dekh ke dast-o-paa-e nigaare;N chupke se rah jaave;N nah kyuu;N
mu;Nh bole hai yaaro goyaa mih;Ndii us kii rachaa))ii hu))ii

1) having seen the hands and feet of idols/pictures, why would we not remain as if silent?
2) a mouth speaks, friends, 'so to speak'-- her [in a state of having been] applied henna



nigaar : 'A picture, painting, portrait, effigy; an idol; —a beautiful woman'. (Platts p.1150)


goyaa : 'Saying, speaking; —conversible; talkative, loquacious; eloquent; —a speaker; a singer; —adv. As you (or as one) would say, as it were, as though, so to speak; thus, in this manner'. (Platts p.928)


goyaa : 'Saying, speaking; a speaker, singer; loquacious, talkative; the tongue; a singing-bird; well-tuned (instrument); thus, in this manner, as you would say, as it were; chiefly, principally, apparently, probably'. (Steingass p.1107)

S. R. Faruqi:

The image of 'speaking henna' is so beautiful and enjoyable/delicate that a whole 'head to foot description' [saraapaa] of the beloved appears, and a world of erotic feelings becomes prepared. Here John Donne's famous long poem 'Elegy on Mistress Elizabeth Drury' comes to mind (from the section 'Of the Progress of the Soul', usually known as 'The Second Anniversary'):

... we understood
Her by her sight; her pure and eloquent blood
Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought
That one might almost say, her body thought.

Donne's image has been constructed with more complexity, more hyperbole, and more detail. But in both cases the feeling for the body has equal intensity. The girl to whom Donne referred was not his beloved, but rather his patron's daughter, Elizabeth Drury, who died at the age of fifteen years; this part of the poem was composed on the second anniversary of her death. Thus Donne avoided erotic emotions.

Nevertheless, he drew the picture of a person whose body had, in its own way, a spiritual presence, and did not need anyone to speak for it in order to converse. The girl who is mentioned in Mir's verse is clearly a beloved, and her body is speaking in the 'tongue' of the colorfulness of henna, and of its own dewy freshness, in such a way that the observers are dumbstruck.

Another interesting point is that if Donne used the word 'almost', then Mir used goyaa -- as if they both thought that the image of the body's thinking/speaking was so rash that in order to make it acceptable, a word was needed that would make the expression not absolute, but rather a bit qualified. In Mir's verse the word goyaa conveys a double pleasure, because its own dictionary meaning is 'speaking'.

Ghalib perhaps saw goyaa in Mir's verse, and used it like this in his own verse:


In Mir's verse the phrase mu;Nh bole hai is also fine, because we have usages like boltaa hu))aa mi.sra(( , boltii hu))ii ta.sviir , and so on, in which boltaa hu))aa has a metaphorical meaning. The force of Mir's verse is in the fact that the henna/body seems to be absorbed in speech-- that is, the body has entirely manifested itself, the way a person manifests himself in speech. In the presence of 'speaking henna', chupkaa saa rah jaanaa too is fine, for usually the response to speech is speech. But here the speech of the beloved's body is so enchanting and captivating that the hearer remains silent.

It's also worth noting that in Mir's verse not only the beloved's body, but even her face, is not manifest. In Donne's poem, only when one sees Elizabeth Drury is her thought and her mind understood, because in her body the blood seemed to speak. In Mir's verse there's mention only of the hands and feet of beautiful ones; the rest of the body is in pardah or a burqa. (See


To hear conversation about only the hands and feet of beautiful ones is a wondrous feat of culture and imagination both. (It should also be kept in mind that nigaar is used not only for henna, but also for the lines and shapes [naqsh-o-nigaar] made with it. And nigaar of course means 'beloved'.)

The word rachaa))ii too has much narrativity here, and adds to the radliance and colorfulness of the image. In order to convey the meaning, merely lagaa))ii would have been enough. But the dimension of meaning that when the color of henna turns out to be very mischievous, and a blackish red, it is called the rachhnaa of the henna, and then the rachhnaa of the henna on a golden-yellow body-- all this could not have been achieved merely through mih;Ndii us kii lagaa))ii hu))ii . Here, in mih;Ndii us kii rachaa))ii hu))ii there's the beauty of the image, and of the meaning too. Then, there are idioms like shaadii rachnaa , ;xvushbuu rachnaa , ((ishq rachnaa that have the aspects of bustle and pleasure as well.

Now please look at our Firaq Sahib, who was acquainted with Donne's poem (he referred to two and a half lines from the passage cited above) and who probably was acquainted with Mir's verse as well. Despite this, he had the nerve to compose:

harii bharii rago;N me;N vuh chahaktaa boltaa lahuu
vuh sochtaa hu))aa badan ;xvud ik jahaa;N li))e hu))e

[in green/luxuriant veins, that warbling, speaking blood
that thinking body, having itself carried a whole world]

The whole verse is full of improperly used or unnecessary words. So 'let this be a lesson'.



For information about henna, see:


One point in SRF's commentary nags at me, and I want to discuss it here. He says, 'Ghalib perhaps saw goyaa in Mir's verse, and used it like this in his own verse:


Now goyaa in Urdu is, in its common adverbial usage, a kind of petrified expression: it means something like 'as it were, as though, so to speak'. It comes to mean this as an extension of its literal Persian meaning of 'speaking' or 'speaker'; this sense too is used (though less commonly) in Urdu, as in daastaan-go . (Both the literal meaning and the extended meaning are used in Persian too; see the Urdu and Persian definitions of goyaa above.) There's nothing special or unusual about goyaa in either sense. To use the two senses of the word as a source of wordplay or 'meaning-creation' in a ghazal verse is not something that it takes a Mir or a Ghalib to think of; lots of classical Urdu ghazal poets do it, and do it often.

So I can't for the life of me figure out why SRF raises the possibility that Ghalib got the idea from this particular verse of Mir's, to use goyaa in this one particular verse of his, G{5,1}. He doesn't call it a 'probability', only a 'possibility', but I still can't see the point of it. A single slash with Occam's Razor would seem to be enough to finish it off.

Furthermore, this particular verse, G{5,1}, is an odd choice, because the two verses have almost nothing in common except the goyaa wordplay. It's also an ironic choice, because since it's the first verse in Ghalib's published divan that contains this wordplay, I've used it to compile such Ghalibian double-meaning goyaa usages from the whole published divan; by my count there are ten of them, all listed in the discussion of G{5,1}. This easily-documented commonness of the usage underscores the dubiousness of SRF's notion. Another case that seems doubtful is discussed in {1741,3}.

I want to emphasize that this is an unusual and extreme case. Most of the time when SRF says that poet X 'probably' or 'possibly' (or even definitely, without qualification) got a certain thing (usually a theme) from poet Y, his case is at least potentially persuasive. We can see the similarities; and where the thing in question is something truly rare or distinctive, it's most valuable and interesting to be able to contemplate a possible case of poetic transmission. But how rare or distinctive does the transmitted thing have to be, and how likely the transmission process? Of course SRF is guided by chronology; the recipient(?) poet X is always later than the transmitter(?) poet Y. But there are always various alternative possibilities that need to be kept in mind, such as these:

(1) Poet X just happened to personally, creatively invent the same thing that poet Y had used (independent origination, or 'coincidence').

(2) Poet X did not even know the work of poet Y. Are we really sure that poet X had good access to the work of poet Y? Even if he could have had good access, are we sure that he actually did obtain and study the work of poet Y?

(3) Poet X in fact got the thing from poet Z (who may or may not have gotten it from poet Y).

(4) Poet X got the thing from somewhere else entirely (poetry in some other language, a prose text, oral sources of various widely available kinds).

(5) Various poets used the thing in enough different times and places (and languages?), that it's truly impossible to recover its origin(s) and its transmission history.