kahaa mai;N ne kitnaa hai gul kaa ;sabaat
kalii ne yih sun kar tabassum kiyaa

1) I said, how much is the stability/endurance of a rose?
2) the bud, having heard this, smiled



;sabaat : 'Continuance, subsistency, durability, permanence, stability, endurance; constancy, firmness, steadiness, steadfastness, fixedness; resolution, determination; soundness, validity'. (Platts p.368)

S. R. Faruqi:

This verse is so famous that perhaps it wouldn't be necessary to express an opinion about it. But in truth, a number of things in it are in need of attention. The first line is usually well-known as

kahaa mai;N ne gul kaa hai kitnaa ;sabaat .

But the correct form is the one given in the text.

From the presence of the word kitnaa , the power of the line has increased. The interpretation of the verse is not as wide-ranging as it at first appears.

The question in the first line (how much is the stability of the rose?) has no addressee-- certainly not the bud, which has 'heard it' and given an answer, or rather has merely smiled. It's possible that this question might be addressed to oneself, and the asker would have no expectation of an answer. It's possible that this might not be a question, but an expression of astonishment at how much (that is, how great, or how little) the rose's stability is.

But no answer comes from the flower; one bud no doubt smiles, but we can't say that it has smiled in answer. (That is, its smile alludes to the fact that the life of the flower is only as long as it would take for the bud, having smiled, to become a flower; the interval in which the bud smiles and becomes a flower is the very interval in which the flower begins to wither.) Or it has smiled sarcastically (that is, its smile says mimetically, 'You are a fool for asking such a question'). Or perhaps the bud has smiled because the question-asker himself is so ephemeral, his own life has no assuredness, and he is absorbed in wondering how much stability the rose has! The question of why the bud smiles (in response? or sarcastically?) cannot be fully answered.

There ought to have been a reaction on the part of the flower, but the flower remains silent. Probably because the flower is not able to speak. After it blooms, its collectedness is ended. Or perhaps because the flower only exists as long as it is in the form of a bud, because as long as it's a bud, the flower's existence is assured. When the bud opens and becomes a flower, then its existence has experienced a decline, because after becoming a flower, it will necessarily wither.

In the smiling of the bud is a kind of 'tragic dignity' too, because for it, to smile is the preface to oblivion, but nevertheless it doesn't avoid smiling, because it has to fulfill the responsibility of its position in life. This point too is interesting: that the flower's ears are assumed to exist, but it doesn't hear; the bud hears, and smiles. Perhaps the flower's ears are merely artificial; and why wouldn't they be, when the flower's very existence is dubious. Perhaps the bud is saying that when we ourselves have no stability (one moment we smile, the next moment we die), then how will the flower have stability?



A smile is such a protean reaction, so filled with implication yet often so hard to read. It's an expressive reaction, but what exactly is it expressing? We all constantly encounter its ambiguity. When the smile is equated with the bud's blooming, and thus its all-too-imminent withering, the possible subtleties of the smile become inexhaustible. Isn't this a verse that's 'unattainably simple'?

Just to show the usefulness of a multiply-interpretable non-verbal gesture, here's another case in which Mir makes excellent use of it. What does the 'wink of the rose' mean in


There's also a verse of Ghalib's that's comparable in a general way to the present one, since it deals with the inner lives of buds and roses:


One would think that nothing could compare with Mir's verse, but Ghalib's second line is, in its own way, fully as haunting. Really I think the two verses are worthy of being read together, and show our two brilliant poets at the top of their game.

Compare also Mir's more conventional and explicit treatment of the 'doomed-rose' theme, in the second divan: