marg kaa vaqfah is raste me;N kyaa hai miir samajhte ho
haare maa;Nde raah ke hai;N ham log ko))ii dam so le;N hai;N

1) the pause/halt/interval of death, in this road-- what is it, Mir, do you understand it?
2) we people are overcome and worn down by the road; for a few moments/'breaths', we sleep



vaqfah : 'A stopping; retarding; choking; —a stop, pause; a halt; —delay; respite, reprieve; vacancy; an interval, interlude; an adjournment'. (Platts p.1197)


haarnaa : 'To be defeated, be worsted, be overcome, be unsuccessful; to lose (in play, or in battle, &c.); to fail; —to be fatigued, or tired out; to become dispirited'. (Platts p.1215)


maa;N;Dnaa (of which maa;Ndnaa is a variant): 'To rub; to press down, to flatten; to tread or trample on, to crush'. (Platts p.985)

S. R. Faruqi:

In the first divan, a verse with this same theme is extremely famous [{223,3}]:

marg ik maa;Ndagii kaa vaqfah hai
ya((nii aage ba;Rhe;Nge dam le kar

[death is a single pause from fatigue
that is, we will go on ahead, having taken a breath]

The present verse is somewhat better than {223,3}, both with regard to structure and with regard to meaning. But since as a rule people rarely advance beyond the first divan, the present verse has remained hidden from most people's sight. {223,3} has an 'informative' structure, while the first line of the present verse is insha'iyah, and its style of address is also fine. The speaker of the verse is someone else (for example, some mystical knower, or some person who experiences the grief and sorrow of the world). And the addressee is not Mir the poet, but rather some ordinary person-- someone who is not acquainted with the mystery of death, and broods about what it is, and why it is.

Then in the second line raah ke hai;N is a very meaningful phrase, because in it is the suggestion that from nonexistence to life, then from life to nonexistence, and after nonexistence-- all these are various stages on one single journey. When a person comes from the 'world of spirits' into the 'world of bodies', he grows tired-- because this journey is very long, and because the traveler himself doesn't know why and how this journey has taken place. Then in the world of bodies, life itself is a single journey. Now death is a kind of stopping-place, a stopping-place apart from which there is no other recourse, because the journey has so tired him that stopping has become unavoidable.

But in this stopping there's no pursuit of recreation, no spectacle, no ease-- there are only some moments of sleep, as though some tired person would fall asleep at the side of the road. That is, death is not a destinatiou, but rather a brief moment in a long journey, a casual stopping-place. Even after death there's the journey, and its destination is unknown. With regard to the idiom, haare maa;Nde is a synonym for thake maa;Nde . But in the word haare there's hidden the suggestion that in this journey there's no success or victory. To come into the world, or to go out of the world-- in both situations there's nothing but harm/loss.

Now please look at the grammar and usage in the first line. The line can be read in a number of ways:

(1) marg kaa vaqfah is raste me;N kyaa hai ? miir , samajhte ho ?

(2) marg kaa vaqfah is raste me;N kyaa hai miir ? samajhte ho ?

(3) marg kaa vaqfah ? is raste me;N kyaa hai ? miir , samajhte ho ?

(4) marg kaa vaqfah is raste me;N kyaa hai miir ? samajhte ho ?

(5) marg kaa vaqfah is raste me;N kyaa hai ? miir samajhte ho ?

In every reading, the meaning changes to some extent. Similarly, in the second line too there are various possibilities of division:

(1) haare maa;Nde raah ke hai;N , ham log ko))ii dam so le;N hai;N

(2) haare maa;Nde raah ke hai;N ham log , ko))ii dam so le;N hai;N

(3) haare maa;Nde , raah ke hai;N ham log , ko))ii dam so le;N hai;N

(4) haare maa;Nde raah ke hai;N , ham log , ko))ii dam so le;N hai;N

Here the meaning doesn't change with every reading, but the atmosphere and the effect change.

In all four verses of this ghazal [that have been selected], Mir's mastery of craftsmanship and depth of thought have been manifested in new styles/modes. At the time when the fourth divan was compiled, Mir's age was something like seventy years. After composing such verses at this age, whatever claim he might make was justified.

One interesting point is that contrary to this theme, Mir has also versified death as a kind of 'journey into the unknown', about which the traveler ought not to feel fear and anxiety. From the second divan:


From the fifth divan [{1693,4}]:

raah-e ((ajab pesh aa))ii ham ko yaa;N se tanhaa jaane kii
yaaro ham-dam ham-raahii har gaam bichhu;Rte jaate hai;N

[a strange/unknown road has come before us, for going on alone from here
friends, companions, fellow travelers, with every footstep they go on separating]

It should be kept in mind that for both life and death, a journey is brought in as a theme. That is, life is called a journey, and death too is called a journey. Probably it's a special quality only of the Urdu and Persian languages, that one single metaphor can be used for two entirely opposite realities. In Urdu, this is so to an even more astonishing extent: the word kal is used for the previous day, and the following day also. Here too there's the same idea: 'to pass through' is common to them both. One kal has passed, and one kal will come after today has passed.

[See also {1450,7}.]



It's surprising to see a sophisticated literary analyst like SRF conflate metaphor and vocabulary as he does at the end of his discussion. The interesting question of kal as meaning both 'yesterday' and 'tomorrow' is a peculiar thing; in Hindi/Urdu, it is still accompanied by parso;N (for the day before yesterday, and the day after tomorrow) and used to be joined even by the now rarer narso;N or tarso;N (for the day three days ago, and the day three days ahead). This is something that linguists can help us explore; but it can't meaningfully be compared to the use of the journey metaphor for both life and death. Besides, in the present verse it seems that life is a journey, while death is not a journey but a 'pause' or interval or temporary break in the journey (associated with the metaphor of sleep); after we have had our brief sleep, we will presumably rise and continue the journey.

The use of dam , moments or literally 'breaths', for death provides another brilliant twist. To use measure the sleep of death as 'a few breaths' is so paradoxical, and in such a poignant and melancholy way.

Note for meter fans: Somehow I dislike the way the quasi-caesura falls between ham and log , because it's so clear both in idiomatic speech and in context that these form a tightly bonded pair. That's a sort of rational complaint. But I also really dislike the sheer sound, the very rhythm, of log ko))ii , and especially the scansion of ko))ii as short-long. To my ear it's just not harmonious. At least I can have the satisfaction of complaining about it here.