Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Mir - Ulti ho gayin sab tadbeeren

We've been a little remiss in not having looked at anything by Mir so far. Not only because his oeuvre is huge (in quantitative terms) but also because Mir was, in many ways, the defining poet of the Mughal tradition that has come to dominate the classical Urdu poetry popular until today. He pre-dated the great names of the Delhi durbar, and was a point of reference for many of them. Ghalib is said to have approached Mir for guidance in his youth, and Mir reportedly predicted a bright future for the young poet. Zauq and even Ghalib (despite the contempt he usually professed for other wielders of the quill) have penned shers conceding the merit in Mir's work... In one of them, Ghalib describes Mir's deewaan as being nothing lesser than a Kashmir garden!

हुआ पर हुआ मीर का अंदाज़ नसीब
ज़ौक यारों ने जोर बहुत ग़ज़ल में मारा

रेखता के तुम ही उस्ताद नहीं हो गालिब
कहते हैं अगले ज़माने में कोई मीर भी था


I haven't read a great deal of Mir. What I have read, I have found a little uneven. He is truly wonderful in places - and in a way that is somehow very heart-warming, even if it lacks the outright brilliance of a Ghalib. In other places, he seems almost exasperatingly formulaic and conventional. I realised later that at least a part of the reason for this was that Mir actually defined much of the 'imagery' that later became standard in the poetic tradition. Hence when he used an idiom, it probably wasn't as formulaic as it was destined to become later - in fact, the very fact that so many of his stylisations have come to be the standard fare of urdu poetics is, perhaps, testimony to their worth!

We'll look at a ghazal that is among the 3 or 4 best-known of Mir's. Incidentally, Begum Akhtar has breathed life into a few shers from this, in her inimitable voice - do check out if you haven't heard it so far!

उल्टी हो गयीं सब तदबीरें, कुछ न दवा ने काम किया
देखा इस बीमार-ए-दिल ने आख़िर काम तमाम किया

Every solution/scheme turned contrary, the medicine had no effect
See? This affliction of the heart, it finally finished (me? you? him?) off

An otherwise simple sher, it turns on a clever word-play involving 'kaam kiya'. Since the idiom 'kaam tamaam karna' (which signifies something like 'to kill off') literally translates as 'to do a LOT of work', it provides a nice juxtaposition to the medicine, which 'did no work at all'! However, whereas someone like Ghalib would have grasped the word-play potential inherent in the idiom, and teased and tweaked at it until he ended up saying something truly profound or witty, Mir is happy to merely present the word-play to us...gently, without too much of a fuss. There's merit in his approach...


The way the sher is said, it remains deliciously ambiguous whether it is a lament from the afflicted party himself, or a dispassionate observation by someone who has merely seen the afflicted one succumb to his heart's affliction...


अह्द-ए-जवानी रो रो काटा, पीरी में ली आँखें मूँद
यानी रात बहुत थे जागे, सुबह हुई आराम किया

The days of youth, (I) spent in tears; (and) in old age, shut (my) eyes
That is, (I) had kept awake a lot during the night; (hence) in the morning, (I) rested

Nice. While, on first reading, the sher seems to be (in a reversal of convention) equating youth with night and age with morning, what the poet is actually stressing that his entire life was encapsulated/contained in that one wakeful night of separation! Hence, he first gives what seems to be an overview of a lifespan - a youth spent in sorrow, and an old-age of deliberate restfulness - and then explains (look at the opening 'yaanee' in the second line) that this picturisation is based on the fact of him having spent the previous night in teary-eyed wakefulness, and having finally dozed off at dawn!


हर्फ़ नहीं जां-बख्शी में उसकी, खूबी अपनी किस्मत की
हम से जो पहले कह भेजा, सो मरने का पैगाम किया

(there's) no doubt about her life-sparing nature, it is the exceptionalness of my (good) fortune
that the first message (she) sent across, it was a death-sentence!

Wonderful! This is the typical sort of 'yeah, right!' sher that Ghalib does so well, isn't it?

The poet sarcastically absolves the Beloved of any blame in his death - because 'sparing lives' is so unambiguously inherent to her nature, after all! It is only the excellence of his kismat, he explains, because of which the first message he received from her was a death-sentence. It's so deliciously over-the-top, this sarcasm-laden thankfulness that the Beloved's professed gentility didn't get in the way, at least in his case, of a summary execution!


नाहक हम मजबूरों पर ये तोहमत है मुख्तारी की
चहते हैं सो आप करे हैं, हम को अबस बदनाम किया

(it is) unjust that we, the helpless, are accused of (possessing) power
you do whatever (you) like, it's needlessly that we stand defamed

Once again, a sher of endearing simplicity. 'Mukhtaaree' is a word of almost judicial import, signifying legal authority, autonomy, or plenipotentiariness. For the wretched lover to be attributed such sovereignty is like rubbing salt in his wounds... given that the Beloved holds his very destiny in her dainty fingers, the very least she can do is to acknowledge this reality!! To imply that her Lover has some power over his state shifts the responsibility for this state on to him, which is certainly defamatory!

The sher could evidently constitute a witty response to a protest by the Beloved against some forward sign of ardour by the Lover... "listen - don't blame me. It is not as though I am in control of anything here!' However, the first part of the second line also hints that the sher could be directed against still 'Higher Powers'... the 'chaahate hain so aap kare hain' being close to a specific Koranic allusion that describes the Almighty's omnipotence...


सारे रिंद औबाश जहां के तुझ से सुजूद में रहते हैं
बांके, टेढ़े, तिरछे, ठेके, सब का तुझ को इमाम किया

All the drunkards and waywards of the world bow before you
the crooked, the bent, the askance, the twisted; you've been made the Imaam of all (these)

This one is quite delightful! What an unflattering caricature of the Beloved's other devotees! And by implication, of course, also of her - - "yes, yes, you may have thousands worshipping you, but don't get too uppity; just look at the sort of motley crowd they constitute!" The honorifics heaped upon this fan club - 'baanke, Terhe, Tirchhe, Theke' - conjure up a truly apalling picture of a physically malformed gathering, which when read with the first line's verdict on their moral qualities, leaves them little hope for redemption, howsoever pious their devotion to the Beloved may be...!

Of course, nothing in the Sher shows that the poet is explicitly excluding himself from this sorry bunch - after all, he too prostrates before the Beloved just as frequently as her other devotees, as the next Sher shows!


सरज़द हम से बे-अदबी तो वहशत में भी कम ही हुई
कोसों उसकी और गए पर सजदा हर हर गाम किया

As for discourtesy, very little was committed by me, even in madness
(it is true that) I moved miles towards her, but I prostrated myself at every step!

Ha! Another delightful one! How charmingly the Poet absolves himself of having breached any proprieties... he acknowledges having approached the Beloved - he also implicitly concedes that that, in itself, could well have been seen as rudely ambitious - but goes on to point out, in all innocence, that since he punctuated every step of this pursuit by falling flat in worshipful abjection, no discourtesy can possibly be attributed to him! One would imagine that even the Beloved would be moved to a smile on hearing this defence!


किसका काबा, कैसा किब्ला, कौन हरम है, क्या अहराम
कूचे के उसके बाशिंदों ने सब को यहीं से सलाम किया

Whose Kaabah, which Kiblah, what are places of worship or pilgrimage-clothes?
(as for) the denizens of her street, they (just) bestow a salaam on everyone from right here!

This is another rich one! The sher reiterates the oft-made point that those in the thrall of the Beloved are condemned to lose their faith - hence these besotted street-dwellers (of whom the poet is evidently one; as shown by his use of 'yaheen' in the second line) couldn't care lesser about the Kaabah, or in which direction Mecca is (a 'Qiblah' indicates this direction in a mosque), and have no interest in leaving the Beloved's lane to undertake any religious journey either.

Until here, the Sher is commonplace. What gives it its exceptional charm is the way the second line provides an additional picture - these besotted lovers, while determinedly ensconsed on their preferred perches in the Beloved's lane (in the evident hope of catching a glimpse of her), are quite prompt in 'wishing on', with courteous salaams, others who are going about their prayers, or setting off for pilgrimages!! This hypocritical show of religious fellow-feeling (all the while keeping a watchful eye on the Beloved's door) makes one feel almost fond of these roguish 'baashindaas', doesn't it?


शेख जो है मस्जिद में नंगा, रात को था मैखाने में
जुब्बह, खिरका, कुर्ता, टोपी, मस्ती में इनाम किया

The Sheikh who is naked in the Mosque, was in the tavern yesterday
(where he) , in inebriated enthusiasm, gave away as prizes, his cloak, robe, Kurtaa and Hat!

It was a custom of the time, of course, for persons of wealth and influence to grandiosely hand over a necklace or ring in reward to someone whose service or performance they found praiseworthy.

The Sher evokes an amusing picture of a Sheikh, in drunken stupor, carrying this a little too far, by distributing even his clothes away to sundry hangers-on in the tavern, who might have been entertaining him in one way or the other... The picturisation of the Sheikh being naked in the mosque on the following day is figurative - for we don't expect the personage to have actually landed up for prayers 'au naturel', of course. It is a sort of reversal of the 'Emperor's new clothes'... he might be clothed now, but in light of his silliness in the tavern on the previous night, he stands permanently denuded - of his dignity and authority, at least - in the public eye!


काश अब बुर्का मुह से उठा दे, वरना फिर क्या हासिल है
आँख मूंदे पर उन ने गो दीदार को अपने आम किया

I wish she would lift the burkah from her face now, else what would be achieved
(if) after (my) eyes are shut, she (even) makes her view completely public!

hmm... a little pedestrian. In a cultural context where a sight of the Beloved's face could be afforded only through good fortune or extreme generosity on her part, the groaning exclamation captured in the first half of the first line might have been quite common... the sher creates its pathos by invoking a situation where the Beloved might wait just a bit too long before she finally lifts the veil - by which time the Lover might have already died of unfulfilled longing...! In fact, if she does put herself 'in public view' after the Poet's death, he would probably see it, quite justifiably, as a double disaster!!


यां के सपेद-ओ-स्याह में हम को दख्ल जो है सो इतना है
रात को रो रो सुबह किया या दिन को जों-तों शाम किया

In the (interplay of) Black and White here, the involvement I have is (just) this much
(I) wept the night into the morning, or willy-nilly passed the day into night

In my opinion, this is by far the best sher in the Ghazal. It is a little difficult to translate though, because it hinges on very smart leveraging of a particular idiomatic usage.

Let us first see what is being asserted in the first line... the poet seems to be discounting or denying an implied power that has apparently been attributed to him. And no ordinary power, mind you - the power to influence matters of 'black and white' or 'dark and light', no less! Well, says the poet, if he does have any influence over such cosmic cycles, it is merely this much -- he has often 'wept the night into day', etc...

It is lucky that the 'weeping the night into the day' idiom comes through in English, actually - because otherwise it would be well-nigh impossible to capture the beauty here in translation. When we say 'raat ko ro ro subah kiyaa', we are talking, of course, about the difficulty of taking oneself through the interminable duration of the night. But LITERALLY, the idiom would translate as 'making the night into the morning, through one's tears'. Similarly, the 'din ko jon-ton shaam kiyaa' is equally an assertion of the poet's powerlessness - what it actually means to say is that the wretched creature 'somehow managed to get through the day'. But the wording of the idiom allows us to read an 'active' role for him - as if he 'somehow' managed to make the day into night!

It is this insightful observation - that an idiomatic usage meant to denote a complete lack of power can actually be read as an assertion of power, albeit an obviously contrived one, that allows Mir to weave such magic with 'yaan ke saped-o-syaah'!

I also love the exquisite wording of the first line... the use of 'dakhl' - meaning something like 'interference' or 'involvement' or 'having a hand in something', rather than outright 'power' - is a delicious touch!


सुबह चमन में उसको कहीं तकलीफ़-ए-हवा ले आई थी
रुख से गुल को मोल लिया, कामत से सर्व गुलाम किया

in the morning, the trouble of (taking) air brought her somewhere in the garden
with (her) face, (she) purchased the bloom; with (her) stature, she enslaved the Cypress

Very ho-hum! The Beloved enters the garden for a walk, and the trees and flowers fall to her charms! See what I mean about Mir being quite flat at times?


साद-ए-सीमीं दोनो उसके हाथ में ला कर छोड़ दिए
भूले उस के कौल-ए-कसम पर हाय ख़याल-ए-खाम किया

having brought both her silvery arms in (my) hands, (I) let go
foolishly did (I), alas, delude (myself) on her pledges and promises!

Ok, so a somewhat 'cute' picture is being evoked, here. The Lover manages, in a rare show of daring, to physically accost the Beloved, gripping her 'silvery wrists' in his hand. She wrings and writhes in attempted escape, and upon being unsuccessful, showers the Poet with pledges and promises - of returning to him later, if he lets her go now. He naively believes her, and lets go... only to later rue his gullibility, in the form of the sher above.

Granted that the vignette evoked is not without charm, it is hardly worthy of being placed alongside some of the other amazing shers in this ghazal. Moreover, the kind of situation evoked in the sher is at odds with the general milieu of the ghazal world... it is too intimate, the sort of situation you might expect to see between a man and wife, or at least a couple that implicitly acknowledges their intimacy to each other... the best shers don't deal with such relationships, which seem already 'consummated' in an emotional sense!

काम हुए हैं सारे ज़ाया हर सा'अत की समाजत से
इस्तिघ्ना की चौगुनी उसने जूं-जूं मैं इब्राम किया

all efforts have been wasted, from the (very) moment of every entreaty
she quadrupled her indifference, every time I beseeched her

The sher is undeniably lyrical, thanks largely to the alliterative 'saa'at kii samaajat' in the first line and the colloquial 'joon-joon' in the second. But otherwise, I once again fail to see particular merit in it - the idea that the Beloved would be unmoved by the Lover's entreaties is almost a given in this world...

ऐसे आहू-ए-रम-खूर्दा की वहशत खोनी मुश्किल थी
सिःर किया, ऐजाज़ किया, जिन लोगों ने तुझ को राम किया

for the wildness of such a frightful deer to be lost was difficult
they did magic, achieved a miracle, the people who tamed you

I haven't much idea what this is about. Presumably the Beloved is being addressed, and described as a frightened, flighty, skittish, deer. But who are the people who are supposed to have 'tamed' this otherwise wild beast? Presumably the poet's rivals... why should he be heaping praise on their accomplishment? Even in sarcastic note, this just doesn't ring right...!

Please feel free to chip in if you have a fix on what Mir was trying here...


मीर के दीन-ओ-मज़हब को अब पूछते क्या हो, उन ने तो
कश्का खींचा, दैर में बैठा, कब का तर्क इस्लाम किया

Why do you ask now about Mir's God and religion; (for) he has
worn a caste-mark, sat in a temple, (and has) long renounced Islam!

The maqtaa is quite delicious... and must have raised scandalised smiles from his listeners in the conservative times he lived. But it also demonstrates the admirably liberal ethos that the world of poetry was able to project, even in Mir's epoch, if these things could be joked about so freely...


6 comments:

Shweta said...

So it is Mir this time I see… Poor Mir, talk of damning with faint praise :), but such a thorough exposition must necessarily delight!
About that sher I thought I could hazard a guess.
I am thinking of this type person most of us know- one of those high-strung, devil-on-the-wings type of people who every one remembers with a shake of the head, she/he was crazy, - you know what I mean?
And suddenly you meet them after long years and find them disappointingly tame, all conformist and sane. And you wonder how that happened.
So the ‘they’ I am thinking refers just to the agencies of life, ‘zaalim zamaana’ perhaps, because life sure has several tricks to break a spirit.

deewaan said...

damning? Arre, nahin bhai! i LIKE Mir... Most places, he is very classy...which is why it jars a bit when he sinks to commonalities at times. Only at times.

Nice take on the mysterious sher, that... yes, that could well be it. Can immediately think of half a dozen 'wild spirited lotharios' from the halcyon days - all sadly domesticated now - on whom it would fit snugly...!

Shweta said...

;)That was just me visiting my sins on to you. Actually I usually suffer from a Ghalib fixation and tend to find Mir a bit insubstantial, and as a result I have not read him too much.
I was inspired by your post to redress that and I found this sher which I think might explain the mystery sher from Mir’s point of view rather than my somewhat fanciful one:

Hum khaak mein mile to mile lekin ai sepehr
Us shouk ko bhi rah par laana zarur tha


Putting the two together I am wondering whether he meant it in a rather base, sexually subduing kind of context. I don’t know… if this is right, I am a little let-down (again :))but I guess those people wrote for their own times and for somewhat more immediate consumption, than the squeamish high-minded demands of our age.

deewaan said...

A 'Ghalib fixation' is nothing to be apologetic about! It confirms my already exalted opinion of your aesthetic discernment!!

That's rather a nice sher you've dug out...So you think the original mystery one could have been a "Oh animal spirits, hats off to those who've managed to tame you!" sort of quip?? Hmm...yes, could well be...though you'd think he would've put in some verbal cues to indicate it was meant to be as 'introspective' as that, nahin?

Singh said...

This is just a question, but you explained one of the sher (saa.ad-e-seemin) as unconventional, as it described a consummated relationship. Why is it unconventional?? And why can't a poet write about more intimate relationships??

paratrip said...

Arrived at your blog (from an Answer in Quora) after searching for the English translation of 'Aake Sajjada Nasheen' by Mehdi Hassan. Have to thank you for the wonderfully eloquent translation you provided. Utterly beautiful! The ghazal now sounds all the more blissful. Have favorited your blog and shall definitely read through the other translations you have provided. Appreciate the efforts!