hai jahaan-e tang se jaanaa bi((ainih us :tara;h
qatl karne le chale hai;N jaise zindaanii ke ta))ii;N

1a) going from the narrow/confined/stinted world is in exactly that manner
1b) one has to go from the narrow/confined/stinted world in exactly that manner

2) the way, in order to execute him, they take along a prisoner



tang : 'Contracted, straitened, confined, strait, narrow, tight; wanting, scarce, scanty, stinted, barren; distressed, poor, badly off; distracted, troubled, vexed; dejected, sad, sick (at heart)'. (Platts p.340)


bi((ainihi : 'The very same; exactly, precisely'. (Platts p.158)

S. R. Faruqi:

In this verse is a superb use of simile, and an uncommonly sarcastic observation about human nature. No matter how exhausted and afflicted a person might be in this world, he still feels it as grievous to leave this world. If the world is a prison, then death is release from this prison; but it's the kind of release that is vouchsafed by execution. In the second line, the word qatl is meaningful to an almost incomparable degree.

Then, imagine the scene of a prisoner being taken for execution. One person laments and weeps; another complains; another protests; another exercises extreme self-control; and someone, on this final occasion, entirely loses his grip on himself. About the last queen of France, Marie Antoinette, it has been written that when whe was taken from her cell for execution and seated in the cart and taken through streets and markets, then she passed among God's creatures with complete firmness and composure, with her head held high. But when she came before the guillotine, trembling overtook her body. How destiny treats mankind! Life may become worse than death, but still we don't welcome the coming of death.

Look also at how by saying jahaan-e tang in the first line, he has established an affinity with the word zindaanii . The definition of 'affinity' is that the words shouldn't fail to express their meaning, but by means of them layeredness [tah-daarii] of meaning and adroitness [chustii] of expression should be able to be established. For example, for the first line a number of forms were possible:

(1) hai jahaan-e kuhnah se jaanaa bi((ainih us :tara;h
(2) hai jahaan-e rang-o-buu se apnaa jaanaa us :tara;h
(3) is jahaan-e aab-o-gil se hai gu;zarnaa us :tara;h
(4) hai bashar kaa jaan se jaanaa bi((ainih us :tarah
(5) is jahaan se apnaa jaanaa hai bi((ainih us :tarah

And so on. A number of other forms are possible as well. Since the center of the verse's real meaning is in the second line, one could adopt any of the above lines. The verse would become complete, and the meaning would more or less be presented. But the advantage wouldn't be obtained, that in the real first line is obtained from the word tang . Because the affinity that exists between tang and zindaanii creates more power in the meaning, and endows the verse with an uncommon balance and symmetry.

Then, jahaan-e tang also evokes in the mind idioms and phrases [of annoyance with the world] like tang aa jaanaa , and ((ar.sah-e ziist kaa tang honaa , and dunyaa tang ho jaanaa , and so on. In the same way, extra range is given to the interpretation of zindaanii . When Atish said,

bandish-e alfaa:z ju;Rne se niguu;N ke kam nahii;N
shaa((irii bhii kaam hai aatish mura.s.sa((-saaz kaa

[the arrangement of words is not less than the joining-together of the disordered
poetry too is the work, Atish, of a jeweler]

then what he meant was that jewels in themselves, no matter how valuable and beautiful they might be, have no 'affinity'; and if they are not joined together in the right place, in the right order, then they remain unattractive (that is, failing in their purpose) jewels. After the nineteenth century, ghazal poets abandoned their care for the affinities of words. For this reason, their verses are usually devoid of 'connection' and have almost always fallen below the high standards of meaning.

It's necessary to distinguish between 'affinity' and 'wordplay'. By means of 'wordplay' either the meaning is expanded, or else meanings are created that are not directly related to the theme of the verse. In this way the possibilities of the language come forward in an unexpected way, and increase the pleasure or tension of the expression. Even if there's no wordplay the meaning is established, but there comes to be a deficiency in the pleasure and freshness and breadth of the verse.

If there's no 'affinity', then the verse has no balance, evenness, and adroitness; and the meaning becomes weak. Hasrat Mohani too (who was an opponent of wordplay) has acknowledged that affinity of words is a very major beauty in a verse. Ghalib has praised a line of Taftah's like this: 'four words-- and all four have an affinity with the situation' [chaar laf:z , aur chaaro;N vaaqi((e ke munaasib]. In another letter, also to Taftah, Ghalib notes this line [cited in G{75,3}]:

yaad rakhnaa fasaanah hai;N ham log

[remember-- we people are a story]

Then he writes, ' yaad rakhnaa -- with regard to a story, what an affinity it has!' Thus the definition of 'affinity' is the bringing in of words that with regard to meaning, would support each other; and with regard to 'mood' and effect and atmosphere, would harmonize with each other.

In the poetry of Asghar Gondvi and Firaq Gorakhpuri and Josh, there's a severe lack of affinity. Absence of affinity is in truth a weakness in poetry, and it proves that the poet has no knowledge about, or feeling for, the subtleties of language. In contrast to this, by means of wordplay the pleasure and meaning are expanded, and the necessity of wordplay proves that the poet is a master of speech-- he takes the pulse of language, and knows how to use all its possibilities.

It should be noted that since in order to use wordplay the poet is obliged to carefully search out words, unnaturalness and artifice come into the verse. First of all, no matter with how much practiced skill and word-searching a verse would be composed, if its effect is one of naturalness and trimness [bar-jastagii], then that practiced skill and word-searching are beautiful, not ugly/vile. And even if a verse would come to mind naturally and spontaneously, but it has no trimness or flowingness, then it would be called only an artificial verse. In craftsmanship, the result is important, not the means by which that result has been obtained.

A second point is that for most verses, it's not possible to declare that the poet composed them naturally and casually, or arranged their words after much thought.

The third and most important point is that many instances of wordplay come spontaneously into the poet's mind; or rather, he usually doesn't even feel that he's using wordplay. The very structure of his mind is such that he goes on versifying one wordplay after another. For example, look at these various lines of Mir Anis's:

(1) paanii kahaa;N kaa sab yih bahaane ajal ke hai;N
(2) ham vuh hai;N ;Gam kare;Nge malak jin ke vaas:te
(3) ta.sviir se bistar pah kashiidah the tan-e zaar
(4) hai u;Ngliyo;N ke band me;N ;xaibar-kushaa kaa zor
(5) ik ((umr kaa riyaa.z thaa jis par lu;Taa vuh baa;G

Now consider the wordplay in them:

(1) paanii , bahaane , ajal ( jal = water; ajal = what isn't water)
(2) ham , ;Gam ( hamm = distress, melancholy); malak , jinn
(3) ta.sviir , bistar (pictures are usually made on bedding); ta.sviir , kashiidah , tan
(4) band , kushaa
(5) riyaa.z (meaning 'garden'), baa;G

Obviously it can be said about these cases of wordplay that they increase the beauty of the poetry, and they are set into the substance of the language in a way that only a poet with a masterful command and creativity could have used them.

In the context of wordplay and affinity, another important point is that the 'close reader', who reads with ardor and concentration, has a gaze that recognizes wordplay. (Often the wordplay appears so trim and natural that even an experienced reader is obliged to reflect for a long time before perceiving it.) But the situation of affinity is that a lack of it is irritating, but if it's present, then it usually doesn't draw the attention.

As an example, we can offer the present verse. The alternative first lines that I've presented have little affinity with the second line. For example, the experienced reader will at once say that when he's said 'prisoner' in the second line, then in the first line 'ancient world' as in (1), or 'world of color and scent' as in (2), or 'world of water and dirt' as in (3), are devoid of affinity. The alternative lines (4) and (5) are not at all inconsistent with the second line, but they also have no affinity; thus they too are ineffective. The original first line seems very trim. But it's not usually noted that this trimness is to a great extent beholden to the affinity of the 'narrow world' and the 'prisoner'.

I've said above that even if there's no wordplay, the meaning becomes established, but the poem's pleasure and freshness and range of meaning are reduced. As an example of this, let's once again look at


In the first line there's the wordplay of 'one' and 'all'. Now let's make the line like this: ek hai aag ek hai paanii . The meaning has been established, but the pleasure and breadth that had been established by 'one' and 'all' has declined.

Look at the arrangement of the affinity in


Here, there's an affinity between 'purse full of gold' in the first line, and 'are in our pocket' in the second line. In contrast, Fa'iz's verse [cited in the discussion of {375,1}] has the crucial word 'silver coin', but no other word in the verse has an affinity with it.

In the present verse, the uniqueness of the simile and the beauty of the meaning have already been discussed. Now look at an equally beautiful verse with an entirely reversed treatment of this theme, from the first divan [{713,5}]:

jaanaa is aaraam-gah se hai bi((ainih bas yihii
jaise sote sote iidhar se udhar pahluu kiyaa

[to go from this resting-place is exactly just like this--
as if, while sleeping, from this side to that side one turned over]

Look at the affinity of 'resting-place' and 'while sleeping', look at the uniqueness of the simile-- and just consider whether the door of any theme could be closed against the 'King of Poetry'.

[See also {870,1}.]



The discussion of this verse illustrates one of the great pleasures of writing a commentary: one can slip in fairly extensive theoretical (or other) digressions whenever the impulse arises. And we commentators can hope that you too, dear reader, will enjoy encountering something unexpected, even something remarkable, that can pop up without warning in the discussion of almost any verse. Here, SRF has been inspired to give us a major theoretical discussion of the difference between 'affinity' [munaasibat] and 'wordplay' [ri((aayat]. These and other traditional categories are discussed at length in his essay on this site, and at many other points in his work; Urdu readers can find them in dars-e balaa;Gat .

SRF discusses the powerful resonance of jahaan-e tang . I want to add one more point: that since the phrase has a sort of anodyne, cliche-like quality, its real effect is apparent only in retrospect-- and only in the maximum amount of retrospect that can possibly be managed, since the punch-word, zindaanii , appears as late as possible in the verse, since it's the rhyme-word (a position that adds further emphasis). When, and only when, we hear zindaanii , with a sudden mental rush we 'get' the whole verse (since of course as a good mushairah audience we still have the first line in our heads). By calling this a 'mushairah verse' (or a '1,2' verse, as I now label the larger category of temporally organized verses), I claim that a large part of the verse's effect depends on such a 'delayed reaction' structure.

The effect is further enhanced by a kind of 'wait for it!' delaying tactic in the first line. For 'in exactly that manner' [bi((ainih us :tara;h] could be dispensed with entirely, since the jaise in the second line would be quite enough to accomplish the comparison. Even on first hearing we can tell that we're being tantalized, that the phrase is not mere padding, that there's a build-up in progress toward something that's still withheld.

Most striking, to my mind, is {713,5}, the comparison verse with which SRF brilliantly concludes his discussion. In terms of semantic content, it's of course the exact opposite of the present verse. But in terms of structure, it's all but identical. Both SRF's discussion of affinities, and my highlighting of the 'wait for it!' emphasis on the last possible word, can be transferred directly to {713,5}. The opposition between the two verses feels as if it's controlled by a toggle switch. These two verses could be a prime piece of evidence in a discussion of how ghazal verses operate-- and of how, in many cases, they are created.

A third intriguing example is


In all three of these verses, it's clear that nothing else is going on, other than the 'wait for it' buildup and the final punch-word. None of them have any casual wordplay, or any significant multiple meanings. They are straightforward utterances, and when the hearer or reader 'gets' them, they've been well and truly 'gotten'; there's no urge to keep on scrutinizing them for secondary or tertiary pleasures. (This too is a 'mushairah-verse' trait.) They stand or fall with their basic similes: dying is like being led out of a cell for execution (the present verse); dying is like turning over in one's sleep ({713,5}); dying is like moving to a new house ({870,1}). Of course, these similes are so rich and thought-provoking, and so brilliantly presented, that they really have no need of any further bells or whistles. And among them all, the present verse is the richest and most powerful.

Note for meter fans: It does look and feel awful to scan ta))ii;N as a single long syllable, but it's a permissible variation.