kal fitnah zer-e sar the jo log ka;T ga))e sab
phir bhii zamiin sar par yaaro;N ne aaj u;Thaa lii

1) yesterday the people who had mischief/conflict {in mind / 'under their heads'} were all cut down
2) even so, today friends/companions {turned things topsy-turvy / 'lifted the ground on their heads'}



fitnah : 'Trial, affliction, calamity, mischief, evil, torment, plague, pest ... ; —temptation, seduction; —discord, conflict, cabal, faction, civil war, sedition, revolt, mutiny; perfidy; sin, crime'. (Platts p.776)


yaar : 'A friend; a lover; paramour, gallant; mistress; —companion, comrade; —an assistant; —one of a sect or gang of thieves'. (Platts p.1247)

S. R. Faruqi:

fitnah zer-e sar honaa = to be a cause of fitnah
zamiin sar par u;Thaanaa = to create a commotion

Abbasi (perhaps following Asi) has written fitne zer-e sar . Kalb-e Ali Khan Fa'iq too gives this reading. Although no reason is known for fitne zer-e sar , when the [Persian] idiom is fitnah zer-e sar buudan / daashtan and so on ( bahaar-e ((ajam ), and fitnah zer-e sar is also metrically correct and harmonious. Naval Kishor, in 1868, has written fitnah zer-e sar , and this is what's preferable and appropriate.

The meaning of fitnah zer-e sar is what I've given. Ghani Kashmiri has, in the special 'Sabk-i Hindi' style [of Persian], used the idiom in its dictionary meaning.

'The pillows of other beloveds are made of feathers;
My beloved keeps 'mischief under her head'.'

Ghani's verses show his personal temperament. By contrast, in Mir's verse there's a 'tumult-arousing' expression of opinion about the age, and the sons of the age. The verb ka;T jaanaa has multiple meanings; the following ones are useful to us: (1) to be embarrassed/ashamed; (2) to be killed; (3) to stray from the road; (4) to be cut off.

People do not learn from what happens to others; rather, they think they will somehow or other remain protected from that outcome. The true state of affairs is that those people who in former times were agents of mischief/conflict have been swallowed up by the earth. And people in the world are such that again today, just such Doomsday-turmoils are being created. The agitators of former times have been cut out from the page of existence, or have wandered off on some other road, or have been killed, or have been ashamed and have gone away under the ground.

And the friends are such that they are again doing just the same kinds of mischief-- as if they would neither be disgraced and humiliated, nor have to go down to death. This same theme Mir had already expressed in an even more sarcastic style in the fourth divan [{1392,3}]:

aage zamii;N kii tah me;N ham se bahut the to bhii
sar par zamiin u;Thaa lii ham be-taho;N ne aa kar

[in the depth of the ground were many before us; even so
we depth-less ones have come and 'lifted the ground on our heads']

This verse too is fine, and the idiom sar par zamiin u;Thaanaa has, through its affinity with zamiin kii tah me;N honaa , come out very appropriately. But in the present verse, fitnah zer-e sar honaa and ka;T jaanaa -- these two usages have created more innovativeness and freshness. Then, in the second line the word yaaro;N is sarcastic, but also gives a bit of commendation to the stubbornness and courage of those who 'lift the ground on their heads'. That is, how and impetuous and mutually destructive people are, that they just don't leave off, although the fate of those passed away is before them.

In the present verse an additional excellence is a historical sense-- that yesterday something happened, and today again the same thing is happening. The very history of the world is such that those coming in obtain nothing from those going out. This theme he has again presented in a new style, in the sixth divan itself [{1900,1}]:

jo log aasmaa;N ne yaa;N ;xaak kar u;Raa))e
be-((ibrato;N ne le kar ;xaak un kii ghar banaa))e

[those people whom the sky, here, made into dust and flung into the air
un-admonished ones took their dust and made houses]

In {1900,1} the didactic force is so great that it has suppressed even the freshness of the theme. The present verse is strong in every respect.

[See also {1916,5}.]



When I first read this verse, I took it to be an exhortation to political quietude and passivity: past rebels have all been cut down, but new rebels, their 'friends', still keep (foolishly?) incurring the same fate. I took the 'cutting down' to be something done by rulers, as a direct result of the rebels' fitnah . There's no way to discredit such a reading. But SRF has shown us a more compelling one, in which the 'cutting down' is done by fate, by the sky, by human mortality.

On this reading the fitnah is human agitation, ambition, aspiration in general: even though human agitation in the past resulted (only?) in the death of the agitators, people still (naively? gallantly?) continue to agitate. Although Mir does have some verses that use political imagery, he (like other classical ghazal poets) has uncountably more that take a wider view. SRF's citation of other specifically relevant verses by Mir makes his case very strong.

But the verse itself doesn't foreclose any options (why are we not surprised?). The official meanings of fitnah are negative (see the definition above), but the term is so broad that it really covers almost any kind of disruption of the status quo. It's easy to think of instances of 'conflict, sedition, revolt', etc. that have been admirable and even indispensable to any progress made the course of human history.

What the verse basically says is, past fitnah creators are all dead, but still people keep on creating fitnah . Mir has left it up to us to decide whether their death was a result of their behavior or not; and also whether people's persistence in such behavior is a virtue (they are bravely undaunted), or a vice (they continue in wickedness), or morally neutral (that's just how humans are).

The word yaar too is intriguingly ambiguous. Are today's mischief-makers 'friends' of the former ones who deliberately follow in their footsteps? Or are they merely 'friends, companions' who have banded together to achieve some disruptive purpose? Is their mutual support and loyalty part of what empowers their plan of agitation? Plainly the verse is a 'fill-in' one that leaves us to choose almost all its parameters.

Ultimately, the verse is an elegant, cleverly framed showcase for the interlocking deployment of two fine idioms, fitnah zer-e sar honaa and sar par zamiin u;Thaanaa .