Translation - Sab Kahan Kuchh Lala-o-Gul Mein Numayaan (Ghalib)

sab kahan kuchh lala-o-gul mein numayaan ho gain
khaak mein kya suraten hongi ki pinhaan ho gain

Line 1/2 - Where are all? some did manifest in tulips and roses. In the dust, what faces there will be that have become hidden. This sher is absolutely of another level of thought and complexity, and can mean so many thoughts. The poet says where are all the people? where they gone? some have manifested themselves as tulips and roses. Another reading of the same line would be - not all (sab kahan?), a very colloquial way of saying not everything. In this reading - it would be not everyone, only some became apparent in these roses & tulips. The second line poses similar complexity. In the dust what faces or aspects that have gone hidden. What faces would there be? another way to read it - would there be faces that have became hidden in dust? (if one includes 'kya' with khaak mein). So the walking down a garden, the poet questions where are all?, and then looks at those lovely flowers and wonders  some may have manifested as bright tulips and roses. In the dust what beautiful faces may have been hidden to have been manifested such brilliantly?  In another reading - there is hint of sadness as to not everyone would manifest as these tulips and roses. Are there faces hidden (buried) in the dust? Why are then so few flowers? Where does the rest of them manifest? Is it really someone buried, maybe they manifest somewhat differently. A highly philosophical sher with beauty and dust, death and rejuvenation, hidden and became apparent, all and not all making this into multitude of interpretations. Life is eternal and their is beauty all around even in death if only we could grasp!

yaad thi hamko bhi ranga rang bazm-aaraaiyan
lekin ab naqsh-o-nigaar-e-taaq-e-nisiyaan ho gayin.

Line 3/4 - We too remembered those colorful gathering adornings and arrangements. But now they have become a mark or portrait in the niche of oblivion. The poet says we too (the use of too here makes it as if remembering old times with friends) remember those days of colorful gathering and those adornings. bazm-aaraaiyan could be the decorations done for the gathering or it could very well be the presence of lovely people in this gathering. In either case the quality of the decorations or people is also being remembered apart from the gathering. But alas! now the youth has given way! The verve of those days is gone, and those memories have become distant paintings or marks in the niche of oblivion. These memories have not been forgotten, but I have placed them on those niches of forgetfulness. We have purposefully placed such memories in those forgetful niches for what use that youthful longing now have in the sunset of life.

thi banaat-un-naash-e-garduun din ko parde men nihaan
shab ko un ke ji men kya aai ki uryaan ho gain

Line 5/6 - Was the Ursa Minor constellation (in the sky) in the day, hidden in the veil. In the night, what came in to their heart that they became bare (became visible or unveiled). The poet says during the day, the seven stars of the Ursa minor remain hidden behind the veil and one can not see them. But during the night, I do not know what came into their heart (what made them change their mind) that they decided to come out of veil and show themselves to all.

qaid mein yaqub ne li go na yusuf ki khabar
lekin ankhen rauzan-e-diivaar-e-zindaan ho gain

Line 7/8 - In the prison, Jacob (yaqub) although has taken no information about Joseph (yusuf). But eyes have become windows in the wall of the prison. Both Joseph and Jacob are important figures in Old Testament. Joseph is the son of Jacob and Joseph was imprisoned on false charges by the Pharaoh. The poet says Jacob had taken no information about his imprisoned son, he could not help him during this troubling time in his life and yet his eyes have become a window in the walls of the cell of his prison. The father even though he had no information about his imprisoned son yet his weeping eyes were always watching him, keeping a close eye on him night and day like an open window in his cell. His eyes had become a crack in the prison walls thorough which he could see his son all the time. Such is the love of a father for his children.

sab raqibon se hon nakhush, par zanan-e-misr se
hai zulaikha khush ke mahv-e-mah-e-kanan ho gain

Line 9/10 - Unhappy with all the rivals, but with the women of Egypt. Zulaikha is happy, that they have become transfixed in the moon of Canaan. This sher also takes inspiration from earlier biblical stories. Here the raqibon means the rivals for the beloved's graces and therefore her/his suitors. Zulaikha is an Egyptian queen who used to love Joseph and when this became public knowledge the women of Egypt started taunting her. The poet says that lovers do not like rivals and they are usually unhappy with them for they are suitors to the beloved's love, but Zulaikha is not unhappy with her rivals (her rivals being the other women of Egypt). In fact she is happy for when they see Joseph (referred as moon of Canaan) they would be so transfixed on him and so absorbed by his handsomeness that they would stop mocking. There is an story in Qur'an about Zulaikha that explains the situation in more detail. In the story, Zulaikha gives a apple of each of these women and asks them to cut it when Joseph arrives. On seeing him, they all accidentally cut their fingers. Zulaikha then reminds the women that Joseph comes everyday and on hearing this and the pain they have themselves inflicted, the women stopped mocking her.

ju-e-khun ankhon se bahane do ki hai sham-e-firaq
main ye samajhunga ke shamaen do farozan ho gain

Line 11/12 - Let the river of blood flow from the eyes for it is an evening of separation. I will understand it as two candles have become luminous. The poet says let the river of blood flow from my eyes for this is the evening of out separation. I will consider that two candles have been light that are giving light and removing darkness and that would give me comfort. In this dark night of our separation, my eyes shedding blood, would  be like two candles burning bright and cutting through the darkness (and despair). The destiny of the handles were to burn brightly in the night and similarly my eyes are destined to shed endless tears of blood in despair. As with candles, when in the morning we blow out the candles and so would my tears also stop. I would go back to the rigors of life and living.

in parizadon se lenge khuld men ham intiqam
qudarat-e-haq se yahi huren agar vaan ho gain

Line 13/14 - In paradise we will take revenge on these beautiful ones. If through the power of God / Truth these beautiful women are there as well.The poet says we were so wronged by the beloved in this world, that we will take full revenge on them in the paradise provided by the power of God the beloved becomes houris there in the heaven. Those who tormented us here, we will get our vengeance upon them in the heaven provided God makes them houris and sends them our way.

neend usaki hai, dimag usaka hai, raten usaki hain
teri zulfen jisake bazu par pareshan ho gain

Line 15/16 - Sleep is his, Mind is his, The Nights are his. Your curls of hair, on whose shoulder have become disordered and disheveled. The poet says that his beloved's curls of hairs are disheveled and scattered on the lover's shoulder. On whose shoulder the locks of hair are spread, the sleep is his, the mind is his and the night is his. Similar to the scattered locks of his beloved's hair, so are his thoughts now. The rival now sleeps with ease, his thoughts and mind are clear and his nights are free from despair unlike me whose sleep is all but troubled, his mind and thought are confused and disordered and his nights are restless and despair.

main chaman mein kya gaya, goya dabistan khul gaya
bul-bulen sun kar mere nale, gazalkhwan ho gain

Line 17/18 - I had hardly entered the garden, as if a school had opened. The nightingale having heard my lamentations, become ghazal singers. The poet says as soon as he entered the garden busy in his thoughts, it appeared as if he has gone into a school. It was like entering a school and children reciting all in one discordant voice what the teacher recited. Same was the case here, the nightingale listening to my plaints have become ghazal singers. My lamentations were so complete and so melodious that when the nightingales started imitating it, it came out as a very fine ghazal.

vo nigahen kyun hui jati hain yarab dil ke par
jo meri kotaahii-e-qismat se mizshgan ho gain

Line 19/20 - Why do those glances, oh Lord! keep going through the heart? Which through my failure of fate, became eye-lashes. An eyeful or glimpse would be like usual glances that the beloved showers, but becoming eye lashes would mean her glance was so small or he received only the attention of the eye-lashes and not her complete glances. An extension of this unusual model would be that usual glances travel much further through the heart than the eye-lashes. The poet says due to his misfortune or smallness of luck, all he could get was the eyelashes from the beloved and yet even those small eyelash glances somehow have traveled so far through his heart that he is surprised by them. Such is the power of even such small eyelash glance that oh Lord! he could feel it going through and through his heart. Even with his smallness of fortune (due to which he only got eyelashes), he is feeling the complete effect of it (of a complete glance of the beloved). 

bas ki roka main ne aur seene mein ubharen pai-ba-pai
meri aahein bakhiya-e-chak-e-garibaan ho gain

Line 21/22 - Although I stopped them, more emerged or swelled up with in the chest again and again. My sighs became the stitching on the torn hem of the shirt. The poet says that the sighs are swelling up again and again in my heart and my stopping them, is like stitching the torn hem on the shirt. First came over the madness that made me rip the shirt off and then in the state of calmness, we suppressed our never ending sighs that became the stitching on the torn shirt until the welling up of sighs can no longer be suppressed and any attempt of suppressing it leads to suffocation and tearing off the shirt again to allow air to reach the heart. In fact there is no repair of the condition but an endless chain of sighs and tearing and sewing and no meaningful relief. [Pritchett] has pointed to some nice wordplay in these lines where seene (chest) could also mean as seena (to sew up). Also words like tearing and sewing are put right next to one another for the dramatic effect. 

vaan gaya bhi main to unki gaaliyon ka kya jawab
yaad thi jitini duayen, sarf-e-darbaan ho gain

Line 23/24 - Even if I were to go there, what answer would I have for her insults? As many prayers I could remember, all were used on the doorkeeper. The poet says what happens if he is to go there, to the beloved's door and she instead of any favors or glances she taunts him or showers her insults. What answer would I have, for all the prayers and blessing that he could remember of, were expended on the doorman. I mean what answer would I give? I can't reuse the same blessing again on her that I had earlier given to the doorkeeper. This is the main worry I have if I were to go to her door for I do not have any freshest and newest of blessings that I can give back to her in response of her crude and humiliating abuses and insults. An amusing situation indeed!

jaan-fiza hai baada, jis ke hath mein jaam aa gaya
sab lakiren haath ki goya rag-e-jaan ho gain

Line 25/26 - Lively is wine, in whomsoever's hand the glass comes. All the lines of the palm as if became the jugular vein. The poet says wine is lively and whosoever has it, makes him expansive and euphoric so much so that all the lines of the hand become gorged as blood filled veins. These are not very interpretative lines. S. R. Faruqi has a very interesting take on these lines. He says - The glass is full of red wine. The glass is in the hand which causes the lines of the hand to appear red when seen through the glass, as if every line resembles an artery full of living blood. In this explanation the hand's dry lines appear to be full of flowing blood, and we can say that in wine there is the power of giving life. Pretty neat I think!

hum muwahhid hain, hamara kesh hai tark-e-rusum
millatein jab mit gain, ajza-e-iman ho gain

Line 27/28 - We are the believers in one God, our nature is the abandonment of rituals and customs. When nations or communities have been erased, they become part of the faith. Any particular reading of these lines is hard to come by as the words like rusum, iman and  muwahhid are broad brushes to paint any picture confidently. I would go by the most wide and liberal interpretation. The poet says we believe in one God, in the oneness of the Divine and our true path can only be achieved by renouncing all outwardly customs and rituals and religious behavior. When all such exclusive communities (religious groups of people) have been erased (i.e. the sectarian and religious distinction between people have been given up), then such people would become part of that One faith. To have True religion is to have no religion at all and then the Oneness of God and the Oneness of people would be realized!

ranj se khugar hua insaan to mit jata hai ranj
mushkilen mujh par padi itani ke asaan ho gain

Line 29/30 - When a person become accustomed to grief, then the grief gets erased. So many difficulties have fallen upon me, that they became easy. This is probably the most heard sher from this ghazal. The poet says when one tunes himself to grief, then the grief itself disappears. So many hardships have befallen on me, that they have become easy for now I am tuned to such hardships. Such difficulties do not make me despair, for I am adapted to it. There is a very similar sher by Ghalib that also talks about being friends with grief - 'ranj uthanay say bhi khushi ho gi, pahlay dil dard aashna keejay'

yunn hi gar rota raha 'ghalib', to ae ahl-e-jahan
dekhana in bastiyon ko tum ki viraan ho gain

Line 31/32 - If Ghalib keeps on crying like this, then oh! people of this world. You take a look at these towns, that they have become abandoned and deserted. There is no mention of what 'yunn hi' portends. It could mean a particular 'like this' or it could colloquially mean 'for no reason'. Nor it is clear as to why is he weeping. Such obscurity leaving to multitude of explanations. One possible explanation is that if Ghalib keeps on weeping like this, then O! the people of this world, beware the towns for they will become desolate for the flood of tears would make them inhabitable and hence deserted. Again the reason of the crying is not obvious. Is Ghalib warning people about things that needs to be fixed or he is advising them against his own flood of tears of despair? Or is it  being mentioned that such is the weeping that it leads to debilitating effect on people of those towns that they leave for new places where they can't bear his wailing.

Meaning of difficult words - 
lala-o-gul = tulips and roses
numayan = manifest , become apparent
pinhaan = hide, concealed
ranga-rang = colourful
bazm = gathering
aaraa = adorning, gracing
naqsh = mark or print
nigaar = potrait
taaq = a recess in a wall, niche
nisiyaan = forgetfulness; oblivion.
banaat-un-naash-e-garduun = ursa minor constellation
nihaan = secret, hidden
shab = night
uryaan = naked, bare
rauzan-e-diivaar-e-zindaan = window in wall of the prison
raqibon = rivals
zanan-e-misr = women of egypt
zulaikha = an egyptian queen
mahv = transfixed, lost
maah = moon
kanaan = Canaan (a kingdom in Old Testament, today's Israel)
ju-e-khun = river of blood
shaam-e-firaq  = evening of separation
farozan = shining, luminous
parizadon = beautiful bodies
khuld = heaven
intiqam = revenge
qudarat-e-haq = truth of Almighty
huren = beautiful woman
vaan = there
goya = as if 
dabistan = school 
naale = lamentations
gazalkhwan = ghazal singer
kotaahii-e-qismat = failure, smallness of fate
mizshgan = eye-lashes
ubharen = emerged, protruded
pai-ba-pai = again and again 
bakhiya-e-chak-e-garibaan = stitching the torn hem of shirt
sarf-e-darbaan = for use by doorman/doorkeeper
jaan-fiza = lively
baada = wine
rag-e-jaan = the jugular vein
muwahhid = believing in one God
kesh = nature
tark-e-rusum = abandonment of customs
millatein  = communities
ajza-e-iman = elements of faith
ranj = sadness
khugar = accustomed
ahl-e-jahan = people of the world

Read more posts on Ghalib.

1 comment:

  1. Top notch translation as always.
    The best interpretation of this ghazal i have found in this video.
    "Ghalib ka takhayyul" on youtube. Timing From 45:15 to 1:07:30.
    Though the language is quite "Khalish urduish" but watching it a couple of times lets us explore some new facets of this great composition at some other level.
    In case you are interested I have given the link with exact timing.
    Thank you.