haath aataa jo tuu to kyaa hotaa
barso;N tak ham ne ;xaak chhaanii hai

1) if you had come to hand, then what would have happened/been?!
2) for years, we have {labored in vain / 'sifted dust'}



;xaak chhaan'naa : ''To sift dust,' to labour or exert oneself to no purpose, to go through laborious and fruitless toil or search; to beat the air'. (Platts p.485)

S. R. Faruqi:

In this verse is the very same kind of tone-- in fact, perhaps two or three times more of it-- as there is in


It hasn't at all been made clear what the speaker expects from the beloved, and what he seeks in regard to himself. The first line has the following meanings: (1) If you had come into our hands, then how fine it would have been! (2) If you had come into our hands, then what harm would it have done? (3) If you had come into our hands, even then what would have happened? (4) If you had come into our hands, then what a thing it would have been!

(5) Now, this final meaning [(4)] itself has two meanings. In the second line is the idea of sifting through the dust. In olden times, the method of mining for gold and precious stones and so on was (and in Hindustan, in many places still is) to break up the earth and stones and such and pass it through an extremely fine sieve. Thus one meaning becomes that you were diamonds or gold. For years we sifted through the dust-- if you had come into our hands, then what a thing it would have been! The second meaning is that in years of wandering only dust came to hand-- even if you had been obtained, then perhaps that too would have been nothing but dust.

Now let's look at the second line. (1) For years we sifted the dust; that effort and hardship left us completely useless. Thus even if you had been come to hand, we were incapable of enjoying you. (2) For years we 'sifted dust' (ran around to and fro), but you were not obtained. Now it's our last days; we reflect that even if you had come to hand, what pleasure would still remain in you now, such that we would have been happy at having obtained you? Years upon years have passed over us; now you too will no longer have remained what you were. (3) For years we sifted dust, but we didn't at all know that this would remain only 'sifting dust' (that is, a vain, trifling action). No result came of it at all. The Lord knows how we sought you-- or we were only running around, for which there might or might not have been a reward.

The tone of the verse is so flat, and in its depths there is such clever trickery, that there's no telling whether the speaker is lying, or making fools of us and inwardly laughing, or is actually sorrowful and melancholy. John Donne too created various styles/aspects in his tone, but the outlines of his thought were clearly to be seen. Here, only a net has been spread in the air itself. It's a peerless verse.

Among the interpretations that have been expressed above, on one of them Ghalib has based a Persian verse; it is cited in




Sometimes my little practical devices really come into their own, and this verse gives two of them a fine workout. It is an 'A,B' verse, so that the relationship between the two lines is left entirely for us to decide. SRF has elucidated some of the possibilities, but the subtle pairing of the two lines (one entirely factual, the other entirely contrafactual) refuses to be limited by anything other than our own empathic experience of frustration and failure. Does the fact explain the thought, or does the thought explain the fact, or do the two lines have some other relationship entirely?

Because of its extreme simplicity, the first line can take full and brilliant advantage of the 'kya effect'. 'If you had come into my hands...'

=then what [a magnificent thing] would have happened/been! (an wistfully affirmative exclamation).

=then what would have happened/been-- nothing! (a scornful dismissal of the value of the experience).

=then what would have happened/been? (a question, asked from uncertainty)

=then what would you have been? (with a colloquially omitted subject)

There's also the enjoyable deployment of the idiom 'to sift dust' (see the definition above), an activity of the hands that might result in something 'coming to hand' in the literal sense of 'coming into the hands'. As usual, Mir invokes both the literal and the colloquial senses of such idiomatic expressions.

Ghalib has a ghazal with a kyaa hotaa refrain, of which one famous verse is comparable to the present verse in its open-endedly cosmic speculation: