Ghazal 50, Verse 2


kaafii hai nishaanii tiraa chhalle kaa nah denaa
;xaalii mujhe dikhlaa ke bah vaqt-e safar angusht

1) it's enough of a token/memento, your not giving a ring

2a) having shown me, at the time of departure, an empty/unadorned finger
2b) only/merely/idly having shown me, at the time of departure, a finger


nishaanii : 'A mark, sign, token, model; a distinctive mark;... --a token of remembrance, keepsake, memorial, souvenir'. (Platts p.1140)


chhallaa : 'A plain ring (of gold, silver, or other metal, worn on a finger or toe)'. (Platts p.462)


;xaalii : 'Empty, vacant, void, desert; hollow, having nothing in it, blank, not filled up, not full; unoccupied, unemployed, free...; --pure, unmingled; mere, only, sole, single, unaccompanied; --adv. Alone, by oneself, singly; --idly, unemployed'. (Platts p.485)


In the same way, when he heard this verse by Momin Khan,

tum mire paas hote ho goyaa
jab ko))ii duusraa nahii;N hotaa

[you are near me, {so to speak / speaking}
when no other is here]

he praised it greatly, and said, 'If only Momin Khan would have taken my whole divan, and given me only this verse!'

==Urdu text p. 83 in Hali, Yadgar-e Ghalib


A token is for the purpose of causing its giver to be constantly remembered. Your kind gesture is that at the time of departure, as an excuse for not giving a token, you showed me your little finger: 'Look, even though this is empty, I will never forget. Enough-- this is sufficient for remembering.' Or think of it like this-- that out of mischief she hid the ring and showed an empty finger. (47)

== Nazm page 47

Bekhud Dihlavi:

The rule is that at the time of departure, usually a ring is given as a token, to keep memory fresh. Mirza Sahib says, at the time of departure, to keep memory alive, instead of a ring, she showed me an empty finger, and this became, to me, more than the mark of a ring. I will remember this token of her: that she didn't even give me a ring as a token. (90)

Bekhud Mohani:

Solution 1: At the time of departure, he had asked the beloved for a ring as a token. She showed her empty finger. Mirza says, 'The coquetry of that reply is itself a token that will keep reminding me of you'. In this verse it's also necessarily apparent that the beloved is fond of simplicity; she doesn't wear jewelry.

Number 2: At the time of departure, on being asked for a ring as a token, the beloved showed her thumb [in mockery]. He says that I'll never forget this coquetry of mischievousness. (114)


He says that when you were going on a journey without me, you didn't give me a ring as a token-- rather, when leaving you showed me an empty finger: 'Look, I don't have a ring, otherwise I would certainly have given you a ring'. Oh my friend, this token of yours is enough for me, that you showed me an empty finger. Showing an empty finger gives rise to two ideas: first, that she showed me a thumb [in mockery] out of mischievousness. Of which the meaning is, 'You aren't getting a ring at all, so just get used to it'. The second idea is that I will remember this very thing-- that you didn't give me a token. (148)



In the first line Nazm has tirii , as do Hamid and Bekhud Dihlavi; this feminine reading would make it modify nishaanii ('it's enough of a token of you-- not giving a ring'). As always, I follow Arshi.

It's a marvelous verse, isn't it? Either very funny, or very sad, or quite matter-of-fact, or even cheerful. As so often, tone and mood are everything. Baqir summarizes the situation very nicely. Who is my beloved, and how do I remember her? That's easy-- she's the one who (ostentatiously?) didn't give me a ring when she left. And what was she implicitly saying, as she showed me her empty finger? Look at some of the possibilities:

=You and I don't need rings, our hearts are one already.
=Without you, I'm like a finger without a ring.
=Whenever you see an empty finger, you'll remember me.
=Oh dear, I'm out of luck, I forgot to bring a ring that I could give you.
=You think you'll get a ring from me?
=I make a gesture of mockery with my finger, as my token to you.

Any or all of the above, of course. Since ;xaalii can be either an adjective ('empty, vacant'), as in (2a), or an adverb ('only, merely, idly') as in (2b), the act can be either the showing of an empty finger, or merely the showing of a finger; see the definition above. In this verse, surely it doesn't make much difference.

For what gives the verse a sense of mystery and depth is the lover's expressing contentment with the empty finger-- it's enough, your not giving me a ring; it's enough of a token of you. So we can imagine the lover's side too, of all the possible interpretations above. Either it's enough because I'm so assured of your love, and so satisifed with it-- who needs a ring? Or it's enough because such a non-giving evokes you so perfectly, and what could I want more than that? Or it's enough because at least you took the trouble to notice me and offer me a gesture in parting. All these possibilities are the kind also evoked in Momin's equally simple verse, presented above, about which Hali tells the famous story that Ghalib would have wished to trade his whole divan for it. In Momin's verse, is the beloved really 'with' the lover, or just the opposite?

In short, not only do we not know her feelings toward him, we also don't know how he interprets her feelings, and what feelings he himself is expressing as he recalls the emblematic gesture. This kind of radical indeterminacy makes the verse what I call a 'fill-in' one, in which readers left to savor their own romantic fantasies (or jealous nightmares).

For another kind of paradoxical negative nishaanii , see {183,4}. And the 'empty finger' also evokes the 'empty glass' of {154,5x}.