juu;N juu;N bu;Rhaapaa aataa hai jaate hai;N ai;N;Thte
kis mi;T;Tii kaa nah jaaniye apnaa ;xamiir hai

1) as old age gradually comes, we go on {twisting / being twisted}
2) of which dust-- there's no telling! -- is our constitution/earth/leaven [made]?!



 juu;N juu;N : 'As; as far as, as long as; as by degrees'. (Platts p.398)


juun : 'Old, decayed; —time; period, age'. (Platts p.398)


juun : 'The body (as the repository of the soul); the form of existence or station as fixed by birth; birth; transmigration'. (Platts p.398)


ai;N;Thnaa : 'To twist, wind, spin, make into hanks or skeins; to make crooked, to distort; to wring (the ear); to punish, chastise; to tighten, squeeze, press, contract; to wrench from, extort, take by force or fraud, appropriate wrongfully; —v.n. To twist, writhe, wriggle; to cramp; to be tightened, cramped, pressed, to shrink, be contracted; to become rigid, stiff, &c.; to strut, stalk, &c.' (Platts p.115)


;xamiir : 'Leaven, ferment; kneaded and leavened dough; —composition, constitution; earth, clay'. (Platts p.494)

S. R. Faruqi:

The first thing to be said about this verse is that the newness of the theme immediately causes the gaze to linger on it; but one doesn't immediately grasp what other special ideas the verse has besides the theme, such that it's not sufficient to say merely that it has a very superb and new theme. The heart says that there's certainly more in this verse, but the mind tells it that there's nothing more. And what more does it even need?

In old age a gentleness/softness usually comes into a person's temperament. Here the case is the reverse, but no lesson has been drawn from it, nor has it been presented as any moral principle, as is the case in Sa'ib's [Persian] verse:

'When a man becomes old, his greed/covetousness becomes young,
At the time of dawn, sleep becomes becomes heavy.'

In Mir's verse there's only a simple, straightforward utterance: that 'we go on becoming older and our temperament goes on becoming even more crooked/bent'. We can say that the speaker has, in the guise of speaking about himself, spoken of all those people who show this crookedness.

But the fundamental point that arouses our delighted surprise is this: how did this idea occur to the poet? If we consider it to be based on Mir's personal character, because the story of Mir's ill-temper and irritability is well known, even then the newness of the theme remains established. How is it necessary that a sour-tempered poet, and one whose sour temper goes on increasing with age, would also compose a verse about it? Mir has certainly said in the second divan [{997,9}],

tirii chaal ;Te;Rhii tirii baat ruukhii
tujhe miir samjhaa hai yaa;N kam kisuu ne

[your gait, crooked; your speech, dry/harsh
someone here, Mir, has considered you low/petty]

But to decide that this verse too is drawn from Mir's personal life story will not be correct, because the words in the second line express a very much mediated view of Mir's character. Otherwise, in fact it is an opinion about the character of worldly people. And if we have prior knowledge that the story of Mir's sour temper is famous, then we might just possibly judge it to be a verse from Mir's personal life story. But even if {997,9} would be believed to be from Mir's personal life story, it does not solve the problem of the present verse: why did the poet make this aspect of his old age into a theme?

It's clear that in his poetry Mir took no pains to write down his life story, because the principle of 'theme-creation' does not encourage the writing of life stories. One or two affinities to some occasion do not constitute a life story (and neither are any pains taken to make a 'life story' [aap-biitii] into a 'general history' [jag-biitii], as is being said in conventional criticism).

Thus the fundamental excellence of this verse is in its expression of an entirely unexpected theme with great appropriateness. But (as I said above) the idea nevertheless keeps pricking the heart, that in this verse there must certainly be something else as well, because the verse is so 'arresting' that one can't believe that whole secret of its excellence is the uniqueness/rareness of its theme. Now at this point two ideas become apparent. One is that the uniqueness of a theme really is such an excellence that all by itself it can be responsible for the excellence of a verse. The other idea is that here there's also a test of our critical ability/skill-- that if our 'native intuition' tells us about some verse that its excellences are not all on the surface, then we ought to bring to bear our critical ability and search out all (or if not all, then in any case most) of those excellences of the verse that are not visible on its surface.

I am saying all this because in the present verse I had immediately noticed the zila of aataa hai and jaate hai;N . But to search out its excellences noted below, took me two days. The rest (if there are any others) might possibly become apparent later on. Or it's also possible that to some other reader all the excellences of this verse would immediately be apparent.

(1) In the first line two things have been said: first, that old age goes on coming upon us; and second, that the crankiness of our temperament goes on increasing. That is, in the speaker's character there's so much strength and hardness/severity that he has no sorrow over the first thing. And in his temperament there's so much stubbornness that he is not ashamed of the second thing. It's as though both are parts of the ordinary and commonplace experiences of everyday life.

(2) In the second line, the speaker has declared that what is responsible for the crookedness of his temperament is his own nature-- for only the Lord knows of which dust his temperament has been made! If we consider this to be only a customary, conventional expression, then it has no importance. That is, the speaker is declaring that no person, or no other entity (for example, God Most High) is responsible for his weakness; rather, he's expressing a commonplace idea. For example, in a customary, conventional way we say, 'My fate itself is such that those people to whom I do good are the very ones who later turn against me'. If this sentence is customary and conventional, then in it there's no complaint against fate, or against the maker of fate (God Most High).) But if this sentence is not of a conventional kind, but rather has been said as a fundamental opinion about his own existence-- that there's no telling of which dust he has been composed, such that day by day he goes on becoming cranky-- then it has the force of a complaint against the arranger of fate and destiny, or perhaps even against the Master of fate and destiny. The ambiguity of the tone and the idiom have created this dual possibility.

(3) This verse is apparently about the speaker alone. That is, the plural pronoun ham is only a colloquial way for the speaker to refer to himself. But if the plural is not being used as singular, but instead we take it to be for the speaker as part of a group (and in grammatical terms there's no objection to this), then the meaning emerges that we people (that is, poets and artists like us, or we Delhi people, or we darvesh-like people, and so on-- that is, any group, any sect at all that the speaker represents) are rare birds [((ajab jal-kukk;Re log] who in old age, instead of becoming gentle, go on becoming even harsher.

(4) In ai;N;Thnaa there's no imputation of wickedness/depravity. There's only a sourness or stubbornness of temperament, a habit of disagreeing with everybody, and so on. That is, although apparently he has abused himself, in fact he is arrogant and proud of himself-- that he is the kind of contrary and straight-as-an-arrow person who in old age, which is the time of weakness and helplessness, grows even more twisting/twisted, as though he doesn't care about anybody.

(5) Another meaning of ai;N;Thnaa is 'to be vexed, to be angry'. Thus the interpretation of the verse can also be that as old age gradually comes, we go on becoming vexed with the world, with the people of the world. This vexation can be expressed in different ways: (1) he became vexed and sat at home; (2) he became vexed and cut off his relationships; (3) he went on growing angry with people one by one; (4) his anger will grow so intense that he will leave the world entirely.

(6) There's the relationship of a zila among ai;N;Thte , mi;T;Tii , ;xamiir (these words are also used in the potter's profession). Also, one meaning of aanaa is 'to become ripened/cooked and ready'. For example, we say aam abhii aa))e hai;N , or gosht ;Thiik se nahii;N aayaa , ;zaraa kasr rah ga))ii . If we keep this meaning in mind, then among aataa , ai;N;Thte, ;xamiir there's another kind of relationship, since all three words are related to cooking. It should be kept in mind that another meaning of ;xamiir is 'the dust of the body', and ;xamiir u;Thaanaa , ;xamiir u;Thnaa , etc. also include an idiomatic admixture of 'to arrange', 'to be created', etc.

(7) To shudder/writhe with cold too is called ai;N;Thnaa . Thus one meaning is that old age (for which one symbol is the cold season) keeps on coming, and our body goes on shuddering. Or again, the meaning can be that the speaker goes on shuddering as if he would be shuddering with cold. [Or again,] old age keeps on coming, and for this reason the speaker goes on drawing himself up even more. Instead of going along bent over, he goes along with his head held high and his body upright. In this regard the word ;xamiir , for the rising of which heat is necessary, comes to bear a new interest. This wordplay emerges very superbly.

This many aspects, we have searched out. Now you too should please test your fortune. If Mir was irascible, then how was it wrong-- for this verse of his overpowers the best of the best.



Really the heart of the verse is that fascinating word ai;N;Thnaa . I've shown Platts's whole definition above. The meanings seem to spring from a basic idea, both physical and psychological, of 'twisting', or of being 'twisted'. For it's important to note that this verb, unusually, can be either transitive (taking ne ) or intransitive without changing its appearance (another such verb is badalnaa ). Thus the action of ai;N;Thnaa can be something that the speaker does to others, transitively ('to wring, to punish, to chastise, to press'), or something that the speaker experiences or does to himself, intransitively ('to become rigid, stiff; to strut, stalk'), or something that is done to the speaker, or that the speaker undergoes, passively ('to be tightened, cramped, pressed; to shrink, be contracted').

Thus the moral thrust of the whole verse can be instantly turned around by our decision as to whether the speaker is acting (on others, or on himself) or being acted upon. And the action that he's giving or receiving is to be drawn from an extraordinarily broad range of possibilities.

As so often, the second line gives us no guidance. Thanks to the 'kya effect' of kis , the line could be a question (the speaker wonders what he must be made of, for the process in the first line to occur). Or it could be an exclamation showing either approval or disapproval of what he must be made of. And then, what is the exact tone of this exclamation-- boastful? vexed? astonished? amused? plaintive? bitter? resigned? We are left to take our choice.

Moreover, just look at the richness of the wordplay! In addition to those many and elaborate examples pointed out by SRF, there are others. In the first line, juu;N juu;N of course comes from jyuu;N jyuu;N , but the shorter form used in this verse also has hovering around it two different Hindi-side juun words, one meaning 'old, decayed' and the other meaning 'the body' (see the definitions above). These Hindi-side echoes are all the more relevant since ai;N;Thnaa itself is a notably Hindi-sounding word. There's also the misleadingly related-looking pair of jaate hai;N and jaaniye , which might even induce a momentary 'doubt about derivation'.

SRF has pointed out the word-clusters related to pottery and cooking, but my own favorite is a bit more specific. I love the fact that ai;N;Thnaa means, so graphically, 'to twist, to wring, to squeeze, to press'-- as well of course as their passive counterparts 'to be twisted, to be wrung, to be squeezed, to be pressed'. And then, most elegantly, ;xamiir means 'leaven' and 'kneaded and leavened dough'. We are obviously led to envision the work of a baker. The baker twists, wrings, squeezes, presses the dough until it is well leavened and kneaded. And the dough itself is of course made from flour, which with its fine dry particles strongly resembles dust. So the speaker may be imagining himself either as an energetic, forceful baker, or as a batch of thoroughly pummeled and kneaded dough.

Note for grammar fans: Basically, ai;N;Thte jaate hai;N means that we 'go on ai;N;Thnaa -ing'. This can easily be a steady-state operation, as in dekhte jaate hai;N , 'go on looking'. But SRF seems often to read it here as progressive or cumulative, as in biga;Rte jaate hai;N , which can also mean 'goes on growing angry' in the sense of growing angrier and angrier. The verse itself leaves both options open, so that we can make our own choice.

Note for translation fans: With such a wide range of choices, how to translate ai;N;Thnaa ? I thought of 'cranky' or 'cross-grained', since those seemed the most in tune with SRF's preferred interpretation of the word. But finally I decided that it would be better just to keep the 'twisting/twisted' pair, so that the reader would be reminded that ai;N;Thnaa would require special handling. Needless to say, a literary translator wouldn't have this flexibility, but would have to make a single choice. (Internet, have I told you lately that I love you?)