Ghazal 78, Verse 1

{78,1}*

aah ko chaahiye ik ((umr a;sar hote tak
kaun jiitaa hai tirii zulf ke sar hote tak

1) a sigh needs a single/particular/unique/excellent lifetime until the coming-about of an effect
2) who [habitually] lives until the becoming-{subdued/tamed} of your curls?

Notes:

Nazm:

It's an idiom that ham is baat ke sar ho ga))e-- that is, we've understood it. That is, by the time your curls would become aware of my condition, I'll be finished off. (79)

== Nazm page 79

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, a sigh needs a lifetime to create an effect, and by the time the effect will have been made and your curls will become aware of our anxious/tangled [pareshaa;N] condition-- how will we be be able to remain alive till that time? (126)

Bekhud Mohani:

sar honaa = raam honaa [to be tamed, subdued].... A sigh will create an effect in a lifetime. And by the time your arrogant/'high-headed' [sar-kash] curls would be sar , or tamed [raam], our life will be over. That is, we won't live long enough for you to become kind. (164)

Shadan:

[There are some difficulties in this verse.] I don't have any other commentary in my possession except these two [Hasrat and Nazm] that I mention. I hear that ten or fifteen commentaries have already been printed. If I had another, then I'd look into it. I don't want to buy one. I haven't managed to borrow any yet. The search continues. (243)

Mihr:

sar honaa : The meanings of this idiom are varied.... A common meaning of it is 'to subdue, to subjugate' [musa;x;xar karnaa]. (262-63)

Faruqi:

In modern Urdu sar honaa / ho jaanaa means 'to pursue someone or something, to insist on having something'. It's clear that this meaning isn't suitable here. [Many other dictionary meanings are also unhelpful; some commentators give meanings that seem quite unattested and aren't relevant at all.]....

In the world of war and combat, sar honaa / karnaa is a well-known idiom that means 'to be victorious, to win a victory, to attain, to succeed, to complete something'. [Examples are given.] Thus for :zulf kaa sar honaa to mean 'to be vouchsafed victory over the curls, for the curls to fall into our hands' is absolutely suitable and appropriate. In this meaning there's also the pleasure/subtlety that the talk is about 'curls falling into our hands', and to express it the idiom sar honaa has been used. It's a peerless verse. [2006: 119-20]

FWP:

SETS == A,B; EK

Some editors modernize the refrain of this ghazal into hone tak . (The form hote tak contains an archaic form of the infinitive; for another such archaic form, see {174,5}.) As always, I go with Arshi.

As so often, in this verse we're presented with two independent lines, and no guidance as to how to connect them. Nazm insists on what seems to be an excessively literal-minded link: the idea that it's your curls that will eventually (though much too slowly) become aware of my condition. Why should the beloved's curls suddenly be made sentient, and what poetic gain is achieved thereby? And what's the poetic connection, in that case, between the two lines? Apparently he considers that the idiomatic expression sar honaa should be read primarily as 'to understand', and then he reads it in a literal-minded way. 'Who lives until your curls will understand?' is not any more effective in Urdu than it is in English.

Bekhud Mohani, supported by Faruqi, is surely correct: if we take sar honaa to mean 'to be subdued, tamed', we end up with much richer and more interesting interpretive possibilities. I even have the perfect illustration ready: {71,2}. In that verse, the long, dark, tangled curls of the beloved are implicitly (and only implicitly) likened to the long, dark, tangled thoughts of the lover. She sits obliviously adorning her hair, he sits thinking. We imagine that he is probably watching her, but we can't prove it.

In the present verse, similarly, she sits combing her long, thick, hard-to-subdue curls. He sits sighing, or else thinking about sighing, and regretting her (physical? emotional?) inaccessibility, her unsubdueableness. We imagine that he is probably watching her, but we can't prove it. He realizes that it will take as long for his attentive concentration to have an effect on her, as it will for her attentive concentration to subdue her unruly curls. Or rather, almost as long: it will take a lifetime for his sighs to have an effect, but more than a lifetime (who can live that long?) for her curls to be subdued.

Alternatively, she may be so fatally irresistible that the lover's lifetime will be extremely short-- merely the time it takes her to comb her hair is already longer than he, ravaged by passion, will be able to survive. Perhaps he won't live as long as it takes her to complete her morning toilette.

But there remains a kind of radical undecideability about the relationship of the two lines. They simply don't give us much traction. What, after all, is the connection between them? Are the two processes similar in slowness (the slow process of a sigh's having any effect is like the slow process of your combing out your tangled curls)? Or are they similar in impossibility (a sigh that takes a lifetime to have any effect is basically a hopeless effort, and likewise the combing-out of your curls will never be ended)? Or are they being contrasted (a sigh will take effect in merely a lifetime, while your combing out of your curls will go on much longer)? Or is the relationship of the two lines of some other, more subtle kind? Both lines are so evocative, so mysterious, so arbitrary in their juxtaposition, that they invite the mind to play with them freely.

This ghazal, and this verse in particular, are very famous and often recited. In both this verse and {71,2}, the two lines suggest two very different emotional and physical worlds, even if both these worlds are located in the same room. Isn't there a particularly 'modern', distant, remote quality about these two verses? A sort of 'so near and yet so far' effect. They seem so simple, but then somehow there's no end to them. This feels, ultimately, like a brilliant verse of mood.