paa))o;N chhaatii pah merii rakh chaltaa
yaa;N kabhuu us kaa yuu;N gu;zaaraa thaa

1) having placed her feet on my breast, she used to move along
2) here, sometimes, {casually / 'like this'}, her passing-through took place



S. R. Faruqi:

In the second line he's done the 'seating' [nishast] of the words so excellently that a number of meanings have been created.

1) There was a time when I was so fortunate that she used to trample my breast underfoot and pass through; that is, my bosom achieved the auspicious honor of of becoming the place of her footsteps.

2) She sometimes passed through here in such a way that she placed her foot on my breast as she passed through.

3) Falling down in the street, I sometimes used to try to block her path, and she used to kick me and pass on.

4) When did she pass through here in such a way that she would come and trample my breast underfoot? (That is, the second line is a negative rhetorical question.)

5) There was a time when she and I stayed together, and she was so familiar or informal with me that by way of sociability she used to she used to put her feet on my breast.

6) If thaa is taken to mean hotaa , then the meaning emerges, if only she had passed through here in such a way that she would have put her foot on my breast as she passed. The use of thaa to mean hai is a common Urdu idiom; see {1076}. To use thaa to express vain longing is old Urdu (see {736,8}).

To see the difference between the East [mashriq] and the West [ma;Grib], place beside this verse a sonnet of Baudelaire's [Sonnet XVII from 'Spleen et l'Ideal', here translated by Carol Clark in 'Charles Baudelaire: Selected Poems', Penguin 1995, p.25]:

With her undulating, iridescent clothes,
even when she walks you would think she is dancing,
like those long snakes that sacred jugglers
shake rhythmically on the ends of their sticks.

Like the bleak sand and the blue sky of deserts,
equally unmoved by human suffering;
like the long wave-patterns of the seas,
she unfolds in her indifference.

Her polished eyes are made of charming minerals,
and in this strange and symbolic nature
where the inviolate angel mingles with the ancient sphinx,

Where everything is made of gold, steel, light, and diamonds,
there shines forth for ever, like a useless star,
the cold majesty of the sterile woman.

It's clear that I'm not making a comparison between a ghazal verse and a poem [na:zm]. I only want to show that with regard to a cold-hearted or unkind beloved, Mir takes the path of considering the placement of his body beneath her feet as his virtuousness and good fortune. Baudelaire's beloved too is absorbed in her stroll; in her clothing and her gait both is the slithering and swaying style of a snake. She is also cold-hearted, but Baudelaire has no longing for the slithering and swaying snake to wrap itself around his body. If he cannot obtain his beloved, then he doesn't even long for her to trample him under foot.

Baudelaire's path won't be pleasing to an Eastern temperament. In contrast, Mir's disposition is purely Eastern, beause in Eastern (and especially Indo-Muslim) poetry there's very little difference between the beloved and the Lord. The things that are said about the Lord, are said about the beloved as well-- many of them identically, and a number with only a small change in emphasis and perspective.

Dagh has elucidated this point very well:

hai vuhii qahr vuhii jabr vuhii kabr-o-;Guruur
but ;xudaa hai;N magar in.saaf nah karne vaale

[there's just the same anger, just the same oppression, just the same grandeur and pride,
idols are Lords, but not doers of justice]

In addition, in the Eastern temperament there's more self-surrender and rejection of self than in the West. If we keep in mind the verses under discussion by Mir and Baudelaire, there's no need for further discussion of this point.

But please do certainly notice that both of their poems have 'mood', but of entirely different kinds. Both also have ambiguity, but Mir's ambiguity is from the creation of possibilities through simple language, and Baudelaire's ambiguity is from his glittering metaphors and images. There's intensity of feeling to such an extent that except for colorful images there's no other way to express it. In Mir's verse too this aspect can sometimes be seen; in Ghalib's, very often.

[See also {711,6}.]



To me it seems that the center of the verse is that lovely yuu;N in the middle of the second line (which also bounces phonetically off the yaa;N at the beginning of the line). Both of its meanings are potent and evocative when paired with the first line. It might be 'casually, by happenstance' that she used to pass through here (she didn't care a bean, she was just out for a stroll, and she didn't even notice if she was walking on hearts instead of flagstones). Or it might be 'like this' (in exactly the manner so poignantly and nostalgically described). Or 'here' might mean 'in the speaker's mind', so that the whole experience would be a kind of dream vision.

Of course, the meaning of her 'gesture' in the first line is left up in the air, as SRF suggests. As she passed through, did she step on the lover's breast out of intimacy and trust, or out of hostility and disdain, or out of entire indifference? And did her 'moving along' mean continued walking along in the lover's vicinity, or an abrupt departure as she 'passed through'?

SRF of course knows better than to use terms like 'East' and 'West' in any serious way. He knows that the poetic 'East' would have to include the literatures of China, Japan, Korea, and many other cultures (and so many genres too!); he also knows that Baudelaire can't be taken as any kind of archetypal representative of any single literary 'West' (which has its own multiplicity of cultures and genres). Probably he has just succumbed to the urge (one that overpowers all us commentators from time to time) to present another favorite and somehow relevant poem, to savor it and to invite the reader to share his pleasure. Carol Clark's English translation, which I've substituted for SRF's Urdu one, is entirely literal; indeed, she even does it in prose, but because she's so literal her lines correspond exactly to the French ones, so I've taken the liberty of separating them just for greater elegance.

Baudelaire's weird, spectacular, glittering sonnet comes to a final focus, which provides such a sharply narrow sense of closure that it's almost disappointing: it's made clear that everything in the poem has been setting forth 'the cold majesty of the sterile woman'. In his sonnet Baudelaire has more scope for rich and strange imagery (and naturally it sounds much more polished in French, and rhymes too), but then it finally ties itself down in a way that's surprisingly explicit and limited.

By contrast, Mir's woman (or beautiful boy, or God) may not be cold or sterile at all, but only inattentive, or even perhaps affectionate; or perhaps, on the other hand, actively hostile. And in what tone is Mir's second line to be spoken? In two lines, Mir achieves a penumbra of hovering possibilities, all of them subtle and capable of generating fresh thoughts and feelings in the reader. Baudelaire's sonnet is, by comparison, a (spectacular) spectator sport; Mir's much more compressed verse is a participatory experience of poem-making.