Sunday, 28 March 2010

Mir - Muh takaa hii kare hai jis tis kaa

I find I am a sucker for 'mirror-shers'!  You know the ones I mean - where the evocation of a mirror allows the poet to indulge in a bit of 'pulling by the bootstraps' kind of tautology... The following ghazal by Mir has been selected, therefore, primarily for its outstanding matlaa - one that could justly stand beside some of Ghalib's cleverer ones.

Muh takaa hii kare hai jis tis kaa
hairatii hai yeh aaiinaa hai kis kaa

मुह तका ही करे है जिस तिस का 
हैरती है यह आइना है किस का 

منہ تکا ہی کرے ہے جس تس کا 
ہیرتی ہے یہ آئنہ ہے کس کا

It just goes on staring at the face of one or the other
(this) bewildered mirror - whose is it? /  (I'm) bewildered - whose mirror is this?

Something of a tour-de-force!  The sher works so excellently at different levels.  On one reading, it is a fairly well-worded compliment to the Beloved - implying that if other people were to come before her mirror, the poor mirror could do little better than stare back in astonished silence, its eyes darting from face to face, as it searches for the one that is actually worthy of its regard.  Even when used in this commonplace sense to characterise the Beloved's mirror, however, there could also be an implied barb, besides the compliment - since it would normally be the Beloved who would be reflected in the mirror, the verse could also be pointing out that the Beloved herself remains intransigent to the sufferings of her admirers, as they supplicate before her - content to merely stare back at them without offering a word of solace or comfort.  

But this implied compliment (or barb), as so often, is only the outer shell. The actual intent of the sher is to launch a sufistic barb at the Almighty Himself.  When one recalls that Creation is characterised as the 'mirror of God', the implied sarcasm comes through loud and clear - "what a wonderful mirror this (Creation) is - one that can do nothing but stare like a silent spectator at the faces of suffering mortals?  One can imagine what sort of Being is 'mirrored' in it!"

shaam se kuchh bujhaa saa rahtaa hoo.n
dil huaa hai chiraagh muflis kaa

शाम से कुछ बुझा सा रहता हूँ 
दिल हुआ है चिराग़ मुफलिस का 

شام سے کچھ بجھا سا رہتا ہوں
دل ہوا ہے چراغ مفلس کا

Come evenfall, I remain somewhat subdued
(my) heart has become like a pauper's lamp

The point of this sher is, of course, to indulge in some gentle play with the word 'bujhaa', which, when used for a person, would translate to 'subdued' or 'depressed', but has a literal meaning of 'extinguished'.  A pauper's lamp would, naturally, burn feebly, if at all.  Muflis - which is literally 'insolvent' or 'penniless' - is a negated form of fuluus which is Arabic for a coin.

the bure mugh-bachho.n ke tewar lek
sheikh mai-khaane se bhalaa khiskaa

थे बुरे मुग-बच्चों के तेवर लेक 
शेख़ मय-खाने से भला खिसका 

تھے برے مغ بچّوں کے تیور لیک
شیخ مے خانے سے بھلا کھسکا

The sons of the tavern-keeper were in ill humour, but
the Nobleman wisely fled the tavern

Mugh or its plural mughaan is used in Persian to describe zoroastrian fire-worshippers (Etymologically, the word is from Magus or its plural Magi, which is used, of course, for the Biblical 'three wise men').  However, the term is also used pejoratively for the owner of a house of ill-repute, a drinking den, etc.  Mugh-bachhaa would literally be, then, the son of a tavern-keeper - who seems to have functioned somewhat as modern day 'bouncer'.  The above sher is yet another needling barb at 'Sheikh sahib' - the term describes a man of high social standing, a headman, a preacher, etc.; who is often the butt of ridicule in the ghazal world - who probably found himself in a situation of having drunk beyond what his purse would permit, and was obliged to sneak away from the tavern before he was forcibly ejected. The verb Khisaknaa literally means something like 'to shift sideways' or 'to sidle', but is used figuratively for a the act of making a sneaky and opportune exit from somewhere.  Lek is a poetic contraction of lekin.

daagh aankho.n se khil rahe hai.n sab
haath dastaa huaa hai nargis kaa

दाग़ आँखों से खिल रहे हैं सब 
हाथ दस्ता हुआ है नरगिस का 

داغ آنکھوں سے کھل رہے ہیں سب
ہاتھ دستہ ہوا ہے نرگس

(my) wounds are all blooming like eyes
(the) hand has become like a handful of daffodils

This one's quite nice, with some interesting word-play based imagery.  The first line could literally say 'wounds are blooming like eyes' or even 'wounds are blooming from eyes' (the usage of se as 'from' or 'like' is equally common).  The 'blooming' of wounds refers to their 'opening up', becoming raw again, etc. - which is figuratively similar to the opening of an eyelid.  And since these wounds are self-inflicted ones (in the frenzied zunoon of love), the poet's hand has become metaphorically 'full of flowers'.  The word-play comes from the fact that the first line could also refer to his wounds sprouting forth from his eyes - an allusion to the common ghazal stylisation of 'blood tears' being shed. And a further layer of allusion is added when one recalls that nargis evokes not only flowers of the narcissus genus (daffodils, jonquils), but is also used very frequently in the poetic world to describe the Beloved's eyes (the exact term used is nargis-e-shaahlaa and refers to the tinge of blue or grey in the Beloved's pupils).  Dastaa is literally a 'handful' of something - hence the popular word 'gul-dastaa' to describe a nosegay.     

bah'r kam-zarf hai basaan-e-habaab
kaasa-les ab hawaa hai to jis kaa

बह्र कम-ज़र्फ़ है ब-सान-ए-हबाब
कासा-लेस अब हवा है तो जिस का 

بحر کم ظرف ہے بسانِ حباب
کاسہ لیس اب ہوا ہے تو جس ک

The ocean is small-sized, like a bubble
whose pot-licker is now the air (itself)

Somewhat more cryptic - one has a sense that Mir is saying something quite profound here, but the exact point he is making remains abstruse.  

Zarf is a contracted form of zaraafat which means 'ingenuity' or 'elegance', but, when used for a vessel, also means 'capacity'.  Hence kam-zarf would literally describe a receptacle with a limited capacity, one that is small in size. Kaasah-leb is literally a 'pot licker', and is used to describe relative indigence. [To be somebody's 'pot licker', one would have to be in a situation of great want, relative to that person - forcing you to eke out an existence by licking the left-overs from vessel he has eaten from.]. Saan is Farsi for 'similitude', and hence 'ba-saan' is to be like something.

There is, therefore, lovely imagery in this sher.  The first line says that the entire ocean has no greater capacity than a bubble of water.  And then points out that the very air is, nonetheless, now the pot-licker of this ocean.  Now, it is quite true, of course, that if one chooses to see a water bubble as the 'vessel' in which the entire ocean is captured, then air does 'lick' the insides of the bubble (air trapped within water is what causes the bubble to form in the first place).  And hence air can be seen to be in a situation of great want vis-a-vis even this 'in-capacious' ocean.  Which is all very nice, except that I am not sure what the point of this lovely, mystical-sounding imagery is.  I even wrestled with the possibility of reading 'hawaa hai' in the figurative sense of 'being absent and untraceable' - which would make the second line say something like 'whose pot-licker is now absconding', and would make it more consistent with the relativisation of the ocean's size and importance (that the first line attempts), but again would leave one wondering at what the message behind the entire sher is...!

faiz ab abr chashm-e-tar se uThaa
aaj daaman vasii hai is kaa

फैज़ अब अब्र चश्म-ए-तर से उठा 
आज दामन वसी है इस का

فیض اے ابر چشمِ تر سے اٹھا
آج دامن وسیع ہے اس کا

Now take your bounty from the wet eye, O Cloud
today its daaman is ample

Quite lovely. 

I haven't bothered to translate daaman since there is no English equivalent.  Faiz means 'munificence', 'generosity', 'abundance' etc.  The first line exhorts the cloud to partake freely of the riches held aloft by 'wet eyes' - namely to draw its sustaining moisture not from the seas and rivers, but instead from the tear-drenched eyes of the poet.  The second line goes on to point out that the daaman of the eyes is quite extensive today. Wasi'i is an adjectival form of Wusʻat, which, in Arabic, signifies capacity, spaciousness, etc. However, what is important in the second line is not the size of the daaman, but its wet-ness.  Among the multitude of idioms associated with the daaman imagery is that of daaman geelaa honaa which translates to something like a state of sinfulness or taintedness.  

taab kis ko jo haal-e-miir sune
haal hii aur kuchh hai majlis kaa

ताब किस को जो हाल-ए-मीर सुने 
हाल ही और कुछ है मजलिस का 

تاب کس کو جو حالِ میر سنے 
حال ہی اور کچھ ہے مجلس کا

Who has the strength to pay heed to Mir's (account of his) state?

the condition of the congregation is quite something else!

An apt 'mushairaa' maqtaa to end with. Easy on the ear, thanks to the deliberate repitition of haal in both lines. Majlis is Arabic for an 'assembly', a 'convivial meeting' or a 'Council'. The choice of Majlis as opposed to the more common bazm in the second line is dictated not only by rhyme-considerations, but Mir may also have been trying to play on the common conjointed phrase meer-majlis, which means something like 'the head (or convenor) of an assembly'... 


musiq said...

you WOULD like the circularity!! :)

musiq said...

this one is very complex, isn't it?

Is it about going beyond oneself- sort of reaching the sufi state/ a sort of divine trance; or operating in Plato's realm of Forms rather than in reality? So he is not what is visible in the mirror

He is seeing himself as earthbound, a pauper, where the better/nobler part of himself (the sheikh) has to flee the rough edges of life/himself

musiq said...

Further, his work is blooming among the collapse of nature or 'reality'.
In a way, the flux of the ocean's relative size/capacity reflects the lack of 'real' boundaries experienced when one enters the metaphysical state. A state that his listeners cannot enter into or understand- though ironically the entire poem is about explaning this state

Shweta said...

Great one!
When I first read the matla sometime back (I was looking for mirror shers other than Ghalib's)I understood it quite differently, sufiana, but different. Perhaps I was already biased in my reading from having come from the base of these shers -

Saagar-e-jalwa-e-sarshaar hai har zarrah-e-khaak
Shauq-e-didaar balaa aaina-samaan niklaa

az mihr taa ba-zarrah dil-o-dil hai aaina
tooti ko shash jihat se muqaabil hai aaina

So the meaning I took was this-
Whatever face I look at it is like looking into a mirror, and I wonder whose mirror this is!
(all creation including the self being just mirrors of the creator)

deewaan said...

Musiq: If your commentary gets any more mystical, we'll just have to have it published as sufi poetry in its own right! And of course, I would like the circularity - i kept convoluted company in my formative years!

Shweta: Goodness, yes! That would be a lovely reading of the matlaa - 'he stares at face after face; and asks, bewildered, "whose mirror is this'...". Where the 'he' protagonist could be either the Poet, or any other mystical searcher for truth - or even God Himself! [In the latter case, the line would be a biting comment on His 'disappointment' at human (and, consequently, his own) imperfection - "These are the creatures I am mirrored in?!"]

You have a way of teasing out alternate senses that...boggle the senses! And those two Ghalib shers you evoke - what masterpieces they are, aren't they?