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‘Those who think Mir’s poetry is simple are simpletons’

Updated October 21, 2013


Mir Taqi Mir painting. - Courtesy Photo
Mir Taqi Mir painting. - Courtesy Photo

Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1810) is ranked among the greatest poets of Urdu with Ghalib, Iqbal and Mir Anees. Mir is a poet who has not only lent credibility to Urdu poetry but the Urdu language itself. As Dr Jameel Jalibi puts it, Mir is the poet who made the Urdu language come out of the royal court and made it stand on the staircases of Delhi’s Jam’e Mosque. Delhi’s Jam’e Mosque is, of course, an allusion to the common people and the language as spoken on streets of Delhi in the 18th century.

Over 200 years have elapsed since he passed away but scholars and critics keep writing papers and books on Mir’s life and works. In 2010, his bicentennial was commemorated both in India and Pakistan and conferences and seminars were organised at several institutions. Some literary journals published special sections on Mir to pay tributes on his 200th death anniversary. Consequently, the question that arises is: what keeps a poet and his poetry alive long after he or she departs from this world, and, what are the aspects of Mir’s life and poetry that remain undiscovered and scholars need to deliberate over?

It is generally agreed, writes Prof Dr Tehseen Firaqi in the foreword to the book Mir Taqi Mir (a collection of articles on Mir, compiled by Prof Firaqi in collaboration with Dr Aziz Ibnul Hasan and published by Nashriyaat, Lahore), that empathy, profound linguistic sense and rich imagination are three vital components of great poetry. And Mir is considered among those poets whose poetry has all these above mentioned components and a universal appeal that also transcends barriers of time and place. Mir’s poetry, Prof Firaqi says, not only transcends all barriers but at the same time has the ability to capture the zeitgeist.

Now let us discuss the second part of the question: what do contemporary critics write about Mir since his art has been thoroughly discussed by several scholars? Firstly, every generation has a different perspective and things might appear different from their point of view. Re-evaluating literary values and opinions adds new dimensions. Then, applying new critical and linguistic theories to classical literature may also help discover new things about old texts.

The efforts towards understanding Mir and his art have a bit of history. It began during Mir’s lifetime and compilers of tazkiras (brief biographical and critical accounts of poets with samples of their works) had expressed their views on Mir’s works. The true critical and research-based evaluation of Mir’s works, however, began in early 20th century with selections from Mir’s poetry and accompanying introductory articles. The first in this regard was a work by Syed Hussain Bilgirami. Then other literary bigwigs followed suit with their selections and forewords such as Moulvi Abdul Haq, Hasrat Mohani, Asar Lukhnavi, Muhammad Hasan Askari, Nasir Kazmi and, later on, Ali Sardar Jafri. About a decade ago, Karachi’s Fazli Sons published a selection of Mir’s poetry based on these selections mentioned above, excluding the last two names with Mushfiq Khwaja having written an foreword to the book.

It was also opined that Mir’s Persian poetry has innovative and diverse imagery and it too should be published. But since the taste of readers has changed a great deal and Persian is not widely understood as it was once, the Oxford University Press decided to publish the Urdu translation of Mir’s Persian poetry along with the original Persian text. The recently published translation is done by Afzaal Hussain Syed.

Those who have contributed invaluable works towards understanding Mir include Jameel Jalibi, Gopi Chand Narang, Muzaffar Ali Syed, Qazi Afzaal Hussain, Shamim Hanafi and Ahmed Mahfooz among many others. But when it comes to understanding and explaining Mir Taqi Mir, the name that has been echoing everywhere in recent years is, of course, that of Shamsur Rahman Farooqi. His gigantic work Sha’r-e-shor angez: classiki Urdu ghazal ki she’riyaat aur Mir Taqi Mir which is in four volumes and ever since it was published during the 1990s is considered a must buy for anyone who wants to understand Mir. Moreover, every volume includes a scholarly foreword on Mir’s art. In this work, Farooqi Sahib has not only presented the selection of Mir’s poetry but has also explained it thoroughly.

It is the first, revised, authenticated Pakistani edition of a critical work on a classic that has become a classic in itself. Since then many editions of this work have been published and currently Izhaar Sons in Lahore are reprinting the volumes of this classic tome of which the first volume is now available in the market.

What makes Farooqi Sahib stand head and shoulder above his contemporary critics is not that Farooqi Sahib’s enormous reading of the western literary theories has made him so erudite of which he takes full advantage of while discussing eastern and Urdu classics because many critics have the same advantage. What sets Farooqi Sahib apart is the fact that despite having imbibed western literature he is not overawed by western standards and does not follow them blindly. Rather, he puts Urdu literature in perspective and has a keen sense of our literary and linguistic values. Moreover, he is unafraid to contradict and correct his predecessors or contemporaries whenever he feels is needed.

Case in point is his point of view regarding Mir Taqi Mir’s poetry. Up till now it was a sort of age-old collective wisdom that the major trait of Mir’s poetry, among other things, is its simplicity. It was believed that Mir’s plain words and simple thoughts are one of the major contributing factors towards his greatness and timelessness. Farooqi Sahib has dismissed this myth saying that Mir’s poetry is multifaceted. Not only does he often make use of words that have different nuances but his poetry frequently has an intentional obscurity and complexity. The seemingly simple couplets of Mir are not so straightforward and only when one has interpreted the underlying sense of the metaphors will the couplet unfold its true meanings.

Farooqi Sahib says that it is unfair not only to Mir but also to Urdu poetry when his poetry is considered to be ‘simple and easy to understand’. He goes to the extent of saying that those who say that Mir’s poetry is simple are simpletons themselves as they cannot see through the allusions, metaphors and idioms used by the bard.

It may be mentioned here that Izhaar Sons is among those small number of Pakistani publishers that have published Indian books with permission from Indian authors. Prior to this publication, they have also printed Rasheed Hasan Khan’s books’ authorised editions. This edition of Farooqi’s volume contains all the previous forewords and a new foreword especially written for this edition.