yih saraa sone kii jaagah nahii;N bedaar raho
ham ne kar dii hai ;xabar tum ko ;xabar-daar raho

1) this lodging/'sarai' is not a place for sleeping-- stay awake!
2) we have given you warning/information-- stay warned/alert!



saraa : 'House, mansion, palace; temporary home for travellers, caravansary, inn'. (Platts p.650)


jaagah is a variant of jagah , with a conveniently different scansion of course

S. R. Faruqi:

It's a commonplace theme of a moralistic kind, but in its expression there's an uncommon power. The loftiness of the tone and harmony, the bringing together of long exhortations, in the rhyme and refrain the 'mood' of calling out, the meaning-filled repetition in 'warned' and 'be warned'-- all this is of course there. But a large part of the power of the verse is in the word saraa . It's obvious that the utterance is about the lodging-house of the world, but the meaning of 'sarai'-- that is, a place for travellers to stay-- is also there.

This reading of 'sarai', instead of being secondary, has taken on a fundamental role, because the verse has an atmosphere of 'calling out'. It seems that one or more people have arrived and stayed in a sarai where there's some danger, and some person is calling out and saying, 'Stay on your guard here, this is not a place to sleep!'.

By not specifying the danger, and only saying it's not a place to sleep, the verse has become the bearer of complete eloquence [balaa;Gat]. Because several kinds of danger are possible. If it had said only that 'here one's life is in danger', or 'there's a fear of theft', then the idea would become limited.

At present, here there are nothing but dangers. So much so that possibly the person who is giving the warning-- there might be some danger even/also from him, because often thieves used to caution travelers. They knew that the traveler was tired and worn out, he would surely go to sleep. But in warning him, there was the advantage that then he couldn't complain that he came to this sarai and was looted. It's a 'tumult-arousing' verse.

Naiyar Mas'ud says that among the treasure-store of unique papers he has that are related to Mirza Dabir, there's one 'notebook' [bayaa.z] in which are entered 'incorporations' [ta.zmiin] on the present verse by Mir Mustahsan Khaliq and Mirza Dabir. The 'incorporation' by Mir Khaliq:

;Gaafil is manzil-e faanii me;N nah zinhaar raho
yaa;N hai kha;Tkaa malak ul-maut kaa hushyaar raho
((amal-e ;xair karo chalne pah taiyaar raho
yih saraa sone kii jaagah nahii;N bedaar raho
ham ne kar dii hai ;xabar tum ko ;xabar-daar raho

[in this transient encampment, do not-- take care!-- remain heedless
here there's anxiety about the Angel of Death-- stay aware
do good deeds, stay ready for departure
'this lodging/'sarai' is not a place for sleeping-- stay awake
we have given you warning-- stay warned/alert

It's clear that Mir Khaliq has made the theme very limited. Then, the instruction to stay alert against death is not even very meaningful, because people are warned against things that there would be a way to avoid. Death is kept in mind-- indeed, people are certainly warned about the possibility of sudden death, in the sense that there's no trusting life, so whatever (good) deeds you might do, do them. In this regard Mir Khaliq's third line is very powerful and meaningful.

The 'incorporation' of Mirza Dabir:

safar-e marg hai dar-pesh subuk-baar raho
;xvaab-e raa;hat ke nah raato;N ko :talab-gaar raho
yih .sadaa mur;G-e sa;har dete hai;N hushyaar raho
yih saraa sone kii jaagah nahii;N bedaar raho
ham ne kar dii hai ;xabar tum ko ;xabar-daar raho

[the journey of death is before you, stay lightly-burdened
do not, at night, remain a seeker of the sleep of ease
this cry the bird of dawn gives: stay alert,
'this lodging/'sarai' is not a place for sleeping-- stay awake
we have given you warning-- stay warned/alert

In Mirza Dabir's incorporation too the theme has become limited, but because of the strength of the 'connection' and the 'proof', his is better than Mir Khaliq's. To speak of Mir's verse as the cry of the 'bird of dawn' is very enjoyable. Since sleep too is called 'heavy', in his first line 'lightly-burdened' is very fine; although no doubt Dabir's second line is not so good. Since Khaliq's second line too isn't very good, it seems that they both had difficulty in preparing for the third line.

The 'notebook' in which these 'incorporations' are entered has no indication that this incorporation is on a verse of Mir's; nor is there any information in the title or the text that would reveal whether the maker of the notebook, or the maker of the incorporation, knew that the verse was Mir's. From this the suspicion arises that the verse that this verse was famous as a proverbial saying and, as so often happens with verses that are proverbial sayings, people did not know whose verse it was.

This incorporation also proves that ambiguity is a very great beauty/virtue, because through it a theme becomes broad, as we've seen in Mir's verse.



This verse is the kind I call a 'fill-in'. It sets up an urgent and ominous situation, but the exact nature of the situation is left up to each of us to imagine. If this sarai is not a place in which 'to sleep' (in particular), might it be a place of nightmares or sinister dreams? Or if it's not a place in which to stay overnight, might terrible things happen during the night? Or if it's just not a place to stay in (more generally), it might threaten the visitor with any number of vexations or dangers.

The listeners are warned, they are alerted-- and all the more alarmingly because the speaker is plainly washing his hands of them, he's putting the whole responsibility on them. 'Well, take heed, I've warned you!' he says sternly. It's easy to imagine his self-justification after some (inevitable?) bad thing happens-- 'Well, I warned them; if they didn't take heed, it's not my fault!'

All the vividness and tension, the 'dramaticness', of such a warning-- our own imaginations have no trouble filling in any number of possibilities. And worst of all are the ominous overtones. We have to sleep, after all-- how long can we 'stay awake'? How, and how long, can we be vigiliant against unknown dangers? And will it appear to be our own fault, if something terrible happens to us? Will no one come to help? Fear is cruel, but oh, the cruelty of uncertainty and suspense!