A SAD THUNDER

Colin Flanigan

The Lightning Should have Fallen on Ghalib: Selected poems of Ghalib
Translated from the Urdu by Robert Bly and Sunil Dutta
THE ECCO PRESS, 1999. Cloth.
100 West Broad Street
Hopewell, New Jersey 08525.
ISBN 0-88001-686-8
$21 US

Ghalib was a poet who lived in Delhi during the British Occupation of India. He was a multi-headed hydra of competing traditions: the devout Muslim who praises Allah, the debauched modern who mulls over the death of God, and the student of Persian poetry who composes in the language of India.

The military Governor of Delhi once asked Ghalib if he were Muslim or Hindu, trying to determine if he endorsed a recent anti-British uprising. Ghalib replied, ā€œI am half-Muslim--I don't eat pork, but I do drink."

This anecdote is the perfect precursor to the man's poetry. It is filled with wit, a melancholy wisdom and the wildness of a man drunk on wine. Below is Bly's version of a great Ghalib poem, one that wraps up his strengths together.

I am confused: should I cry over my heart, or slap my chest?
 If I could afford it, Iā€™d have a man paid to cry.
My jealousy is so strong that I refuse to name the street where you live.
 In view of that, ā€œHow do I get there?" doesn't make much sense.

It is worth a reading by any serious student of the ghazal.

Robert Bly translated these verses with Indian biologist, Sunil Dutta. Dutta would translate a sher word by word, then write an English sher below it. Many times he would explicate the passage with a paragraph. Then Bly would compose a sher based on the previous work by Dutta. The book is marred by not having a single example of Dutta's work.

I would like to have seen the work that went into crafting the line,

The heart is an enthusiastic purchaser of humiliation.

Bly only attempts once to follow any English replication of the Ghazal form. So if you're looking for strict rhyme or meter you will be disappointed. If you're looking for great lines of poetry dipped in dark humor then you will be pleased, as I was.