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Mir Taqi Mir — a master of Urdu who was in love with Delhi

 The 18th-century Urdu poet penned ghazals that inspired some classic Bollywood hits.

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New Delhi: Popularly called Khuda-e-Sukhan or the ‘God of Poetry, Mir Taqi Mir is known for his irreverent poems and classic ghazals that later formed the basis of many Bollywood hits. His poem ‘Dikhayee Diye Yun’, for example, was turned into a song for the movie Bazaar (2018).

On his death anniversary, ThePrint takes look at this Urdu poet’s life, his love for Delhi and comments on religion.

A tough childhood

Mir was born in 1722 in Agra’s Akbarabad and was deeply influenced by his father and uncle, both dervishes (members of a Sufi fraternity), in his early years. They also introduced him to other dervishes, fakirs and holy persons, helping him gain a unique perspective on spirituality, writes S.R. Sharma’s in his book Life,Times and Poetry of Mir.

After the death of his uncle and father, around the age of 10, Mir was on his own.

He moved to Delhi shortly after, where he wrote on the large-scale destruction of the city at the hands of invaders such as the Afghans, Marathas and Rohillas, writes Sharma.

“Life was not easy for Mir,” according to Urdu scholar Javed Manzar.

Mir was later invited to join the court of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula and moved to Lucknow in 1782. Though well-respected by the Nawab, Mir was not liked by local poets. Manzar notes how the poet once referred to his contemporaries as “insects”.

Mir settled down in Lucknow with his wife, daughter and two sons, one of whom became a poet “though not of his father’s repute”. He died on 21 September, 1810, and was buried in the small locality of Sathati.

Also read: On Pash’s birthday, remembering the fiery poet killed so young by terrorists

Tryst with Delhi and a controversy

Mir was passionately in love with Delhi, despite its “ragged state”, writes Urdu evangelist Saif Mahmood in his book Beloved Delhi: A Mughal City and Her Greatest Poets.

This can be seen in his lines

Where only ruined walls and doorways stand

Sikhs, Marathas, thieves, pickpockets, beggars, kings all prey on us

Happy he is who has no wealth, this is the one true wealth today…”

He also wrote a ‘shehr-e-ashob’, an elegy that mourns the death of Delhi’s grandeur after it was looted and ransacked by invaders. In one line, Mir says, “At every step there was once a home here”.

In many of his poems, Mir also addresses other men with a tone of homoeroticism. Sample this couplet —

Your face with the down on it, is our Quran

What if we kiss it, it is our faith.

Finding him inebriated, I pulled him into my arms last night

He said “So you too have become intoxicated tonight.

It would be strange if an angel could hold its own

The fairy-faced boys of Delhi are far ahead of them.”

He commented on the hypocrisy of religion. In one ghazal he writes, “The sheikh who stands naked in the mosque today was in the tavern last night”.

For years, critics and poets have criticised Mir’s works for being too outspoken. “Whether it is beards or poetic rivalry, Mir always has something to say. And when he speaks, it is with a flair and a passion that is unrivalled,” Madhavi Menon, author and Professor of English at Ashoka University, tells ThePrint.

A master of Urdu, admired by Ghalib

Unlike other poets from the 18th century who wrote in Persian, Mir wrote in Urdu. While some call him “the undisputed master of Urdu ghazal”, others debate his supremacy over Mirza Ghalib. But Ghalib himself was known to admire Mir, praising him in much of his poetry and calling him the “master of Urdu”.

Mir died of a laxative overdose on 21 September, 1810, in Lucknow leaving behind a legacy of socio-political commentary on love, human connection and the human soul.

Aslam Farrukhi, an Urdu scholar, once said, “He [Mir] teaches us to love ourselves, humanity and the environment.”

Also read: A hundred years of Amrita Pritam, who wrote passionately about love, Partition & sexuality


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