nah so))e nii;Nd bhar us tang-naa me;N taa nah mu))e
kih aah jaa nah thii paa ke daraaz karne ko

1) we did not sleep a full sleep in that/this narrow valley/strait, {up until we died / 'as long as we hadn't died'}
2) for, ah!-- there was no place to extend the legs



tang-naa , tang-naa))e : 'A narrow place or passage, a strait; a defile'. (Platts p.340)

S. R. Faruqi:

In this verse, because of the 'mood', the abundance of meaning is not immediately perceived.

(1) The speaker has called the world tang-naa . The meaning of tang-naa is 'a valley/defile between two mountains'; thus it is a place on both sides of which are hard-to-traverse mountains, and which connects two comparatively wide and open places. On the same lines ;xaak-naa and ;xaak-naa))e too have been formed. In all these usages, naa means 'place', and 'reed' ( nai ) is also suggested. There's also the usage of tang-naa-e ;xaak to mean 'grave' (Steingass). In the aanandraaj dictionary, in addition to tang-naa))e meaning 'narrow street, as opposed to an open space', there's jaa-e tang too, which is also used to allude to the grave, the world, and the human heart; it also means 'a place of sorrow and trouble'. It should also be kept in mind that the cells of some prisons are so narrow that in them the prisoner can neither stand nor fully extend his legs.

Thus according to the movement of Mir's line, the world is a single narrow valley/strait that connects two open spaces. That is, the world is a valley between two nonexistences that connects them both. The world is also a place with hard-to-traverse mountains on both sides of it. That is, from here there's no place to flee. The world is also entirely a place of sorrow and afflictions-- most of all, that the world itself is, like the grave, narrow and dark. Now the pleasure of the meaning is that in the one grave there was no scope to extend the legs; thus he came and stayed in a second grave; this grave was more comfortable, because here he had the space to extend his legs. The ironic tension in this expression needs no elaboration.

(2) In the world there was no scope to stretch out his legs, or there was no occasion. For jaa also means 'occasion'; for example, be-jaa means 'without occasion'. Mir Anis:

maidaa;N kii ra.zaa dete nah ho;Nge shah-e vaalaa
aazurdah nah ho;N aap yih ;Gu.s.se kii nahii;N jaa

[the lofty king will not give consent for the battlefield
don't you be downcast; this is not the occasion for anger]

Thus there was no 'occasion' for extending the legs. A whole lifetime passed in running here and there. A single narrow valley in which the speaker had no settledness-- this way and that way, from here to there, he wanders in confusion and stupefaction. If it was possible sometime, he would flex his legs, or simply stand still and snatch a wink of sleep; to sleep his fill was never vouchsafed to him. Now that death has come, he has the opportunity to stretch out his legs and sleep in peace.

(3) If jaa is taken to mean 'place', then the meaning is that we spent our life in great confinement-- in our house there wasn't even enough room for us to be able to sleep comfortably. Or, compared to our enthusiasm the world was so small that it seemed to us that it didn't have room for us even to stretch out our legs. Or, we were a prey to homelessness-- nowhere did we even find a place to sit in peace.

(4) In the narrow valley of the world, we found occasion to sleep comfortably only when we slept in the grave. Thus even after death we remained imprisoned in the world. That is, even after death nonexistence was not vouchsafed to us, we remained only in the world itself.

(5) When we were alive, we never were able to sleep to our heart's content. Now there is the sleep of death-- that is, a sleep such that it will not be vouchsafed to us to awaken from it. Here too, the effect of sarcasm is fine.

After such opulence of meaning, even if there is any awkwardness in the verse, then it becomes acceptable. In the second line the word aah seems apparently to be padding. But if we reflect even a little, then it becomes clear that this is not the case. The first point is that instead of aah , many other words were possible:

(1) kih ham ko jaa nah thii paa ke daraaz karne ko

(2) kih jaa kahii;N nah thii paa ke daraaz karne ko

(3) kih kuchh bhii jaa nah thii paa ke daraaz karne ko

And so on. Thus the aah has been brought in intentionally. A reason for this is that there's an affinity between aah and mu))e -- that is, on the occasion of death a person sighs, or at someone's death a sigh is heaved. A second point is that it's not necessary for the verse to be assumed to be the words of a singular speaker. It's also possible that the speaker would heave a sigh about some other person and say that in this narrow valley he never slept his fill until he died. In such a case the aah becomes very appropriate. A third point is that the word aah is also said when expressing the crux of some matter, and in a way the second line is explicating the first line. A fourth point is that among aah , paa , daraaz there's of course a harmony of sound, and between aah and daraaz there's an affinity of meaning as well-- because one quality of a sigh is its prolongation.

In the second line, instead of paa ke daraaz karne ko it would also have been possible to have paa))o;N daraaz karne ko . But in that case the harmony would not have been so fine. A second point is that in paa))o;N daraaz karne ko there's a hint/suspicion of paa))o;N phailaanaa , and this meaning [of 'to be at ease'] is harmful to the verse. In short, in every way the verse is trim in its wording, and the aspects of 'mood' and meaning have lifted it to a very high level.

For clarification about why the meaning of paa))o;N phailaanaa is harmful to this verse, call to mind Mir's immensely famous verse:


Mus'hafi has written a ghazal in this meter. He has versified the theme and rhyme of paa))o;N daraaz karnaa . If Mir's verse is not present, then Mus'hafi's verse seems very excellent; though indeed, if Mir's verse is kept in mind, then Mus'hafi's verse seems entirely spiritless and pallid:

galii me;N us kii hu))ii ;xalq yaa;N tak aasuudah
kih ham ko jaa nah milii paa daraaz karne ko

[in her street, people found ease to such an extent
that we didn't get a place to extend our legs]

The late Nisar Ahmad Faruqi has written that ' paa))o;N phailaanaa is also used to express ease and confidence'. First, I disagree with this. But the point is that here paa daraaz karnaa has been versified as an idiom. No doubt paa daraaz meaning 'confident, at ease', etc. exists in Urdu and Persian. But paa daraaz kardan / paa daraaz karnaa / paa))o;N daraaz karnaa is not found anywhere. It should also be kept in mind that dast-daraazii karnaa or dast-ta:taavul is used in a bad sense, and paa))o;N phailaanaa too is used in a bad sense. By contrast, paa daraaz karnaa has not a trace/suspicion of anything bad in its meaning. Mir and Mus'hafi have taken paa daraaz and made it into paa daraaz karnaa in Urdu.

[See also {1040,4}.]



In the first line, we have to decide for ourselves whether it's 'this' narrow valley (which implies that the speaker is still in it), or 'that' narrow valley (which implies that the speaker is now elsewhere). I prefer the latter, because it's more piquant to the imagination (since merely attaining 'the sleep of the grave' is such a commonplace idea).

Moreover, in either case the question still lingers: after he died, did the speaker manage to sleep his fill? It's easy to imagine that he did, because then there's such a strong and obvious contrast between his cramped, restless life and his (presumably) more spacious, peaceful situation after death. But in Urdu as in English, another reading is quite possible. If we say 'Joe never found peace, as long as he lived' or 'Joe never found peace, up to the moment he died', do such statements actually tell us that Joe found peace after his death? They can offer no more than a vague suggestion (by means of conventional cultural pieties). Only the context could make the situation clear-- and of course, the verse is careful not to give us any such context. We can imagine the speaker to be in any of a variety of after-death situations, and the tone of the verse will vary accordingly. (Remember Hamlet's anxiety, 'For in that sleep of death what dreams may come...'.)

Note for grammar fans: That taa nah mu))e is an archaic form of something like jab tak ham nah mare , 'as long as we did not die'.

Note for translation fans: The contrast between emphasizing the (affirmative) coming of some event in English ('until Joe arrives,...'), and emphasizing the (negative) period of the non-coming of the possible event in Urdu ('as long as Joe does not arrive,...'), has given rise to much confusion, and many mistranslations.