Ghazal 50, Verse 1


afsos kih dandaa;N kaa kiyaa rizq falak ne
jin logo;N kii thii dar-;xvur-e ((aqd-e guhar angusht

1) alas, that the heavens made [it/them] a food of the teeth--
2) those people whose finger was worthy of a necklace/collar of pearls!


rizq : 'Means of subsistence or support, subsistence, food, daily bread'. (Platts p.591)


((aqd : 'A necklace, a collar; ... a string (of pearls, &c.)'. (Platts p.762)


Worms [kii;Re] are called duud ; its plural is duud , and its collective plural is diidaan . That is, those fingers that were worthy of a string of pearls, the worms have pounced on them and are eating them. A string of pearls has a similitude with worms.

== Nazm page 47


Those people whose finger was worthy of a string of pearls, alas that the heavens made their finger the food of teeth-- that is, alas that those people have their finger pressed to their teeth in vain longing. (50)

Bekhud Dihlavi:

diidaa;N is the plural of duud , because of the number of worms. He says that those people whose fingers were worthy of rings of pearls-- the sky has made them, after death, the food of teeth. That is, alas that in the grave tiny little worms are eating those fingers that used to be encircled by pearl rings. (90)

Bekhud Mohani:

The revolutions of the times made the fingers of those people the prey of teeth, who were worthy to have pearl rings on their fingers. That is, the times have overpowered the most beautiful ones, and so ground them up that the finger would remain on the teeth [with amazement]. That is, the times have always been the enemy of people of accomplishment and beauty. (114)


[He uses the diidaa;N reading, and quotes Nazm's commentary, attributing it to Asi and Suha as well.]

Hasrat and Sa'id consider, instead of diidaa;N , dandaa;N to be the text. Those people are biting their fingers in vain longing. The meaning is that possessors of accomplishment lead lives of poverty and vain longing, not of peace and rest. (148)


FOOD: {6,4}
SKY {15,7}

In its divan version, this ghazal has no opening-verse; the opening-verse of the original ghazal was {50,4x}.

There's a textual disagreement about the present verse. Nazm reads diidaa;N [worms] instead of dandaa;N [teeth] (47), as does Bekhud Dihlavi (90), as does Baqir in his first reading (148), as does Chishti (402), as does Mihr (186). As always, I follow Arshi (and Raza), and this time with pleasure-- I think dandaa;N makes for fine wordplay, instead of mere repulsiveness. (And of course, Arshi and Raza are the ones who have done far more serious textual research.)

And in fact, without wordplay, what does this verse have to offer? Surely whatever piquancy it has comes from the comparison/contrast between teeth and pearls. (Nazm to the contrary, worms and pearls offer hardly any possibilities at all, as far as I can see.)

Except for Nazm and (following him) Bekhud Dihlavi, the commentators generally invoke the gesture of touching the tip of the first finger of the right hand to the front lower teeth (see the image below); this conveys astonishment, perplexity, bafflement. (For another example of this gesture, see {74,2x}.) This emotion can sometimes shade into 'amazement', ;hairat (on this see {51,9x}), and/or helpless dismay. The teeth are parted to permit the finger to be conspicuously perched there, so that it's possible to imagine that the teeth encircle the finger as if to 'eat' it. Thus people whose finger deserves a necklace made of pearls, are instead condemned to have their finger encircled only by a ring of (pearly) teeth.

On this reading, the image works in several ways. On a literal level, the teeth surround and thus implicitly threaten the finger, as if the finger were encircled by predators. On a metaphorical level, the teeth enable the finger to express stupefaction and dismay. And when the two lines are juxtaposed, the teeth are compared, to their disadvantage, with pearls. Both teeth and pearls are white and shining, but teeth are humble while pearls are aristocratic; teeth are mere body parts while pearls are expensive; teeth are dangerous, while pearls are delicate; teeth just happen to grow, while pe arls are the result of much travail (as for example in {78,2}).

I'm willing to take this as a possible reading. But the literal meaning of rizq as 'food, sustenance' has always struck me strongly. My first impulse is always to read the verse as a melancholy meditation on death-- perhaps a sudden, violent death in which the body might be savaged by the teeth of wild animals and become their literal 'food', or perhaps a slow nibbling to death by the 'teeth' of small insects and worms. Nazm seems to be more or less on my side of the argument-- though his preferred textual reading of diidaa;N , 'worms', goes against Arshi's.

There's no perfect solution. The gesture-of-dismay advocates have to be slightly uncomfortable with the clear sense of rizq as 'sustenance'. Along similar lines, a variant possibility would be Baqir's suggestion that the worthy people are left 'biting their fingers' to express longing and suffering; but this too surely doesn't involve actually eating the fingers and turning them into 'sustenance'. Meanwhile, the food-of-teeth advocates have to be slightly uncomfortable about the off-putting nature of those dandaa;N operating after death.

Note for grammar fans: In case anyone finds the grammar of the verse a bit confusing, here's my reconstruction of its ideal prose form:

afsos kih falak ne [un logo;N kii angusht ko , or else un logo;N ko] dandaa;N kaa rizq kiyaa /
jin logo;N kii angusht dar;xvur-e ((aqd-e guhar thii

It's still rather a stretch, though, to have to insert the whole correlative construction into the first line in order to justify his relative clause in the second one. Really the grammar has been excessively tortured here; it's not exactly the most lucid verse in the divan.