Meer Taqi Meer, the eighteenth century Urdu poet, is called the imam(leader) of Urdu poetry. He was highly regarded by his contemporaries and even the later poets, including Ghalib, acknowledged Meer's poetic genius. Meer belonged to the Delhi school of Urdu ghazals. The greatest strength of his poetry is its simplicity and elegant style. The language he used is not intricate or grand but simple and easily understood. It is this simplicity which makes a deep impact on the readers. Meer also used Persian imagery and idiom in his poetry to enhance its beauty.
Though Meer tried his hand at various poetic forms, his fame is mainly due to his ghazals which deal with love, especially unrequited love. He has written some of the best Urdu poems on love. His masnavi Mu'amlat-e-Ishq is counted among the greatest love poems in Urdu literature. His personal life influenced the poetry he wrote and the pathos and melancholy in his poetry are due to the tragedies he suffered throughout his life.
Meer wrote poetry in Urdu and Persian. His collection of Urdu poems, Kulliat-e-Meer, has six volumes which have 13,585 couplets. Kulliat-e-Farsi is the collection of his poems in Persian language. Meer also wrote his autobiography in Persian called Zikr-e-Meer. This book offers a selection of the best ghazals of Meer Taqi Meer, translated into English by Kuldip Salil. To help you enjoy the richness and flavour of Urdu language, the original Urdu ghazals are transliterated and presented both in Roman and Devnagari scripts.
Kuldip Salil specialises in translating Urdu poetry into English and vice-versa. Commenting on his translation of Diwan-e-Ghalib into English, eminent critic and writer Khushwant Singh wrote, "I can say without hesitation, these renderings of Diwan-E-Ghalib' by Kuldip Salil read better than any I have read by scholars of Urdu, be they Indian, Pakistani or Firangi."
He has published seven collections of his poetry including Bees Saal ka Safar, Awaaz ka Rishta , Dhoop ke Saaye Mein and Aaj ke Ghazalkar. His anthology of translated Urdu poetry, Treasury of Urdu Poetry, is extremely popular. He has also translated into English the Urdu poetry of Meer, Ghalib, Faiz, Faraz and Firaq.
Kuldip Salil was born on December 30, 1938 in Sialkot (Pakistan). He completed his post-graduate degree in English and Economics from Delhi University. He retired as a Reader in English from Hans Raj College, Delhi University. He has won a number of awards including the Sahitya Akademi award for translating Urdu poetry into English and the Delhi Hindi Academy award for his poetry.
Meer Taqi Meer is the foundation on which the edifice of Urdu poetry stands. Building an edifice is difficult enough, but preparing the soil first and then putting up a structure on it is indeed the job of a pioneer.
And as far as Urdu poetry is concerned, Meer is that pioneer. Ghazal, as we know came from, and was perfected in Persian, a language which came to India along with the foreign invaders and rulers and held supreme sway at the Mughal court. It was also the language of the elite. Urdu was then at its nascent stage and was in the process of being refined. With the disintegration of the Mughal empire, however, Persian started losing its supremacy. It was being increasingly replaced by the language of the common people, which was Urdu, then called Rekhta. This language was assimilating and was getting enriched by regional languages like Brij, Hindi, Punjabi etc. It retained at the same time the sparkling quality of the Persian diction and its sweetness. This new language was fast gaining not only acceptability but also respectability. Wali Dakkani's Urdu Diwan was a landmark in this respect. However, it was Meer who perfected this language and made it a fit vehicle for Urdu ghazal as we find it today. It was his verses, as Meer himself says in his autobiography `Zikr-e-Meer', (and not those of Wali) which became popular in the bazars and streets of Delhi. He created a medium of poetic expression which was acceptable both to the elite and commoners. Meer had a highly developed aesthetic sense and his language has the best of both the old and the upcoming. He was well versed in Persian and quite familiar with spoken Hindi.
Mushairas (public recitation of poetry) were popular in those days and the taste for poetry, unlike these days, was widespread. A good poet's reputation would rapidly spread beyond his circle of admirers and his city. It is said that Meer's poems were so popular that travellers from other parts of the country would carry them home.
A good poet in those days would not find it difficult to win the patronage of a nawab or a noble. This would relieve him from the drudgery of earning a livelihood and he could devote all his time to writing poetry. This is true not only of India of those days, in England too the poets lived off the bounty of their patrons and were known as 'gentlemen' poets. Not only would a reputed poet not find it difficult to win favour with a patron, in fact a noble would welcome an opportunity of hosting a good poet. And this patronage would not make a poet at all subservient to his patron. Meer and Sauda furnish classic example of assertive independence, self-respect and outspokenness. Once the king asked Mohammad Rafi Sauda "How many poems can you write in a day?" "Three or four couplets" replied Sauda, "when the poetic impulse is on me; otherwise sitting in the toilet also I can rattle up three or four poems." "And these poems smell of toilet too." On another occasion, the king offered to make Sauda the poet laureate. Sauda rejected the offer then and there, saying "If I become the poet laureate it will be on the strength of my poetry." To Meer's notorious self-assertion and high brow attitude I will come later. Meer was born in 1723 or 1724 in Agra. His ancestors had come to India from Hijaz, a place in Arab. They first arrived in Hyderabad, then moved to Ahmedabad and in Meer's grandfather's time ultimately settled in Agra which was then the capital of India. His grandfather served in the Mughal army. He had two sons. One of them was insane and died young. The other son married twice. From his second wife, he had two sons, Mohammad Taqi and Mohammad Razi. The first, Mohammad Taqi later came to be known as Meer Taqi Meer.
Meer was just ten years old when his father, who had turned a sufi and renounced the world, died. His stepbrother, Mohammad Hasan who was also his elder brother gobbled up all parental property and left it to Meer to repay their father's debts. All that the father had was three hundred books which the elder brother appropriated. The repayment of debts was a formidable problem, and Meer was too self-respecting to ask anybody for help. But help came providentially. One of his father's friends, finding Meer in dire straits lent him five hundred rupees. Of this, Meer paid three hundred to the creditors, and leaving his younger brother behind, left for Delhi in search of some job. After wandering there for a few days Meer by accident met nawab Shams-ud-daula's nephew who presented him to the nawab who knew Meer's father. The nawab condoled his father's death and fixed a stipend of one rupee a day for Meer. Ill luck was, however, pursuing Meer in Delhi too. The city was attacked and devastated by Nadir Shah and nawab Shams-ud-daula was killed. Meer returned to Agra where he was tormented by his relatives. This compelled him to head for Delhi again. He started living with his stepbrother's maternal uncle Khan Arzoo, who was a well-known poet of those days.
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