farhaad haath teshe pah ;Tuk rah ke ;Daaltaa
patthar tale kaa haath hii apnaa nikaaltaa

1) if only Farhad had put his hand on the axe [only] after waiting a bit
2) if only he had pulled out his only/emphatically under-a-stone hand



tale == beneath

S. R. Faruqi:

In the verse how excellently an effect of melancholy has been created! There's no word through which melancholy would be directly expressed-- only the use of the contrafactual [mu.zaari((] in the rhyme and the suitable placing of hii in the second line have created this effect. The construction patthar tale kaa haath is a translation of [the Persian] dast-e tah-e sang . But in Persian the meaning of dast tah-e sang aamadan is 'to be defeated, to be debased, to be trapped in some difficulty'. And having come into Urdu, it took on the meaning of 'duress, helplessness'. Mir has used this idiom with such beauty that both meanings have been evoked.

With regard to the Persian, the meaning is that Farhad was entrapped in difficulties, he was defeated by passion. If only, before putting a hand to the axe [to kill himself], he had made an end of his defeat and captivity! The point is that it was only at the hands of passion that he was defeated and decided to wield the axe. If he had emerged from the sway of passion, then there would have been no necessity for wielding the axe. With regard to Urdu, the meaning is that Farhad was coerced by his own passion, he was under the duress of passion. If only he had, before putting a hand to the axe, made an end of his duress!

The point in both cases is that it wasn't as if Farhad would have been successful in passion, or would somehow have safely escaped with his life. Rather, from the very beginning he was coerced and defeated. In the dictionary meaning of the words of the verse there's one more meaning as well. Farhad's hand was in the state of having been placed beneath a stone; even so (that is, for this very reason) in putting his hand to the axe he showed haste.

Unlike Mir, Ghalib and Dard have used this idiom only in the sense of 'duress'. But in Ghalib's case the idiom, the metaphor, and the image have become assimilated in such a way that his verse has gone beyond both the others. Dard's verse:

patthar tale kaa haath hai ;Gaflat ke haath dil
sang-e giraa;N hu))aa hai yih ;xvaab-e giraa;N mujhe

[it's a hand under a stone, the heart, at the hands of heedlessness
this heavy/bad dream has become a heavy stone, to me]

Ghalib's verse:


Unlike all these three, Jur'at has used the idiom in a very superficial and conventional style:

dil miraa us sang-dil ke saath hai
kyaa karuu;N patthar tale kaa haath hai

[my heart is with that stone-hearted one
what can I do-- it's a hand under a stone]

The pleasure that comes in Mir's verse from 'hand under a stone' along with 'Farhad', isn't there in 'stone-hearted one' and 'hand under a stone'.



Here's another of the brilliant verses of Mir's divan. Because after all, there were two distinct points when the stone-cutter Farhad 'put his hand on the axe' preparatory to using it. The first one was when he originally undertook to dig the milk-channel for Shirin's bath; and the second one was when he used the same axe to split his head open, upon being told (falsely) that Shirin was dead. In either case, it would have been smarter for him to wait a bit, to pause and think it over, before picking up the axe. For in both cases, of course, he was being tricked and exploited, and his own desperate passion was being used against him by the cynical Khusrau.

Thus to say in the second line that he ought to have 'pulled out his under-a-stone hand' sounds wonderfully multivalent. It basically means that he ought to have withdrawn his (literal or implicit) promise to dig the milk-channel. For as Nazm observes, commenting on Ghalib's G{230,7}, 'At the time of making a vow and promise, they slap down one hand on another; and here, on the hand is a stone'. But it also sounds like a general act of going on strike: for a stone-cutter to remove his hand from the midst of the stone he is working on is part of the process of dropping his tools and leaving. And beyond that, does it perhaps also suggest that Farhad ought to have given us his crazy longing for Shirin?

The question also arises: is the hand in the first line the same as the hand in the second line? Are we to take them just metaphorically, or are we to imagine that he ought to have 'pulled his hand out from under a pile of stone' literally, by stopping his work, and then 'pulled his hand-- the same hand?-- out from under a stone' metaphorically, by refusing to wield the axe? The various literal and idiomatic senses of the 'hand under a stone' are so entangled here that it's impossible to say; the level of metaphoricalness keeps shifting on us, as the kaleidoscopic pleasures of the verse revolve.

Even so, SRF is right to say that Ghalib's verse is even more brilliant. But each poet's verse has its own characteristic kind of excellence. Mir has no equal in evoking the universality of the particular, the complexity of the (seemingly) simple. (I know, I know, that sounds like the usual meaningless verbiage; but I do mean it, and I try to justify my forays into abstraction with a thousand close readings.)

Note for grammar fans: In this ghazal, which has no refrain, the rhyme-words are all verbs in the contrafactual, a tense that (by definition) describes something that didn't happen. Depending on context, various attitudes toward the thing that didn't happen can be expressed or implied. Here the sense is of a vain longing: the full form would be prefaced by kaash kih (which is colloquially omitted, but shapes the reading).