Celebrating diversity, humanity and beauty: India’s first modern poet? (Column: Bookends)

He was a poet both for, and ahead of, his times, pioneering not only the development of a language and form of poetry but also fashioning a modern ethos – one recognising the diversity of his land and its people, of principles of faith transcending outward appearances and rituals, and of the centrality of the individual in existence. And then he had a refined aesthetic sensibility in depicting various facets of the human condition – especially love and beauty – and mysteries of existence, no less than Shakespeare and Omar Khayyam.

“Us ke farogh-e-husn se jhamke hai sab mein nur/Sham-e-Haram ho ya ho diya Somnath ka” is an illuminating and eloquent call to go beyond the apparent, but Mir Taqi ‘Mir’ gives us much more in this vein: “Kis ko kehte hai nahi main jaanta islam-o-kufr/Dair ho ya Kaaba matlab mujhko tere dar se hai”, “Labrez jalwa us ka saara jahan mein yaani/Sari hai voh haqeeqat jaave nazar jahan tak” and then “Kiska Kaaba, kaisa qibla kaun haram hai kya ahram/Kuche ke us ke bashindon ne sab ko yahin se salaam kiya”.

He also sought to inspire humans about their potential and purpose: “Mat sahal hamein jaano phirta hain falak barson/Tab khaak ke parde se insaan nikalta hai”, “Ab aise hai ke sana ke mizaaj upar bahm pahunche/Jo khaatir khwah apne ham huye hote to kya hote” and “Ilahi kaise hote hai jinhein hai bandagi khwaish/Hamen to sharm daman geer hoti hai khuda hote”.

This can help explain why Mir’s poetry seems as relevant today, was praised by his celebrated successor Mirza Asadullah Khan ‘Ghalib’ (“Rekhta ke tum hi ustad nahi ho ‘Ghalib’/Kehte hai agle zamane mein koi ‘Mir’ bhi tha” – though they differed on a cast-out lover’s fate! Mir says “Yun uthe aah us gali se ham/Jaise koi jahan se uthta ha” and Ghalib holds “Nikalna Khuld se Adam ka sunte aai hai lekin/Bohot be-abru hokar tere kooche se ham nikle”), has been rendered by some great singers, and has a devoted band of scholars – Indian, Pakistani and foreign – studying it.

One of his most famous ghazals “Patta patta boota boota haal hamare jaane hai” was used in both Bollywood and Lollywood (“Ek Nazar” with Amitabh Bachchan-Jaya Bhaduri, 1972, and “Chirag Jalta Raha” with Mohammad Ali and Zeba, 1962) – though with changed lyrics, courtesy Majrooh Sultanpuri and Fazal Ahmed Karim ‘Fazli’ respectively.

Then his ghazal beginning “Faqeerana aaye sada kar chale” became one of the most hauntingly beautiful use of the form in a Bollywood film – remember “Dikhaye diye yun ke bekhud kiya” from “Bazaar” (1982)? The title is actually the sixth or seventh sher and the song makes use of it, the next two and the one before it!

Mir was a prolific poet, with over 1,900 ghazals in his six voluminous diwans which also have a significant number of masnavis, rubais, qasidas and more (Ghalib’s fame rests on 234 ghazals) as well as a collection in Persian.

Then in Persian only there is “Nukat-us-Shura”, a biographical dictionary of contemporary Urdu poets,”Faiz-e-Mir”, containing stories of sufis and faqirs, meant for his son’s education, and “Zikr-e-Mir”, an autobiography – which is not a very reliable account of his life but gives a good feel of turbulent 18th century north India, where the once-mighty Mughal empire was powerless, and invaders – internal and external – looted and massacred with impunity. And there is a collection of rather salacious anecdotes too.

But it in his ghazals that Mir holds his own. Does his “Nazuki us ke lab ki kya kahiye/Pankhudi ik gulab si hai” pale before Shakespeare’s “From fairest creatures we desire increase/That thereby beauty’s rose might never die” (Sonnet 1) or “For nothing this wide universe I call/Save thou, my rose, in it thou art my all” (Sonnet 109) or Robert Burns’ “O my Luve’s like a red, red rose”? Was his “Mir janagal tamam bas jaave/Bin padhe hamse rozgar ae kaash” any less than Omar Khayyam’s “Ah Love! could thou and I with Fate conspire/To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,/Would not we shatter it to bits — and then/Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!”

Want to read Mir but don’t know Urdu? The laudable rekhta.org and Columbia University’s Frances W. Pritchett’s magnificent site provide transliterations. Shamsur Rehman Faruqi’s magisterial “Sher-e-Shor Angez” is ruled out but you could seek Khurshidul Islam and Ralph Russell’s “Three Mughal Poets: Mir, Sauda and Mir Hasan”. Mir’s memoirs can be found in English – courtesy C.M. Naim – and for a fictional view, there is Khushwant Singh’s “Delhi”.

(25.10.2015 – Vikas Datta is an Associate Editor at IANS. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in)

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