The Fifth Era of Āb-e ḥayāt:

Part Five



In the first edition of this work, an account of Momin Ḳhān Sahib did not appear. The reason was that the fifth era, to which #405# he belongs, or even the third or fourth eras too--let people of vision look at this era, and see the masters of perfection seated therein, what attire and appurtenances they have. A person looks suitable in a gathering when he has the same appurtenances, splendor, style, and attire as the people of the gathering. And if he did not, he would seem out of place. I don't deny the accomplishment of the Ḳhān Sahib. Increasing the number of the accomplished people of my native place, and displaying their accomplishments, I would undoubtedly have brightened the color of the face of pride. But in the days when I was compiling the book, I wrote, and caused to be written, letters to a number of people from my native place. From there I received flat refusals. I have the letters with me. Having no choice, I omitted any account of him. The people of the world, as much as they had it in them, said whatever they wished. Āzād accepted all their kindnesses, spreading wide the skirt of gratitude. Żauq:

/Give insults, or a kiss, it's up to you

Faqirs have nothing to do with quarrels or conflicts/.

Indeed, I regret that some persons who responded kindly to my situation, and wrote letters seeking and inquiring for the aforementioned information, and found their efforts vain--they too wrote reviews [rivyū] of this book. But rather than writing the true situation, they twisted it and wrote something else. From that time, I began to write to those people in and around Delhi whose hearts bloom with love for Momin Ḳhān. Now, some months before the second edition, I gave even more speed to my humble letter of insistence and pleading. Among them, I am grateful for the kindness and generosity of one gentleman who, with the agreement of friends and after mutual consultation, collected bits and pieces about him and produced some pages, and graciously bestowed them along with a letter when the book was near completion. And he even gave me permission to edit them. I have only taken out some sentences that served only to prolong the text. And I shortened many passages and many incidents, or omitted them, which had no relation to the spirit of his poetry. The rest of the original I wrote down just as it was. I myself made absolutely no intrusion or alteration in it. Indeed, if I had anything to say, I said it in footnotes, or in parentheses. Those friends who had complaints before--I hope that they will now graciously forgive me for the oversight.


His father was Ḥakīm Ġhulām Nabī Ḳhān, son of Ḥakīm Nāmdār Ḳhān. #406# They were among the elite of the city (with roots in Kashmir). First Ḥakīm Nāmdār Ḳhān and Ḥakīm Kāmdār Ḳhān, two brothers, arrived during the last period of the Mughal empire and were appointed among the royal physicians. In the time of Shāh ʿĀlam, they were given an estate in the area of Balāhah, and so on, in the parganah of Nārnaul. When the English government bestowed on Navab Faiẓ T̤alab Ḳhān the estate of Jhajjar, the parganah of Nārnaul too was included in it. The Navab, confiscating their estate, allotted a pension of a thousand rupees a year in the name of Ḥakīm Nāmdār Ḳhān's descendants. Ḥakīm Ġhulām Nabī Ḳhān Sahib took his share of the pension. And in this Ḥakīm Momin Ḳhān Sahib obtained his share. In addition to this, in the name of four physicians of his family a pension of one hundred rupees a month used to come from the English government. Of this, one-fourth belonged to his father; and after his death, his portion came to his son [Momin].

He was born in A.H. 1215 [1800-01]. When his ancestors came to Delhi, they lived in the Kūchah Chīlāñ; the family remained settled there. The school of Shāh ʿAbd ul-ʿAzīz Sahib was very near there. Momin Ḳhān's father had great reverence for the Shāh Sahib. When he was born, His Excellency the Shāh Sahib himself came and recited the call to prayer in his ear, and named him Momin Ḳhān. His family didn't like the name, and wanted to name him Ḥabībullāh. But he became known only by the Shāh Sahib's name.

After the usual childhood education, when he grew a bit older, his father enrolled him in the service of Shāh ʿAbd ul-Qādir Sahib. With him he read introductory Arabic books. His memory was such that whatever he heard from the Shāh Sahib was graven in his mind. Often after hearing Shāh ʿAbd ul-ʿAzīz Sahib's sermon once, he repeated it back word for word. When he acquired some proficiency in Arabic, he studied books on medicine with his father and his uncles, Ġhulām Ḥaidar Ḳhān and Ġhulām Ḥasan Ḳhān, and wrote out prescriptions at their clinic.

#407# A characteristic of a quick temperament is that the heart doesn't settle on one single skill. It did not allow him to stop with the science of his elders, that is, medicine. He nourished in his heart a number of different interests. In addition to poetry, he was inclined toward astrology. He acquired this from people of accomplishment, and achieved mastery in it. He had a natural affinity for astrology. He attained such expertise that when they heard his pronouncements, great astrologers were astonished. In the course of a year he looked one time at the almanac. Then all the positions of the stars and the state of their movements for every day of the year remained in his mind. When someone placed a question before him, he neither drew a horoscope nor looked at the almanac. He said to the inquirer, 'Be silent. Whatever I ask you, just answer me.' Then he asked various things, and the interrogator usually accepted his word.

One day a poor Hindu came, extremely upset and anxious. At the time an old friend of his for twenty years, Shaiḳh ʿAbd ul-Karīm, was present. The Ḳhān Sahib looked at the man and said, 'You've lost some property?' The man said, 'Sir, I've lost everything'. He said, 'Be silent. Whatever I say, listen to it. Whatever is incorrect, deny it.' Then he asked, 'Was it in the form of jewelry?' 'Sir, yes, bought with my lifetime's earnings'. He said, 'You took it, or your wife. No outsider came to steal it.' The man said, 'It was my property, and the jewelry was for my wife to wear. Why would we steal it?' Laughing, he said, 'You must have put it somewhere and forgotten about it. The property has not gone anywhere outside.' The man said, 'Sir, I searched the whole house--there's no place left'. He said, 'Look again'. The man went, and looked around thoroughly in the whole house. Then he came and said, 'Sir, I have a small house. I looked in every corner. There is no trace of it anywhere.' The Ḳhān Sahib said, 'It's in that very house. You are speaking in error.' The man said, 'You please come and search; I have already looked'. He said, 'I will tell you from here'. Having said this, he began to describe the plan of his whole house. The man affirmed everything. Then he said, 'In that house, on the south side there is a small room. And in it, on the north side, there is a wooden loft. The property is on it. Go and get it.' The man said, 'I searched through the loft three times. It wasn't there.' #408# He said, 'It's lying in a corner of it'. In short, the man went, and when he looked with a light, he found the box and everything in it just as it had been before.

(A letter from one gentleman arrived just at the time of this writing, in which this and other mysteries of astrology were twinkling like stars. And details of his pupils too have been given. Āzād is unable to record them. He begs to be excused. The time is of that sort. People will say, 'He sat down to write an anthology of poets, and he began to write an anthology of astrologers'.)

The Ḳhān Sahib mentioned his knowledge of astrology with great excellence in one verse of a ghazal:

/Despite such [poor] fortune, to be an astrologer--

How inventive the heavens are in cruelty!/

Chess: He also had a wonderful affinity for chess. When he sat down to play, he had no further awareness of the world and everything in it. And he used to forget the most urgent household tasks. He was a close relation of the famous Delhi chess player Karāmat ʿAlī Ḳhān. And only one or two famous chess players in the city were better than he was.

Poetry: He had a natural affinity for poetry, and his lover-like temperament increased it even further. In the beginning, he showed his poetry to the late Shāh Naṣīr. But after some days, he ceased to obtain correction from him, and then did not make anyone his ustad.

His well-known pupils were: Navab Muṣt̤afā Ḳhān 'Sheftah', author of the anthology Gulshan-e beḳhār and son of Navab Aʿz̤am ud-Daulah Sarfarāz ul-Mulk Murtaẓā Ḳhān Muz̤affar Jang Bahādur; the Navab of Palval; and his younger brother Navab Akbar Ḳhān, who took leave of this world four years ago in Rawalpindi; Mīr Ḥusain 'Taskīn', who had an extremely fine poetic temperament; Sayyid Ġhulām ʿAlī Ḳhān 'Vaḥshat'; Ġhulām Ẓāmin 'Karam'; Navab Aṣġhar ʿAlī Ḳhān, who first used the pen-name Aṣġhar, then adopted the pen-name Nasīm; and Prince Mirzā Ḳhudābaḳhsh 'Qaisar'; and so on.

His manner and attire: He had an artistic and romantic temperament; he was always in handsome style and well-dressed. He was tall, of darkish complexion, with a head full of long #409# curly locks that he constantly kept combing with his fingers. A fine muslin vest, very loose-cuffed pajamas, with a red waistband.

His style of reciting: I heard him reciting ghazals in Navab Aṣġhar ʿAlī Ḳhān [Nasīm]'s and Mirzā Ḳhudabaḳhsh Qaisar's mushairahs. He recited with such a moving voice, and such a heart-penetrating tarannum, that he galvanized the mushairah. My God, my God, even now that scene is before my eyes! All these things became stories. Despite this, his heart was not devoid of pure thoughts. Even in his first youth, he became a follower of Maulānā Sayyid Aḥmad Sahib [Rae] Barelvī, who was the pir of Maulvī Ismāʿīl Sahib. The Ḳhān Sahib was an adherent of that same [Wahhabi] creed.

He composed nothing in praise of worldly people: He didn't compose an ode in praise of anyone. However, Raja Ajīt Singh--the brother of Raja Karam Singh, Raja of Patiala--who lived in Delhi and whose generosities were famous in the city, was seated one day with some companions on his balcony, facing the road. The Ḳhān Sahib happened to pass that way. People said, 'This is Momin Ḳhān, the poet'. The Raja Sahib sent a man to invite him up. He seated him with honor and respect. (They spoke a bit about astrology, and a bit about poetry.) And he ordered them to make ready a female elephant and bring her. The female elephant was brought. He bestowed her on the Ḳhān Sahib. He said, 'Maharaj, I am a poor man. How will I feed her? And how will I keep her?' He said, 'Give him one hundred rupees more'. The Ḳhān Sahib, mounted on her, went to his home. And before she could eat up the money, he sold her and finished off the matter. (See page #495# for what Auj composed on that occasion.) Then the Ḳhān Sahib composed an ode of praise in gratitude, and presented it to the Raja Sahib. Its opening verse was,

/If it's morning, then so what--still the same black-starredness

Excess of smoke has darkened the flame of the eastern candle/.

Except for this ode, he never wrote any praise in the hope of recompense and reward from any worldly person. He was so proud that he didn't accept even the smallest favor from any relative or friend.

The Raja of Kapūrthalah offered him three hundred fifty rupees a month, and invited him, and sent a thousand rupees for travel expenses. He prepared for the trip. But he learned that a singer too received the same salary there. He said, #410# 'Where I and a singer receive the same salary, there I do not go'.

In the same way as he did not earn money by means of poetry, likewise he did not make astrology, geomancy [ramal], and medicine into means of livelihood. Just as chess was a pastime of his, he considered astrology, geomancy, and poetry to be delights for his heart.

The Ḳhān Sahib went out of Delhi four or five times. First he went to Rampur, and when he arrived there he said,

/The madness of passion has brought me from Delhi to Rampur

I came away and left the wilderness--and I'm in a greater wilderness/.

The second time he went to Sahswan. There he said,

/Leaving Delhi, I came to Sahswan

I'm obsessed with idle gadding about/.

Third, he went on a number of occasions with Navab Muṣt̤afā Ḳhān [Sheftah] to Jahangirabad. Fourth, on one occasion he went with Navab Shāʾistah Ḳhān to Saharanpur. This establishes that it is true that he was contented with what he had in Delhi. Look at the confirmation of this, in the section on the late Ġhālib, page #488#.

His quickness of mind and sharpness of intelligence are beyond praise. He himself did not recognize the intelligence of any contemporary, except for two individuals. One was Maulvī Ismāʿīl Sahib, the other Ḳhvājah Muḥammad Naṣīr Sahib, who was his pir and the maternal grandson of Ḳhvājah Mīr Dard Sahib.

In this connection there is an extensive account by Navab Muṣt̤afā Ḳhān [Sheftah]. The gist of it is that to this day he had seen no one of such sharp intelligence, his mind flashed like lightning, and so on and so on. In addition to this, in his letters he has recorded some other matters. But even in them, he did not record the actual events on which they were based. For example, Maulā Baḳhsh 'Qalaq', the well-trained pupil of Maulvī Imām Baḳhsh Ṣahbāʾī, was reading the volume of Naz̤īrī. One day he came to the Ḳhān Sahib [Momin] and asked the meaning of a verse. He told him such a subtle meaning and such a rare interpretation that Qalaq began to have full faith and said, 'The meaning that Maulvī Imām Baḳhsh has told me cannot possibly bear comparison to this'. But he neither wrote down the verse, nor wrote down the meaning given by either gentleman. Such things Āzād has, with regret, omitted. His respected and kindly friends will please pardon him.

An anecdote: #411# His lofty-mindedness and elevated thought paid no heed to the eloquence or rhetoric of either earlier or later poets. This observation of his was famous: 'People exhaust themselves in praising the Gulistān of Saʿdī. But what's in it? He keeps saying guft guft guftah and guftah and [=he said, he said, they have said, they have said]. If these words are removed, then there's nothing left.' One day he said this at the home of the late Muftī Ṣadr ud-Dīn Ḳhān [Āzurdah]. Maulvī Aḥmad ud-Dīn Karsānvālah, the pupil of Maulvī Faẓl-e Ḥaq Sahib, was seated there. He said, 'In the holy Quran what eloquence is there--everywhere qāla qāla qālū qālū [=he said he said, they said they said]'.

Some pupil of his composed this verse in a ghazal:

/In the time of separation, why should I not wander around anxiously--

Scenes of the night of union fill my eyes/.

[Momin] Ḳhān Sahib changed the first line like this: /If she even looks in this direction, it is shyly/. People of taste know how much the verse has changed--how much better it has become.

Another person wrote a name-pun dedicated to Ilāhī Baḳhsh: /May God save me [ilāhī baḳhsh], the sinner/. The Ḳhān Sahib said, /I am a sinner, may God save me/.1

Chronograms: In chronogramsa adding and subtracting [numerical values] have always been considered to be faults. But his creative temperament has caused them to be ranked among the beauties of the chronograms. [A number of his #412# chronograms, with some technical discussion.]

His puzzles too are numerous. But one is peerless; no such thing has ever been heard before:

/How can things work out as I wish--

I reversed, speech reversed, the beloved reversed/.

That is to say, 'Mahtāb Rāy'.2 He composed riddles as well. One that is on the hour-gong is recorded here:

#413# /Until someone speaks to him, he won't speak

Nor do we understand either words or meaning

He's not a thief but he is hung

He keeps babbling about the time

Night and day he keeps on raising a commotion--

In this way he keeps on being beaten/.

After he fell from his balcony, he prophesied, 'After five days, or five months, or five years, I will die'. Thus, after five months, he died. He himself composed a chronogram for the date of his falling: [a chronogram]. A pupil composed the chronogram for his death: [a chronogram]. He was buried outside Delhi Gate, toward Meñdhiyoñ, on the western side, under the boundary wall. The family of Shāh ʿAbd ul-ʿAzīz Sahib is also buried here.

An incident: After his death, people saw him in extraordinary dreams. One dream is extremely true and astonishing. Navab Muṣt̤afā Ḳhān [Sheftah] saw in a dream two years after his death that a messenger brought a letter and gave it to him: 'It's a letter from the late Momin'. When he opened the envelope, at the end of it a seal was embossed, with 'Momin of Paradise' written on it. And the subject of the letter was, 'Nowadays my family are in great distress because of the house. Go and take care of them.' In the morning, the Navab Sahib sent two hundred rupees to them, and sent them word about the dream as well. His son Aḥmad Naṣīr Ḳhān, may God preserve him, says, 'In real truth, in those days we were having extreme trouble with the house. It was the rainy season, and the whole house was dripping.'

I am grateful to the kindness and generosity of my kind and honored friend, who has recorded these circumstances and sent them to me. But he offered no opinion on his poetry and despite repeated pleas he refused to do so. Thus the humble servant Āzād writes it according to his own imperfect mind.

A judgment about his poetry: In his ghazals his thoughts are extremely delicate, and his themes lofty. And the power of his metaphors and similes too lifts his ghazals to a high level. In them he has expressed romantic affairs with an extraordinary delightfulness. In this connection the verses that are limpid have a style like that of Jurʾat, and he himself was proud of this. In those verses #414# are fine Persian constructions and attractive structures that create complex forms in the simplicity of Urdu. His language has some special qualities; to point them out will not be devoid of pleasure. In a number of verses he compares one thing, with regard to some special characteristic, to the original thing. And this topsy-turviness creates an extraordinarily refined pleasure in the verse;b in fact, it creates hidden meanings. For example, [six verses]. Using many fine Persian constructions and rare structures and metaphors and iẓāfats in Urdu, he creates relish in his poetry. For example, [four verses with brief comments]. A number of Urdu people do not like this style. But to each his own. In the account of Nāsiḳh and Ātash I have already discussed this matter at great length; it is useless to repeat it.

Odes: #415# They are of a high level within their class, and the style of language is the same.

Masnavis: They are extremely moving, because they have come from a heart filled with pain. From the point of view of language, their style is the same as that of the ghazals.

[Eight ghazals #416# #417# #418# #419# by Momin.]

1 Naming himself explicitly as a sinner, he showed his humility.

a In these chronograms there is no doubt of the pleasure and subtlety. But according to the rules of the art, it is not permissible to have more subtraction or addition than nine. Inventions of this type enter into the realm of puzzles.

2 If ham [=I], bāt [=speech], and yār [=beloved] are each read backwards, their letters form the name Mahtāb Rāy.

b People make objections to some verses. To explain and record them is a small matter. For example, the word shimr he has written as shimar: [a verse]. Or he has used nauḥah zan, which is a new construction. See page #419#. His poetry abounds with such inventions.