Ghazal 217, Verse 4


naalah sarmaayah-e yak-((aalam-o-((aalam kaf-e ;xaak
aasmaa;N bai.zah-e qumrii na:zar aataa hai mujhe

1) a lament, the wealth/substance of a whole world; and a/the world, a handful of dust
2) the sky appears as the egg of a turtledove, to me


sar-maayah : 'Principal sum, capital, stock in trade; fund, funds, assets, means, resources; materials'. (Platts p.655)


qumrii : '(rel. n. fr. qumr , pl. of aqmar , 'of a dully or dusky white colour,' rt. ), s.f. A turtle-dove; a ring-dove'. (Platts p.795)


He has, as a jest [phabtii], called the sky a turtledove's egg, in which there's nothing at all but a handful of dust. And then, in the destiny of that handful of dust too there is written a lifetime of lamentation. If you ask why he used a turtledove's egg, when the nightingale too is a handful of dust and was born for lamentation, then the reason is that the Persian-users always versify the turtledove as a handful of dust, because it is dust-colored. [He gives an example from Sa'ib.]

Indeed, apparently with a subtle view one can say that if a lament is the wealth of a world, and a world is a handful of dust, this is an occasion for instruction and longing, and in such a case jest and pleasantry are inappropriate. [He goes on to discuss, in detail, various kinds and categories of similes, with a number of examples.] (246-48)

== Nazm page 246; Nazm page 247; Nazm page 248

Bekhud Dihlavi:

He says, the wealth of a whole world is only lament, and a world itself it a single handful of dust; and the sky is a turtledove egg. That is, the produce of the world is nothing except lamentation, as if the world is a place of affliction, and the sky is a producer of lament. To the extent that troubles and difficulties keep being produced in the world, the sky keeps producing them all. (306)

Bekhud Mohani:

I consider a lament to be the wealth of a world, and a world to be a handful of dust; and the sky, in my view, is a turtledove-egg. The form of the sky is egg-like, and the color of the turtledove is dusty. In this connection, he has called the sky a turtledove-egg; and since in the world there's nothing but sorrow and suffering, in this connection he has called the world a handful of dust. And through this affinity, he has declared all the creations of this world to be only a lament. That is, the wealth of the world is only sorrow and sadness, and this is my belief, observation, and experience. (446)


SKY {15,7}

On the idiomatic use of yak-((aalam , see {11,1}. It's hard to translate, but surely part of the sense is to make a world into a measuring rod (so that a 'one-world' measurement is like a 'one-foot' measurement), perhaps for wealth [sarmaayah], and to emphasize globalness or wholeness as part of the measurement. I try to show this by using 'a whole world', and surely in that initial clause the sense of 'a' world instead of 'the' world comes through very clearly.

Then in the second half of the first line, the 'world' is at once repeated, and this time without qualification. So it could still be 'a' world, in the sense carried over from the first half of the line; or it could be 'the' world, in our familiar sense of 'this' world. We notice that the first half of the line takes us from image one (lament) to image two (wealth/substance of a world), and the second half of the line takes us very explicitly from image two (world) to image three (handful of dust). We half-expect the next line to take us from image three (handful of dust) to some other image.

Instead, we start afresh: the sky looks like a turtledove-egg to me. If we use the imagery-clues that the commentators point out, we have an obvious trajectory. The turtledove has a 'dusty' or 'dusky' or off-white color (see also {230,5}, in which the turtledove is called a 'handful of ashes'); for such a bird's egg to be dusty and to contain something dusty seems very suitable. So if the sky, which is often greyish or off-white, encloses the earth the way an egg encloses a yolk, then the 'handful of dust' that is the world can be seen as a kind of futile travesty of a yolk, with no possibility of ever hatching into anything fertile; not surprisingly, its whole wealth/substance is not anything creative or hopeful, but only a 'lament'.

There's also the size connection, which works through an extreme kind of reduction. A lament has no physical size at all, and yet it's the wealth or essence of a whole world; a world itself is equated with a mere handful of dust. On the same scale, it's not surprising that the sky itself would appear as a mere bird's egg.

But of course, all these things appear that way 'to me'. There are several ways of reading this final, vital, but almost casual qualifier:

=I fear that I'm going mad; things look very morbid to me, and here are a few examples of my symptoms
=I'm trapped inside a handful of dust stuck inside this puny, worthless egg-- help, I'm lamenting forcefully, it's horribly cramped in here!
=I'm so far beyond that handful of dust stuck inside that puny, worthless egg-- I look down on it with disdain and pity (see {43,3}); from the height where I am, one single lament is worth as much as the whole of it
=although it's painful to face the facts, I have to report my best judgment: the human condition is both petty and miserable

This is a surely a verse of mood; and as so often, the verse allows (or compels) us to choose the mood ourselves.

For another brilliantly multivalent verse in which the sky is imagined as an egg-- an ant's egg, in this case-- see {138,1}. Also, compare this verse's unpublished cousin, {217,7x}.