saiyid ho yaa chamaar ho is jaa vafaa hai shar:t
kab ((aashiqii me;N puuchhte hai;N ;zaat ke ta))ii;N

1a) whether you are a Saiyid or you are a Chamar, in this place faithfulness is the condition
1b) whether there would be a Sayyid or would be a Chamar, in that place faithfulness is the condition

2) in lover-ship, when do we/they ask about caste/tribe/self?!



saiyid : 'A lord, ohief, prince; —any descendant of Mohammad, (esp.) a descendant of Husain (who was the grandson of Mohammad): —the second of the four classes into which Mohammadans are divided; an individual of that class'. (Platts p.710)


chamaar : 'A caste of men who work in leather; a member of that caste; a worker in leather, a currier, a shoemaker, harness-maker; a cobbler; a tanner'. (Platts p.440)


;zaat : 'Essence, substance, nature, radical constituent; soul; body, person, self (i.e. a man's self, or a thing's self); generation, breed, tribe, caste; genus, species; sort, kind'. (Platts p.576)

S. R. Faruqi:

ke ta))ii;N = about

In this verse, is jaa has the same kind of power that has been discussed in yih naa-tavaa;N in


In it there's the additional pleasure that 'lover-ship', which is a situation, he has construed as a place. This is a special idiom of Urdu, but in using it a lot of dexterity is required. By saying 'in lover-ship' he has confirmed the emplacedness [makaaniyat] of the situation. Through using this method, another advantage is that the importance of 'lover-ship' (that is, to love, to be absorbed in love, and to deal with the necessities of love) becomes greater than that of the lovers (that is, those who love).

The individual (that is, the personal individuality, or the individual state of a thing) is not important. Rather, the universality (that is, the whole situation, the common existence) is important. This principle of our poetry (and culture, and thought, and philosophy) is operative here with great excellence. For example, if the second line were like this: kab ((aashiqo;N se puuchhte hai;N ;zaat ke ta))ii;N , then the central importance would be not of passion, but rather of the individual lovers. That is, instead of universality, individuality would acquire centrality.

As Hali's era gradually came, in our culture (probably under Western influence) instead of the universal, the individual began to acquire the central place. Accordingly, look at how Hali has expressed Mir's theme:

qais ho kohkan ho yaa ;haalii
((aashiqii kuchh kisii kii ;zaat nahii;N

[whether it be Qais, or Kohkan, or Hali
lover-ship isn't at all anyone's cast/tribe/self]

In Hali's verse, lover-ship is important, but the central importance is of the individual (that is, Qais, Kohkan, and Hali) who do the lover-ship. Hali's verse is extremely superb, and in the second line the word kuchh is very powerful. But because of the change in cultural assumptions, his verse becomes different from Mir's world.

In Mir's verse, let's now consider sayyid ho yaa chamaar . Here too there's universality. Then, having comprehended in this utterance the entirety of Hindustani prejudices and perceptions, he has made the idea immediate and earthly. If he had said Brahmin, Shaikh, etc., then he wouldn't have been able to obtain the universality that is founded on customs and practices, on the realities of the culture. In both these words ('Sayyid' and 'Chamar') a whole society, its social classes, its good and evil, everything is comprised.

Muhammad Hasan Askari too has rightly said, speaking of certain sayings and idioms, that in them a whole cultural worldview becomes reflected. Then, with Sayyid and Chamar, what an affinity there is for ;zaat --such that names like Qais, Kohkan, Hali, etc. that are mentioned in Hali's verse, cannot achieve the same effect.

Some people (for example, Qazi 'Abd ul-Vadud) have expressed doubt as to whether Mir was a Sayyid or not. Muhammad Husain Azad too, in his own style, has written [in aab-e ;hayaat , p. 194] that the ground for such a doubt unquestionably existed. Whatever may be the truth (and Mir's being or not being a Sayyid has no relationship at all with his poetic standing), the fact remains that Mir has often used Sayyid and Chamar as two limit cases. From the first divan [{579,7}]:

ay ;Gair miir tujh ko gar juutiyaa;N nah maare
sayyid nah hove phir tuu ko))ii chamaar hove

[oh Other, if Mir wouldn't beat you with shoes
then if you wouldn't be a Sayyid, you'd be some Chamar]

Thus by saying Sayyid and Chamar Mir, in his view, has mentioned the most 'noble' and the most 'low'. In this way he has decreed the smallest and the greatest to be equal in the land of passion. This is a kind of humanism that is deeply marked by Islamic culture and mysticism.

At the same time, there's also an awareness of caste and class distinctions that must be called persistent/ineradicable [raj((at-parastaanah]. Because in the verse the feelings of humanism and caste/class [;zaat paat] are both present at once, an extraordinary sarcastic pleasure has been created in it. If on the one hand this sarcasm is directed toward the beliefs of the speaker and those who agree with his belief that among mankind distinctions of caste/class are prevalent, then on the other hand there's also sarcasm directed at those superficial people who consider passion to be the heritage of certain people. Taken as a whole, this verse holds up a mirror to the darvesh-like quality of the humanism of passion.

Ghalib has written this theme in his special, intellectual style. In his verse the 'mood' is very little; while Mir's verse, despite being the bearer of so much meaning, is also full of mood.


Taking the duo of Sayyid and Chamar directly from Mir, Salim Ahmad has composed a superb verse:

gaa;N;Thte hai;N pha;Te hu))e ja;zbaat
ho ke sayyid bane saliim chamaar

[he cobbles together torn emotions
having been a Sayyid, Salim became a Chamar]

I've said that Salim Ahmad's verse is taken directly from Mir because Salim Ahmad (as he has written in his autobiography) was not a Sayyid. In the verse 'Sayyid' and 'Chamar' are metaphors, not autobiography.

I want to say very clearly that I consider distinctions of caste/class to be wrong/false and based on societal injustice; nor do I endorse that 'duality' that Mir and Salim Ahmad have mentioned in their verses. I have explicated these things on the basis of the verses, not on the basis of my own views.



SRF takes the verse to be very much 'emplaced', and it certainly could be addressed to a familiar person, a tum , with regard to his particular identity (1a). But the grammar is so framed that the verse could also be reimagined as completely abstract (1b)-- as some unknown person's report on the local behavior of people in some particular place. For 'you are' (familiar present tense) could also be taken as 'there would be' (third person future subjunctive); the is jaa could be read as us jaa ; and the subject colloquially omitted in the second line could be construed as 'they'. Thus the effect of detachment and general reflection could be made complete.

But SRF is right to emphasize the main reading, the personalized one. Even apart from its much greater poetic power within the verse, to identify the speaker as a lover (which is the line of least resistance in the ghazal world) itself would require 'this place' and the reading of 'we' rather than 'they' in the second line.

The range of possibilities for ;zaat also works brilliantly (see the definition above). The term can refer to many kinds of caste and tribe groupings, and also to the 'self'. Since the passionate lover's be-;xvudii is his great mystical claim to fame, the rejection of birth-based social identities like Saiyid and Chamar appears as only an early stage on the Sufistic path to self-annihilation. Mir's mentioning as parallel choices what he obviously saw as polar opposite groups has a piquant double effect: it both points to the wide gulf between them, and throws them together as two uninteresting low-level forms of identity that the lovers in 'this place' very quickly transcend. The tone of the second line with its rhetorical question is even indignant-- 'When do we bother about such trivia? (Never, of course!)'