Friday 1 August 2014

From the Chaucer of Urdu Poetry: Mir Taqi Mir

But when I tried to catch her, nothing could I find,
A mere hallucination, a fiction of the mind.
One day, out for a walk, I happened to take the road to the newly ruined city [Delhi]. At every step I shed tears and learned the lesson of mortality. And the further I went the more bewildered I became. I could not recognize any neighbourhood house. There were no buildings to be seen, nor any residents to speak to.

The scene of desolation filled my eyes with tears and my mind with the most solemn thoughts.  At every step my distress and agitation increased.  I could not recognise the houses and often lost my bearings.  Of the former inhabitants there was no trace, and no matter whom I inquired about, I was told that he was not there and nobody knew where he might be found.  

Houses had collapsed. Walls had fallen down. The cloisters were bereft of Sufis. The taverns were empty of revelers. It was a wasteland, from one end to the other. What can I say about the rascally boys of the bazaar when there was no bazaar itself! And what can I tell of the pale-cheeked children playing in the streets when there was no [rosy-cheeked one to ask].  The handsome young men had passed away. The austere old men - All had gone. The palace quarters were wholly ruined, their lanes were lost in the rubble. Every place was desolate; there was no sign of a human anywhere.

Suddenly I found myself in the neighbourhood where I had lived - where I gathered my friends and recited verses; where I lived the life of love and cried many a night for the love of tall and slender beloveds and sang high their praises in verses to them; where I spent time with the beauties whose long tresses held me captive. If I were without them for even a moment I would pine for them restlessly. This was in the days when I arranged joyous gatherings and invited beautiful people, feasted them and lived a really [pleasant] life. And now? Not a  soul I could recognise to spend a few convenient moments with in conversation.  The bazaar was a desolate waste; the lane was a track into [the] wilderness. I stood there and looked in amazement, stunned and silent and was horrified and filled with abhorrence at the scene. I swore I would never return to the city again, as long as I lived. 

Mornings and evenings I went to the bank of the river and enjoyed the sights. Such a beautiful place - with gardens on one side and the fort and the establishments of great nobles on the other, you would say it was a river in paradise. The fame of my bikr tarāshi poetic genius [the creation of a new poetic theme or a bundling of associative ideas] had spread far and wide. Bashful beauties and those who had thick black eyelashes; those who coined fine phrases and those who dressed elegantly; and those who had a gift for poesy - they never left me alone and treated me with great respect. 2 or 3 times I walked through the city from one end to the other meeting its scholars Sufis and poets but none could comfort my restless heart.  I said to myself 'Great God! This is the same city that had its fair share of fine houses and gardens and inns, scholars of Hadith; dervishes; Quran-memorizers; Quran-reciters; Imams of mosques and Muezzins, abodes of Faqirs, schools and seminaries and where scholars and jurists, dialecticians, philosophers, divines and gnostics, saints and mystics, physicians and teachers and poets and writers were often seen in every place.  But now I find no place to sit and rest a while and I find not a single person whose company I may share.'  I saw a terrifying wasteland.  And so I grieved deeply and returned after having spent 4 months in the city of my origin. I left with my eyes awash with tears of longing and reached the forts of Suraj Mal.

When they entered Lucknow, his permanent abode, and took residence in the royal palace, new carpets of manifold hues were laid out every day, with golden incense-burners placed on their corners. The area surrounding the house was sprinkled with rose water, and attar was rubbed in the beds. Everyone's clothes were fragrant with perfume. Velveteen carpets [were spread out] such as none had ever stepped upon. Walls glittered like silver [sīm gil karda]. Elegant pavilions were set up in gardens and decorated with screens and curtains. The sweet smell of amber spread everywhere, creating a unique effect. The houses put to shame the homes for spring [makān giraw az bahār band burda]. Roasted almonds and pistachios and firangi tidbits [nuql e firangī] were laid out for munching. At night, there were dances by women who were like fairies - nay, who were like the houris of paradise. Flower vases of crystal and porcelain were carefully arranged. Shelves and niches in the walls were filled with choice fruit, perfectly ripe. A firangi [raqŝ e firnachī] dance was held, a lovely scene - a house of joy. In the evening, they had elaborate illuminations and set off fireworks. The starbursts and rockets [sitārahavāi] touched the sky. The sight of the illuminations stole the hearts [of the spectators]. The flares [mahtābi] turned the night into day. A pavilion of gold brocade was set up - of such beauty that not even the sun had seen its like. The nobles were busy, offering hospitality; the rajas went about, offering their services. Excellent poets sang their praises. Young stalwarts stood by to tend to things. Every house was finely prepared, with shady nooks and channels of flowing water. Vases that held bunches of narcissus flowers seemed like a garden to behold [bāgh e naẓar] in Isfahan, or a garden in Kerman, containing a large lake.  Ice, more pleasing to the sight than molten silver, carefully gathered from water. Bowls of fāluda of many colours and kinds, their sherbet sweeter than the syrup of life.

As for the types of breads at meal times; almond bread [nān e bādām] of utmost delicacy; shīrmāl and bāqar khāni both coloured with saffron on top that would put the sun to shame; youthful bread [nān e javān], so soft and warm that if an old man were to eat it he would act like a youth; paper bread [nān e varaqī]of such a quality that I could fill a whole book with its praises; ginger bread [nān e zanjabīl] too, so flavourful that Taste itself grows happy comprehending it. In the middle were placed varieties of qaliya and do-piyaza, such rich stews of different kinds that the guests were all delighted and satisfied. And the kebabs that were laid out on the long table-cloth: flower kebab [kebāb e gul], full of bloom and flavour; perfectly salted Indian kebab [kebāb e Hindī] stole every heart; Qandahari kebab [kebāb e Qandahārī] attracted all and sundry to itself; stone kebab [kebāb e sang] brought relief to those who were tired from the hardships of the journey; leaf-of-paper kebab [kebāb e varaqī] made to such an amazing recipe-manuscript that it delighted everyone; and all the more common kebabs, spicy and flavourful. 10 large plates of food were placed before every single guest. Then there were pulaos of all kinds and wonderful soups of every type. 'Praise be to One, who is Bountiful and Generous!' 

What a splendid guest! What an exemplary host! A grand guest; a glorious host. A guest of wonderful disposition; a host of the greatest eminence. A guest, so refined and elegant; a host, sun-like in his munificence. The guest, a man of perfect sagacity; the host, an embodiment of hospitality. Their likes had never been seen by the eyes of ages, nor heard of by the ears of sages. In that manner they continued to meet for 6 months, day and night, and conversed and exchanged thoughts.

In short, the world is a place of strange happenings. What houses there were that crumbled down! What young men there were who gave up their lives! What gardens there were that are now a wilderness! What joyous assemblies there were that now seem a fantasy! What flowers, that withered away! What handsome men who passed away! What gatherings of friends, that were tossed to the wind! What caravans, that loaded up and disappeared! What honourable men there were who suffered ignominy! What bold men there were who tasted mortality! I have had eyes to see, and ears to hear, and what things have I not seen and heard! In this brief span of life this drop of blood which men call the heart has suffered all manner of blows, and is all bruised and bleeding.  My temperament was unsuited to these times, and I no longer mix with people.  I am 60 now, and old age is upon me.  I am generally ill, and for some time my eyes have been troubling me .... My failing powers, my sensitiveness, my weakness and grief and despondency, all tell me that my end is near, and the truth is that the times are no longer fit to live in.  it is time to withdraw from the world.  I wish that I may come to a good end, but God's will must prevail

And what should I say of the pain in my teeth - I was at my wits' end.  How long could I go on treating them? Finally I resigned myself to it and had them all pulled out.
Mir Mohammad Taqi Mir. Zikr - E - Mir.  Translated by C. M. Naim. (Oxford University Press, 1999).  93, 94, 96, 97, 121 - 123, 129.

Related links: 'Colonel Mordaunt's Cock Match' By Johann Zoffany, (1788). 
                         A Garden of Kashmir.
                         Ab e Hayat: Mir Taqi Mir.  Muhammad Husain Azad, (1880).

Sunday 29 June 2014

Ramadan Mubarak

O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may become pious.

            The Holy Quran. al-Baqara [The Heifer]: 184.
Allah is the Light of the heavens and the Earth. The similitude of His light is as a niche, wherein is a lamp. The lamp is in a crystal globe. The globe is bright as it were a glittering star lamp lit from a blessed olive tree neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil would well-nigh glow forth even though fire touched it not. Light upon light! Allah guides to His light whosoever He wills. And Allah sets forth parables for people, and Allah knows all things completely.
   Glowing forth from houses for which Allah ordained that they be exalted and that His name be commemorated in them. Glorify Him therein in the mornings and the evenings.

            The Holy Quran. al-Nur [The Light]: 36, 37.

May this Holy month draw people nearer to God and ease the journey to the Divine beloved. May it be a month that brings peace to the world and to the Muslims in particular so that God in His eternal Mercy may grace the Spirit of peace and the tranquillity of His love.