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Saturday, July 3, 1999

Regional Vignettes


Mir Taqi Mir

DID you know that at one time Urdu novelists and chroniclers used to have appendices in which they included their favourite jokes which had nothing whatsoever to do with the themes of their books? I discovered that after reading Mir Taqi Mir’s autobiography — translated from Persian into English by C.M. Naim, professor of Urdu, in Chicago University — Zikr-i-Mir published this week.

Mir Taqi Mir (1723-1870) lived through turbulent times as the Mughal empire began to disintegrate after the death of Emperor Aurangzeb (1707). Persian invader Nadir Shah dealt it a near-death blow in 1738. He was followed by the Afghan, Ahmed Shah Abdali, who invaded India nine times and laid waste the whole of northern India. The Marathas, Jats, Rohillas,Pathans and Sikhs did their share of pillaging and looting. Mir gives a vivid description of the havoc caused by these unruly elements. He was particularly harsh in his judgement of the Sikhs. He wrote: "The arrogance of these people (the Afghans) had crossed all limits; and so God, in His justice, decided to humiliate them at the hands of the Sikhs — men of no consequence, highway robbers, peasants, lowly men of no means, name or place, mean destitute and disreputable people of that area. Some 40,000 to 50,000 of them came together and challenged that mighty army. Sometimes they boldly attacked and fought, and did not run away despite getting severely mauled. At other times they attacked them, withdrew in different directions, were pursued by small bodies of (Afghan) soldiers, whom they later slaughtered. Every morning they created some new mischief, and each evening they attacked from every side. They sent the soldiers of the Shah scurrying for cover. Sometimes they suddenly appeared out of nowhere and pounced upon the Afghan army. They would often come in large numbers, resolutely attack some town and turn it into ruins. With tangled hair or a piece of cloth wrapped around their heads, they penetrated the camp itself. There was noise and tumult all night long, and all day long there was a hue and cry. Their foot soldiers attacked the Shah’s horsemen with swords and filled their saddles with blood; and their retainers pounced upon the Shah’s archers and tortured them to death. In short, these unworthy wretches (be-namusan, be-daulat) humiliated those vain-glorious brutes (be-haoigatan, be-muravvat) to such an extent that the chief of the region, on hearing of what had been happening, also stopped showing the Afghans any respect".

Mir Taqi Mir had a keen eye for detail. Having led a life of near starvation for most of his years, he was most impressed by a feast laid out by the Nawab of Awadh for the British Governor-General. He writes: "As for the types of breads at meal times, (Nan-i-badam) (almond bread) was of utmost delicacy, and Shirmal-i-baqar-khani, topped with saffron colour, would put the sun to shame. Nan-i-javan (youthful bread) was so soft and warm that if an old man were to eat it, he would act like a youth. Nan-i-varaqi (paper bread) was of such a quality that I could fill a whole book with its praises. Nan-i-zanjabi (ginger bread) was so flavourful that taste itself grows happy thinking of it. In the middle were placed varieties of Qaliya and Do-piyaza, such rich stews of different kinds that the guests were all delighted and satisfied. The Kababs were laid out on the long table cloth Kabab-i-gul was (flower kabab) full of bloom and flavour. Perfectly salted Kabab-i-Hindi (Indian kabab) stole every heart. Kabab-i-Qandhari attracted all and sundry to itself. Kabab-i-sang (stone kabab) brought relief to those who were tired from the hardships of the journey. Kabab-i-varaq (paper kabab) was of such an amazing recipe that it delighted everyone. Ten large plates of food were placed before every single guest. Then there were pulaos of all kinds and wonderful soups of every type. "Praise be to the one, who is bountiful and generous:".

I was not impressed by Mir’s sense of humour. Many of the anecdotes quoted by Professor Naim are outrageously ribald and would not be acceptable to editors of today.

A repartee I found acceptable runs as follows, "once, in the Pavilion of Pleasure, the Shah asked Mirza Sahib to have some wine. When the Mirza declined, the Shah asked for a reason. "It takes away one’s intelligence," the Mirza replied. The Shah didn’t accept that and pressed him even more. Finally the Mirza gave in, and became so drunk that by midnight he had to be removed from the gathering. Next morning, when he again came to the court, the Shah said to him, "You made quite a mess of yourself last night. No one should be so shallow when it comes to holding his liquor." The Mirza said, "I humbly told you that wine takes away one’s intelligence. The Shah retorted. "But then didn’t I drink too?" The Mirza replied. "But the reasoning concerned losing one’s intelligence — you had none to begin with."

Desi neta

Hush! there goes a tipsy guy
A Neta of our blessed land.
He holds a
Kursi on his head
And a rosary in his hand!
Weird are his wily ways.
His mind is an ocean deep.
He knows how to skin.
His half-starved, hungry sheep!
In he come and out he goes.
Ayaram Gayaram is his name .
He changes four parties in a day.
Yet he has no sense of shame!
His tongue is three-feet long.
Endowed with the gift of the gab.
He can incite the gullible mob.
To kill, to burn and to grab!

(Contributed by G.C. Bhandari Meerut)

Cold and whiskey

When he catches a cold, he buys a bottle of whiskey, and in no time it’s gone. Not the cold — but the whiskey.


"Darling, how many times a day do you shave?"

"Twenty or thirty"

"Are you crazy?"

"No, I am a barber."

(Contributed by A.S. Deepak, Chandigarh)back

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