Meer Mohammad Taqi or commonly ‘Meer‘ is one of the most celebrated Urdu poets of all time. Often referred to as ‘khuda-e-suqan’ (The God Poetry) ‘Meer’ In the words of noted critic Jamil Jalibi ‘has brought the language out of the Royal court and made it stand at the staircase of Delhi’s Jama Masjid‘.
Believed to be born in (or around) February 1723 to Meer Ali Muttaqi, a religious scholar, in Agra (then Akbarabad), Meer is the foundation on which the edifice of Urdu Poetry stands. He is the only 18th-century poet to have written an autobiography called ‘Zikr-e-Mir’. If Mir’s autobiography is to be believed, his early childhood was full of afflictions, he had a stepbrother called Muhammad Hassan who never accepted Mir as his brother. On his deathbed, Mir’s father articulated his will that all he possessed was a collection of 300 books which both brothers could divide amongst themselves but Hassan objected to this division and claimed all the books, helpless father had no other choice than fulfilling his elder son’s demand. Barely eleven years old Meer was left without any bequest. Meer had suffered a lot from a penniless boy to a poet for whom Mirza Ghalib said:
‘Rekhta ke tum hi ustad nahi ho GHALIB,
KAHTE hain guzre zamane me koi meer bhi tha’(You are not the only master of Rekhta Ghalib,
They say there used to be a Mir in the past)
Subsequently, after his father’s death, Meer left Agra. Young Meer arrived in Delhi in 1733 and made the city his home. In Delhi, he had to live a miserable life before he met a prominent nobleman in the Mughal Empire, Samasam ud-Daula Shah Nawaz Khan. Daula had known Meer’s father and had immense respect for him. Out of sympathy for Meer, he made provision for a daily stipend for him. This began Meer’s poetic journey in Delhi – a place he remained passionately in love with till he breathed his last. He has expressed his love for Delhi in his style in the following couplet:
‘Dilli ke na the kooche auraaq-e-mussavvar the,
JO shakl nazar ayi tasveer nazar ayi’(The streets of Delhi were like painted pages,
Every sight I saw looked like a picture)
This stability in poets life was not long lived as Delhi was attacked by Persian ruler Nader Shah, in 1739. Samasam-ud-Daula was killed in Battle of Karnal with Persian Army and Meer was once again left without any financial support. He decided to go back to Agra but this also didn’t make his life any better. In Agra, Meer fell in love with a girl who was already married. Initially she reciprocated his love but one day she asked Meer to never see her again as she didn’t see a future in that relationship. When his family came to know about their affair they mistreated him so badly that already dejected Meer lost his mental balance. At night, he would be scared to look at the moon as whenever he looked at the moon he would imagine the girl sitting inside the moon, assuming that either Meer was insane or possessed by any spirit so his family detained him in a room. This even deteriorated his condition. In short Meer was consumed by love. Grief of this era has also reflected on his poetry like he writes, addressing his beloved, and admiring her beauty, the following two couplets:
‘Patta patta boota boota haal hamara jane hai,
JAANE na jane gul hi na jane, bagh to saara jane hai’(Every plant and every leaf is aware of my condition,
Only flower knows not, the entire garden knows)
‘Wo aye bazm me itna to Meer ne dekha,
PHIR iske baad chiragho me raushni na rahi’(She came to the assembly is all that Meer saw,
But after that the lamps had no light left in them)
Escaping his family’s mistreatment Meer once again reached Delhi, this time he remained in Delhi for a longer duration of more than forty years, till 1782. During these years Meer remained under patronage of several noblemen like Riayat Khan, Nawab Bahadur Javed Khan and Imad-ul-mulk.
Meer also came in contact with Nawab Muqim Ali Khan Safdar Jung the Prime Minister of Mughal Empire and Subedar of Awadh. Around 1749 Ahmad Shah Abdali, Afghan ruler, began his regular invasions of North India.
During Abdali’s invasion Meer had to leave Delhi again he moved to Kumber, a Jaat province. He returned back after the invasion was over and Delhi was too vulnerable for further attacks, it was always on the edge of mass-exodus. By this time majority of Meer’s companions had either been killed or had fled the city:
‘Dilli me ab ke aa kar un yaron ko na dekha,
Kuch WO gaye shatabi se kuch ham BHI der aye’(Having come to Delhi this time, I don’t see those friends,
They went away bit too soon and I arrived bit too late)
Meer was once again left patron-less. The only way out of this wretchedness, it seemed, was migration to Lucknow, where the ruler, Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula, was known to be a great lover of Urdu poetry. So with a heavy heart and tearful eyes, Meer left for Lucknow from Delhi:
‘Ab to jate hain but’kade se Meer,
PHIR milenge agar khuda laya’(And so we depart from this house of idols Meer,
Perhaps we’ll meet again if God brings us back)
Though Meer lived the rest of his days in Lucknow, Delhi remained his first love. It is said that the day he arrived in Lucknow there was a mushaira he wanted to attend. New to the city of the flamboyant Nawabs, he reached the elitist gathering alone in an old fashioned and modest dress. Not recognising him, people made fun of his clothes and questioned him on his origins.
And yet, though he spent the remaining twenty-eight years of his life in Lucknow, Meer was never happy in that city. Many critics believe that this grief of being away from home has also been reflected in his poetry. The poems he had written during his stay in Lucknow are not deep and lacks the essence which used to be in Meer’s poetry in Delhi. During his stay in Lucknow he writes:
‘Kharaba Dilli wala chand behtar Lucknow se tha,
VAHIN mai’n kash mar jata, sara-seema na ata yaha’(The desolation of Delhi was far better than Lucknow,
I wish I had died there and not come running here)
Meer symbolises an age when Urdu as a language of structured poetry was still in its infancy. Poets were experimenting with still evolving Rekhta and Urdu was considered to be the language of noblemen, aristocrats and royal households only. At that time Meer played a significant role in making the Urdu language of common people. In his ghazals, he creates a distinct syntax and style.
Meer’s style has always been a matter of discussion amongst poets and literature lovers. In one of his notable couplets Sheikh Mohammad Ibraheem ‘Zauq’, a famous Urdu poet, mentions ’we have tried so hard but couldn’t get the style of Meer in our Ghazals’. The legacy and acclaim of Meer can also be estimated by an incident that Mirza Mohammad Rafi Sauda, who himself was senior in terms of age and poetic experience once said:
‘Sauda, tu is ghazal ko ghazal dar ghazal hi keh,
HONA hai tujh ko Meer se ustad ki taraf’(Sauda, go on perfecting your art of ghazal-writing,
You have to be on the side of a master like Meer)
The final years of Meer’s life were filled with difficulties. In three successive years, he lost his son, daughter and wife. His health was deteriorating and his eyesight had become weak. And when he was universally respected, he died on September 20, 1810, in Lucknow. Although the poet died long back but still whenever someone visits the streets of Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi) can feel Meer’s love for the city. He has become immortal through his unfading couplets and, thus, became an ever-glowing star on the sky of poetry and literature. One of those unfading couplets is following that depicts what Meer has lost in his life:
‘Mujhko shayar na kaho Meer Sahab maine
Ranj O gham jama kiye kitne to diwan kiya’(Call me not ye Meer a mere poet, sir
My diwan is a compendium of sorrows and sufferings numberless)
Syed Mohammad Ali is a student pursuing Economics from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Malaika M Khan
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.