kyaa ((aba;s majnuu;N pa))e ma;hmil hai myaa;N
yih divaanaa baavalaa ((aaqil hai myaa;N

1) how futile/futilely is Majnun at the foot of the camel-litter, sir?!
2) this madman is {a 'wise fool' / 'crazy like a fox'}, sir?!



((aba;s : 'Trifling, frivolous; vain, idle, absurd, nugatory, profitless, bootless; —in vain, uselessly, bootlessly, idly, absurdly'. (Platts p.758)


ma;hmil : 'That by which anything is supported, that in (or on) which anything is borne; that which carries the double load of a camel, a camel's saddle; a camel litter or dorser (in which women travel)'. (Platts p.1010)


miyaa;N : 'An address expressive of kindness, or respect; Sir! good Sir! good man; master; husband; lord; father'. (Platts p.1103)

S. R. Faruqi:

It's a very well-fitted opening-verse. The 'seating' of the words, and the style of speech, are such that although the verse is apparently simple, in truth it has a number of meanings.

(1) The speaker of the first line says, 'Sir, this Majnun is a strange person-- he keeps running futilely after Laila's camel-litter!' The speaker of the first line replies, 'No, this madman is not crazy, he's wise (because he knows that only the following of the camel-litter is the true behavior of passion).'

(2) Someone has said that the madman is a 'wise fool'. In reply to this, it is asked, 'What kind of "wise" person is it who would keep running uselessly behind a camel-litter? Who in the world would call such a crazy madman "wise"?' (In the light of this reading, the idea of the madman's being a 'wise fool' is understood; it's not mentioned.)

(3) One person is the speaker of the whole verse. In reply to someone, or simply by way of an observation, he says, 'Do you think that Majnun follows the camel-litter in vain? No-- no such thing! That madman acts crazy in your presence; in reality, he's wise.' (That is, he's 'crazy like a fox' [divaanah bakaar ;xvesh hushyaar].)

(4) The word baavalaa is often spoken lovingly as well. For example, ((ajab baavalaa hai , us ko kitaab ke ba;Gair kal hii nahii;N pa;Rtii . If we look at it in this regard, then in the second line there's a question mark after divaanah , like this: yih divaanah ? baavalaa ((aaqil hai miyaa;N . Now the meaning is, 'Are you speaking of this madman?' Or, 'What is to be said about this madman? You consider this person a madman-- is he really mad? aare miyaa;N , this madman is very wise.' Or, 'The baavalaa is wise, he's not mad.'

(5) In this same way, in the first line we can suppose a question mark to be after kyaa , and read the line like this: kyaa ? ((aba;s majnuu;N pa))e ma;hmil hai myaa;N ? Now the meaning becomes, 'What did you say? What a thing you've said! Do you think that Majnun is futile[ly] behind the camel-litter?'

(6) We can also suppose a question mark to be after baavalaa , and read the line like this: yih divaanah baavalaa ? ((aaqil hai miyaa;N . That is, 'Is this a crazy madman? aare miyaa;N , he's wise.'

The basic theme, in every regard, remains the same. But by making use of insha'iyah speech and the possibilities of script and grammar, Mir has put into the verse a number of layers of meaning. Whether we call it a complete example of poetic accomplishment, or a miracle of the Urdu language, the idea remains the same: that to breathe life into this miracle and put it flowingly into poetry, is a task fit only for people like Mir.

[Further notes (2015): This is one of the longest ghazals that Mir wrote (21 verses) but not one verse can be ignored as second-rate. He has used 23 rhyme words, none used more than once. This is an indication both of his mastery and also of the profusion of rhyme words in Urdu.

The word miyaaa;N is often pronounced mi-yaa;N with the second syllable long and fully nasalized. Mir’s preferred pronunciation, now rather uncommon, was myaa;N (one long syllable). When used with 'Allah' it's always all;aah mi-yaa;N . Apart from that exception, mi-yaa;N and myaa;N were equally common in Mir's day. It's impossible to translate because it’s most often a term of endearment and respect, but can be used for any male human being-- a little boy, the beloved, or a venerable old man. Used ironically, the word could be a term of derision. Mir has used the word perhaps more often than any other poet before or since. Given the range of meanings, no satisfactory or even approximate single translation can be found.]



Thanks to the 'kya effect', the first line offers three possibilities: an affirmative exclamation ('he is very much so!'), a negative exclamation ('as if he is so!'), and a question ('is he so?'). Then since ((aba;s can be either an adjective (describing Majnun) or an adverb (describing Majnun's behavior), each of those possibilities is doubled.

=how futile is Majnun,...!
=how futilely Majnun is...!
=as if Majnun is futile,...!
=as if Majnun is futilely...!
=is Majnun futile,...?
=is Majnun futilely...?

Then in the second line we have the juxtaposition of divaanah baavalaa ((aaqil , three words each of which can be used as either a noun or an adjective. Just think of all the possible permutations-- 2 x 2 x 2 = 8. And then if we multiply them by all the permutations of the first line, the result is 48 theoretically distinct possibilities. Moreover, if we break up the second line in different semantic ways, as SRF demonstrates, we can generate an indefinite number of further permutations.

Of course, as SRF observes, most of these permutations differ from each other so little that the general idea of the verse is hardly altered. In fact it could be argued that in a verse about craziness and trickery (that is, fake craziness), this kind of effect just gives a fillip to what the verse is doing anyway.

Why would Majnun's absurd-seeming pursuit of Laila's camel-litter not be crazy? There can be rational reasons: perhaps he expects that at the next halting-place she will notice him and be moved to kindness; perhaps he needs to assure himself that no other lover ever approaches her; perhaps he thinks he is carrying out Laila's wishes by attending upon her. But naturally the ghazal-world reasons also come to mind: he pursues her in the same mystical trance that causes the moth to fly into the candle-flame; he pursues her because he can't even see anything else in the world; he pursues her in the hope of finding death before her eyes, or even at her hands. And since for the true mystical lover death is the great longed-for portal to 'union' anyway, perhaps even this kind of seemingly mad pursuit can be considered 'wise'.

For a maximally complex and permutation-filled Ghalibian verse, see


Note for meter fans: In this ghazal miyaa;N (scanned short long) has to be read as myaa;N (scanned long); this is a permissible variation not reflected in the Urdu spelling.