PERSIAN was to the poets of Urdu in 18th century what Latin was to the 15th-century bards in England: a language preferred in theology, administration, historical accounts and literature. That is why Mir Taqi Mir (1722-1810), one of Urdu’s great poets, wrote Zikr-i-Mir, his autobiography, in Persian.

In addition to Mir’s Urdu poetry that helped shape the Urdu language in one of its developmental stages, Mir is credited with other feats, too. His Nikaatush Shuara (1752), a tazkira in Persian, is one of the early landmarks in the genre that recorded works of many Urdu poets. A tazkira is a sort of anthological work that lists poets, usually in alphabetical order, with brief biographical sketches and selected verses. When it comes to autobiography writing, Mir is the first poet of Urdu to have written one.

But Zikr-i-Mir remained unknown to the world and its manuscript, penned in 1808, was discovered in Itawa, Rajasthan, in early 1920s. Moulvi Abdul Haq published its abridged Urdu version in 1926 in his quarterly journal named Urdu. In 1928, Abdul Haq published its original Persian version, but numerous typos had crept in. Nisar Ahmed Farooqi translated Zikr-i-Mir into Urdu and the first complete Urdu translation, titled Mir Ki Aap Beeti, appeared in 1957. It was simultaneously reprinted by Delhi’s Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu Hind (ATUH) and Lahore’s Majlis-i-Taraqqi-i-Adab in 1996, with the original Persian text. But for the second edition Farooqi had to edit and correct the Persian version first. He penned a new foreword, added a glossary and his annotations are as erudite as both of his forewords. Both the editions, published from Lahore and Delhi, had the original Persian text. C.M. Naim translated Zikr-i-Mir into English (Oxford, Delhi, 1999).

When was Zikr-i-Mir written? The opinion is divided. Zikr-i-Mir’s Itawa manuscript is the oldest one. Handwritten in 1807, it is the only one written during Mir’s lifetime. Four more manuscripts were found later on and, says Jameel Jalibi, one was penned in 1816 and another in 1831. Qazi Abdul Wadood wrote that Zikr-i-Mir’s numerical value is 1170. The chronogram at the conclusion says “if you want to learn the date, add 27”. This comes to 1197 Hijri/1783 AD. But the book narrates some events that took place a few years later, for instance, Ghulam Qadir Rohila’s atrocious acts, which took place in 1788.

But on the basis of these manuscripts Nisar Ahmed Farooqi opined that Mir began writing Zikr-i-Mir much earlier than 1185 Hijri/1771-72 AD and kept on adding to it till very last days of his life as is evident from different manuscripts that have slightly different endings though, says Farooqi in his foreword, only a few pages were added during Mir’s stay at Delhi and Lucknow and Mir wrote most of it at Kaman, a place near Delhi.

Zikr-i-Mir is an important work not only because it is the only contemporary primary source on Mir’s life but it is also an important historical source that gives first-hand accounts of many important 18th-century events, travels and even battles in which Mir participated, as he was employed by some Nawabs who fought those battles.

But all Urdu translations of Zikr-i-Mir hitherto published cannot be called truly ‘complete’ since none included the last few pages that have some jokes and brief funny stories that were considered too ‘lewd’ to be published. Now ATUH, Delhi, has just published Nisar Ahmed Farooqi’s Urdu translation, titled Mir Ki Khud Navisht Savaneh, to coincide with Mir’s three-hundredth birth anniversary. In his intro Ather Farouqui, the secretary of ATUH, has expressed his disappointment that Mir’s tri-centennial has not been commemorated in a befitting manner. As for Zikr-i-Mir, he says it is the first complete Urdu version in that it also has those pages that were presumed to be too ‘indecent’ and hence expunged.

Sadaf Fatima, a young scholar form India, has translated these 20 or so pages into Urdu. But one is utterly disappointed to see that the standard of Urdu translation is so poor that even well-known Persian proverbs used in Urdu are incorrectly translated. For instance, a proverb goes: “paish-i-shaer tabeeb, paish-i-tabeeb shaer, paishe hech har do, paishe har do hech”. This can loosely be translated as: in the presence of a poet (he is) a medicine man and in the presence of a medicine man a poet; in the presence of someone neither (he is) both a poet and medicine man and in the presence of someone who is both, nothing at all.

But the young scholar has incorrectly translated the proverb often quoted in Urdu, which casts a shadow of doubt over the entire translation by her. Also, the original Persian text has 55 funny tales, but her Urdu translation offers 53. The year in the concluding chronogram is also missing, so even this Urdu translation is incomplete.

No Persian text or glossary is appended to this edition.

drraufparekh@yahoo.com

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2024

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