kar ;xauf kalak-;xasp kii jo sur;x hai;N aa;Nkhe;N
jalte hai;N tar-o-;xushk bhii miskii;N ke ;Ga.zab me;N

1) fear the pauper/'fire-huddler' whose eyes are red!
2) even/also 'wet and dry' burn in the anger/wrath of a humble/wretched one



kalak ;xasp : 'A crowd of people huddled together round a fire in winter; poor, indigent'. (Steingass p.1043)


miskiin : 'Lowly, humble, submissive; meek, mild; —poor, needy, indigent, wretched, miserable; —a poor man or woman, a pauper, a miserable wretch'. (Platts p.1035)

S. R. Faruqi:

A kalak-;xasp is a person who is without a home and who would spend the cold nights seated near a bonfire. The famous dictionaries of Urdu (Platts, aa.sifiyah , nuur ) do not contain this word. But the excellence of this verse is not only because such a superb word has been used in it. The real excellence of this verse is that a rough word like kalak-;xasp has been versified with extreme fineness and with 'affinities'.

The person who spends the nights seated near a fire will of course have red eyes. But in anger too, the eyes become red. Thus the legitimacy/proof [javaaz] of the red eyes of the kalak-;xasp is the fire near which he he spends the night, and the legitimacy/proof of his anger and wrath is his red eyes.

Then, the relationship of the kalak-;xasp is with fire. Thus in the second line, between the kalak-;xasp and jalte hai;N tar-o-;xushk there has come to be an affinity. About fire we of course know that if it flares up, then it burns up wet and dry, every kind of thing. (See


'Wet and dry' also means 'good and bad'. In this way the implication has been established that when the fire of the wretched person's anger flares up, then both kinds of people, good and bad, come within its striking range [zad].



What a ;ga.zab kaa shi((r -- a 'devastating' verse, and a verse about devastation. It's impossible not to think of Blake's 'London':

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse

In Blake's vision too, the suffering of the poor and wretched gives them a terrifying power-- whether a 'cry', a 'sigh', or a 'curse'-- that is able to wreak havoc on the oppressive society around them. In each case the nature of their vengeance has a strong affinity with the kind of suffering they have undergone. Mir achieves the same effect, even more concisely, through his use of (wakeful) red eyes and fire. There are so many k and kh consonants too, that sound harsh and ominous (like the crackling of a fire?).

But what makes this verse so extraordinary is its virtual uniqueness within the classical ghazal world. I don't want to push this claim too far, because I'm all too aware of the limits of my own reading and knowledge. But it's clear that SRF hasn't come up with any comparable verses from other Persian or Urdu poets, and I've certainly never seen any either. And I've been looking, too. Because fans of the Progressives invariably claim that only with those poets does any awareness of real social oppression enter the ghazal world. Never do such Progressive fans fail to cite Faiz's famous nazm, mujh se pahlii sii mu;habbat mirii ma;hbuub nah maa;Ng , with its explicit evocations of physical suffering and social evils-- though of course that isn't a ghazal. Basically, though, they have a point.

As a Ghalib-lover, I've looked in vain for anything of Ghalib's that could be cited in reply. The best I've been able to come up with so far is


which really just pushes the whole question up to a philosophical or Sufistic plane. Now in the present verse, Mir has given us one small but intriguing counter-example.

However, outside the context of literary discussions with fans of the Progressives, it has to be admitted that one single verse isn't of great moment in the work of a poet who composed almost two thousand ghazals. The only sensible way to deal with tendentious 'social relevance' (or other such 'natural poetry') criticism of the classical ghazal is simply to point out the nature of the genre; like all genres, it had its own structures and conventions, which were necessary for its own kind of achievements. It's useless to castigate poets for not doing what they didn't set out to do; it also distracts us from enjoying what they did do.