shahaa;N kih ku;hl-e javaahir thii ;xaak-e paa jin kii
unhii;N kii aa;Nkh me;N phirtii silaa))iyaa;N dekhii;N

1a) kings such that the dust of their feet was jewel-collyrium
1b) kings such that jewel-collyrium was dust under their feet

2) in only/emphatically their eyes I saw needles moving



;xaak-e paa : 'Dust of the feet; earth trodden under foot; the lowest or most worthless thing'. (Platts p.484)

S. R. Faruqi:

ku;hl-e javaahir = an expensive collyrium, in which pearls and various jewels are dissolved

This verse is rightly famous for its 'mood'. In both lines the contrast of situation is so powerful that it makes one shiver [ro;Ngte kha;Re ho jaate hai;N]. If we reflect, then we will realize that despite the intensity of the mood, in this verse Mir's craftsmanship of language too is fully manifest, and if this craftsmanship had not been there, then perhaps the mood too wouldn't have been so powerful. Consider the following points:

(1) Collyrium is a very fine powder. Thus to give to dust the simile of collyrium is excellent with regard to mood and natural condition both. That is, there are two causes of similitude: one is the outward resemblance of collyrium and dust, and the other is that to take the dust of the feet and apply it to the eyes is a common way of expressing faith and respect.

(2) In order to apply collyrium, a needle is used. And in former times a way of blinding someone was also that a needle that had been dipped in poison was moved around in his eyes; or collyrium mixed with poison used to be applied to his eyes with a needle. In this way there's an affinity between 'jewel-collyrium' and the movement of needles.

(3) Between ku;hl-e javaahir , silaa))iyaa;N , dekhii;N there's the relationship of a zila.

(4) Between paa and aa;Nkh there's an affinity, since the foot is the lowest part of the body, and eye is part of the highest part of the body.

(5) In the first line, the grammar and usage is very 'dramatic'; shahaa;N kih is an uncommon usage, because usually such a sentence begins with the word vuh . Because of the omission of vuh , the trimness [chustii] has increased. (This kind of power is also sometimes created through the omission of a verb.) If the line were vuh shaah ku;hl-javaahir thii ;xaak-e paa jis kii , then the force would be very much less.

(6) The word unhii;N is for emphasis and force, but another interpretation of it is that 'only' those kings have this ordeal, whose glory and greatness are such that the dust under their feet has the rank of jewel-collyrium.

He has directly called the dust under their feet 'jewel-collyrium'-- that is, instead of a simile he has established a metaphor. There's certainly hyperbole [mubaala;Gah] in it, but this very thing is also its beauty. Metaphors are usually based on hyperbole; the operation of this principle works very beautifully in this line. If he had said that the dust under their feet was like jewel-collyrium, then the force that's in the present line wouldn't have been created.

Now the additional meaning has been created, that in people's view the dust of their feet was as valuable or health-bestowing as jewel-collyrium; or their glory and greatness gave them such charisma that the dust of their feet became jewel-collyrium. Or, people applied to their eyes the dust of these kings' feet, like jewel-collyrium.

Jamil Jalabi, in his history, and Kalb-e Ali Khan Fa'iq in his edited kulliyaat-e miir , have written that this verse is about the blinding of Ahmad Shah. Ahmad Shah was dethroned and blinded by his vazir, Imad ul-Mulk. But this event took place in 1167 AH (June 1754), while this verse is in the first divan, which had already been edited in 1165 AH (1751-52). Thus unless Mir composed this ghazal later and inserted it into the first divan, it ought to be called a kind of revelation-- that Mir composed a verse that later somehow came true. The manuscript of the first divan that's in Mahmudabad, and for which the date of calligraphy is 1788, can be called the oldest known manuscript of the first divan. In it this ghazal does not appear. But this doesn't prove anything, because in this manuscript there are also a number of verses that are not in the customary first divan, but rather occur in the fifth or sixth divans (see the introduction to the printed divan by Akbar Haidari). Thus as long as it's not proved that this verse was composed after June 1754, we ought to take it as Mir's revelation.



The first line, thanks to the symmetry of Urdu grammar, has two readings: either the speaker is talking about the dust of the kings' feet, and calling it (as precious as) jewel-collyrium (1a); or else he's invoking jewel-collyrium, and describing it as dust beneath the kings' feet-- that is, the kings live in such regal luxury that they don't even value jewel-collyrium any more than they value the dust under their feet (1b). SRF takes note in his discussion of both these possibilities.

Apart from the generally suspect nature of claims made by natural-poetry proponents (often, as in this case, in defiance of the relevant dates), several points about the verse make it a dubious choice as a case of historical specificity. The speaker uses the plural and says that 'kings' have been blinded; their blinding is presented intransitively, with 'needles moving'-- phirnaa , not phernaa -- and no mention of any agent; furthermore, the speaker claims to have 'seen' this horrible process. How likely is it that Mir himself would actually have 'seen' any king blinded, much less more than one of them? And once we recognize that no doubt he has only mentally or imaginatively 'seen' them, then the whole claim to historical specificity is lost anyway-- for why should we think that he has mentally imagined or 'seen' any one particular individual rather than another, out of the sad host of blinded kings and princes?

Surely it's far more plausible that the verse emerged from the need to have rhyme words ending in aa))iyaa;N that could be so arranged as to be followed by dekhii;N . Once the poet has thought of 'needles' and joined it to 'seeing', the imagery of collyrium, its being applied to the eyes with a needle to enhance vision, and the contrastive use of a needle for blinding (with its negation of 'seeing'), would hardly have been far behind. It doesn't take a Mir to think of this cluster of imagery. But it takes a Mir to weave it so tightly and powerfully together that the words are intertwined 'like a hand gripping a collar'.