((aks us be-diid kaa to mutta.sil pa;Rtaa thaa .sub;h
din cha;Rhe kyaa jaanuu;N aa))iine kii kyaa .suurat hu))ii

1) the reflection of that unseen one continually used to fall [on it], at dawn
2) when the day had advanced, no telling what the aspect/face/condition of the mirror came to be!



mutta.sil : 'Continual, uninterrupted; successive; in an unbroken line'. (Platts p.993)


.suurat : 'Form, fashion, figure, shape, semblance, guise; appearance, aspect; face, countenance; prospect, probability; sign, indication; external state (of a thing); state, condition (of a thing)'. (Platts p.747)

S. R. Faruqi:

This verse too is a miracle of ambiguity. Various kinds of meanings have been merged within it, all at the same time. First of all, look at be-diid . This does not exist in Persian. [Discussion of this absence with reference to several Persian dictionaries.] Varastah has certainly written that be also occurs as meaning naa . Thus it's possible that Mir might have used be-diid with the meaning of naa-diid . In any case, many Urdu dictionaries are devoid of be-diid . Even the ones that do contain it give the meaning of 'lacking compassion, stone-hearted', etc.

The difficulty is that Mir himself has used be-diid in one other place, very clearly with the meaning of 'sightless'. From the first divan [{347,8}]:

dekh use be-diid ho aa;Nkho;N ne kyaa dekhaa bhalaa
dil bhii bad kartaa hai mujh se tuu bhalaa kartaa nahii;N

[having seen her, having become sightless-- well, what in the world did the eyes see?!
even/also the heart does ill toward me; you do not do well]

In the present verse, be-diid meaning 'blind' is impossible; be-diid meaning 'lacking compassion' too seems very far-fetched. The probability is that here it would mean 'unseen'. Another meaning can be 'that whom/which it is impossible to see', or 'that of whom/which one would be unable to obtain the sight'. For example, we use be-fai.z to mean 'one from whom it would not be possible to obtain favor', and be-qaabuu to mean 'one over whom/which it would not be possible to obtain control'.

Now let's consider the meanings of the whole verse. The beloved is not coming into view, but her reflection in some mirror can be very clearly and continually seen. But when the day advanced, then that state of affairs did not remain. The Lord knows what shape the mirror came to be in, that now the beloved's face is not reflected in it. This idea is so ambiguous that the following points easily emerge. So ignoring the possibilities for the present, let's consider these points:

(1) The sun itself is a metaphor for the unseen beloved. At dawn, the sun's light is gentle; for this reason its reflection could be seen in the mirror. When the sun rose high and its light became sharper, then its reflection again ceased to be visible, because the eye itself wasn't able to remain on the mirror.

(2) By 'mirror' is meant the heart. By the reflection of the unseen is meant the glory/appearance of the Light of God, and dawn means the beginning of life. In the very beginning, our heart is pure and free of lust and desire. Thus in childhood our heart is the home of the glory of the Light of God. But as the years pass, the darkness of the heart goes on increasing, and the reflection of the Divine beauty in it begins to diminish.

It's as if the theme is fundamentally the same as that of Wordsworth's famous 'Immortality Ode', that in childhood the Lord is near us, and as time passes we go on becoming farther from the Lord. Thus the most famous lines of the poem are:

Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy...

That is, in this theme there's the same kind of Sufistic style as in


(3) The speaker is some painter, and the beloved, whose portrait he is painting, does not come before him, but instead shows herself in a mirror. (It should be kept in mind that showing one's face in a mirror does not violate pardah.) At dawn when the light was comparatively little, the face that radiantly appeared in the mirror was clearly visible. As the day advanced, the glow of the unseen beloved's face too increased, and the reflective power of the mirror lessened, because the mirror became filled with glory and more glory.

There's no mention in historical chronicles of looking in a mirror in order to make a portrait, but it's probable that in the case of some ladies, portraits of whom are considered to be genuine (for example, Nur Jahan or Mumtaz Mahal) their reflections would have been shown to the painter for a brief period in a mirror, and then on the basis of this sketch he would have completed the portrait. If this had not been so, then we will have to declare this [Persian] verse of Sa'ib's to be meaningless:

'The beauty that is mischievous renders the painter helpless--
No image of her face is correct, and she takes away the mirror.'

In Mir's verse, in any case, there's a mystery, and something of an atmosphere of ecstasy that reminds us of Maulana Rumi. But even here, Mir doesn't overlook wordplay. Thus between aa))iinah and .suurat hu))ii there's the connection of a zila, and there's also the wordplay of ((aks , diid , .sub;h , din , aa))iinah , .suurat .

[See also {1903,3}.]



Of course, there are so many possible guesses or theories about what the verse so ambiguously reports. My own idea is that the mirror has perhaps suffered a meltdown-- the increasingly hot, blinding radiance of the unseen beloved may well have caused its metal surface to liquify and simply flow away. That's why the speaker is concerned, and perhaps now feels that he ought to go check on the mirror and see what state it's in.

But there's a kind of 'black hole' of absolute unknowability here, since it's also possible that nothing at all has happened to the mirror, and that the speaker, judging the mirror's capacity by his own is anxious without cause (as a mad lover might well be). To me this seems like a super, souped-up case of a 'gesture' verse, one in which we see some action but are given no interpretive help for it.

The present verse goes that level of ambiguity one better, since we not only can't interpret the 'action', but we don't know what the 'action' was, and in fact we don't even know if any 'action' occurred at all. Yet here we are, fascinated, moved to natter on and on, chewing over the information that we do and (mostly) don't have. Surely a lesser poet would be unable to compel us to do this; we would simply give up in vexation and criticize his pretentiousness.

Note for translation fans: In the second line, kyaa jaanuu;N literally means 'what would/might I know?'; but It also acts as a petrified phrase for uncertainty, comparable in fact to 'no telling'. Other such cases are kyaa kahuu;N with its counterpart phrase 'what can I say?', and kyaa karuu;N with 'what can I do?'.