghalib was modeling his verse on Mir’s. The first misra sets up the comparison between paradise and the beloved’s lane, though, as we will elaborate later, in opposite directions. The second misra offers the qualification: there is crucial a difference between the two. Here too, the two verses are opposites of each other.

Third, note that the beloved is not explicitly mentioned in either verse. For Mir it is the third person “him/her” and for Ghalib it is the second person “you.” It is the convention of the ghazal world that allows us to say that whenever a kucha or gali is mentioned it is, of course, the beloved’s. In other words, for the poet there exist no other streets in the world.

Coming to what sets the two verses apart, FWP notes the crucial difference in perspectives between the two comparisons. Mir takes the conventional route and notes that there is “nothing lacking” in the beloved’s street as compared to Paradise. That is, it is at least as good. Here the standard to measure up to is Paradise. And the beloved’s lane does not fail to measure up. Ghalib inverts this completely. He chooses to make the beloved’s lane the standard, and notes that Paradise is “not any less” in its splendour. In other words the starting position is that Paradise must naturally be inferior. Our poet feels compelled to defend Paradise and break it to the beloved that after all, it is not so inferior as all that. We expect a metaphor comparing the beloved’s lane to Paradise and we get the opposite. I have commented elsewhere on other such “metaphor-inverting” verses of Ghalib. There is a particular pleasure in the tongue-in-cheek tone here. I have tried to capture it in the colloquial translation above.

In the second line too, the two poets take opposite routes. For Mir, the structure of the argument is that the Beloved’s lane is pretty much the same as Paradise, with one crucial difference: Paradise has (dead) humans. His/her lane has no humans. SRF discusses the various interpretations of “no humans.” “admi”, as you will see in the dictionary entry above, refers to a sensible, honest, civilised human. The beloved’s street is populated by rivals in love. And these aashiqs (lovers), in their passion and madness have long forgotten how to be human. They are there own species. So the irony is that where you expect there to be humans (a street here on Earth) there aren’t any to be found. While Paradise, a difficult place to attain, at least has some lucky human souls in it!

For Ghalib the structure of the argument is that Paradise is pretty much the same as the beloved’s lane, with one crucial difference: Paradise is not as bustling, happy, pleasant, or prosperous! The word “aabaad” means all these things at once (as the dictionary entry above shows). I think is this combined effect of “aabaad” that Ghalib is going for. That is, Paradise is less popular and wears a deserted look compared to the beloved’d street. And for the aashiq, the comforts and luxuries of the former pale in comparison to those offered by latter. You can almost imagine a smile playing on his lips as he delivers the punch line. And as befits a good verse, the suspense is retained till the end. The key word, “aabaad” comes at the very end, with the kafiya or rhyme.

On the whole, Ghalib’s verses seems “cleverer” of the two. It has more going on in terms of surprises and twists. It take a well-worn metaphor and does something new with it. But Mir’s verse has its own lutf or pleasure. In fact I like this verse pair because it shows two different ways of making a verse enjoyable. Mir shows how it is possible to remain conventional, to not to anything novel, and yet make the verse good. This is done through rabt or connections between words and ravaani or how flowing the verse is. Between saakin (one who stays somewhere) and gali there is a clear affinity. The beloved’s lane has people who just stay there, they never go anywhere. Between firdaus and aadmi also there is a connection. One has to be human, a good human, to qualify for entry into Paradise (but being a good human is not a condition for the aashiq, obviously). Ghalib’s verse, on the other hand, does not have this going on. It relies on the twists discussed earlier.

So which is the better verse? I leave it to you to decide.

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