shaayad kih aaj raat ko the maikade me;N miir
khele thaa ek mu;G-bachah muhr-e namaaz se

1) perhaps tonight Mir was in the wine-house
2) one 'tavern boy' [habitually] played with a 'seal of prayer'



mu;G : 'One of the Magi; a worshipper of fire; — a tavern-keeper (plur. mug;Gaan ): — mu;G-bachaa , s.m. The son of a (or a young) fire-worshipper; the son of a tavern-keeper'. (Platts p.1050)

S. R. Faruqi:

The wit, story-telling, and anecdotalness in this verse can hardly be equalled. A muhr-e namaaz is a clay tablet/'pillow' [;Takiyah] that Shi'as use as a place of prostration; it is also called muhr-e sijdah . The act of doing prostration on a clay tablet is full of metaphorical and 'semiotic' possibilities; thus the Persian poets have often used it, and very excellently. Here are some [Persian] verses cited in the [dictionary] bahaar-e ((ajam . By Zuhuri:

'Because the arch in the eyebrow of the Cupbearers has been made into a prayer-niche,
For the obedient ones, a wine-stain has become a 'seal of prayer'.

In Zuhuri's verse, the theme has richness, and his verse is an example of a high level of 'thought-binding'. But the verse has little trimness or flowingness; rather, there's a sense of a kind of 'strain' [aavard]. (Anyway, this is Zuhuri's usual quality.) Muhammad Quli Salim says:

'Our dust-made existence is a 'seal of prayer' for the angels,
I am astonished-- what did the Lord see in this handful of clay?'

Here there's of course personal ability; and to call the dust-made existence a handful of clay, then to call this handful of clay a 'seal of prayer' for the angels, is extremely excellent. But the foundation of the theme is weak, because in the stories, God placed on the forehead of Hazrat Adam the 'Light of Muhammad', and for this reason the angels were caused to prostrate themselves before Adam. Thus the question in the second line is meaningless. Mir himself has said, in Persian,

'Perhaps Mir spent the whole night in the wine-house,
For at dawn I saw, in the hand of a 'tavern boy', a 'seal of prayer'.'

On this same theme Mir again, thirty or thirty-two years later, composed this [{1898,9}]:

shaayad sharaab-;xaane me;N shab ko rahe the miir
khele thaa ek mu;G-bachah muhr-e namaaz se

[perhaps Mir remained in the wine-house last night
one 'tavern boy' [habitually] played with a 'seal of prayer']

Between this verse and the present one, the second line is common. The first line is a bit better in the present verse, because aaj raat ko the has, compared to shab ko rahe the , more of the pleasure of everyday speech.

The basic excellence that distinguishes all three of Mir's verses even from those of Zuhuri and Salim, is Mir's structural ability, the trimness of his construction, and the wittiness of his theme (in which there's also a light touch of sarcasm). To bring in the theme of the 'Mughal boy', and then to show him as playing with the 'seal of prayer', is a masterful inventiveness.

And perhaps the best of all is the verse's simple tone, in which apparently there's no expression of opinion, only a straightforward narration. There's neither surprise, nor sarcasm, nor a style like that of exultation. Without any emotional comment, the verse has simply narrated an observation. As though for Mir to spend the night in the wine-house, and to take with him a 'seal of prayer', then through the intensity of intoxication or its aftermath to leave the 'seal of prayer' there and go-- all these are ordinary things.

The only comment the speaker makes is that the 'tavern boy' was seen playing with the 'seal of prayer'. In this there's also the implication that the 'tavern boy' has no acquaintance with the 'seal of prayer'; he considers it something to play with. And of course there's the implication, as well, that Mir is a habitual drinker, and also a habitual performer of namaz. It's an extraordinarily enjoyable verse.



The mu;G-bachchah works in the wine-house, and is a helper of the piir-e mu;Gaa;N . If he is (androgynously) handsome and charming, the drinkers may well give him gifts. But a 'seal of prayer' would not be such a gift. Modern Persian Shi'ite 'prayer-tablets' look like this:

Clearly they aren't plausible as romantic gifts, or as toys, or as tokens for any kind of games. And since they're ideally made from earth (especially the holy earth of Karbala), they can't really be valuable in a worldly sense. So the 'Mughal boy' in the wine-house who was 'playing with' one should probably be imagined as idly tossing from hand to hand a small object that he'd noticed and chanced to pick up, not necessarily with any special purpose.

Note for meter fans: Mir scans the word as bachah , not bachchah . Of course, the latter is the correct form, but he's the poet and we're not.