phir ba((d mere aaj talak sar nahii;N bikaa
ik ((umr se kasaad hai baazaar-e ((ishq kaa

1) then/again after me, to this day, not a head has been sold
2) since/for a single lifetime/age, there's been a slackness/lowness of the market of passion



((umr : 'Life; life-time, period of life; age'. (Platts p.765)


kasaad : 'The not being in demand, want of currency; badness (of markets), cheapness (of merchandise), unsaleableness, flatness, dullness (of markets); penury'. (Platts p.833)

S. R. Faruqi:

Mir has no shortage of verses in which the arrogance of his personality and the grandeur of his temperament shine forth. Among them, many are worthy to be counted among his best verses. But even among those, this verse has a special distinction. The tone [lahjah] in which the verse has been presented will find no equal even in Ghalib. Pride in himself, a sense of his unique individuality, confidence in his own self-sacrifice-- along with all this, in the tone there's a kind of tranquillity: 'I did a deed that I alone was able to do, and through which my life acquired some value'.

Then in this verse there are a number of other aspects. Perhaps no head has been sold because no head was worthy of it. Or perhaps because there were no longer any buyers. Or perhaps because there were no longer any self-sacrificers [sar-farosh]. Then, there's the point that the dictionary meaning of sar-farosh is 'head-seller', but idiomatically its meaning is 'life-sacrificer', 'one who is prepared to give his life'; and this meaning too is well-known. Thus the meaning of 'no head was sold' becomes 'no one gave his life'. Thus in the verse sar nahii;N bikaa is not only an exaggerated symbolic expression, but rather is also a testimony full of matter-of-factness.

Then, in sar nahii;N bikaa the pleasure of the style of expression is worth mentioning. An ordinary poet would have said 'not even a single head was sold' [ek bhii sar nahii;N bikaa] or 'no one's head was sold' [kisii kaa sar nahii;N bikaa], etc. Here, by saying only sar he has created two effects. One is that he has created an implication that it's some commonplace salable commodity (as if someone would say, 'since such-and-such a date, no meat has been sold in the city'). The second implication is that no head was sold, but other things (for example, heart, honor, etc.) kept on being sold.



I'm surprised that SRF didn't mention the enjoyable use of ik ((umr se , which focuses our attention on a measure of duration that basically refers to an individual lifetime. Of course it can mean 'a typical human lifespan', as it also does here. But since the first line has given us the elegiac 'after me', the emphasis on the speaker's own life works beautifully: now that his one unique 'lifetime' is over (presumably through the 'sale' of his head), everything is in decline. The second line thus purports to be part of a discussion between businessmen about depressed market conditions; only the semantics of 'passion' and the trade in 'heads' give the game away.

This verse is another example of SRF's tendency to assign a single, built-in 'tone' to a verse-- in this case, a very special, unique tone for which he finds 'no equal even in Ghalib'. Certainly the tone he perceives is a fine one. But is it the only possible one? I also enjoy the idea of a businesslike tone-- the tone of a capable merchant from an earlier generation (the speaker is dead), disdaining or castigating the abilities of his successors: 'Why, in my day we used to sell dozens of heads, and after me they haven't sold a single one! What's the matter with this generation, don't they know how to manage a business?'. Such a tone would have its own charms; for more on such issues of 'tone', see {724,2}.

Note for translation fans: While we're thinking about 'the pleasure of the style of expression' and using the example of sar nah bikaa , spare a moment to contemplate the task of the translator. Here are three possibilities. First is the hyper-literal 'a head did not become sold', which most precisely captures the grammar of the intransitive. Second is the sensible-literal, least-marked 'a head has not been sold', which adjusts the for the skewed correspondence of perfect forms between Urdu and English (on this see {48,7}). Third is the irresistibly idiomatic 'not a head has been sold'. What a difference! Usually I go for the hyper-literal, as you know, dear reader; probably you sometimes hate the effect. But this time I couldn't resist: I went all the way to the third possibility and it worked so well that I just couldn't make myself dial it back to literalism. And to compound my delinquency, I used the idiomatic 'to this day' instead of the literal 'until today'. And then in the second line I used the English-adjusted 'has been' instead of the literal 'is'. So what the hell, nobody's perfect. After all, the only real obligation a translator has is 'truth in labeling'.