Ghazal 75, Verse 3


kare hai .sirf bah iimaa-e shu((lah qi.s.sah tamaam
bah :tarz-e ahl-e fanaa hai fasaanah-;xvaanii-e sham((a

1) it makes, only with the sign/suggestion of the flame, the tale finished (off)
2) with the style of the 'people of oblivion', is the story-telling of the candle


kare hai is an archaic form of kartaa hai (GRAMMAR)


.sirf : 'Pure, unmixed, unadulterated; neat; sheer; mere; --purely, merely, only, solely, alone, exclusively, &c.'. (Platts p.744)


.sarf : 'Turning; changing, converting; change, conversion; shifting or vicissitude (of fortune); passing, using, employing; use, employment; expending; expenditure; cost.... .sarf karnaa : To expend, spend (anything, in or on... ; to disburse; to pass; to use or employ (in or on)'. (Platts p.744)


iimaa : 'Sign, nod, beck, hint, suggestion, indirect reference or allusion; emblem, symptom'. (Platts p.115)


[1858, to Taftah:] Rajab 'Ali Beg 'Surur', who has written fasaanah-e ((ajaa))ib -- the first verse at the beginning of the narrative [daastaan] gives me much pleasure now:

yaadgaar-e zamaanah hai;N ham log
yaad rakhnaa fasaanah hai;N ham log

[we people are a memorial of the age
remember-- we people are a story]

How 'hot' [garm] the second line is, and with regard to a story, what an affinity 'remember' has! (Arshi, introduction, p. 35)

==Urdu text: Khaliq Anjum vol. 1, p. 278


The candle completes the whole story only through the gesture of the flame. That is, when the flame is lit, then it [=the candle] becomes obliterated from head to foot, the way among the Sufis, the 'people of oblivion', having been set alight, become 'oblivious to themselves' in the fire of passion, and pass away from their lives. (77)

== Nazm page 77

Bekhud Mohani:

In qi.s.sah tamaam karnaa there is an iihaam-- that is, 'to finish the story', or to die.


[Discussion of how the commentators have had trouble interpreting 'story-telling'; they have interpreted iimaa as 'hint' or 'suggestion'.] If iimaa would be taken to mean 'gesture' or 'sign', then an extremely subtle/enjoyable meaning appears. The meaning of qissah tamaam karnaa is 'to finish a thing off'. Thus the meaning of the first line becomes that the candle finishes off its idea/utterance by means of the 'sign' of the flame. That is, the candle expresses its illumined meaning by means of the symbol [((alaamat] of the flame.

On the head of the candle, the flame has the form of a tongue (the tongue is used as a simile for the candle flame). That is, the candle makes its thought apparent wordlessly, through the tongue of the candle. The flame of the candle is a symbol of turmoil [shorish] and oblivion [fanaa]. In this way, through the 'tongue' of the flame's condition, the candle says, 'I am burning, I am becoming obliterated'.

In this theme there's a twofold pleasure. One [aspect] is that the candle uses the tongue of the flame-- the flame that has the form of a tongue and is a symbol of burning. The second aspect is that the tonguelessness of the candle is itself its tongue. 'Tongue' is in both meanings-- that is, in the meaning of 'conversation' as well as in the meaning of a part of the body. That is, it's a metaphor for a metaphor, and the dictionary meaning too is appropriate. This type of paradox is the special style of Ghalib and Mir.

Now it's clear that 'story-telling' [fasaanah-;xvaanii] has no special semantic importance.... Having written 'finished the tale' [qi.s.sah tamaam] in the first line, to make the .zil((a of 'story-telling' in the second line would be, for Ghalib, irresistible. This skill too Ghalib learned from Mir [M{1514,1} and M{1514,3}]:

afsaanah-;xvaa;N kaa la;Rkaa kyaa kahye diidanii hai
qi.s.sah hamaaraa us kaa yaaro shuniidanii hai

[The story-teller's boy-- what can one say?-- he's worth seeing!
our and his tale, friends, is worth hearing].

parvaanah mar mi;Taa hai jal kar nah kuchh kahaa to
ai sham((a yih zabaa;N to :zaalim buriidanii hai

[if the Moth has burned to death and been erased, and said nothing, then
oh candle, is this tongue, oh cruel one, to be cut off?]

[A discussion of the Sufistic dimensions of 'in the style of the people of oblivion'.]

Just think for a moment-- a kid nineteen years old, and such control over words and meaning, such an arrangement of wordplay and affinity! This is a kind of ripeness/maturity and depth that is not vouchsafed to even the best of the best, during their whole lives.

== (1989: 90-91) [2006: 111-13]


CANDLE: {39,1}

This verse completes (and 'finishes off'?) what I think of as a quasi-verse-set consisting of the first three verses of this ghazal. The first verse presents the candle's eternal life vs. its imminent death; the second juxtaposes the candle's (and the poet's) speech/life to its silence/death; in this one, the candle ends its tale in the style of the 'people of oblivion'. Are the people of oblivion dead, or alive? We can hardly say. They have traded in this mortal, transient world for a mystical realm that is utterly beyond our comprehension.

Like the other verses in this little set of three, this one is so rich you almost can't cut through the glowing, radiant, tightly-meshed surface to be sure of more than a rather basic meaning. And as in the others, much of the pleasure is to be found not in contemplation of a spelled-out, literal meaning, but in the whole ornate but flawlessly integrated, elaborate but perfectly relaxed, 'informal'-feeling quality of the verse.

The praise that Ghalib offers, in the letter cited above, to Surur's verse about story-telling has two elements: the second line's being 'hot' or passionate, and the affinity between the imagery of story-telling and the injunction to 'remember'. He thus praises in another poet's work the same effects he himself creates, through the (suggested) idea of the 'tongue' of the candle-flame, and the wordplay about story-telling, in the present verse.

The word .sirf ('only, merely, exclusively') can be distinguished from the word .sarf (see the definitions above) only by its short vowel, and of course short vowels aren't commonly marked in Urdu. I take the reading .sirf from Arshi, who does show the zer marker. But without that diacritic, or in an oral performance in which such short vowels are often ambiguous or half-swallowed, the audience might well think of .sarf as in .sarf karnaa -- especially since a form of karnaa is positioned so conveniently right before it. And if we made that guess, we could still read the first line quite comfortably:

(1) 'it turns/changes/uses/expends, with the sign/suggestion of the flame, the whole tale'

Indeed, not until the last possible moment, when we heard the 'punch' word fasaanah-;xvaanii , could we perceive that our reading, while far from impossible, was a bit less satisfactory in its connection than a reading of .sirf . (That is, we'd be unable to mobilize the elegant doubleness of qi.s.sah tamaam karnaa ('to finish' and 'to finish off'), because we'd need the karnaa for .sarf karnaa .)

For other 'tongue of the candle' verses, see {75,2}.