Sunday, February 09, 2014

Exploring Mir Taqi Mir

Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1810) is a well-respected name in the world of Urdu literature. Many experts are of the opinion that Mir, at times referred to as Khuda-e-Sukhan (God of Poetry), gave defining shape to Urdu poetry as we know it today. Although I have barely scratched the surface of his voluminous output, whatever little I have read makes me want to explore more of his work.

Although given my limited exposure, I am in no position to define the distinctive features of Mir’s poetry. Still, let me share what I would consider unmistakably Mir. The most important aspect is the language. For most part it is conversational, it is idiomatic, and it draws from the day-today language of common folk even if that means deviating from the literary language. He seems as adept in the usage of Persian and Arabic words as he is with Hindi. At times he plays with the literary rules of grammar to make his poetry more accessible. As Shamsur Rahman Faruqui in his book She’r-e-Shorangez says, “Mir turned everyday language into poetic language”. Some of the other features he attributes to Mir’s poetry are “earth-grasping and unbridled imagination”, “vigor of everyday idiom in the language”, “informal but limited use of Persian and Arabic”, and at the same time brimming with “depth-possession and ambiguity of expression”. It’s the kind of poetry that can satisfy the connoisseurs and the common folk alike. As he had said himself:

शे'र मेरे हैं सब ख़वास पसंद
पर मुझे गुफ़तगू 'अवाम से है

(ख़वास = people of distinction; गुफ़तगू = conversation; 'अवाम = the common people)

Given his prolificacy (1916 ghazals spread over 6 deewans, in addition to several masnavis, qasidas, rubaiyat etc.), his poetry has a lot of variety as well. While his poetry is pigeonholed in the categories of romantic and tragic, nothing can be further than the truth. He has explored quite a wide variety of themes. Variety also comes in terms of the number of different meters he has used in his ghazals. One of the meters he used quite extensively is even called Behr-e-Mir (Mir’s meter), primarily because he used it so often (around 187 ghazals). Although there is evidence of this meter being used before his time as well, no other poet had made such a prolific use of this meter. Unlike other meters used in ghazals, this particular meter is extremely flexible. It can be turned into a very large number of different combinations of long and short syllables that can be used within the same ghazal, yet maintaining the overall rhythm of the meter.

When I was “assigned’ Mir as a poet in the recent Facebook chain, I wanted to select a ghazal that had most of the characteristics of Mir’s poetry that I have outlined above. Finally, I chanced upon this one. This one is in Mir’s unique meter with some unusual scansion of some words, the language is conversational, idiomatic and simple, it uses Persian & Arabic words as also purely Hindi words, it has depth, it has elements of wordplay, and some verses can have varying meanings depending on the tone one assigns to it … in short, a perfect example to demonstrate Mir-ness.

So here goes…

क्या पूछो हो क्या कहिये मियाँ दिल ने भी क्या काम किया
इश्क़ किया नाकाम रहा आखिर को काम तमाम किया

The ghazal opens with a conversational couplet, with the poet seemingly replying to a query as to what his heart has been up to. And he responds, ‘what can I say? It has been quite busy. It fell in love and failed, but (probably in this repeated effort) it finished me off completely in the end.” This is a simple verse with lots going on in terms of language and technique. There is colloquialism (क्या पूछो हो क्या कहिये), use of idiom (काम तमाम किया), wordplay (काम can mean both job and desire), use of word affinities (आखिर and काम तमाम), unusual scansion (मियाँ has been scanned as one long syllable instead of the traditional short-long), even an interesting choice of the first and last word of the couplet that appear exactly the same when written in Urdu.

अज्ज़ किया सो उस मुफ़सिद ने क़द्र हमारी ये कुछ की
त्यौरी चढ़ाई ग़ुस्सा किया जब हम ने झुक के सलाम किया

(अज्ज़ = submission, helplessness; मुफ़सिद = mischief maker; क़द्र = to appreciate, to value; त्यौरी चढ़ाई = frowned)

Here Arabic and Persian words are juxtaposed effortlessly with a purely Hindi idiom (त्यौरी चढ़ाई). The use of the word क़द्र brings an element of sarcasm in this verse. The lover has rendered himself so helpless and submissive that the beloved has stopped valuing him, The lover salutes her, but all she does is frown. The beloved in the ghazal world is known to be tyrannical and the lover actually enjoys getting mistreated by her. In that case, the use of the word मुफ़सिद is not to be taken very literally. However, it can also be taken as a genuine ‘curse’.

कहने की भी लिखने की भी हम तो क़सम खा बैठे थे
आखिर दिल की बेताबी से ख़त भेजा पैग़ाम किया

The idiom की क़सम खाना is interesting that it can mean both to swear to do something as well as to swear off something. Since the poet uses the work आखिर (Finally), here the meaning of ‘swear off’ makes more sense. The poet was probably so fed up of the beloved’s non-responsiveness that he had sworn off saying or writing anything to her, but his heart got so restless that finally he could not resist writing/ sending a message to her.

इश्क़ की तुहमत जब न हुई थी काहे को शोहरत ऐसी थी
शहर में अब रुसवा हैं य'अनी बदनामी से काम किया

(तुहमत = allegation; शोहरत = fame; रुसवा = infamy)

Infamy on account of being in love is worth more than fame of any other kind. When the lover has been accused of being in love, the corresponding infamy is pleasurable to him. The word तुहमत is quite ambivalent in that it can mean an allegation (which can eventually turn out to be true) as well as a false accusation. Also, the tone assigned to the verse can change the implication – is the lover glad or is he lamenting the fact that his love has made him well-known/ notorious in the city?

रेगिस्तान में जा के रहें या संगिस्तान में हम जोगी
रात हुई जिस जागह हम को हम ने वहीँ बिसराम किया

(रेगिस्तान = desert; संगिस्तान = stony place; जोगी = ascetic; बिसराम = halt, rest)

This is another verse that makes effective use of Hindi words like जोगी and बिसराम (विश्राम). The verse has both romantic and mystical connotations. An ascetic who has renounced the world is not bothered about his surroundings. He is constantly wandering from one desolation to other in search of the ultimate truth and it doesn’t matter where the journey of his life ends. Likewise, a mad lover too wanders in desolate places completely oblivious of his surroundings. Also note the use of the archaic form जागह instead of the normal जगह.

ख़त-ओ-किताबत लिखना उस को तर्क किया था इस ही लिए
हर्फ़-ओ-सुख़न से टपका लोहू अब जो कुछ इरक़ाम किया

(ख़त = letter; किताबत= calligraphy; तर्क = to abandon; हर्फ़ = letter of the alphabet; सुख़न = words; लोहू = blood; इरक़ाम = act of writing)

The lover has stopped writing to the beloved because he is so distressed that whenever he made an attempt to write, all he could do was to write about his pain (words dripped blood). Does the beloved even care about the suffering of the lover? What use, then, is to write anything to her?

तल्ख़ उसका तो शहद-ओ-शकर है ज़ौक़ में हम नाकामों के
लोगों में लेकिन पोच कहा ये लुत्फ़-ए-बेहंगाम किया

(तल्ख़ = bitterness; शहद-ओ-शकर = honey & sugar; ज़ौक़ = taste; पोच = in vain, of no consequence; लुत्फ़ = favour, taste; बेहंगाम = untimely, uncalled for)

Another verse that talks about lovers relishing the cruelty of the beloved. Even if the beloved expresses ‘bitterness’, it is sweet for victims of unrequited love simply because the beloved at least turned her attention towards them. But common people cannot understand that. So to avoid appearing like a fool in front of them, the lover says that the beloved’s ‘bitterness’ is a totally uncalled for ‘favour’. The use of the word लुत्फ़ is interesting given its dual meaning – favour and taste. And it plays well with other taste related words in the first line.

जैसे कोई जहाँ से जावे रुख़सत इस हसरत से हुए
उस कूचे से निकल कर हम ने रू ब-क़फ़ा हर गाम किया

(रुख़सत = departure; हसरत = grief, regret, longing; रू = face; ब-क़फ़ा = behind; गाम = step)

Like in the final moments one reminisces and regrets about the past, sometimes in the hope that the clock would turn back and things could be different, the lover too feels a similar emotion when banished from the beloved’s life. He keeps looking back either with the hope that the beloved would change her mind and call him back, or with the intent of keeping the memories alive till the last possible moment.

मीर जो उन ने मुँह को इधर कर हम से कोई बात कही
लुत्फ़ किया एहसान किया इन'आम किया इकराम किया

(लुत्फ़ = favour; एहसान = kindness; इन'आम = reward; इकराम = honour, respect)

The final verse of this ghazal is brilliant in its implication depending the tone you assign to it. It could be a genuine feeling of obligation and thankfulness on the part of the lover that the beloved who had been ignoring him all along at least talked to him. Or it could be full of sarcasm. Add to that ambiguity that comes in with the word इधर (here), which could also be read as उधर (there) because they’re written in exactly the same way in Urdu because diacritics signifying short vowels are not always written. Did the beloved turn her face towards the lover to speak, or spoke after turning her face away?


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