THE ALL INCLUSIVE MASTER OF URDU

Review by Anjana Basu

The Hidden Garden: Mir Taqi Mir 
by Gopi Chand Narang
translated from the Urdu by Surinder Deol
ISBN: 978-0670095001
Penguin
₹ 499.00 INR

Mir Taqi Mir, a man who loved Delhi but fell out with the Nawab and spent his last days in Lucknow where his mazar still stands. Known as the ‘god of poetry’ he was famed for the exquisite simplicity of his couplets that expounded on the human condition. He explored the love of God and the love of humanity with equal mysticism and even Ghalib was awed by his work.

The Hidden Garden explores a new translation of Mir’s most memorable ghazals allowing the reader who has enough Urdu to compare Mir’s original with the English of Surinder Deol. Gopi Chand Narang then takes the reader on a discussion of Mir’s most memorable ghazals, using an apt title because the more one reads Mir, the more riches flower.

Where translation is concerned there always has been a debate on whether translations should be literal or creative. Much hinges on the choice of a word and the translator has to discard many options to find the best fit. Those who have a glancing knowledge of Urdu will be able to skim through the verses, acquire a sense of them and then turn their attention to the English. 

After allowing readers to get their fill of Mir’s ghazals, Narang takes them through what he admires about Mir’s style, the main fact being that Mir is truly a poet of countless delights and this despite the fact that Urdu was still in a rough unpolished form at the time. Mir took various influences into his verse – for example from the Persian of Amir Khusru. Mir wrote in Persian as well as Urdu, as many poets of his time did since the literary language had not progressed to include Urdu. Now however, Mir's Persian verses would have to be translated since that language is no longer widely understood - Afzaal Hussain Syed was the translator in this case.

Anjana Basu

For a long while Mir has been celebrated for his simplicity of verse. However, Narang points out that this simplicity is deceptive. Mir's use of language is nuanced and for the sake of mysticism he is occasionally obscure by design. Nor is the underlying meaning of his so-called simple couplets as straightforward as previously believed. There are layers within layers and only when the reader has reached the core will the true meaning be understood.

Narang delves into Mir’s couplets and his use of long vowels to create poetic effect, styles flourishes that were then relatively unknown. Mir had the benefits of being a lapidary with a new literary language and his wide reading and sensitivity allowed him to craft the language in spurts of different inspiration.

Narang expounds on the fact that Mir felt himself superior to the others around him – something that Ghalib later shared – and picks out the couplets where Mir alludes to this.


Although I quietly sit
In a lowly corner in the galaxy of poets
but my lyrical voice has conquered the world

This despite the fact that poets like Sauda enjoyed more popularity with the nawabs and poetry at the time was all about patronage. There was good reason for this because he was the first ‘all inclusive’ Urdu poet, mastering oral traditions and transforming every day dialogues into the stuff of literature. Mir took folk forms and innovated on them as well as picking up from the speech of ordinary people. He also took the rekhta which had not fully been explored in the 18th century and made it his own. As he writes:

If Rekhta reached the pinnacle of its greatness
this was the work that he accomplished
Is there anyone who does not accept
Mir’s master mysterious touch?

Possibly the more we study Mir’s work, the more we will discover. In the meantime Gopi Chand Narang has contributed a definite study backed by Surinder Deol’s translations.


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