be-;xvudii le ga))ii kahaa;N ham ko
der se inti:zaar hai apnaa

1) where did self-lessness carry us off to?
2) for a long time we've been waiting for ourself



S. R. Faruqi:

It's possible that Ghalib borrowed his famous verse from this verse of Mir's:


But it's possible that both (or at least Mir) might have borrowed this thought from the life of the famous seventeenth-century Sufi of Delhi, Hazrat Shah Muhammad Farhad (d.1722). Zuhur ul-Hasan Sharib, in his book 'Twenty-two Khvajahs of Delhi' [dillii ke baa))iis ;xvaajah] writes that on a number of occasions it used to happen that while seated on the formal cushion [ma.snad], he used to begin to search for something. When people asked, 'Hazrat, what are you searching for?' then he used to say, 'Farhad was seated here, where has he gone?' This mood of 'absorption in the beloved', in Sufi terminology, comes about when 'human qualities' are changed into 'angelic qualities' [.sifaat-e malakii]. (With regard to the attraction toward 'angelic qualities', see Mir's verse


In Ghalib's verse there's his special masterful tone, but in Mir's verse too the darvesh-like dignity is peerless. In Mir's tone there's also a slight hint that although he's been waiting for himself for a long time, in fact he has no kind of anxiety about the disappearance of his individuality, or his personality; rather, he feels a careless indifference. Ghalib's verse is devoid of this mood.

Mir has again and again versified this theme. From the second divan [{747,2}]:

;xudaa jaane hame;N is be-;xvudii ne kis :taraf phe;Nkaa
kih muddat ho ga))ii ham khe;Nchte hai;N inti:zaar apnaa

[the Lord knows in which direction this self-lessness has flung us
for it's been some time that we've been waiting for ourself]

From the second divan [{1034,2}]:

ham aap se ga))e so al;aahii kahaa;N ga))e
muddat hu))ii kih apnaa hame;N inti:zaar hai

[we went from ourself-- so, oh God, where did we go!?
it's been some time that we've had to wait for ourself]

From the fourth divan [{1396,7}]:

((ishq karte hu))e the be-;xvud miir
apnaa un ko hai inti:zaar hanuuz

[while loving, we had become self-less, Mir,
he/she/it now/still has to wait for us]

From the fourth divan [{1439,3}]:

aap ko ab kahii;N nahii;N paate
be-;xvudii se ga))e hai;N kiidhar ham

[now we don't find ourself anywhere
through self-lessness, which way have we gone?]

From the sixth divan [{1883,3}]:

ham aap se jo ga))e hai;N ga))e hai;N muddat se
all;aahii apnaa hame;N kab tak inti:zaar rahe

[since we've gone from ourself, we've been gone for some time
oh God, how long would we have to wait for ourself?!]

But it's clear that among them, no verse has what the present verse does. Whether Sufistic, or romantic, or immersed in ordinary human affairs-- on whatever level we look at it, this verse is worthy to be ranked among the world's best poetry. How appropriate is the personification of 'self-lessness', because the idiom goes with it. Among the above-noted verses, this state of affairs is also found in {747,2}. But the 'mood' of the second line, in which irritation, carelessness, and dignity are all expressed together, isn't there in any of the other verses.

If we assume the first line to be not a question but a negative rhetorical question, then an interesting and unexpected meaning appears (Self-lessness hardly carried me off! --that is, self-lessness didn't carry me off). If self-lessness didn't carry me off, then the reason is that I don't even exist; for a long time I've been waiting for myself. When I exist, then self-lessness will carry me off. Because of my not existing, people think that self-lessness has carried me off; the truth is that I'm still nonexistent. When I'm existent, then self-lessness would have an effect on me.

In Persian, Mir has used this theme at a very low level:

'Oh Lord, in the self-lessness of passion, where did I go off to?
My own eyes have become white, in waiting for myself.'



It's striking that SRF assigns to this verse a rank 'among the world's best poetry'.

He speaks particularly of 'the mood of the second line, in which irritation, carelessness, and dignity are all expressed together'. That's a beautiful and eloquent way to put it: it's a kaifiyat , he says, jis me;N uktaaha;T , be-parvaa))ii , :tan:tanah , sab ek saath :zaahir hote hai;N . Reading the line, it's easy to see what he means.

THE PROBLEM OF 'MOOD' OR 'TONE': This kind of description, however, also points up the larger question of 'mood'. SRF very often ascribes to a seemingly neutral-looking or multivalent line of Mir's a particular 'mood' or 'tone' (usually kaifiyat or lahjah ). Usually the mood or tone he detects is complex, and more often than not it involves a kind of 'dignity', which he often declares to be a special quality of Mir's. When I look at the line or verse in question with such a tone in mind, I can always see it. And I always like seeing it, because the mood or tone proposed by SRF is almost always piquant and subtle, something to be savored, something that feels not only plausible but also quite satisfactory.

But I often see other ways of reading the line as well. (A few examples: {58,6}; {74,11}*; {178,6}; {342,7}; {545,3}; {545,10}; {558,5}**; {673,7}; {1056,6}; {1312,11}***.) In the case of the present verse, I can imagine reading it as an enjoyable parody of the fussy tone of an annoyed bureaucrat whose schedule is being disrupted: 'Where did Jones take Smith off to? I've been waiting for him for ages! This unreliable behavior is holding things up!' Or what if the lover is so accustomed to this behavior that his tone is one of sulky but resigned boredom? Of course these could be considered more one-dimensional readings than SRF's, and less sophisticated; but can they be ruled out? On what grounds can SRF so confidently assign a single (even if complex) particular mood or tone to a line or verse? Is it only his personal poetic intuition, or is there something subtle going on in the language that he can see and many of us cannot?

I asked SRF about this. He replied (June 2011),

The 'mood' or the 'tone' is almost always a function of the words, and of the way they are organized. It is almost always evident, the mood or the tone. The poet's personality has nothing to do with it, for the obvious reason that such a reading can always be coloured by preconceived notions.... Even in regard to Mir, what we 'know' about his personality is based on anecdotes and the content of his poems read backwards into his states of mind. Of course, one can always argue that other readings are possible. But those readings will rarely cancel the reading which says that the shi'r has such and such kind of tone or mood. Alternative readings may be just that, alternative readings. And most often they'll be unsupported by argument based upon the words. They'll be 'impressionistic', to use a bad word....

The latter part of this statement, from 'Of course' onward, seems to clain much less than some of SRF's other statements on the subject. Most of the time his own readings of tone are also 'unsupported by argument based upon the words', so that to me they too seem 'impressionistic'. But this is the kind of problem that can be framed in many theoretical ways, and for the present it's intriguing enough just to raise it and keep it in mind, even though I'm not able to resolve it.

My friend Satya Hegde rightly points out (June 2011) that this question of 'tone' is somewhat the same problem that in Sanskrit is called dhvani , and that such judgments rely in Sanskrit poetic theory on the perceptive powers of the sahridaya, the fully knowledgeable and properly attuned reader. Similarly, in Urdu we have the ahl-e zabaan in general, and the poetic Ustad in particular, as ideally qualified judges. So I asked SRF whether he thought two highly literate ahl-e zabaan could disagree about tone. He said (July 2011),

I think no difference should arise, if both readers are competent (to use the term used by Culler). 'Competence', I feel, is inferior to being sahridaya, but it is more easily demonstrable. A difference may arise, but once the basis on which the tone is being interpreted (as, for example, sober, sombre, gleeful, sad, tragic, darveshi, etc.,) is pointed out and appreciated, the difference of opinion should disappear.

Now all this is very unlike the way SRF reads Ghalib. I've been able to take apart and analyze many features of the ghazal verses of Ghalib, and to elucidate many crucial structural devices and patterns. And almost all of these have been objectively demonstrable to at least a degree sufficient for a case to be made. In fact one of the devices characteristic of Ghalib is ambiguity of tone: we readers are often left to decide for ourselves in what tone to read the verse, and the tone we choose then drastically (re-)shapes the verse. SRF himself has often pointed out these multivalent tonal possibilities in his own commentary on selected verses of Ghalib. (For an example of such tonal multivalence from Mir, see {760,1}.) As part of the present discussion he went on to say (July 2011),

Ghalib has very little tone.... [This] is true of all ;xayaal-band -style poetry. In ;xayaal-bandii , the poet is intent on making an intellectual, or abtract, statement, trying to prove or affirm something. In such poetry, the tone/mood  is absent, unless you call 'intellectual' a mood and say that ;xayaal-band poetry has the intellectual tone/mood.'

Iin SRF's view, although Mir uses this 'intellectual' tone sometimes, he uses it much less than Ghalib does. More often than not, he instead, according to SRF, enhances the verse with a specific, suitable tone or mood that he manages both to deliberately choose, and to effectively convey.

But how exactly can this be done? How can we know that this has been done? And there you have it, dear reader. I feel that I've run up against a kind of event horizon. How does one objectively analyze or demonstrate 'tone' or 'mood'? No doubt in a few cases here and there it can somehow be done (as for example in {471,3}; {760,10}; {1024,11}; {1112,3}); but most often, in the case of many of Mir's ghazals, no particular clues present themselves.

We can of course obtain experts' judgments, such as those of SRF himself. But still, we're unable to check or verify such experts' judgments-- for if we agree with them, it's only on our own intuition or on the strength of their word; and if we disagree, this may just show that we are not as knowledgeable as they are. (And if two such experts disagree, does this then call into question the expertise of one of them?) The reasoning thus risks becoming circular. Ultimately, It seems that even if a certain tone is subtly but objectively present, it often can't be shown to be so, or at least can't be shown in a way that would convince a principled skeptic. For most often there's no reliable evidence to offer below the level of the whole verse itself (recalling the Sanskritic idea of the utterance as spho;Ta ), and we're left with a judgment call.

Some other examples for consideration: {58,6}*; {293,8}; {313,1}; {322,7}*; {472,1}*; {724,2}; {770,1}; {867,4}*; {923,6}; {932,4}; {1219,7}**; {1337,1}; {1352,3}; {1160,4}; {1806,4}; {1882,5}. For contrast, here are some examples where I think SRF uses the concept of 'tone' in an unimpeachable way: {297,4}; {1027,11}; {1663,7} (with some grounding in 'implication' too); here are a couple where he implicitly does so: {1163,4}; {1219,9}. Here are a couple where he praises the flexibility of the tone in a way that I strongly agree with: {366,4}; {867,4}; {1882,3}.

Still, it's valuable to have such judgment calls, rather than not having them. I can well imagine situations in which I would want to claim the same kind of 'judgment call' authority over some turn of phrase in English. Others-- especially, but not exclusively, non-native speakers-- might agree or disagree on rational or analytical grounds, but their inability to perceive what I perceived wouldn't at all count against my reading, in my own view. I would simply note that I perceived things that they didn't, and we'd have to leave it at that. So I readily grant SRF an equally plausible (and equally unprovable) claim to special insights in this case, and I'm very glad to have access to his thoughts.

A related problem: what if the 'mood' or 'tone' seems to be humorous-- how confidently can we judge this? For discussion, see {485,7}. Another possibly special case: the 'mood' or 'tone' of nostalgia, which can perhaps be located in human psychology rather than within the structure of the verse; for discussion, see {1882,2}.