sab sa:t;h hai paanii kaa aa))iine kaa saa ta;xtah
daryaa me;N kahii;N shaayad ((aks us ke badan kaa thaa

1) all the surface of the water is a plane/board like a mirror
2) in the river somewhere, perhaps, was a reflection of her body



S. R. Faruqi:

Abd ul-Salam Nadvi, describing the 'Delhi school' and the 'Lucknow school' in shu((araa al-hind , noted Bahr Lakhnavi's line,

nahaataa hai vuh mah daryaa pah kap;Re ;huur dhotii hai

[that Moon bathes in the river; a Houri washes her clothes]

Then he recounted someone's saying 'Bravo-- what a beloved it is, who stands at the washermen's ghat and gets her clothes washed!'. Safir Bilgrami has ascribed this saying to Ghalib. According to him, Ghalib noted this line of Bahr's and said, 'This isn't praise of the beloved; rather, she's such a poor beloved that she stands there at the ghat and gets her clothes washed!' I am reluctant to believe that Ghalib made such a comparison between the 'Delhi school' and the 'Lucknow school'. Leaving aside the fact that the existence of a 'Delhi school' and a 'Lucknow school' is only hypothetical [far.zii] (and even if it is real, the claim cannot be established on the basis of a line or two), and also leaving aside the fact that the Lucknow poet's line was composed only jokingly, and with regard to the zila of kap;Re and dhotii , the basic point is indeed not that the beloved stands at the ghat and gets her clothes washed, but that in the work of the Delhi poets too the beloved can often be seen bathing in the river.

And this convention was not established by Atish and Nasikh, but rather began in Delhi and from there reaches Mas'ud Akhtar Jamal's .sub;h-e banaaras and the nazm of Makhdum's in which 'fire-bodied people' come down in order 'to bathe in the water'. Consider this verse of Mir's from the third divan [{1109,9}]:

istaadah ho daryaa to ;xa:tarnaakii bahut hai
aa apne khule baalo;N se zanjiir nah kar aab

[if the river would rise, then there's much danger
come, with your opened curls don't enchain the water!]

From the fifth divan [{1757,4}]:

paas-e ;Gairat tum ko nahii;N kuchh daryaa par sun kar ;Gair ko tum
ghar se u;Th ke chale jaate ho bahaane ke bhii bahaane se

[you have no regard for shame/honor-- having heard that the Other is on the river, you
rise from your house and go along, with even the excuse [bahaanaa] of diversion [bahaanaa] ]

In the verse from the fifth divan, the beloved's lack of shame/honor is such that even extremely rakish poets would be embarrassed.

The real fact is that no matter what the theme may be, the style of expression takes it from one level to another. Thus if you want to appreciate the beauty of the present verse, then consider this verse of Atish's:

tuu dekhne gayaa lab-e daryaa jo chaandnii
istaadah tujh ko dekh ke aab-e ravaa;N hu))aa

[when you went to the edge of the river to see the moonlight,
having seen you standing there, the water became flowing]

In Mir's verse the water, having become a lover from the reflection of the beloved's body, falls into stillness. It's obvious that when water becomes still, it will be like a mirror, and the mirror's particular quality is amazement/stupefaction. In this way there's a doubled dominance of amazement. Then, the reflection of her body must have fallen somewhere, but the whole body of water fell into stillness, or remained petrified. In the water's becoming still is the pleasure that it doesn't want to move away; rather, it wants to stop and establish the beloved's reflection within itself.

The use of the word ta;xtah also suggests the water's becoming still and hard, and protecting the beloved's reflection within itself. and also establishes an opposition: that the beloved's body is soft and delicate, and water is even softer, but the amazement of beauty is powerful to such an extent that it has made something like water into something hard like a plank. In Atish's verse the word 'standing' is not new (see Mir's verse above from the third divan), and placing it far from 'flowing' has made its structure awkward as well. (In Mir's time, sa:t;h was masculine as well.)



Only someone who was very poor and only had one suit of clothes would have to stand there and wait (or occupy the time in bathing) while the dhobi washed them; such a humiliating situation would never be appropriate for the beloved. Of course, Bahr's original line was not intended to invoke this situation, but as SRF notes was based on wordplay; the objection too was originally probably a joke or a bit of teasing. To turn it into some kind of fairly absurd argument against the 'Lucknow school' is an example of how tendentious and ungrounded is the alleged division of Urdu poetry into two such 'schools' [dabistaan] as the 'Delhi school' and the 'Lucknow school'. This 'two-school theory' has now been thoroughly discredited; for the best discussion in English, see Carla Petievich's Assembly of Rivals: Delhi, Lucknow, and the Urdu Ghazal (New Delhi: Manohar Publications, 1992).