M. ABUL FAZL Firaqs Roop, collection of his quatrains, is in the language that Urdu would have had the perverse linguistic tastes of Nasikh and Ghalib not driven it into a blind alley. Thus, Nasikh: Kab lutma-e-naseem se ho nastaran kabood? And Ghalib: Lutma-e-mauj kum az saylee-e-ustad naheen. True, Ghalib also wrote lines like: Aakhir iss dard ki dava kia hai. But Urdu had already been put on the wrong track. It was not until Firaq that our poetry resumed fully the natural language used by Sauda and Meer e.g. Rangeen nigah se khhil uthhtay hein chaman, Ras hontons ka pi kay jhhoom uthhti hai bahar. Or: Ahoo-e-siah-o-shokh kuchh palkain uthhai, Targheeb-e-gunah ke charaghon ko jalai. Or: Yeh chandar-kiran mein saat rangon ki jhalak, Gati hui apsara gagan se utri. Or: Lahratay hue badan pay parti hai jab aankh, Rass kay sagar mein doob jati hai nigaah. However, it is not clear why Firaq uses various terms alluding to virginity to equate it with purity, chastity etc. e.g. Dosheeza kenwal si muskurati hui aankh. Dosheeza bahar ka fasana hai ke aankh? Dosheeza sahar, raseeli aankhon ki chamak. Beeti hon gi sohag ratain kitni, laikin hai aaj tak kunwara naata. Kanniya hai ab kaamni honay wali. Aisay mein aarti utaray Usha, ras mein doobay hue kunwaray-pan ki. Kat tay hi sohag raat dekhhain jo usay, barhh jata hai roop ka kunwara-pan aur. And so on. It is a fact that, in many Slavic languages, nevena is used both for virginity and for innocence or for being without blemish. But it is not so in Urdu. Neither do we use virgin for soil or for a forest. For us, it has just one meaning: a female who has not known a man. But, apparently, the association of virginity with innocence or cleanliness is old, dating back to the beginning of agriculture at least. And, apparently, the gods too liked virgins, as food or as servants. In ancient South Asia, virgins prayed for rain when drought threatened and the Aztecs drowned virgins to propitiate the god of rains. Virgins also served as servants of gods and goddesses in the temples of South Asia, Babylonia and Rome. And the Living Goddess in Nepal is, of course, a virgin. So virginity was not just an inexplicable feature of the human female body but had many social uses too. The hymen existed before the appearance of property. But once the property was invented, it was also assigned a social role. Property was, of course, the result of the production of a surplus which made it possible for some to live without working, i.e. off others. The desire that ones property be inherited by ones descendants, that parasitism be ensured generation after generation, gave rise to monogamy and sanctified the hymen. But what surprises one is the use of the term by a progressive poet like Firaq. Granted, he says that virginity is not bound to any particular physical condition. It is the purity that arises from love and its fulfilment: Zara wisal ke baad aiina to dekh aey dost, Teray jamal ki dosheezgi nikhar aaii. But the audience that he addresses does not grasp this delicate distinction and takes his lines in their literal sense, which re-enforces our feudal or slave cultural heritage. All the same, he has enriched our language beyond measure. The writer is a former ambassador.