us ke iifaa-e ((ahd tak nah jiye
((umr ne ham se be-vafaa))ii kii

1) we didn't live until her fulfillment of the vow/promise
2) our lifetime showed unfaithfulness to us



iifaa : 'Paying, satisfying, performing a promise, fulfilling an engagement, keeping faith; payment, satisfaction, discharge, &c.' (Platts p.113)

S. R. Faruqi:

In this verse there ripples an ocean of melancholy and 'mood'. But there's a lot in it besides 'mood'. First of all, look at the unusualness of the theme-- for normally the beloved is called a promise-breaker, and the lover is called faithful. Here, the charge of unfaithfulness is made not against the beloved, but rather against the lifetime. There's a metaphorical aspect to it too-- we say 'His lifetime was not faithful to him' (that is, he died very soon, or he died without finishing his work).

Now the aspect has emerged that the beloved was indeed faithful (or true to her vow), the speaker too was sincere in his confidence. He had confidence in his own love and the beloved's constancy. But a third player-- that is, the lifetime-- spoiled the whole game. It hadn't even occurred to us that in the affairs of passion, the 'lifetime' could undertake real faithfulness and unfaithfulness. If the lifetime would be faithful, then the beloved's vow would surely prove faithful.

Now, from this point a number of aspects emerge. (1) The beloved had not specified any time or any interval; she had only said that she would fulfill her vow. The speaker waited for his whole life, but the time for the fulfillment of the vow didn't come. (2) If the lifetime had been longer, then the vow would definitely have been fulfilled. (3) The speaker didn't live out his full lifespan, he died in his youth (his lifetime was not faithful to him). (4) The reason that he did not live out his full lifespan was that the beloved's cruelty, or the difficulties and troubles of separation, caused him to face death before his time. (5) For the beloved's vow to be fulfilled would require the lifetime of Khizr, and that was not vouchsafed to him. (6) The beloved's lifespan was longer than the lover's. But the beloved always remains young, and the lover is in any case unsuccessful, whether he would die of old age or prematurely.

So far we have been assuming that 'fulfillment of the vow' meant a promise of union. But in fact there's nothing in the verse that enables us to say confidently that here definitely a promise of union is meant. For example, the following possibilities come to mind: (1) The beloved promised to slay him. (2) The beloved promised to show in her treatment of him some special kind or manner of cruelty-- that is, to distinguish him from others. (3) The beloved promised him the ultimate in cruelty. (4) The beloved promised him the happiness of union. (5) The beloved promised to cut off her relationship with the Rivals. And so on. That is, by keeping the nature of the promise obscure, he has created a variety of meanings.

In the second divan, the theme of the unfaithfulness of the lifetime appears [{960,7}]:

jafaa us kii nah pahu;Nchii intihaa tak
dare;Gaa ((umr ne kii be-vafaa))ii

[her oppression did not arrive at the extremity
alas, that my lifetime showed unfaithfulness!]

In this verse there's very little 'mood', and because the thing of which the lifetime's unfaithfulness deprived him (the extremity of oppression) was spelled out, it's also lacking in depth.

In the present verse, among the possibilities another is that the beloved made no distinction between tyranny and slaughter. This idea at first seems far-fetched, but Mir has several times versified this theme. In the sixth divan [{1904,5}]:

saan maaraa aur kushto;N me;N mire kushte ko bhii
us kushandah la;Rke ne be-imtiyaazii ;xuub kii

[he killed us among other slain ones-- even my slaughter
that murderous boy did with a fine lack of distinction!]

In the second divan:


In the ghazal from which the present verse has been taken, there is one more verse of this kind, in which placing blame on the beloved has been avoided, and blame has been placed on something on which blame is not usually placed. That is, that verse too is an example of the very same kind of 'theme-creation' that we have seen in the present verse. Though certainly in that verse there are not those aspects of meaning that are found four-fold in the present verse [{435,5}]:

dil me;N us sho;x ke nah kii taa;siir
aah ne aah naa-rasaa))ii kii

[in the heart of that mischievous one, it made no effect
the sigh-- ah!-- showed ineffectiveness/'non-access']

Though indeed, for the sigh to show ineffectiveness-- that is, for the sigh to be either active agent or subject-- is very fine. People usually say 'the sigh remained ineffective' [aah naa-rasaa rahii] . In contrast, Mir not only has not called the sigh 'ineffective', but rather has shown it to be actively engaged in 'ineffectiveness'.

In two verses from the sixth divan, Mir has versified this same theme of the unfaithfulness of the lifetime with a very interesting aspect [{1887,1}]:

vuh ab hu))aa hai itnaa kih jaur-o-jafaa kare
afsos hai jo ((umr nah merii vafaa kare

[now she's at last in the mood to show cruelty and oppression
alas, if my lifetime would not show faithfulness!]

And in this verse [{1896,4}]:

der javaanii kuchh rahtii to us kii jafaa kaa u;Thtaa mazah
((umr ne merii gu;zar jaane me;N haa))e dare;G shitaabii kii

[if youth had remained a bit longer/slower, then I would have enjoyed her cruelty
my lifetime, in passing-- alas, woe!-- made haste]



Here's another poignant example of the lover's tendency to blame anything and everything else, rather than confront the terrible probability that the beloved herself is as radically unfaithful as we know her to be. That second line has such a quiet starkness-- we may notice that it displaces the guilt of unfaithfulness from the beloved to the lover's own 'lifetime', but the line itself speaks with a plainness that rejects all rhetorical subtleties. The verse becomes powerful through its absolute brevity and simplicity.

The verse also deserves 'fresh word' credit for the striking and unusual iifaa , which comes from the same Arabic root as vafaa (thus creating wordplay) but is much rarer. Ghalib never uses it even once in his whole divan, and Mir never uses it again in any of the verses that appear on this website.

Note for translation fans: It seems impossible to fully capture be-vafaa))ii kii in English. The most literal rendering would be 'did unfaithfulness', but that's too awful even for the stretched-out and longsuffering English that I'm using. 'Showed unfaithfulness' is the best we can do, but the idea of 'to show' contains inevitably a residual ambiguity ('She showed affection toward us, but was it sincere?'). Idiomatic constructions like 'played us false' are tempting, but are not helpful to the student. (Similarly, shitaabii kii is literally 'did speed', but here luckily we can use 'made haste'.) What we'd normally say in English would be 'was unfaithful', which of course would normally correspond to be-vafaa thaa -- and thus would not reflectthe transitive verb form used by Mir to highlight the alleged moral culpability of the 'lifetime'.