Ghazal 95, Verse 6

{95,6}*

kahte hai;N jiite hai;N ummiid pah log
ham ko jiine kii bhii ummed nahii;N

1) they say people live on hope
2) we have no hope even of living

Notes:

Hali:

This verse is 'simple and unattainable' [sahl-o-mumtana(( , though the usual term is sahl-e mumtana((]. In this ground, it would be difficult for a better verse than this to emerge.
==Urdu text: p. 147 in Hali, Yadgar-e Ghalib

Nazm:

That is, we don't have even this kind of hope for living-- so on what hope can we live? (97)

== Nazm page 97

Josh:

That is, life is established through hope. People live with the aid of hope. We don't even have hope of living-- on what hope would we remain living? In this verse, what pleasure the reversal of words gives! (187)

Arshi:

Compare {189,8}. (225, 289)

Mihr:

Khvajah Hali has said entirely rightly, 'This verse is unattainably simple'. That is, it is so simple that apparently it seems that to compose such a thing is not difficult at all. But when anyone sits down to compose, then he wouldn't be able to compose it. (312)

FWP:

SETS == REPETITION; WORDPLAY == TRANSLATABLES
LIFE/DEATH: {7,2}

On the pronunciation of the rhyme-words in this ghazal, see the discussion in {95,1}.

What a lovely verse! Doesn't it look alluringly easy and natural, beguilingly clear, and isn't it so completely colloquial in its language? And yet at the same time-- how hard it is to really explicate the relationship between the two lines!

The verse sets up some kind of an unbreakable feedback loop-- living on hope, not hoping to live, and on and on from one to the other without end. If people live on hope, then since we're alive, we must have hope too. Yet we don't-- we're so far from having any hope, that we don't even hope to live. So with no hope of living, and no hope that we can live on, surely we must be dead? But we're not, because we can still say that we have no hope. So perhaps we're living on the hope of having hope to live? No, living on hope is for other people-- we don't even have any hope of living at all. But if people live on hope, then since we're alive, we must have hope too. And so on-- the whole rhetorical loop can be run through again and again, with no way out of it.

The extreme simplicity of this verse makes it the kind people in the Urdu literary tradition describe as 'unattainably simple' [sahl-e mumtana((]. The normal meaning of mumtana(( is 'prohibited, forbidden; impossible' (Platts p.1068), and I've tried for a translation that reflects those ideas. Hali uses this term for the verse, though either he or his calligrapher gets it a bit askew; other commentators (Bekhud Dihlavi p. 146, Chishti p. 512) quote him approvingly, and use the standard form of the phrase. Mihr too quotes Hali, and adds the perfect definition: it's a verse that looks so easy that you think you can go right home and do one yourself. But of course, you can't.

Perhaps because of this very simplicity, the verse is also remarkably translatable. Its wonderfully enjoyable wordplay helps: the repetion of ummiid , the two forms of jiinaa , the structural and rhythmic parallels of kahte hai;N jiite hai;N .

For other verse that engage in similar kinds of wordplay about life and death, see Arshi's suggested {189,8}; it's an even darker verse, and {161,9} is grim as well. But as in the case of this verse, the charm of their style belies their bleakness of tone. There's also the logically argued {115,5}.