Biographies of Urdu Poets of Renown, and
an Account of the Improvements and Reforms
Made in the Urdu Language from Age to Age
#1# In the name of God, the Compassionate and Merciful: The ancestors of the Indian-born ĀZĀD considered Persian to be the true temper of the sword of their tongue. But for something like a hundred years, the language of the whole family has been Urdu; and from the time of the elders till today, research into languages has been pursued with complete enthusiasm and zeal. It has seemed for some years now that the language of this country has been making steady strides forward in its progress--so much so that it is able to function as a learned language, and is about to take a seat of a special rank in the court of learning. One day I was reflecting on this, and considering how our language had suddenly made its appearance, how it had gone forward step by step, how over the course of time it had reached this rank. I was astonished: that a child should be found wandering in the bazaar of Shāh Jahān [=Mughal Delhi], that the *poets should take him up, that they should nurture and raise him in the land of speech, and that in the end he should go so far as to seize control over the country's writing and composition!
In this state I saw the changes that he went through from age to age, and the lives of his *accomplished masters in each age--those whose constant training and *correction took that child by the hand and led him forward step by step, and gradually brought him to the rank he has attained today. I saw clearly that in every age he has been changing, showing a new and different style. And his accomplished teachers have been constantly making corrections, through methods and words, in his gait and manners. Thus, in this regard, five gatherings came before me, which had been established in sequence one after the other, and then had been disbanded. Each bid farewell #2# to the one before, and established its own sway. Until the *era of the fifth gathering arrived, which is now present before our eyes. In every gathering I saw a *guest of honor and members of the gathering; from age to age these elders' gait and conversation, their manner and dress, were distinct from each other. But everyone's hand held the pen of correction, and everyone considered this task his duty. Despite this, the people in the gathering had the skirt of enthusiasm spread wide, and the hand of acceptance pressed to their breast. In every gathering, some new aspect of the language became manifest: at one time he was a child, at another time a boy, at another time a youth. But it seemed that when he saw, he saw with their eyes; and when he spoke, it was with their tongue that he spoke.
In short, in the style of this language their movement, speech, manners, behavior--in fact, the whole character of the age in which they lived--came before my eyes. And all the reasons why they lived this way. The stories of their gatherings: the *encounters of rivals, in which people's tempers pushed aside the curtains of formality and showed themselves in their true colors. The freedom of their hearts, the constraints of their times. Their high spirits, their sharp-wittedness--sometimes passionate and sometimes gentle, sometimes cheerful and sometimes irascible. All these things put into my eyes the collyrium of instruction--as though that time, and the people of that time, were present before me.
Since I have--or rather, my language has--been raised in the service of just such people, these thoughts made my heart burst into flower, and brought me a *mood such that neither the power of any speech, nor the tongue of any pen, could do it justice. But with it came regret, that the jewelers through whom these jewels reached me lie mingled with the dust. The people who remain are like blown-out lamps left in such a wilderness that no one cares to light them, or to take light from them. So if these things--which in truth establish their essential accomplishment--are left like this in the custody of tongues, they will be erased in a matter of days from the page of existence. And in fact not merely these things will be erased--but these venerable elders themselves will remain in the world only as poets known by name, with #3# nothing said about them that could have the effect of truth on the hearts of those who come after us. Even though their works remain to commemorate their accomplishment, mere *volumes that pass from hand to hand for money can never entirely fulfill this purpose without particulars of the poets' lives. Nor can such volumes show in this time the world of that time; and if this is not achieved, then nothing is achieved.
The reverence we feel in our hearts for Mīr, Saudā, and other venerable elders from the past, the people of today do not feel. If you ask why, then the reason is simply this: those poets' circumstances and the events of their times have become a garment and a robe of honor and made their *poetry appear in its radiance before us; while our contemporaries have eyes and hearts unaware of this. And if you want to know the truth, it is those very circumstances that make Saudā into Saudā and Mīr Taqī into Mīr Sahib. Otherwise, these are simply *pen-names that anyone who wants to can adopt. A mere Saudā [=Madness] is nothing but madness; and a mere Mīr [=Master], the name of a playing card.
My friends, the meaning of life is not eating, drinking, moving about, sleeping, and producing words from your mouth. The meaning of life is that one's name, along with one's special qualities, should win widespread fame and live on forever. Now make a fair judgment: is it a small cause for shame that our elders should achieve excellent qualities, and acquire the grounds for immortal fame--and still they should be deprived of a life even in name? And those elders the very ones to whose graciousness our popular and literary language, its every word and every letter, has been so heavily indebted! For their works to fall into this neglect, and then to be erased from the page of life, is a great cause for regret. The death at which their near and dear ones wept was no death. In truth, death is that these things would be erased, so that their accomplishments would die. And this death is, in truth, an extremely grievous occurrence.
To see the manners and ways of such accomplished elders makes them come alive before our eyes, and teaches us too how to walk on the twisted roads of the world, and tells us how we too can make our lives so enduring and valuable. Moreover, those with new-style educations, whose minds are illumined by light from English lanterns, complain that our *anthologies #4# describe neither a poet's biography, nor his temperament, character, and habits; nor do they reveal the merits of his work, or its strong and weak points, or the relationship between him and his contemporaries and between his poetry and their poetry. In fact they even go so far as to omit the dates of his birth and death. Although this complaint is not entirely without foundation, the truth is that information of this kind is generally available in families, and through accomplished members of distinguished families and their circles of acquaintances. It's partly that such people have been disheartened at the reversal in the times and have given up on literature, and partly that knowledge and its forms of communication take new paths with every day's experience. In Arabic and Persian, the paths of this progress and reform have been blocked for many years.
The English language is a magic world of progress and reform. But in the beginning, people of distinguished family thought it undesirable for their children to study it. And the manner of our old compositions was such that it never occurred to people to write about these things in books. They felt all these minor points to be the small change of gossip, suitable tidbits to be enjoyed when groups of friends were gathered together; thus they weren't aware of these ways [of writing] and their advantages. And how could they know that the page of the times would be turned--that the old families would be destroyed, and their offspring so ignorant that they would no longer know even their own family traditions? And if anyone would tell them something of these matters, they'd demand evidence!
All these thoughts made it incumbent upon me to collect what I knew about the elders or had found in various references in different anthologies, and write it down in one place. And insofar as possible I should write in such a way that speaking, moving, walking pictures of their lives should appear before us and attain immortal life. Praise be to God, that in a mere matter of days my disorderly thoughts became orderly and collected. For this reason I gave this collection the name Āb-e ḥayāt [Water of Life]. And with regard to the changes in the Urdu language from age to age, I divided it into five eras, in such a way that every era shows the language--or rather, the situation--of its time. I pray to the Presence of God, that through the blessing of #5# the names and works of the elders, my work and I too will attain wide acceptance and immortal life. Amen, oh Lord of the Two Worlds.