kaasah-e sar ko liye maa;Ngtaa diidaar phire
miir vuh jaan se be-zaar gadaa mai;N hii huu;N

1) [the one who] having taken the begging-bowl of the head, would wander around asking for a vision/sight--
2) Mir, that beggar who is annoyed/disgusted with his life, I alone am



S. R. Faruqi:

The theme of the begging-bowl is common. Ghalib, making use of his special 'meaning-creation' and metaphorical complexity, has composed a fine verse:


On this theme, to find a verse better than this one is difficult. But Ghalib didn't have at hand kaasah-e sar and jaan se be-zaar gadaa .

Atish and Nasikh have certainly made their own attempts, but Mir's kind of intensity and disaffection with one's life wasn't available to them either. Atish:

aa;Nkhe;N nahii;N hai;N chahre pah tere faqiir ke
do ;Thiikare hai;N bhiik ke diidaar ke li))e

[these are not eyes on the face of your faqir
they are two earthen-bowls, for the alms of vision/sight]


har galii me;N hai;N saa))il-e diidaar
aa;Nkh yaa;N kaasah-e gadaa))ii hai

[in every street are askers for vision/sight
the eye, here, is a begging-bowl]

qatl jurm-e mai-kashii par ho ke saaqii bahr-e mai
ham li))e phirte hai;N apnaa kaasah-e sar haath me;N

[having been slain on the charge of wine-drinking, Cupbearer, for the sake of wine
having taken the begging-bowl of our head in our hand, we wander around]

To call the eye an 'earthen-bowl' doesn't fulfill the claims of a simile. In addition to its uncouthness, the cause of similitude too is weak, and Atish has not provided any justification for the permissibility of two earthen-bowls.

Nasikh has upheld the theme well, because between the begging-bowl and the eye there's a similitude and an affinity. But his first line is not entirely effective; the verse has only with difficulty been able to escape from the flaw of 'repetition' [takraar]. In Nasikh's second verse, the address to the Cupbearer is unnecessary; and for the wandering around after being slain, with the begging-bowl of the head in his hand, he has given no 'proof' at all.

Now, let's look at Mir. Here, the refrain is utterly effective, because in the first line there's a mention of an uncommon act. If kaasah-e sar really were meant to refer to 'the begging bowl of the head', as it is in Nasikh's verse, then nothing would have been accomplished. Thus in the second line he's called him jaan se be-zaar . Now the intention becomes that he wanders around 'with his head on the palm of his hand' [sar hathelii par li))e]-- that is, he wanders around ready at all times to have his head cut off and lose his life. Those who seek a vision/sight, will undoubtedly have their heads cut off. Thus 'his head is on the palm of his hand', so that 'when you wish, cut it off-- but show me your glory/appearance'.

If we place before Nasikh's first verse, the following verse of Mir's, then it will be clear why Nasikh's first line is virtually useless [{435,6}]:

kaasah-e chashm le ke juu;N nargis
ham ne diidaar kii gadaa))ii kii

[having taken the begging-bowl of the eye, like the narcissus,
we begged for a vision/sight]

In Mir's first line, the simile 'like a narcissus' is filled with meaning. and an additional theme too has come into the line. In Nasikh's line, there's no additional theme. The truth is that 'he's just not up to the job' ['the ustad's place is empty', jaa-e ustaad ;xaaliist].

Shah Nasir, indeed, has changed the theme and done it justice:

be-ta.savvur yaar ke yuu;N chashm lagtii hai na.siir
kaasah-e ;xaalii ho jaise mardum-e saa))il ke haat

[without an image of the beloved, the eye seems as if, Nasir,
it would be an empty begging-bowl, like the hands of a begging man]



The first line seems to lead us toward a grotesque vision: that of the apparently decapitated lover who then picks up his own head and wanders around, using it as a begging-bowl and seeking for a vision of the beloved. As SRF points out, Nasikh's second verse invokes exactly this reified image of the headless lover and his skull-made begging-bowl.

But as SRF points out, Mir's second line (fortunately!) pushes us firmly over into metaphorical territory: the speaker is disgusted or disaffected with his life, which is very different from being already decapitated and wandering around headless. He might be ready to die, but he's not dead yet. He's disgusted with his life, but he still has agency and could even change his mind if he wanted to. (I can't help remembering the 'Bring out your dead' sketch from 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'-- 'But I'm not dead yet!'.)

The second line thus opens up the metaphorical territory of the living, functioning head as a 'begging-bowl' that seeks to receive the alms of a vision/sight of the beloved. That's a little awkward, but by ghazal standards not at all extreme. It's an example of how the poet can flirt with zombie-like grotesquerie, and then escape it. It's an intriguing effect, and appears here with unusual clarity.