Mirza Ghalib to his critics: Kafas Main Hoon

Kafas Main Hoon, Gar Achha Bhi Na Jaane Mere Shevan Ko
Mera Hona Bura Kya Hai Navaa Sanjaan-e-Gulshan Ko

क़फ़स में हूँ गर अच्छा भी न जानें मेरे शेवन को 
मिरा होना बुरा क्या है नवा-संजान-ए-गुलशन को 

Straight Translation:
I'm caged; even if they don't consider my lamentation good
why is my existence bad for the song-weighers of the garden


Mirza Ghalib's song

Mirza Ghalib figured out
why the caged bird 

I know
you don't like
my lamentations

Even more so
You are not satisfied 
with my imprisonment
so now you want to kill me.

If you don't appreciate my cries
why do you detest my

Why do you 
need to worry 
I am in a cage

the caged bird 
to the garden's song weigher

Complete Ghazal: 

More translations of this: 

shevan : 'Grief, mourning, lamentation'. (Platts p.741)


That is, seeing me imprisoned and absorbed in grief and lamentation, why do people who are happily placed despise me? What harm do I do them? (128)

== Nazm page 128

In the 'Dihli Urdu Akhbar', vol. 10, no. 19 (8 May 1853) this ghazal appears, along with a number of other ghazals from the mushairah. (249)

Naiyar Masud:
[He quotes commentary by Nazm, Hasrat, Asi, Bekhud Mohani, Natiq, Chishti.] In all these commentaries the same thing, with just a change of wording, is being repeated in prose, that has been said within the constraints of meter in the verse....

It's assumed that they don't consider my lamentation good; but now, after my being captured, they've been freed from my lamentation as well; so that neither am I in the garden, nor is my lamentation.... After all, what can be the reason for this displeasure?.... The second line makes no mention of lamentation, but rather says that to the singers of the garden my existence-- that is, my being-- is displeasing, even if that existence be in a cage.... My captivity is the proof that in the opinion of the capturers, I was the best singer in the garden and my lamentation was the most affecting....

'Lamentation' [shevan] is a natural and melodious sound of which the moving spirit is grief; in 'lamentation' there's no room for artifice, it's a voice that emerges from the heart. 'Song-measuring' [navā-sanjī] means 'to weigh melodies'; that is, in contrast to a natural lament, it is the singing of a tune created through effort. The effect [tāṡīr] of 'lamentation' is greater than that of 'song-weighing'. In short, it can be considered that the difference between 'lamentation' and 'song-weighing' is that between the natural [āmad] and the artificial [āvard]. [This explains the other birds' initial jealousy of the speaker; and when he was the one chosen for capture and was borne off to a cage, their feelings of inferiority remained unresolved and are now unassuageable. The speaker might not understand all this himself; but no doubt the grief of captivity has even improved his 'lamentation'.]

== (1973: 192-201)

[Naiyar Masud's commentary is uniquely excellent. But there's a point which he too has perhaps not noticed.] The difficulty is that no proof [dalīl] has been given that the existence of the cage-bound lamenter is displeasing to the song-weighers of the garden. An assumption has merely been made [to this effect]. It can't even be called a poetic claim [iddiʿā-e shāʿirānah], because the condition of a poetic claim is that there be no apparent objection against it. For example, this is a poetic claim: 'Today there's some extra pain in my heart'. Such a claim requires no proof. [Two other situations in which no proof is necessary are discussed.]

In the verse under discussion, why is there no proof? In order to resolve this difficulty, the verse ought to be read not in a metaphorical but in an 'allegorical' [tamṡīlī] sense. Metaphorical meanings are public, and multivalent. The meaning of an allegory is special and limited. From this point of view, the speaker of the verse will be considered to be some specific person. Here the speaker is not some skilled person, some sensitive person, some stranger, but rather the poet (that is, Ghalib himself). By the 'cage' is meant Delhi, or Hindustan, which Ghalib considers inauspicious for him. By 'lament' is meant his own poetry, and by 'song-weighers of the garden' is meant the poets who were his contemporaries. Thus the meaning of the verse is, 'Granted that people don't consider my poetry good, but they should also keep in view the fact that I'm imprisoned in this city (or country). Why does my existence displease them to such an extent that they keep on abusing me?'

Ghalib has expressed in various places this theme-- that he is imprisoned, or is in a strange environment. [Some Persian and Urdu examples are cited, including {83,1}; and this unpublished one: {322x,5}.

.... This feeling of alienation was the essence/excellence [jauhar] of Ghalib's temperament, and the special quality of his nature. It wasn't necessary for stones to be thrown at him or for his poetry to be declared meaningless. Ghalib had, in several senses, a modern mind; and one of these senses was that he felt himself to be 'alienated' [English] from his surroundings.

If it would be said that in Urdu poetry there's very little allegorical expression, then the reply is that not in poetry but in prose we have had a good deal of allegory from the beginning. Then, Bedil's poetry has a good deal of an allegorical style, and Ghalib's affection for Bedil is manifest. In addition, allegorical commentaries on [the Persian poet] Hafiz have been common with us for centuries. Thus Ghalib was not entirely unaware of this style. A second point is that if it would not be taken as an allegory, then the basic weakness in the present verse is not repaired.

A third point is that if this verse would be considered to be an allegory, then meaningfulness like that of the verses below, and with reference to them the meaningfulness of the present verse itself, is reinforced: [two of Ghalib's Persian quatrains, followed by the very famous Urdu one ending in goyam mushkil , which is discussed in {141,1}].

As you go along, please also consider the affinities also: 'cage' and 'lament'; 'good' and 'bad'; 'song-weighers' and 'garden'.

== (1989: 213-17) [2006: 237-41]

GOOD/BAD: {22,4}

This verse belongs to the 'lover is a bird' set; for others, see {126,5}.

The verse has been so extensively discussed by Naiyar Masud and Faruqi, that I'm only sorry I can't reproduce their whole commentaries without adding undue length. People who know Urdu well would be foolish not to consult the originals.

I'd only point out the excellent 'kya effect' multivalence of the second line: it can be taken as a genuine question ('what harm does it do them?'); or even an indignant negative assertion ('as if it did them any harm!').

In addition, we are left to decide for ourselves what it is about the situation described in the first line that might displease the 'song-weighers of the garden'. The caged bird's lamenting in itself? His lamenting without sufficient skill and 'song-weighing'? His lamenting with greater skill and 'song-weighing' than they themselves can achieve? His lamenting from within a cage? His continuing to lament after being captured and caged?

And of course, his existence and/or lamenting might not displease them at all, since the grammar cleverly leaves this possibility open as well. His question might reflect his own ignorance, isolation, and desperate anxiety.