ham bhii is shahr me;N un logo;N se hai;N ;xaanah-;xaraab
miir ghar-baar jinho;N ke rah-e sailaab me;N hai;N

1) even/also we in this city are house-wrecked {like / because of} those people,
2) Mir, [those people] whose house-and-home are in the path/road of the flood



S. R. Faruqi:

The usual theme is that destruction, being swept away by a flood, being house-wrecked, are good things. Because: (1) they create the possibility of renouncing this contingent world; (2) the quality of passion is destruction-- however true the passion will be, its destruction will be great in proportion; (3) however much a man will be destroyed, he will be that much strengthened in passion; (4) destruction and oblivion are levels of true spiritual progress; (5) the lover, through his wildness and abundant weeping, destroys himself and destroys the world as well.

Sa'di, by means of the flood of oblivion, has well expressed [in Persian] this theme:

'Oh Sa'di, if the flood of oblivion would uproot the house of the lifetime
Keep your heart strong, for this strengthens the foundation of eternity.'

The young Ghalib has composed this, with his own special dignity/imperiousness and grandeur [in an unpublished verse]:


Mir, rejecting the usual theme, has composed a strangely mysterious and cool-toned verse. In the first line se has two meanings: (1) like (2) because of. In the light of the first meaning, the interpretation will be that we too are house-wrecked, like those people whose house and home, within the city, are flood-stricken. In the light of the second meaning, the interpretation will be that because of those people, we too are being forced to see such a state of affairs-- that is, some people's houses are in the path of the flood. Thus when that would be established as the path of the flood, then the flood will pass on beyond from place to place. Now when the flood passes through those people's homes, it will come to our house as well, because our house too is in the same city.

In the second line, what a devastating image he has brought in! The flood is, so to speak, some living thing, and there are roads for its coming and going. The way one might say, 'This village is in the tigers' path'. That is, the area in which tigers wander and roam around-- this village too is there. A second reading is that those people's houses are in low valleys, so that when there's an inundation, then water certainly comes into their houses. A third reading is although this flood hasn't come yet, it's coming. It's far off, but it can be seen. Or word is being brought that the flood is about to come. And the direction in which the flood will come is where these houses too are found. Each of these situations is full of uncertainty and wildness: those people who have been mentioned are in any case without protection and in danger.

Now the question arises: 'to be in the path of the flood'-- for what is it a metaphor? The excellence of the verse is that, like Kafka's stories, it has said an extremely attention-engaging and perplexing thing; and that thing is plausible too, but we don't learn what its meaning is. In this way an abundance of possibilities for structure and commentary are created. For example:

(1) Those people are lovers, and the flood is in truth a metaphor for the destructiveness of passion.

(2) On those people disasters both heavenly and earthly keep raining down. Whether they are innocent or sinful, they remain always in the extremity of punishment and torment.

(3) Those people live at the border of the city, and the enemy's attack falls right on them.

(4) Those people are both physically and spiritually-- or physically, or spiritually-- in a wretched/destroyed condition, etc.

The expression ghar baar is also fine. Usually this is used only with the meaning of 'home'. But since baar means 'possessions, equipment, materials', in this expression is a suggestion that not only the house but also the paraphernalia come to be flood-stricken. When a flood comes, people take as much of their possessions as possible and flee from their houses. But here the people who are mentioned have not only their homes, but also their possessions/goods, in grave danger from the flood. The affinity between 'flood' and 'house-wrecked' is also fine, because the destruction brought by the flood too is construed as wreckage and desolation.

If we read se as 'like', a superb reading also emerges: that although we live in the city, our house-wreckedness is like that of those people whose house and home are now, or habitually are, in the path of the flood. Here too, there's the point that when the flood is about to come, people leave their houses and flee-- that is, they become 'house-wrecked'. Their houses are wrecked in any case; the dwellers themselves too go from being home-owners to being house-wrecked.

It's a complete and well-filled verse. An extra pleasure is that even while expressing such a theme, in the tone there's no kind of self-pity, there's no emotional turmoil, no sighing or lamenting; the tone is entirely cool, dry, matter-of-fact.

The image of the 'path of the flood' he has used in the second divan as well. Because of the image, the verse takes shape; otherwise in the theme there's nothing special. From the second divan [{1022,2}]:

hu))aa ;xaanah-;xaraab aa;Nkho;N kaa ashko;N se to bar-jaa hai
rah-e sailaab me;N ko))ii bhii ghar bunyaad kartaa hai

[if I became house-wrecked by my eyes, through tears, then it's appropriate
in the path of the flood, does anyone establish a home?]

Look at this image in Qa'im's poetry:

jo ;xaraabe ke mazo;N se yaa;N hu))e hai;N aashnaa
ghar nahii;N karte banaa ;Gair az rah-e sailaab me;N

[those who have become familiar, here, with the pleasures of devastation
they don't build homes elsewhere than in the path of the flood]

From these themes, Qa'im has also created a very fine theme. The aspect of sarcasm is very delicate:

shaari((-e sail-e balaa ham ko bataa de ay char;x
jii me;N hai ham bhii ko))ii ghar kahii;N ta((miir kare;N

[tell us the main-road of the flood of disasters, oh sky
it's in our inner-self that even/also we would construct a house somewhere]

[See also {1502,4}.]



The brief, cryptic reference to 'those people' is really the piquant heart of the verse. The speaker 'Mir', makes a point of linking his wretched fate to that of 'those people'. But how is it linked? If we take se to be short for jaise , then his situation is simply 'like' theirs, and the simile is straightforward and relatively limited (with no further information available).

But if we take se to be instrumental ('because of', 'by means of', 'through'), then what emerges sounds like a collective complaint: 'We who live in this city are all ruined because of those people who live in the path of the flood'. If this utterance is to have any coherent meaning, it seems that 'those people' must somehow be disaster-attractors. To live near them is like picnicking with people wrapped in red flags, in a field full of bulls. Sailors in danger of shipwreck used to throw overboard anyone they considered to be a 'jonah', a lightning-rod for ill-fortune and disaster. The most obvious interpretation of 'those people' would take them to be lovers, since we know that the sky takes a special pleasure in 'raining down' disasters-- in this case, actual 'floods' of disasters-- upon them.

On this richer, more complex 'because of' reading, the speaker could very probably be someone other than Mir-- someone who is complaining or lamenting to Mir about how 'those people' have brought down ruin upon the city.

Note for grammar fans: The archaic jinho;N ke has the advantage of clearly showing plural-ness, in a way that neither 'whose' or 'of whom' can do in English. This prevents us from incorrectly reading the second line as referring to Mir's own house and home.