The Third Era of Āb-e ḥayāt:

Part Four


#194# With the pen-name of Mīr, and the name of Mīr Taqī, he was the son of Mīr ʿAbdullāh, who was among the respectable people of Akbarābād [=Agra]. Sirāj ud-Dīn ʿAlī Ḳhān Ārzū was a reputed author in the Persian language and a fully authoritative scholar of India. In Gulzār-e ibrāhīmī it is written, 'Mīr Sahib was distantly related to him, and had received a glance or two of instruction from him'. It is widely believed that he was Ḳhān-e Ārzū's maternal nephew; in truth, he was the son of Mīr ʿAbdullāh, but by his first wife. When she died, he married the sister of Ḳhān-e Ārzū; thus Mīr became his step-nephew. Mīr Sahib had a taste for verse from the beginning. After his father's death, he came to Delhi, and he and his poetry were nourished in the home of Ḳhān-e Ārzū. But the Ḳhān Sahib was [a Sunni] of the Hanafi school of religious law, and Mīr Sahib was a Shia--and in addition, he had a hair-trigger temper. In short, Mīr Sahib quarreled over some matter, and broke with him. It's the custom of the fault-finding world--when it sees the skirt of some reputable person's fame flying high in the wind, it flings a clod of dirt. Thus it's written in the Tażkirah-e shorish that the title of 'Sayyid' had been bestowed on him [only] in the court of poetry [and not because of his descent from the Prophet]. I've also heard from aged elders that when he adopted the pen-name of Mīr, his father forbade him: 'Don't do it. One day, for no reason at all, you'll become a Sayyid.' At that time he didn't take it seriously; but gradually, exactly that happened. I've also heard from elderly people a verse-set of Saudā's, but it's not in his Complete Works. It might perhaps be in reference to this matter:

/When Mīr heated up the oven of his poetic temperament,

He had some fancy bread, some plain bread, some cheese/.

At the end he says,

/Now that all the spices are ready for Mīr-ness

His son would become a leek, and Mīr himself a coriander/.

Still, I consider it necessary to say this much: that his humility and poverty and patience and contentment in poverty, his fear of God and his piety--they come all together and give testimony that there ought to be no doubt of his being a Sayyid. And what does the world #195# care--what does it not call one person or another! If he had not been a Sayyid, why would he himself have said

/Mīr wanders around in disgrace, no one bothers about him

Being a lover like this has lost him even his honor as a Sayyid/.

In short, although his pen-name was [the 'king' card] Mīr, in the ganjīfah card-game of poetry he shone like the ['ace' card] Sun. Appreciation viewed his poetry as jewels and pearls; it turned his name into a perfume like that of flowers, and floated it on the breeze. In India it has been his fortune alone that travelers have carried his ghazals from city to city, as gifts.

It is also clear that since ancient days, ill-fortune and the ill-will of the heavens have cast dark shadows over the heads of people of accomplishment. In addition to this, Mīr Sahib's loftiness of vision was so extreme that no one's worldly position, or accomplishment, or greatness, earned his esteem. This flaw made him temperamental, and kept him always deprived of worldly comfort and freedom from care--and he, wrongly thinking himself full of consistency of style and contentment in poverty, considered it a source of pride. For these impertinent words that have dropped from his lips, the wretched writer asks pardon from Mīr Sahib's pure soul. But God is my witness that whatever has been written, it has only been so that people who have to make a living in the world should see how these things drag the excellence of a man of excellence down into the dust. Thus his circumstances and words themselves will shortly offer proof of this matter. Although in Delhi Respect always rose to vacate a place for him in the court of Shāh ʿĀlam and in the gatherings of nobles and people of good family, and everyone revered him for his excellence of accomplishment and the propriety of his manners and deeds, families cannot subsist on honors alone. And there [in Delhi], even the treasury of the empire was empty. Thus, in A.H. 1190 [1776-77], he had to leave Delhi.

Mīr Sahib goes to Lucknow: When he went to Lucknow, he did not have even enough money for a whole coach. Having no choice, he shared a coach with another man, and said farewell to Delhi. After they had gone a little way, the other man made some remark. Mīr Sahib turned his face away from him and sat silent. After a while, the man again made some remark. Mīr Sahib frowned and replied, 'Noble sir, you have paid the fare. You are no doubt entitled to sit in the coach, #196# but what does that have to do with conversation?' The man said, 'Hazrat, what's the harm? It's a pastime while traveling--we can entertain ourselves a bit with conversation'. Mīr Sahib replied angrily, 'Well, for you it's a pastime; as for me, it corrupts my language'.

He goes to a mushairah: When he arrived in Lucknow, he stayed at a sarai, as is the custom of travelers. He learned that there was a mushairah that day at a certain place. He couldn't help himself: he at once composed a ghazal, and went and joined in the mushairah.

His style and dress: His style was old-fashioned: a 'windowed' turban, and a robe made from fifty yards of fabric--with a whole bolt of cloth used for the sash, and a striped handkerchief carefully tucked into it. A payjama of silk-and-cotton fabric, with legs as wide as the width of the fabric permitted. Pointed, curling shoes, with their tips turned up a foot high. At one side of his belt a saif, that is, a straight sword; at the other side, a dagger. In his hand, a staff. In short, when he entered the gathering--it was the city of Lucknow, with its new styles, its new fashions, its foppish, rakish young men gathered there--and when they saw him, they all started to laugh. Poor Mīr Sahib, a stranger, away from his native place, already downhearted at what the age had done, grew even more unhappy, and sat down to one side. When the candle came before him, everyone looked at him once more. And some persons asked, 'Where is Your Excellency's native place?' Mīr Sahib composed this extemporaneous verse-set according to the pattern, and recited it:

/Why do you ask about my home and origin, oh easterners,

considering me a stranger, calling out to me with laughter?

Delhi, which was a city, choicest in the world,

where the choicest ones of the age lived--

The heavens looted it and made it desolate,

I am a dweller in that ruined land/.

Everyone realized the situation; they apologized profusely, and asked pardon of Mīr Sahib. They were seekers of accomplishment; as day dawned, it became known in the city that Mīr Sahib had arrived. Gradually the late Navab Āṣif ud-Daulah heard about it, and provided him with a stipend of two hundred rupees a month.

Honor and respect are the handmaids of excellence in accomplishment. Although they did not leave Mīr Sahib's company even in Lucknow, he also retained lifelong the arrogance and quick temper that had been his intimate companions. Therefore he went only sometimes to court in the Navab's service.

Navab Āṣif ud-Daulah's request: #197# One day the late Navab requested a ghazal. On the second or third day when he again went to court, the Navab asked, 'Mīr Sahib! Have you brought our ghazal?' Mīr Sahib frowned and said, 'Exalted sir! Your servant doesn't have a pocketful of themes, that you should ask for a ghazal yesterday, and I should present it today!' The angelic-natured Navab said, 'Well, Mīr Sahib, when you should feel inclined, please compose one'.

Mīr Sahib's sensitive temperament: One day the Navab sent for him. When he arrived, he saw that the Navab was standing at the edge of an artificial pond. There was a stick in his hand. In the water, red and green fish were swimming around, and he was watching the spectacle. When the Navab saw Mīr Sahib he was delighted, and said, 'Mīr Sahib, please recite something'. Mīr Sahib began to recite a ghazal. The Navab listened, and went on using his stick to play with the fish. Mīr Sahib frowned, and kept pausing after every verse. The Navab kept saying, 'Yes, please continue'. Finally, after reciting four verses, Mīr Sahib stopped, and said, 'How can I recite--you are playing with the fish. If you pay attention, then I'll recite.' The Navab said, 'A real verse will itself draw my attention'. These words greatly displeased Mīr Sahib. Jamming his ghazal into his pocket, he came away home; and from then on he left off going to court. After some days, once he was passing through the bazaar; the Navab with his entourage passed nearby. The moment he saw him, the Navab said with the greatest affection, 'Mīr Sahib, you've entirely abandoned us! You never deign to come at all.' Mīr Sahib said, 'It's undignified for people of refinement to discuss things in the bazaar. What occasion is this for conversation?' In short, he stayed home as was his habit, suffering poverty and sometimes even hunger. Finally, in A.H. 1225 [1810-11], he died. He attained the age of one hundred years. Nāsiḳh composed a [Persian] chronogram: /Alas, the king of poets is dead/.

A detailed account of his writings: A detailed account of his writings is as follows: there are six volumes of ghazals. There are some pages on which he has joined Urdu lines to excellent individual verses in Persian and composed *three-liners and *four-liners--and this was his own invention. Some pages of quatrains and extended-line poems. Four odes in honor of the Prophet's family, one in praise of Navab #198# Āṣif ud-Daulah. Some quintains and repeated-line poems on the Prophet's family. Some quintains complaining about the times, the point of which is a satire on certain individuals. Two lover's complaints, one seven-stanza poem in the style of Mullā Ḥasan Kāshī on the glory of Hazrat Shāh Vilāyat [=Hazrat ʿAlī]. Many masnavis, which will be described in detail soon. The anthology Nikāt ush-shuʿarā about the circumstances of the poets of Urdu, which is now very rare. One pamphlet called Faiẓ-e mīr. Muṣḥafī writes in his Persian anthology, 'He does not claim to be a Persian poet, but his Persian is no less than his Rekhtah. He used to say, "I had given up writing Rekhtah for a year; during that time I composed 2,000 [Persian] verses and compiled them [into a volume]"'.

A judgment of the volumes of ghazals: It seems that Mīr Sahib had no interest in composing chronograms. In the same way, there are no elegies in his volumes either. Although the volumes of ghazals are full of 'wet and dry' [i.e., highs and lows], the most select of them are choice in their eloquence.

Seventy-two lancets: Since early times the jewel-assessors of Urdu have been saying that seventy plus two are seven-two lancets. The rest is [only] Mīr Sahib's blessing. But this number of seventy-two is unreal. Because when any passionate verse is read, every judge of poetry can be heard to say with extravagant praise, 'Look--this is one of those seventy-two lancets'. Just as he created eloquence and clarity in language and thought, to the same degree he reduced rhetoric. This is the reason that his ghazals, from the point of view of the principles of 'ghazalness', are better than those of Saudā. His clear and uncomplicated poetry shows a special style in its simplicity, and provides the reader's mind with pleasure instead of distress; thus it is respected by the educated, and universally loved by the common people. In truth, he took this style from Mīr Soz. But in Mīr Soz's case, it was only superficial. Mīr Sahib introduced themes into it; giving homey language the aspect of seriousness, he made it fit for elegant gatherings.

About the state of the odes: Difficulty of meanings, high flight of themes, grandeur and splendor of words, trimness of structure are necessary for odes, and this is the fruit of a natural vitality, and a turmoil and enthusiasm. For this #199# reason, Mīr Sahib's odes are few; to the same degree, they are lesser in rank as well. For the student of poetry, he illumines the fact that the ode and the ghazal, in their two fields, are as different as night and day. And when we reach this [comparative] stage, the true account of the work of Saudā and Mīr can be seen.

Another reason for his not composing odes in praise of the wealthy was that his trust in God and contentment in poverty didn't permit him to flatter any human creature. Or else the self-pride and self-regard that kept him always absorbed in his own self, didn't permit praise of anyone to fall from his lips. Thus he says--and how well he says:

/I'm not minded to praise the rose and the jasmine,

I'm not, like the breeze, a fragrance-merchant for the garden

Yesterday we went to Mīr's door and heard the reply,

'It's been a long time since that exile from his homeland has been here'/.

He has composed some quintains complaining about the times, by way of shahr āshobs, and in them he has mentioned the names of some individuals as well. But they are so weak that they are almost nothing. Take it that the Primal Server removed the two dishes 'praise' and 'blame' from his table, and bore them off to Saudā's house.

The lover's complaints: There are two lover's complaints, and beyond doubt they're peerless. Scholars have accepted Fuġhānī or Vaḥshī in Persian, and him in Urdu, as inventors of the lover's complaint. Hundreds of poets have composed lover's complaints, but if we ignore certain special [archaic] idioms, to this day Mīr Sahib's ideas and style of expression have no rivals in this field.

The poems in praise of the Prophet and his family: In truth, the quintains and repeated-line poems, and so on, that he has composed in praise of the Prophet and his family, fulfill the claims of good faith; they bear witness to his purity of heart.

An account of the masnavis: The masnavis are in various meters. The principles of the masnavi correspond to Mīr Sahib's natural style; thus many of them are not devoid of pleasure. Among them, Shuʿlah-e ʿishq and Daryā-e ʿishq have been rewarded for their excellence from the treasury of fame. But the pity is that compared to the late Mīr Ḥasan's #200# masnavi, they both fall behind.

Josh-e ʿishq has the full force [josh] of subtlety and delicacy, but it did not become famous. Iʿjāz-e ʿishq and Ḳhvāb o ḳhiyāl are short, and did not reach that level. Muʿāmilāt-e ʿishq is longer than they are, but is lesser in rank.

The masnavi Shikār nāmah describes a hunting trip by Navab Āṣif ud-Daulah, and gives a detailed account of that occasion. Although its language is not good, it has mood, and fineness of idiom. The separate ghazals that have been inserted into it here and there give an extraordinary pleasure.

The cupbearer poem and the elegy for the rooster: He wrote a cupbearer poem as a celebration of the joy of spring; although it is short, it is on a high level of delicacy and eloquence. In addition, there are many very short masnavis. He wrote a masnavi as an elegy for his rooster. He says, 'I had a beloved rooster; he was highly pedigreed, he was very fine. A cat attacked him. The rooster fought very gallantly. And finally he was killed.' The masnavi is whatever it is, but one verse about the rooster's last moments is unforgettable:

/The lifeless rooster's head drooped toward its feet,

The crown of Solomon's hoopoe fell to the earth/.

A masnavi about his cat: In a masnavi he says, 'I had a cat; she was very faithful. She was very contented in poverty. Her kittens didn't survive. One time she had five kittens, and all five survived. Three of them, people took away. Two were left; both were female. I named one of them Monī, and one Mānī. A friend of mine took a fancy to Monī and took her away. Mānī had a temperament full of humility and austerity; thus she didn't forsake the company of the faqir.' He has described her circumstances at great length.

He kept a dog and a tomcat; he wrote a masnavi about that.

A trip in the rainy season: In the rainy season, he traveled with a nobleman to Meerut. In this masnavi he has written in detail about the difficulties of the rain and the hardships of the road. From this we can also judge what a great hardship our fellow-countrymen have always felt travel to be.

A masnavi about his goat: #201# He kept a female goat. She had four teats. When she had a kid, the milk descended into only one of them--and so little that the kid could not be satisfied. Giving the kid milk from the bazaar, he raised it. Even then, he complains about the kid's stubbornness and lack of discipline.

He composed a masnavi about the late Āṣif ud-Daulah's marriage celebrations.

An address on the part of Falsehood: He wrote a short masnavi, an address on the part of Falsehood; and its meter is different from the usual meters of masnavis.

The masnavi 'Ajgar nāmah': The masnavi Azhdar nāmah, or Ajgar nāmah; it will be described below.

A masnavi complaining about the rainy season: He wrote a brief masnavi complaining about the rainy season. He gave a remarkable description of the house collapsing and its inhabitants coming out into the falling rain. If you think about it, this was a good chance for the poet to use the passion of his temperament. But his temperament had collapsed even before the house did; it did not well up even on this occasion. If it had been Saudā, he would have raised a typhoon.

Poetry, which had been a noble art, was debased when it went among the ignoble: In the masnavi Tanbīh ul-juḥḥāl, he describes at great length the honor and dignity of the art of poetry, and says that formerly the nobles used to adopt this noble art. Now the rascally and ignoble too have become poets. In it he has made a particular victim of a cloth-seller's son. In addition, there are a number of brief masnavis that are not especially worthy of mention.

His anthology of Urdu poets: Nikāt ush-shuʿarā is extremely helpful for those with a taste for verse. Many things in it about the Urdu poets are worthy of note for the people of this age. But there too his own style remains. In the introduction he says, 'This is the first anthology of Urdu.a In it I will write about one thousand poets; but I will not include those whose poetry confuses the mind'. Among those thousand, not even one poor wretch was spared from taunts and accusations. About Valī, who is to poets as Adam is to the human species, he writes, 'Valī is a poet more famous than Satan'. Mīr Ḳhān #202# Kamtarīnb, who at that time was an elderly poet of Delhi, became very angry at these words. He composed a poem in the beginning of which he said a lot of things. In his conclusion he says, '/The one who speaks against Valī, they call him a Satan!/'. This was a brief account of Mīr Sahib's compositions.

The general opinion about Mir Sahib's poetry: Mīr Sahib's language is limpid, his poetry clear; his expression is as pure as if he were speaking. He gives the thoughts of the heart, which accord with everyone's natures, the color of idiom, and expresses them with ease and simplicity. And God has given such emotional effect to his tongue that those very phrases turn into a theme. For this reason he remains closer to reality than other poets. Or rather, in a number of places it seems as if he is making a picture of nature [nechar]. This is the reason that he creates a greater effect on the heart as well. It's as if he's the Saʿdī of Urdu.

His thoughts of longing and despair: The colorfulness of our 'lover'-minded poets, the high flights of their thoughts, the tumult of their exaggerations--everyone knows about these. But take it as the decree of fortune that even among these [poets] Mīr Sahib was never destined to know liveliness, or the springtime of luxury and joy, or the pleasure of a successful union. The calamity and sorrow of the fortune that he had brought with him [into this world] was a tale of woe that he kept on narrating all his life. This is why to this day #203# he produces an effect on many hearts, and pain in many breasts. Because for other poets, such themes were imaginary; for him, they were true to his state. Even romantic thoughts he dressed in the garb of failure, lamentation, longing, despair, separation. His poetry clearly says, 'The heart from which I've emerged was not a mere effigy of grief and pain, but a funeral procession of longing and sorrow'. The same thoughts were always fixed in his heart. What passed through his heart was just what he uttered with his lips--and it pierced through the hearers' hearts like a lancet.

His ghazals in short meters: In every meter, his ghazals are sometimes sherbet, and sometimes 'milk and sugar'. But in the short meters, he makes the pure Water of Life flow. Every utterance that comes from his lips comes drowned in emotional effect. But I've learned this too from my elders: that the ghazals he composed for mushairahs or requests were not like those in his own chosen patterns.

Persian constructions: Mīr Sahib often took Persian constructions, or their translations, and mixed them into the foundation of Urdu, and created Rekhtah. See pages #43-44#. And he left a number of them unchanged. Many of these have been registered in the court of popular favor, and some have not been accepted. His contemporaries used them sometimes, but very rarely. [Many illustrative #204# #205# verses, followed by some discussion of noun gender and of further Persian borrowings.]

A conversation about Qiblah and Kabah:

/A cloud from the Kabah arose, and broke over the winehouse--

There is a crowd of wine-drinkers around the wineglass and the flask/

Someone said, 'Hazrat, the real idiom is a Persian one. Native speakers of the language say "a cloud from the Qiblah", not "a cloud from the Kabah"'. Mīr Sahib said, 'Yes, the word "Qiblah" can also be used, but "Kabah" just makes the construction of the line heat up'. And he spoke rightly. Only someone who has a taste for language understands this fine point.

The change in usage of 'ḳhiyāl': masculine and feminine: The way Mīr Sahib used the word ḳhiyāl [=thought] will be made clear [from the examples] below. A number of words that are now feminine, Mīr Sahib has treated as masculine: [three illustrative verses]. In some places he also treats a masculine [noun] as feminine: [two illustrative verses].

Look at a picture of Mir Sahib: Mīr Sahib was of medium height, slightly built, with a wheaten complexion. He did everything with dignity and at a slow pace. He spoke very little, and that too he did slowly, with gentleness and softness in his voice. Old age had reinforced all these qualities even further, for after all a hundred years of life have an effect. Mirzā Qatīl, coming from a mushairah, writes a letter to a friend. In it he writes about the gathering as well:c 'In spite of his having recited a great deal, Mīr Sahib's throat remains the same; his whole auspicious body was palsied, even his voice was not heard by anyone, but I swear by God that his ghazals were extremely good'. His habits and manners were extremely grave #206# and sober, and his good character and piety won him esteem.

His intemperateness: Along with this, his contentment in poverty and his sense of honor had grown beyond all bounds. The result of this was that not to speak of obedience, he couldn't bear to even hear the name of serving someone. But the world, against whose rule no one can lift up his head, has a law absolutely contrary to this. As a result, he went hungry. He suffered hardship. And in the shelter of his arrogance, disaffected with the world and the people of the world, he shut himself up in his home. He himself was aware of the way people talked about his faults. Thus he says in the concluding verse of a shahr ashob in the form of a quintain,

/Things are such that I have no freedom from griefs

My heart burns with inner fire like a lamp

My whole breast is lacerated, my whole liver is a scar,

In gatherings, I am known as Mīr the arrogant

So much has my impatience become well known/.

His proud disposition and independent temperament: In spite of this, he considered his capital of eloquence to be an undying wealth, and paid no heed to anyone, rich or poor--in fact he imagined poverty to be a blessing of religion. And in this state, he applied his heart to mystical knowledge of God. Thus his firmness of character in this path is beyond the praise that any tongue can offer. With his aloofness and indifference, he endured the hardships of this mortal world; and with his dignity and hauteur he departed this world. And the neck that God had made unbending, he took back to God unbent. Greed for transitory pleasure, or the pain of poverty, absolutely never caused him to bow before the unworthy people of the world. His poetry proclaims that the bud of the heart and the knot of the eyebrow never opened.

His self-regard: Despite all this, he was a lofty-visioned king of his own world of imagination; and however intense the harshness of the world became, his lofty-visioned self-regard became that much higher. All the anthologiesd lament that if this pride and arrogance had been directed only toward the powerful, it would be no fault. The unfortunate thing is that others' accomplishments too were invisible to him. And it is an extremely unattractive stain on the garment #207# of someone who has put on, along with accomplishment, the robe of honor of virtue and good deeds. The written reports and oral accounts of the elders prove that if the ghazals even of Ḳhvājah Ḥāfiz̤ Shīrāzī and Shaiḳh Saʿdī were read--not to speak of anyone else's!--he considered it a sin to nod his head in approval. Those individuals who in that age held the treasury of appreciation, had lofty thoughts and great enthusiasm. Thus these acts of arrogance seem like ornaments on the fineness of his accomplishment. He was fortunate that he didn't see the modern age.

Mīr Qamar ud-Dīn Minnat's pupilship: A poet called Mīr Qamar ud-Dīn 'Minnat'e was living in Delhi, and for his knowledge of the traditional sciences was among the nobles of the royal court. In Mīr Sahib's time, he was a beginner. He had a great taste for poetry. He brought an Urdu ghazal for correction. Mīr Sahib asked where he came from. He said Sonīpat, in the Pānīpat district. Mīr Sahib said, 'Sayyid Sahib, Urdū-e Muʿallā is the language of Delhi alone. Please don't bother yourself about it. Please just keep composing in your Persian-Wersian.'

Saʿādat Yār Ḳhān Rangīn's pupilship: Saʿādat Yār Ḳhān Rangīn was the son of T̤ahmāsp Beg Ḳhān, keeper of a royal fort. He was fourteen or fifteen years old. He went with great pomp and splendor, and presented a ghazal for correction. When he heard it, Mīr Sahib said, 'Young sir! You are a noble yourself, and the son of a noble. Please take up spear-throwing and archery. Please practice horsemanship. Poetry is the act of lacerating the heart and burning the liver. Please don't presume to come near it.' When he insisted a great deal, Mīr Sahib said, 'Your temperament is not suited to this art. It's not something that you will learn. What's the point of wasting your and my time to no purpose?' The same thing happened to Shaiḳh Nāsiḳh.f

An account of 'Ajgarnāmah': In Delhi, Mīr Sahib composed a masnavi. He depicted himself as a mighty serpent, and among the contemporary poets described someone as a rat, someone a snake, someone a scorpion, someone a millipede, and so on. Along with this, he composed a tale: that in the foothills of a mountain a bloodthirsty serpent #208# lived. The creeping things of the jungle gathered together and went to do battle with him. When they confronted him, the serpent sucked them up into his mouth and destroyed them all. He called this poem Ajgarnāmah, and brought it to a mushairah and recited it. Muḥammad Amān 'Niṡār'g was a well-practiced pupil of Shāh Ḥātim's, and had a temperament for metrical composition. He sat down right there in a corner, and wrote a verse-set of a few verses, and at once recited in before the whole mushairah. Now this Ajgarnāmah of Mīr Sahib's hadn't pleased anybody. Thus the verse-set was met with great bursts of laughter, and loud cries of 'Bravo, bravo!' And what was to happen to Mīr Sahib, happened. The concluding verse of that verse-set is,

/The Lion of God [Hazrat ʿAlī]1 has bestowed such strength, Niṡār

I'll instantly tear the serpent's jaws apart/.

Two and three-quarters poets: In Lucknow someone asked, 'Tell me, Hazrat, nowadays who are the poets?' He said, 'One is Saudā. A second is your humble servant.' And after some consideration he said, 'A half one is Ḳhvājah Mīr Dard'. Someone said, 'Hazrat! And Mīr Soz Sahib?' Frowning, he said, 'Is Mīr Soz Sahib a poet?' He said, 'After all, he's the ustad of Navab Āṣif ud-Daulah'. Mīr Sahib replied, 'Well, taking this into account, there are exactly two and three-quarters. But among people of good family I've never heard such a pen-name.' In front of Mīr Sahib, who would have the nerve to say, 'The poor man had used the pen-name of Mīr--and you snatched it from him. Having no choice, he adopted a pen-name that wouldn't please you, so you wouldn't snatch it from him.' See page #189#.

His arrogance toward lovers of his poetry: #209# Some nobles and important people of Lucknow came in a group one day to meet Mīr Sahib and hear his verses. They came to the door and called out. A girl or woman servant came out. Asking their errand, she went inside. She brought out a jute sack and spread it by the doorway, and seated them. And she freshened up an oldish huqqah and set it before them. Mīr Sahib emerged from inside. After greetings and small talk, and so on, they requested him to recite. At first Mīr Sahib put them off for a time. Then he gave a clear answer: 'Noble gentlemen, my verses are not such as you will understand'. Although this displeased them, with an eye to courtesy and good manners they acknowledged the deficiencies of their understanding. They renewed their request. He again refused. Finally, feeling a bit piqued, they said, 'Hazrat! We understand the poetry of Anvarī and Ḳhāqānī. Why will we not understand your noble utterance?' Mīr Sahib said, 'That's true. But for their poetry commentaries, vocabularies, and dictionaries are available. And for my poetry, there is only the idiom of the people of Urdu, or the stairs of the Jāmaʿ Masjid. And these are beyond your reach.' Having said this, he recited one verse:

/Love came to have evil intentions [ḳhiyāl] toward me: peace went, rest went

It was settled that my heart would go--whether it goes this morning, or tonight/.

And he said, 'You will say, according to your books, that I should make the ye in ḳhiyāl [metrically] manifest. Then you will say that the ye would ruin the scansion. But here, there is no answer except that this is the idiom'.

A chance fruit of his arrogance: When Navab Āṣif ud-Daulah died, and the era of Saʿādat ʿAlī Khān began, he had already left off going to court. No one at court sent for him. One day the Navab was traveling with his entourage. Mīr Sahib was seated by the roadside in Taḥsīn's Mosque. The entourage passed by. Everyone rose. Mīr Sahib remained seated as before. Sayyid Inshā was in immediate attendance. The Navab asked, 'Inshā, who is this person, whose gravity didn't even permit him to rise?' He petitioned, 'Your Excellency, he's the same proud beggar whom you have often heard mentioned. This is the state of his subsistence--and this is the nature of his temperament! Today too, he must have had nothing to eat all day'. Saʿādat ʿAlī Ḳhān, when he returned to the palace, caused to be sent to him a robe of honor signifying appointment and a thousand rupees, by way of invitation. When the herald arrived with them, Mīr Sahib sent them back and said, 'Please send them to the mosque, #210# this sinner is not so much in need'. When Saʿādat ʿAlī Ḳhān heard this answer, he was astonished. His companions persuaded him to try again. In short, at the Navab's command Sayyid Inshā took the robe of honor and tried in his own way to persuade him: 'Please have mercy--not on yourself, but on your family. And it's a gift from the ruling king. Please accept it.' Mīr Sahib said, 'Sahib! He's the king of his land; I'm the king of my land! If some stranger had behaved in this way, I would have no complaint. He knows me, he knows my situation. And then after so many days he sends a robe of honor at the hands of a ten-rupee servant! I'm ready to accept poverty and hunger, but this disgrace is unendurable!' But whose words could prevail over Sayyid Inshā's gift of the gab? Mīr Sahib accepted the robe of honor, and also began sometimes to go to court.

The extent to which the Navab honored him: The late Navab Saʿādat ʿAlī Ḳhān treated him with such honor that he allowed him to sit down in his own presence, and graciously permitted him to share his own huqqah.

His preoccupation with creative effort and his state of absorption: Seeing that Mīr Sahib was in great distress, a navab of Lucknow took him and his family to his own home, and gave him a suitable residence near his mansion to live in, with a sitting room that had windows overlooking a garden. The idea was that he should be in a lively and cheerful frame of mind in every way. The day he went there to live, the shutters were closed. Some years passed, and they stayed closed; he never opened them to look at the garden. One day a friend came and said, 'There's a garden out here, why don't you sit with the shutters open?' Mīr Sahib replied, 'Oh, is there a garden here?' His friend said, 'That's why the Navab brought you here, to divert and cheer you'. Mīr Sahib's old crumpled drafts of his ghazals were lying nearby. Gesturing toward them, he said, 'I'm so absorbed in attending to this garden, I'm not even aware of that one'. With these words, he fell silent.

What a state of absorption! For a number of years to pass, a garden to be adjacent, and not to open even a window! Well, the fruit of this was that he did not look toward the garden of the world. But God #211# gave his poetry such a flourishing springtime, that years have passed--and to this day people turn its pages, and enjoy it more than a garden.

Shaiḳh Ibrāhīm Żauq's story: My late Ustad used to say that he had heard from the lips of a very elderly person that one day he went to Mīr Sahib's house. Winter was just departing, and spring was coming in. The visitor saw that Mīr Sahib was pacing up and down, and his face showed his melancholy. And from time to time he recited this line: /This spring too, the days just somehow slipped away/. The visitor greeted him respectfully, and sat down. After a little while he rose, made a respectful farewell, and came away. Mīr Sahib wasn't even aware of his visit. God knows whether he was concentrating on fashioning the second line, or absorbed in the mood of this line.

His contentment in poverty and his loftiness of vision: When the Governor General or any other high-ranking Sahib went to Lucknow, then either their own appreciation, or their chief clerks' high sense of culture, made the chief clerks consider it necessary to have a person of accomplishment present. They invited Mīr Sahib to come and meet the Sahib. But he used to avoid them, and would say, 'Anyone who meets me, meets me either with regard to this faqir's lineage [as a Sayyid], or because of my poetry. My lineage is of no interest to the Sahib, and as for my poetry, he does not understand it. No doubt he will give me some reward. Such a meeting can hardly result in anything but humiliation.'

His humor: In the bazaar in the neighborhood was a pharmacist's shop. He would go sometimes and sit there. The pharmacist's young son used to primp and preen himself a great deal. Mīr Sahib disliked this. Thus he says,

/The pharmacist's boy had lots of airs and graces

I don't remember any of the drugs in that prescription/.

At another time he must have been feeling exuberant, for he says,

/Mīr, how simple you are--the boy because of whom you're sick,

You take medicine from that very pharmacist's boy/.

A coincidence with Baqā's verse: During the same period, Baqāʾullāh Ḳhān Baqāh composed two verses:

#212# /These eyes have a habit of perpetual weeping,

This Doab is famous in the world/

/Because of the flood flowing from the eyes, they dwell in a ruin--

The fragments of my heart live in a Doab/.

Mīr Sahib either heard these and composed this verse, or else wrote it by a coincidence, God knows which:

/Those days are gone when the eyes flowed like rivers

This Doab has been lying there dried out for a long time/.

At this Baqā grew irritated, and composed this verse-set:

/If Mīr took your theme of the Doab,

Oh Baqā, you too say a prayer for him, if you wish to:

'Oh God, make Mīr's eyes into Doabs

And make his nose [bīnī] such that there may be a Trivenī [tīrbenī]'/.2

But along these lines Mīr Sahib brought out one more theme, which is in a class by itself:

/In the path of love, I was already of two minds [dodilā]

It's just my luck that this twisted crossroads [dorāhā] came before me/.

Baqā has also said other things as well with regard to Mīr Sahib. Among them is a verse-set,

/Mīr Sahib, what could be better than this,

If this spreads your reputation as a poet:

To take your volume and go around hawking

In every street and lane, your services as a poet/

/The showy repentance of a 'pious man'--God forbid!

If he keeps a forty-days' fast [chillā], he is Shaiḳh Chillī

Please straighten your turban, Mīr, and take care

This isn't just any other town--this is Delhi!/

One more coincidence: Some ustad has composed this Persian verse:

/Around my grave there was a flock of nightingales

Perhaps the lamp on my grave had been filled with rose-oil/.

In Mīr Sahib's verse too is a theme of the same kind, but it has been used very well:

/Love puts, instead of oil

The nightingale's blood into the lamp of the rose/.

Shaiḳh Saʿdī has a [Persian] verse,

/My friends protested, and asked why I gave my heart to you

You should first be asked: Why are you so beautiful?/

Mīr Sahib:

/When the lovely ones accuse us of the sin of loving them

Someone should ask them too: Why are you so lovable?/

Nāṣir ʿAlī [in Persian]:

/I'll catch hold of Alexander's skirt on Judgment Day--

He has made my coquettish child of Lailā the envy of Majnūn/3

#213# Mīr Sahib:

/Looking in the mirror, the beloved has become absorbed in her coquetry--

Let the mirror-maker's house be destroyed!/

Bedil [in Persian]:

/Life has fallen around my neck like a collar, Bedil, there's no help for it--

If you're happy, you must live; if you're unhappy, you must live/

Mīr Sahib:

/I can neither sit in a corner, nor wander freely--

What can I say, oh Mīr Sahib--servitude--helplessness/

Muḥammad Amān Niṡāri always used to compose verses on the verses of Mīr Sahib. One of Niṡār's verses is,

/I had realized even before then that he would go home--

When the bell sounded, I felt a cold chill/.

Mīr Sahib:

/The day you had adorned yourself with a turban reaching down even to your eyebrows--

When I saw you on that day, I felt a cold chill4/j

In a number of verses, Mīr and Mirzā [Saudā]'s themes appear to be similar to each other. Who can say to poets of this rank that they have committed plagiarism? And in addition, it was the same time, and the same city--a commotion would at once have broken out. See pages #165, 166, 230, 231#. Both those elders used to make digs at each other in their poetry. Thus Mirzā says,

/Oh Saudā, don't by any means recite this ghazal in front of Mīr,

What does he know of these styles? How can he understand this mode?/

/Saudā, write ghazal after ghazal on this ghazal,

You have to face an ustad like Mīr!/

Mīr says,

/It is difficult to face me, Mīr, in this art of verse,

Somehow Saudā does face me occasionally--but he's ignorant, what does he know?/

Mirzā Rafīʿ Saudā, Ḳhvājah Mīr Dard, Mirzā Jān-e Jānāñ Maz̤har, Qāʾim, Yaqīn, and so on were his contemporaries, and Muṣḥafī, Jurʾat, and Mīr Inshāʾallāh Ḳhān came along in his latter years.

I met Mīr Sahib's son in Lucknow. He was not the equal of his father. But in ill fortune he was his true heir. He was an elderly gentleman, detached and aloof from the world by temperament. His name was Mīr ʿAskarī, but he was known as Mīr Kallū; his pen-name was ʿArsh. He himself was a poet, and had compiled a volume. And he had some pupils as well. One verse from a ghazal of his, composed for a mushairah, is on the lips of high and low in Lucknow:

/The millstone says every morning in a loud voice,

The Food-giver fills the mouth of stone with food/.

Mīr Sahib's ghazals: #214# [Fourteen ghazals #215# #216# #217# #218# #219# by Mīr, with footnotes referring to similar verses by Soz and Ātish. Four stanzas drawn from three-liners and four-liners, #220# some based on adding lines to Persian verses; one such stanza by Inshā.]


#220# The night has ended, but the gathering is still in session, and the atmosphere is such that every heart cries out, '/Oh God, let the sun not rise until Doomsday!/' The poets of this mushairah are beyond all count. God knows how many there are, and how many stars are in the sky! The listeners are so full of enthusiasm that candle after candle melts into water, but the flame of their passion does not dim. This voice comes forth [in a verse of Dard's]:

/Oh Sāqī, the bustle of departure has begun,

As long as you can, keep the wine-flask circulating!/

Āzād, are you forgetting--who can understand the way hearts beat? Don't you know that suddenly people grow impatient, then they become so restless that they slip out of your hands? Enough--leave the rest of the story for tomorrow night. Just look--the color of the dawn has come, postpone your long speech.

/Dear ones, whether you are intoxicated with speech or asleep,

Arise, arise, it's over--the sun has come down on our heads/.

a This is simply Mīr Sahib's claim. For even before him, anthologies had already been compiled.

b His pen-name was Kamtarīn, his name Mīr Ḳhān. About his pen-name the point is that he belonged to the Afghan community, and the name of his tribe was 'Tarīn'; thus he made his pen-name 'Kamtarīn'. He was very elderly; he was among those who had seen Shāh Ābrū and Nājī. But he used to be present among the poets of the fourth period. He was a veteran soldier, and was not very well educated. In the style of the first period, he composed verses based on punning. He was also very good-natured, and also irascible. And whatever occurred to him at the moment, he never missed an opportunity to say plainly. No one was spared from his tongue, but then the times were such that scholars, people of good family, everybody listened, and laughed, and put up with him. His appearance too was unique in all the world. He wore a big dome-shaped turban on his head. He folded a long dupaṭṭah and tied it around his waist. He kept a spear in his hand. His verses, which were the the salty pan-bottom scrapings of the nonsense [zaṭal] of the late Mīr Jaʿfar Zaṭal, he himself wrote on slips of paper and carried tucked in his belt. In those days, every Friday a market was set up in Saʿdullāh Ḳhān's Chauk, and people used to stroll through it. He would go and stand there. Boys and fanciers of humor would give him a satisfactory price, and happily bear off every slip of paper.

c See Ruqqaʿāt-e qatīl, letter number 93.

d See the anthology of the late Ḥakīm Qudratullāh Ḳhān Qāsim.

e Mīr Niz̤ām ud-Dīn 'Mamnūn', his son, was a well-known poet of great accomplishment.

f See page #331#.

g He was the son of Saʿādatullāh the architect, and was descended from Miyāñ Ustā the architect, who had built the Jāmaʿ Masjid of Delhi. Niṡār's elders, and he himself, were people of accomplishment in architecture. Niṡār also composed good verse. Thus on the ground of poetry he has left a substantial volume of Rekhtah as his monument. When Delhi was flourishing, through his accomplishment he used to repair the houses of the nobles of the city. He earned an honorable living. When Delhi was destroyed, he too came away to Lucknow. There too he gained honor through his ancestral art, and spent all his life in the company of nobles and the wealthy. He was among the well-known pupils of Shāh Ḥātim. Miyāñ Rangīn too has mentioned him in the Majālis-e rangīn. He put together a volume, but now his volume is rare. Mīr Sahib and he used to exchange friendly banter.

1 Tradition has it that as a child Hazrat ʿAlī killed a snake by tearing it apart.

h See the account of Baqā on page #146#.

2 The Trivenī, or 'triple braid', is the famous confluence in Allahabad of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the invisible heavenly river Sarasvati.

3 Alexander is said to have invented the mirror: gazing into the mirror has made my beloved, the 'child of Lailā', so intoxicated with her own beauty that she is even madder than Majnūn.

i See page #208#.

4 Literally, 'my forehead throbbed', thus playing on the first line.

j That is to say, from the day you came out coquettishly wearing a turban that came all the way down to your eyebrows--that day I realized that now hearts will have a bad time.