ham mast ho bhii dekhaa aa;xir mazaa nahii;N hai
hushyaarii ke baraabar ko))ii nashaa nahii;N hai

1) even/also having become intoxicated, we saw, finally, there is no relish/pleasure
2) no (kind of) intoxication is equal to awareness/intelligence/sobriety



dekhnaa : 'To see, look, look at, behold, view, observe, perceive, inspect, mark, note, consider, look to, weigh well, examine, prove, try; to search, scan; to watch (for); to feel (as the pulse, &c.); to experience, suffer, endure, tolerate'. (Platts pp. 557-58)


aa;xir : 'In the end; at last; after all; ultimately; eventually; once for all, finally'. (Platts p.30)


mazah : 'Taste savour, smack, relish; delight, pleasure, enjoyment; anything agreeable to the palate or to the mind, &c.; a delicacy, a tidbit; a bon-mot; jest, joke, fun, sport, amusement'. (Platts p.1029)


nashaa : 'Intoxication (lit. & fig.), drunkenness; --headache or crop-sickness (from over-drinking); --intoxicating liquor or drug, an intoxicant'. (Platts p.1139)


baraabar : 'Abreast, even, level, on a level (with, - ke ), up (to); on a par (with), on an equality (with), equal (to); next (to), adjoining; agreeing, coinciding, fitting; facing, confronting, opposite'. (Platts p.143)

S. R. Faruqi:

Just as he is masterful in using an unexpected word, Mir is masterful in saying something unexpected, or in overturning a conventional idea. In the present opening-verse, in addition to the overturning in the theme there are other pleasures as well. In ham mast ho bhii dekhaa there's the implication that he deliberately took up intoxication for the sake of experience and exploration, the way a while back in the West, and in old times in our country, people used to use psychedelic drugs-- that it was a search made not only for pleasure, but rather with the hope of attaining new perceptions and insights on an almost spiritual level.

For aa;xir mazaa nahii;N hai the meanings are: (1) the result of the experience of intoxication is unpleasurable or distasteful-- that is, intoxication is controlled by the 'law of diminishing returns'. (2) After intoxication subsides, the condition that results is pleasureless/distasteful. (3) Intoxication is pleasant in the very beginning, and unpleasant at the very end.

(4) When the Persian word mazah comes into Urdu in the form of mazaa , then in it is an allusion to sensory pleasure, and a kind of thoughtlessness and the freedom of childhood. (See


For example, Mir Soz:

yaar gar .saa;hib-e vafaa hotaa
kyuu;N miyaa;N jaan kyaa mazaa hotaa

[if the beloved were a possessor of faithfulness
well then, my dear sir-- what pleasure would there be?!]

That is, in the Urdu word mazaa is the pleasure of the French 'joie de vivre'. and in this sense the Urdu word and the French expression are both impossible to translate. In Mir's present verse, in {1417,5}, and in Soz's verse, the pleasure and relish of the word mazaa can be judged only by those who are acquainted with the temperament of the language.

(5) The word aa;xir means 'conclusion'-- that is, after becoming and remaining intoxicated we drew this conclusion: that this whole process (of intoxication and the aftermath) is pleasureless and useless. (6) If the habit of intoxication would develop, then its pleasure declines.

After all this has been said in the first line, we expect that now there will be discussion of some other kind of intoxicant, or that something will be said about the qualities of being in one's senses. But this expectation is not fulfilled either, and in the second line we are told that the greatest intoxication is awareness/intelligence-- that is, there ought to be no intoxication.

So should we consider the meaning of this to be that the speaker is not hostile to intoxication (drunkenness, unconsciousness, having no control over oneself, and the pleasure obtained by this means), but rather that he is only hostile to a conventional kind of intoxication? If this is the case, then the conclusion emerges that the people who are sober-- they too are not in their right minds. Or the conclusion emerges that the people who are sober are deprived of the kind of pleasure to be found in intoxication.

But if awareness/intelligence/sobriety too is intoxication, then the word of the sober ones too cannot be trusted. That is, those who are sober, are not sober. One aspect of this is that in the first line the people about whom it has been said that from intoxication they ultimately get no relish-- the meaning emerges that those who are intoxicated, are not intoxicated; and those who are not intoxicated, are intoxicated. That is, if the person who is intoxicated would call himself intoxicated, then he is telling a lie; and if the person who is sober would call himself intelligent/aware/sober, then he too is telling a lie; and by extension if the drunkard would call himself drunk then he is a liar; and if he would call himself sober then he is a liar. And if the sober person would call himself drunk then he is a liar; and if he would call himself sober then he is a liar. If we think about it, then what more than this will Jacques Derrida say? And the person who has Mir's poetry-- what would he need from Derrida?

Western logicians have described a kind of paradox that Bertrand Russell analyzed so well in terms of 'true statements' and 'false statements' that now it's called 'Russell's paradox'. [[Note by FWP: what is now called 'Russell's paradox' has a more technical structure.]] The ancient Greek form of it is this: 'All Cretans are liars. I am a Cretan.' [A discussion of this paradox and another cited by Russell called the 'Barber paradox'.]

Russell has written in his autobiography that when there was much discussion of his paradox, he went to some conference where the question arose of what statements are such that their truthfulness depends on their falseness. At the end of the conference, someone quietly slipped to Russell a piece of paper. On one side of it was written 'The statement on the other side of this paper is true'. And when Russell turned the paper over, he saw written, 'The statement on the other side of this paper is false'. It's clear that this is the most refined/subtle form of Russell's paradox. [Further discussion.] In Mir's opening-verse this paradox seems to be not so much about human knowledge, as about reflecting on the limits of human experience and the kinds of human knowledge.

Now let's consider why, and in what sense, Mir said that there's no intoxication equal to awareness/intelligence/sobriety. Does this mean that to Mir, wisdom is more valuable than madness? But it's difficult to say that intoxication is not valuable. So does this really mean that true intoxication is awareness, and drunkenness is only a superficial thing? Now again a paradox arises, that awareness/intelligence too is an intoxication. That is, pride in knowledge, or pleasure in knowledge, is such that it acts like intoxication. In both Islamic and Christian views of virtue, it's considered very bad for someone to be proud of his piety and asceticism. In our culture it's been said that there's no greater sin than pride in piety, nothing more likely to lead one astray. If this meaning is accepted, then in the verse there's an expression of human sorrow-- that intoxication turned out to be pleasureless, and the result of sobriety turned out to be intoxication. That is both kinds of purposes were not achieved.

If it would be assumed that in the verse intelligence/awareness and wisdom have been valorized, and in this way shown to be the fruit of life, then the conclusion emerges that Mir (or the speaker of the verse) considers madness to be false and fruitless, and against the common basis of classical poetry, does not accept the reality and honorableness of madness. But in this too there can be a kind of deceit-- for after all, what is sought from 'madness'? It's clear that the goal is to be outside yourself and unaware of yourself. And if this state would be achieved not through intoxication but through sobriety, then so be it. Then in madness there's a kind of trickery. See


That one is such a devastatingly multi-layered verse that the mind is bewildered.

In a [Persian] verse of Sa'ib's, one aspect of Mir's theme has been versified in a didactic way:

'From sweet grapes, bitter wine is well made,
As long as wisdom is not perfect, madness is not perfect.'

But in Sa'ib's verse the juxtapositional mode is excessive. Then, no 'proof' has been provided for calling madness 'grapes' and wine 'wisdom'. Mir made claim upon claim, and through the enchantment of paradox removed the need for proof.

[See also {1341,4}.]



This verse is a spectacular example of I kind that I call 'generators', because they spin out alternative possibilities so fast, in so many directions, that the effort to pin them down is at once seen to be hopeless. Here are some of the branching possibilities for how we might read the verse's three semantically independent statements:

In the first line: 'Having become intoxicated' can be taken, very crucially, to mean either:

1) 'While we were in a state of intoxication'
2) 'After we had experienced a state of intoxication and it was over'

Then, 'we saw' can be taken to mean:

1) 'We had some general realization or insight or experience' (as in 'Try it and you'll see!'-- since there's no kih to grammatically unify the two statements in the first line)
2) 'We perceived that the following statement was true' (if a kih is taken to be implied)

Then, 'Finally, there is no relish pleasure' can be taken to mean:

1) 'Ultimately there is no relish/pleasure in intoxication'
2) 'Ultimately no such thing as relish/pleasure exists in the world'

Then (why are we not surprised?) the second line sets up complexities of its own. It can be read as:

1) A further part of the conclusion reached and reported in the first line
2) An independent observation of some more general kind

And of course its key word is baraabar , which itself is exceptionally multivalent (see the definition above). 'There is no (kind of) intoxication/drunkenness that is baraabar to awareness/intelligence/sobriety'-- what exactly can that mean? Here are a few possibilities:

1) 'No (other kind of) intoxication is equal to sobriety in its extremeness' (the paradoxical reading that SRF explores)
2) 'No (kind of) intoxication is equal to sobriety in some unspecified way' (perhaps in its ability to generate insights? perhaps in its ultimate pleasurableness? perhaps in general?)
3) 'No (kind of) intoxication stands up to, or oppositionally confronts, sobriety'

So what do we have, something like 48 possibilities? With a bit of further fiddling, we could surely add a few more. How about some attention to the possibilities of bhii ? And should we take ko))ii as negating some particular 'kind' of intoxication, or just as meaning 'no intoxication'? Never mind-- enough, already!

Note for translation fans: In English we have only 'intoxication' and 'drunkenness', which have very different associations; since this verse operates at such a generalized level, I use the former, because it's broader, while occasionally reminding us of the latter. Even more vexing is the problem of translating hushyaarii . It means awareness, alertness, intelligence, but in this context it also clearly means 'the state of being non-intoxicated'. But in English, 'sobriety' just doesn't have at all the same breadth of positive meaning. This is why I have used awkward slash-marked hybrids, to remind us that the opposite of intoxication in this verse is something broadly desirable rather than a state chiefly characterized by non-intoxication.

Note for script fans: Many editors adjust rhyme-words so as to change their word-final spelling to accord with the requirements of the rhyme. In the kulliyat, both such words in this verse, mazah and nashah , have been given with their usual spellings, even though every other rhyme-word in the whole ghazal ends in alif . This is the editors' choice, and I have no problem with it. But for the sake of convenience in my own alphabetical indexing, I needed to make the changes, so the reader could easily tell from the first line, or the first verse, what the rhyme was. SRF makes a special point about the difference between mazah and mazaa , but the kulliyat's reading does not support such a difference in the case of this verse; and even otherwise it seems doubtful that the (usually rhyme-induced) different spellings can support the claim that he makes