jalne ko aatii hai;N jo satyaa;N miir sa;Nbhal kar jaltii hai;N
kyaa be-.sarfah raat jalii be-bahrah apne shu((uur se sham((a

1) when Satis come to burn, Mir, they burn carefully/firmly/supportedly
2) how unprofitable-- last night it burned, destitute/deprived of its own awareness/discernment, the candle!



sa;Nbhalnaa : 'To be supported or sustained, to be propped to be firm; to stand, to stop; to recover oneself (from a stumble or fall, &c.). (Platts p.673)


be-.sarfah : 'Unprofitable'. (Platts p.203)


be-bahrah : 'Having no share, part or lot (in), without portion or profit; destitute, unfortunate'. (Platts p.202)


shu((uur : 'Knowledge, wisdom, intelligence, sense, discretion, discernment, sagacity, penetration; good management'. (Platts p.728)

S. R. Faruqi:

Whether with regard to the theme or the structure [usluub], an equal to this verse won't be found in all of poetry [puurii shaa((irii]. The word satiyaa;N itself is so unexpected and fresh that dozens of ghazals can sacrifice themselves for it. Then, consider the supremacy of sa;Nbhal kar jaltii hai;N . The point is that they burn 'with composure of temperament', or they burn 'in fits and starts' [ruk ruk kar], or they burn 'knowingly, deliberately' [soch samajh kar]. In the word sa;Nbhalnaa all these allusions are contained; to search out such a word is proof of an uncommon mastery of colloquial language.

Women who will be Satis have obtained mystical knowledge of the self and awareness of existence [((irfaan-e ;zaat-o-aagaahi-e vujuud]. Without the beloved they consider their existence to be incomplete or trivial; therefore when the beloved is burned, they burn themselves as well. This burning of theirs is [habitually] done knowingly/deliberately, and without causing any tears to fall, and slowly/gently [aahistah aahistah]. In contrast to this, consider the candle. It has no awareness of itself. It too burns, but it burns while shedding tears; it doesn't know why it is being burned. Its burning is of no use.

The candle is destitute of self-awareness because the beloved is before it, nevertheless it burns. Or else because it's compelled to burn, but still it doesn't know why it's burning-- whether to spread light, or to rival the beloved, or to express its helplessness before the beloved. The candle's burning is only a mechanical action. The Satis knowingly/deliberately choose burning. That is, merely to give one's life isn't anything important; the important thing is that there should be awareness of one's existence, and with this awareness death would be chosen. That person who wouldn't accept even death without self-awareness-- to say about him [[as some critics have done]] that 'in Mir's personality there was shame/confusion [infi((aaliyat]' is nothing but an innocent ignorance of Mir's poetry.

If we adopt a Sufistic point of view, then in this verse is a complete explanation of the 'perfect human' [insaan-e kaamil]. Death comes to the 'perfect human' too, but that death is a result of his awareness of his existence. That is, when he attains mystic knowledge of his own existence, only then does he return/incline toward Absolute Existence. When one would attain his own mystic knowledge, then he would know, 'what am I not?'. And when he would know what he is not, then-- 'I would try to become that which I am not, and in this way I would try to make my existence perfect'. For dust-born man, perfection is in his becoming obliterated-- that is, that he would cross over and emerge beyond the limits of external existence. Thus when with full self-awareness one chooses oblivion, then perfection is attained. And when only in a mechanical way, without awareness, he gives up his life, then that's an 'unprofitable' death, one devoid of benefit.

Maulana-e Rum has, in the sixth daftar of the 'Masnavi', explained this point as follows [in 7 selected verses]:

'You've greatly exhausted yourself, but you're in a veil, because to die was the principal thing, and that you have not attained. As long as you don't die, your exhaustion of yourself is not complete. Without climbing the whole staircase, you cannot reach the chamber. As long as you haven't died, your self-exhaustion has prolonged itself. At dawn, give up your life, oh ornamented candle! Not a death such that you would go off into the grave, but rather the death of change, such that you would arrive in the light. Become Doomsday, see Doomsday. The condition for seeing everything is that until you yourself become everything, you won't be able to understand everything, whether it would be light or darkness. If you would become wisdom, then you will entirely know wisdom. If you would become passion, then you'll see the beauty of passion.' (With some changes, this translation is that of Qazi Sajjad Husain.)

Thus when a Sati gives her life, then it's with the awareness that she is not dying, but rather that a change is taking place in what she desires/seeks-- that is, 'When the desired/sought is in nonexistence, then I too would be in nonexistence'. (According to Maulana-e Rum, it is not such a death that you would go off into a grave, but rather such a death that you would arrive in the world of light.) The candle that illumines the gathering is ignorant of these things, therefore its dying is fruitless. Or rather, it doesn't even die, but only keeps on burning, destitute of its own awareness.

The word 'Sati', Mus'hafi has used once or twice, but 'Satis' [satiyaa;N] , meaning 'those women who are Satis', is in a class by itself. In Mus'hafi's poetry in one place there's sattiyaa;N , with the scansion long-short-long, but the theme is very commonplace:

ko))ii hinduusitaa;N me;N kam kisii kii daad ko pahu;Nchaa
hu))e laakho;N hii ((aashiq aur hazaaro;N sattiyaa;N jalyaa;N

[in Hindustan, as if there are few people who have earned praise!
hundreds of thousands have become lovers, and thousands of Satis have burned]

If the strength of Mus'hafi's verse is its 'tumult-arousingness', then Mir's verse is the peak of 'tumult-arousingness'-- in addition to its richness of meaning and 'mood'. Mir's verse is an example of a miracle of poetry.



The praise given by SRF is just about unprecedented; this seems to be one of his very favorite verses in the whole kulliyat.

Mir is of course bringing the figure of the 'Sati' into the ghazal world in an idealized sense; and that is the way SRF reads the image too. The Sati is like the Messenger or the Advisor: she is a stylized figure that possesses all-- and only-- the attributes required for poetic purposes in the ghazal world. (This is why the nonsensical and/or horrific idea that Satis burn 'in fits and starts' or 'slowly/gently' [aahistah aahistah] can be entertained.) For Mir and for SRF, real-world complexities simply don't enter into the picture.

For me, however, they do; so I can't enjoy this verse all that much. Even granting that there have been some 'genuine', uncoerced, highly determined Satis (as according to the best evidence, there undoubtedly have been), the fact that the concept of Sati is so entirely one-sided can't help but be annoying (to say the least). After all, if becoming a Sati were really such a splendid gateway to mystical knowledge and achievement for the insaan-e kaamil (perfect human), why wouldn't men have taken at least as much advantage of it as women? Plainly the custom has been shaped by sexism, property inheritance practices, joint family politics, etc., far more than by individual piety or mystical/romantic passion on the part of women longing for their beloveds. That first line, with its bland and comfortable sa;Nbhal kar , always sticks in my throat.

I'd also like to point out, on behalf of the candle, that this is a very unusual treatment of its sensibility and role in the ghazal world, as any reader of Mir and Ghalib (and of everybody else too) will know. Usually the candle is imagined to have almost an excessive sensibility, as manifested by its self-destructive 'tears', and its heat, glowing, burning, grief, passion, jealousy, etc. It's often credited with high-class mystical knowledge as well (see Ghalib's 'candle'-refrain ghazal, G{75}, for examples). A verse like this one that depicts the candle as an 'unprofitable' dumb creature, almost indeed a purely material object (perish the thought!), is highly unusual.

Would it be possible to make a whole counter-argument, in which the Sati is prudent, thoughtful, careful even in self-sacrifice, while the candle is too be-;xvud , too heedless of itself, too lost in mystical/romantic passion, even to give any thought to its own self-destructive behavior? Such a reading would take the second line as reflecting the sentiments of a worldly person disdainfully observing the mad behavior of a doomed lover ('How unprofitable!'); we readers would then of course side with the 'self-less' lover. Perhaps that would be pushing things a bit too far, but least I can allow myself to play with this reading for my own enjoyment. And really, couldn't the argument in fact be made? Why shouldn't there be two readings of such a strange, edgy, disquieting verse?