shaa((ir ho mat chupke raho ab chup me;N jaane;N jaatii hai;N
baat karo abyaat pa;Rho kuchh baite;N ham ko bataate raho

1) you are a poet, do not remain silent; now, in silence, lives go
2) converse, recite verses, keep teaching/telling us some verses



bait (of which abyaat and baite;N are both plural forms) : 'Couplet, distich, verse (in poetry)'. (Platts p.205)

S. R. Faruqi:

bataanaa = to teach, to show

It's a very dramatic situation. The atmosphere is one of fear and dread; perhaps some despotic power has overcome everyone. If some objection is not made, then the outcome for everyone will be only death. To endure tyranny in silence is itself equal to death; and according to a hadith of the Prophet, to command the good and prevent the evil is the duty of every Muslim. It's also been said that if there would not be the power to prevent evil, then one should declare it with the tongue to be evil. If even this is not possible, then one should consider it in his heart to be evil, and this is the weak level of the faith.

An echo of this principle can be seen in the writing of the Jewish thinker Arthur Hertzberg. When as a result of the Intifada the Israelis let loose cruelties on the Palestinians, then many liberal-minded Jewish writers and intellectuals made objections to it. But Elie Wiesel, who has taken it upon himself to become a German Jewish writer, and who himself had endured very great difficulties in Germany, on this occasion remained silent. Hertzberg wrote him a public letter, in which he lamented that Wiesel's conscience hadn't forced him to raise his voice against the cruelties of the Israelis. He wrote, 'Don't consider that by remaining silent you will escape responsibility, because when cruelty would be happening, and someone would remain silent, then it means that he is joining the tyrants. Silence is a form of participation.' In Mir's verse too, this is the atmosphere-- that to remain silent about what is happening now, is to invite death (one's own, and that of others).

But Mir's verse is greater than its subject, for in it the poetics of the ghazal too have come under discussion. In the eighteenth century, in Delhi, when a new springtime came to our poetry and an uncommon creative enthusiasm reigned, the poets also felt that they were making a new poetics, and this poetics is different in some aspects from old Urdu (=Dakani) and Persian. The shaping of this new poetics went on more or less from 1700 to 1850. This is the reason that all the poets of that era have directly or indirectly written about the kinds of poetry, here and there, in their verse.

From the present verse we learn that the poet's office is that he should express his thoughts, without fear and without misgivings. If other people prudently become silent-- well, they become silent. But the poet does not remain silent. This does not mean that the poet has some political and societal character and consciously upholds it. What it really means is that the poet is free in expressing his thoughts; it is his right to open his mouth. A second point is that the poet has no special subject; he can express his thoughts or opinions about anything he wants, in any way he wants.

The fundamental subject of the ghazal is passion, but the door to other subjects than passion is not closed. In the first divan Mir says:


In Atish's verse, this same idea has been versified in the form of a metaphor of 'the high and low of the world'. In his rough, slightly uncouth style he says:

buland-o-past-e ((aalam kaa bayaa;N ta;hriir kartaa hai
qalam hai shaa((iro;N kaa yaa ko))ii rah-rau hai beha;R kaa

[the high and low of the world, it writes--
is it the poets' pen, or is it some traveler over rough ground?]

The late Khvajah Manzur Husain tried, in two detailed books, to prove that our elder poets expressed their political thoughts and imaginings and opinions within the veil of the ghazal, so that they could remain safe from the encroachment of the English government. The late Khvajah Sahib's view is that the general atmosphere of the ghazal is not political, but rather that in various verses words like curls, tresses, prison, etc. allude to particular historical events and circumstances. For example, if the verse is about the length of the beloved's curls, then it refers to the Sikhs, who keep their hair very long. It's clear that this construction of the ghazal, or of its verses, is based on ignorance of the poetics of the ghazal.

In the ghazal, if some real event is desired to be mentioned, then the classical poet mentions it directly. Or if he has to say something political, then he will very clearly say, 'I am saying something political'. Even in poets like Mus'hafi and Jur'at this is present-- so why even ask about poets like Mir and Sauda, etc., who in one way or another took an active part in the circumstances of that time? All of them have verses that express political opinions, or condemn the Sikhs, or criticize the English. Those people's poetics could, and did, support the expression of political opinions.

It's a different matter that since the ghazal refers more to universals than to persons, few delimited and specific utterances are to be found in it. But they are also not entirely nonexistent. If an example would be desired, then look at a thirty-verse ghazal of Sauda's, in which a number of verses at the beginning are in praise of asceticism, and the remaining ones express a theory of governance. [The opening verse:]

vuhii jahaa;N me;N rumuuz-e qalandarii jaane
bhubhuut tan pah jo malbuus-e qai.sarii jaane

[he would know the secrets of austerity
who would consider cow-dung ashes on his body to be royal robes]

After this there are eighteen verses with themes of Sufism, asceticism, and passion. But with the nineteenth verse a verse-set, in an opinion-expressing style, begins:

kisii gadaa ne sunaa hai yih ek shah se kahaa
karuu;N mai;N ((ar.z gar us ko nah sarsarii jaane

[some beggar, I have heard, said this to a king,
'I would make a petition, if you would not consider it trifling']

amuur-e malkii me;N avval hai shah ko yih laazim
gadaa-navaazii-o-darvesh-parvarii jaane

[among the acts of kingship, it is necessary that the king would know
cherishing of beggars and care of ascetics to be first of all]

Look at an example of practical wisdom:

bajaa jo :tara;h sipaahii de us ko samjhe mard
nah yih kih marne ko be-jaa sipah-garii jaane

[it is appropriate that he should consider as a hero, the one who would act like a soldier
not the one who would think that dying is inappropriate soldiery]

With regard to the evil of Sikhs and Marathas, we have already read Mir's verse:


Everyone knows Jur'at's quatrain, in which he mentions the mynah-birds of Bengal and the 'lords of the east':

kahiye nah inhe;N amiir ab aur nah vaziir
angrez ke haath yih qafas me;N hai;N asiir
jo kuchh yih pa;Rhaa))e;N so yih mu;Nh se bole;N
bangaale kii mainaa hai;N yih puurab ke amiir

[don't call them lords now, nor vazirs
in the hands of the English, they are imprisoned in a cage
whatever these would teach them, they say with their mouths
they are Bengali mynah-birds, these lords of the east]

Along these lines is Mus'hafi's famous verse:

hinduustaa;N kii daulat-o-;hashmat jo kuchh kii thii
:zaalim farangiyo;N ne bah tadbiir khe;Nch lii

[the wealth and pomp of Hindustan, whatever it was
tyrannical Europeans, through contrivance, seized it]

Looking at the abundance of testimony, we ought not to doubt that although the fundamental theme of classical ghazal is passion, in it direct references to worldly affairs are possible.

Another point worthy of reflection is that if his intention was to directly say a number of things, then the classical poet had present before him genres like the ode and the shahr-ashob, and according to his taste the poet used them as well. Thus it's not necessary to declare verses of the ghazal, willy-nilly, to be founded on actual historical situations and to explain them by pulling and straining them into shape.

For the present, let's consider these verses from a shahr-ashob by Shah Kamal:

jahaa;N kih naubat-o-shahnaa))i jhaa;Njh kii thii .sadaa
farangiyo;N kaa hai us jaa yih ;Tam-;Tam ab bajtaa
isii se samjho rahaa sul:tanat kaa kyaa darjah
ho jab kih ma;hal-saraa))o;N me;N goro;N kaa pahraa
nah shaah hai nah vaziir ab farangii hai;N mu;xtaar

[where the sound of the drum and shahnai used to compete
in that place now the tom-tom of the Europeans resounds
from this, judge what rank of the sultanate has remained
when in the palace ladies' quarters, white soldiers keep guard
there is neither a king nor a vazir; now the Europeans are masters]

nah hove dekh ke yih kyuu;N phir apnaa dil ma;Gmuum
ho jab kih jaa))e humaa aah aashiyaanah-e buum
vuh chahchahe to bas is mulk me;N hai ab ma((luum
farangiyo;N ke jo ;haakim hai;N ho ke yaa;N ma;hkuum
to ham ;Gariibo;N kaa phir kyaa hai yaa;N qa:taar-o-shumaar

[having seen this, why would my heart not be sorrowful?
since in the place of the Huma, ah! would be the nest of the owl
that birdsong-- in this land now it's not to be found
since the Europeans are rulers, and we here have become the ruled
then what here is the rank and account of us wretched ones?]

This shahr-ashob is from the time when the English had removed the vazir Ali Khan from the vazir-ship of Lucknow. To express such clear statements of opposition against the English, poetry and poetics had no need to write complaints about the English under the guise of the beloved, in the ghazal. In our poetics it was accepted that the poet had a right to say every kind of thing.

After this long parenthetical remark, we return to Mir's verse. The tone is so dramatic and the utterance so evocative of 'mood' that its other excellences are for a moment ignored. Among baat , abyaat , baite;N , bataate is the relationship of tajnis and 'iham of sound' [iihaam-e .saut].

Then, bataanaa has the meaning of 'to teach', and also 'to indicate, to make clear'. That is, don't just tell us verses, but rather teach them as well. Vali has a verse:

;xvaahish hai mujhe dard ke pa;Rhne kii hameshah
ik baar kisuu :tarz suu;N ;Tuk ism bataa jaa

[I have a longing to study pain, always
one time, in some way, just tell/teach me the name before you go]

In baat karo there are two points: (1) Converse with us, don't turn aside from us and avoid us. (2) Say something, so that the terrifyingness of the time would be somewhat lessened.

In abyaat pa;Rho as well there are two points: (1) Recite (your own) verses. (2) Recite the verses of others that would be relevant to the situation.

[See also {568,4}; {1256,5}; {1722,6}; {1781,4}.]



For this famous verse we also have a *calligraphic rendering by Khaliq Tonki*, commissioned for me by SRF in 1984.