kaisaa chaman kih ham se asiiro;N ko man((a hai
chaak-e qafas se baa;G kii diivaar dekhnaa

1) what kind of a garden?!-- that for captives like us it's forbidden
2) to look, through the slit in the cage, at the wall of the garden



chaak : 'Fissure, cleft, rent, slit, a narrow opening'. (Platts p.418)

S. R. Faruqi:

The achievedness [pu;xtagii] of this verse is of course magnificent; the appropriateness of the expression too is worthy of praise. By saying kaisaa chaman he has created the impression of a whole sentence; and by saying ham se he has told a whole story, and has also distinguished himself from the other captives. In the second line he has brought helplessness to an extreme level-- that there's indeed a slit in the cage, and through that slit the wall of the garden can indeed be seen. But here, there's no permission to look. Perhaps the command is 'keep your eyes closed', or 'don't turn in that direction'.

The theme of looking through a slit in the cage, Mir has versified in an entirely new style in the fifth divan [{1631,5}]:

kyaa miir asiiro;N ko dar-e baa;G jo vaa ho
hai rang-e havaa dekhne ko chaak-e qafas bas

[what is it to the captives, Mir, if the door of the garden would be open?
for seeing the color/mood of the air/atmosphere, the slit in the cage is enough]

A theme like that of the present verse Sauda too has versified, in the same ground and meter. Sauda's verses are part of a verse-set [qi:t((ah band], thus the pleasure of a single verse in isolation is reduced. But there's appropriateness in Sauda's verse too, and the image too is fine. Only there's not that uniqueness of imagination that's in Mir's verse. Sauda says:

;xaamosh apne kulbah-e a;hzaa;N me;N roz-o-shab
tanhaa pa;Re hu))e dar-o-diivaar dekhnaa

[keep silent in your cell of sorrows day and night
lying there alone, look at the door and walls]

In this 'ground' Faiz's ghazal too is the bearer of great 'mood', but no verse of his reaches to the level of Mir's good verses.



Oh this really is a brilliant one! Even its chilling, ominous, totalitarian echoes are only a secondary effect-- for it's really insha'iyah, it's a question. 'What kind of garden is this?' Just think of all the different tones in which such a question could be asked-- amazement, despair, genuine perplexity, disdain, rueful amusement.

The question also implicitly conjures up a 'normal' garden, one what would not provoke such a question or exclamation of surprise. What would such a garden be like? Of course, it could be one in which the bird who is speaking would expect to be free to fly at will around the garden. Or failing that, it could at least be one in which the bird would be in an ordinary cage of light wire, from which visibility in all directions would be almost perfect. Or failing that, it could at least be one in which the bird is in some special enclosed cage but is able to look out freely at the garden through the slit (for ventilation?) in the cage. Or failing that, it could be one in which even if the cage is right up against the garden wall, the bird is at least able to look out at the wall itself, and imagine the world of freedom just beyond it. But no-- for this garden, not even this last bleak alternative is available.

The sight of the garden wall is not available-- not because it's impossible for the caged bird to see the garden wall, but because to do so is forbidden. Why is it forbidden? Is it because of the risk of an attempt to escape? Is it because the sight of the wall might remind the bird of the outside world, and cause it to pine away? Or might it just be an exercise of sheer, arbitrary power-- the order is there because that's the order? Or is there even a garden there at all-- is the whole thing some kind of cruel trick?

If the bird has been ordered to refrain from looking at the wall, how could such an order be enforced? Does it depend on voluntary compliance (by a bird who's in love with the bird-catcher)? Or is there some kind of punishment prescribed for violating the rule? And how could the bird be punished more than he's being punished already?

And finally, the sight of the garden wall is not available to 'captives like us'. Does that mean there are other captive birds in similar slitted cages who are allowed to look out at the garden wall? Is the speaker one of a group of special captives (political prisoners of some kind)? Or is he just colloquially using 'we' for himself, so that his position is really unique in its restrictedness?

All these questions arise, and swirl, and hover, and can't be made to go away. All these effects are created by sixteen words, not one of which is wasted. There are no rhetorical embellishments, there's no wordplay, there's nothing fancy at all-- just the exclamatory question of the captive bird.