Why cry at how long the path of love is?

The following is my discussion about a ghazal written by the Urdu poet Mir Taqi Mir. But who is he?

Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1810) was a contemporary of Mirza Ghalib operating in the city of Lucknow. He was one of the first Urdu poets and he has pretty much shaped the language itself. Of course comparisons will be made between Mir and Ghalib and Wikipedia even has this section about what Ghalib said about Mir. Mir’s work basically gave a direction of just how much Persian and how much native Hindustani should be mixed to make an elite poetic language. Indeed, Mir’s poetry is one of the oldest poetry in the Urdu language.

Language evolution must have changed meanings of the words below since the time of Mir’s publication. So obviously I will look at his poetry with my highly constrained amateur view of the language. Feel free to comment on or disagree with my interpretations. I am still amazed at how accessible this particular ghazal still is in today’s time.

You can read this ghazal in Hindi, Urdu and English on rekhta.org on this link, with word meanings on highlight. Below, I have done a translation of the ghazal in English, for each couplet. Along with that there are some thoughts and deliberations that I have typed down. There are five couplets in total, if you’re worried about reading too much!

Caution: I was watching this lecture of Prof. Frances Pritchett who teaches Urdu poetry at Columbia University. She expresses disdain at those who add punctuation marks in Urdu poetry (तौबा तौबा!, she says). However, I do add punctuations in my English translations. Poetry is often lost in translations, so think of these strictly as a product of my personal interpretations and imaginations, not something that the author originally intended to frame.

राह-ए-दूर-ए-इश्क़ में रोता है क्या

राह-ए-दूर-ए-इश्क़ में रोता है क्या

आगे आगे देखिए होता है क्या

Why cry at how long the path of love is?

Wait and watch what is to come

The word-composite राह-ए-दूर-ए-इश्क़ (raah-e-door-e-ishq) could translate to “path of distance of love” or “path of distant of love”. So the first line may be the poet questioning the reader for waiting for a loved one, or it may be him questioning the reader’s belief in love itself.

The repetition of आगे (aage), which means “straight” or “ahead” in the next line is for emphasis on looking ahead, but perhaps also to emphasise the repetetive nature of time and the monotonicity of anticipation. In common parlence, the expression आगे आगे (aage aage) usually means far ahead, often when it is meant with a sense of anxiety. I wouldn’t be surprized if this expression has caught on from Mir’s usage.

The imagery created here is that of a journey of anxious travellers. This is consistent with the rest of the ghazal.


क़ाफ़िले में सुबह के इक शोर है

या'नी ग़ाफ़िल हम चले सोता है क्या

There is a morning call in the convoy

O lazy ones, we are leaving, are you still asleep?

The traveller and convoy imagery continues.

This reminds me of my own experiences of traveling in large groups. Often, there are some of those in the group who sleep a bit too much and have to be forcefully woken up with the threat of leaving them behind. With these lines, the poet wants to remind us that those who get too cozy on the path might be left behind.

But who are these travellers? Where are they going? The first sher of the ghazal (which would be repeated as the chorus, had this ghazal been sung) tells us that these are the travellers of the path of love. The message is therefore to keep moving on from heartbreaks.


सब्ज़ होती ही नहीं ये सरज़मीं

तुख़्म-ए-ख़्वाहिश दिल में तू बोता है क्या

This country can never turn green,

Why sow the seed of desire in your heart?

It is common imagination that the Islamic rulers of India came from Persia in large caravans. Being the language of the Muslim elite, the imagery of travelling convoys across a dusty landscape resonates as a very majestic picture in the Urdu language. Being around the formative years of the language, this sher is perhaps trying to appeal to that royal imagination of thinking of the convoy as those conquering the lands of Hindustan. If I imagine these conquerors entering from the Afghan regions, then it is a reasonable thing to say that the lands are agriculturally infertile.

But what the poet really is referring to is not farming, of course, but the seed of desire. Travelling is about leaving a lot of things behind, including loved ones. The travelers' longing of their past in a strange inhospitable land invokes a lonely feeling, which the poet says is a hopeless burden to carry forward.


ये निशान-ए-इश्क़ हैं जाते नहीं

दाग़ छाती के अबस धोता है क्या

These are the marks of love, they won’t go away

Why purposelessly keep washing the scars on your chest?

The placement of this sher makes us believe that the imaginary convoy wants to move ahead but some travellers are taking too much time washing themselves. They carry wounds on their chest that no amount of washing will be able to get rid of. The wounds are perhaps in the heart, because they are the wounds of love!

The poet is again looking down at those who aren’t moving ahead from their heartbreaks.


ग़ैरत-ए-यूसुफ़ है ये वक़्त-ए-अज़ीज़

‘मीर’ उस को राएगाँ खोता है क्या

Time of the loved ones is the reverence of Prophet Joseph

Mir”, why to waste that in vain?

This is the maqta with the takhallus.

I looked at what I could find about Joseph in Islam. He is a highly respected figure in Islam.

In this last line, the poet concludes by saying that one should value the time with their loved ones while they are with you!

Which love ones is her referring to though? The ones' in the convoy or the ones' left behind? I think this has been deliberately left for the reader to discuss.

Conclusion

The poetry empowers the forlorn lover and rather than crying about naaqam ashiqui (unrequited love), he is lambasting at those who remain stuck with the past. Through the couplets of this ghazal, Mir wants to convey that those who do not move ahead and spend too much time reminiscing their loved and lost ones are slowing all the others who want to reach their destinations. Which destinations is it? The one at the end of the path of love?

This is a very motivating ghazal. I will keep thinking about it as I explore Mir in the coming days.