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Ameer Meenai and naat poetry in Urdu

October 11, 2010

Ameer Ahmed Ameer Meenai was the kind of person we don't come across anymore. There used to be people who simply mastered so many things at the same time that we now find it hard to believe Ameer Meenai was a master poet of Urdu and Persian but he was also a lexicographer, Sufi, scholar, editor, prose writer, translator, connoisseur of language and had a knack for different branches of knowledge. He knew many languages; had studied religion, music, philosophy, logic, law, geography, mathematics, medicine and history; and wrote some 50 books in Urdu and Persian. Ameer Meenai even knew astrology, 'ramal', and 'jafar', the arts of foretelling the future, and wrote two books on them. Many of his books still remain unpublished.

But it is often said that of all of his feats the greatest was 'Ameer-ul-Lughaat', a comprehensive Urdu-Urdu dictionary that he intended to compile in eight volumes. Had it been completed, 'Ameer-ul-Lughaat' would have been one of Urdu's most authentic dictionaries. He established a fully fledged office for the dictionary, hired experts and published the first volume in 1891. The second one came in 1892. But due to certain reasons, that include ill health and a fire that devoured his invaluable library and manuscripts, prevented him from publishing the dictionary in complete form. It still needs to be established as to exactly how many volumes of the dictionary he had completed before his death in 1900, though many scholars have tried to find out the number of volumes compiled. Some research scholars believe that the volumes were 28 in number but some other scholars doubt it. The manuscript of only the third volume was found and is treasured by Ameer Meenai's grandson Israel Meenai who intends to get it published soon.

There is no doubt that Ameer Meenai was amongst the great poets of Urdu and even Ghalib and Iqbal paid tribute to him. According to Dr Aslam Farrukhi, Ameer is the last great representative of Lucknow school's poetry but his poetry has a touch of Delhi school's traits as well which gives his poetry a new and delectable tone and colour. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Ameer's poetry has gained a proverbial popularity as many of his couplets are often quoted and they really serve as Urdu's proverbs. Some of his well-known lines are

• Saare jahan ka dard hamare jigar mein hai

• Jo chup rahe gi zaban-i-khanjer, lahu pukare ga aasteen ka

• Zameen kha gai aasmaan kaise kaise

• Qadr kho deta hai har roz ka aana jana

Another aspect for which Ameer is praised is the fact that he was among those few poets that penned an entire collection of naat poetry in an age and time when the general tendency was to compose a limited number of such couplets or poems and include them in the collections of poetry. In fact Ameer helped popularise the naat genre in Urdu poetry and the popularity of his naats proved to be a trend-setter among other poets.

Born in 1829 in Lucknow into a noble family of religious scholars, Ameer was educated at Farangi Mahal, Lucknow's famous educational institute. He joined the royal court of Awadh (Oudh) but after the 1857 war of independence, he was invited to join the royal court of Rampur where he lived for the rest of his life until, of course, 1900 when he decided to go to Hyderabad Deccan to seek some help for the publication of the remaining volumes of Ameer-ul-Lughaat — but that was not to be and he died there on October 13.

Luckily, Ameer has found an admirer among his own progeny that has been trying to preserve his glorious legacy through publishing his books and the person is Israel Ahmed Meenai who had published a few years ago 'Miraat-ul-ghaib' and 'Sanam khana-i-ishq', the two collections of Ameer's poetry. Now he has come up with two important books of Ameer's, published in one volume. One is an account of Hazrat Muhammad (SAW)'s early life written in prose. Titled 'Khayaban-i-Aafrinish', it beautifully describes the holy Prophet's life in an easy but flowing prose and is based on authentic sources. The other is 'Mahaamid-i-Khatamun Nabiyeen', the famous collection of Ameer's naat poetry. Maheen Anwer Meenai's elegant title adorns the book published by Karachi's Paramount Publishing Enterprise.