Dilli ke na the kuche/ Auraq-e-mussavir the, Jo shakl nazar aayi/ Tasveer nazar aayi.
(It wasn’t the lanes and streets of Delhi: It was the pages of an album. Each and every face that one saw was a painting)
-Mir Taqi Mir
Poets and poetry occupy centre stage in this marvellous collection of stories by a celebrated master of Urdu prose. Historical figures such as Ghalib, Mirza Jan-e Janan, Budh Singh Qalandar, Amir Khan Anjam, Mir, Kishan Chand Ikhlas, Haidar Ali Atash and Mushafi compose noteworthy poems, find patrons, make love, fight their enemies, and earn their nourishment. Faruqi has re-imagined these figures as vital, breathing beings, alive in all their flawed splendour.
The Sun that Rose from the Earth was written in 2001 in Urdu, with the English version translated by the author and published in 2014. The book is a collection of five short stories about Urdu and Persian poets and poetry in the age of the Mughals of India (1526-1857). The short stories are long, with each being novellas in their own right, culminating in 610 pages of text. Each story, with different narrators, imagines the conversations of poets at that time.
The first narrator is Mian Beni Madho Singh, born in 1840 in Nizamabad (Telangana), and living in Cawnpore from 1860. He had escaped the conflict against the British from 1856-1858 in which his entire family died. At the time of writing, on 1918 narrator turned 78 years old. He reminisces about his life, love of poetry, inspirations, and his travel in 1862 to Delhi to visit the superlative poet, Mirza Ghalib, the Nightingale of India. The poetry in this section reflects the decimation of his village, and the loss of life.
The second narrator is 50-year-old Khairuddin who suffers years of poverty. He hears that a mighty horse rider will appear in the bazaar the next day. The belief is that whoever stops the rider, even for a second, and asks for something, will have everything granted to him. This inspires Khairuddin’s first lines of poetry at the age of 20: The rider of everlasting prosperity appeared on the highway / None held his reins to stop him. He rode away. He imagines what he would ask of the rider. Perhaps he will ask for a husband for his sister. He does see the rider and his “awe-inspiring face.” What does he do? He can’t spend his life alone, roaming and wandering, seeing Sufi poet Budh Singh Qalander, can he? Then he meets a woman called Ismat Jahan.
Next comes, Labiba Khanam, deaf at birth and unable to talk, and her daughter Nurus Saadat, from Nakhjaran. Labiba has mixed heritage: Iranian Jews of the Levant, the Iranians of Armenistan, and the Jews and Christians of the Balkans. Her father was “an open opium wreck” and died, with her mother, when she was five years old. She was sold to Zohra the Egyptian. At 13 she heard her first lines of poetry, and at 22 she married Bayazid Shauqi who sang Hafiz and Rumi verses. This, I think is the best story in the collection, as they travel circuitously for three weeks to Tabriz in Iran via Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia. Her husband dies when Nurus is three days old, and Labiba moves to Isfahan, where she adopts the singing verses of her late husband, which she knew by heart. She meets the great Hindu poet Kishan Chand Ikhlas. The great Urdu poet Muhammad Taqi Mir falls in love with Nurus. They choose between their lovers and returning to Iran.
Then comes, the title ‘The Sun the Rose from the Earth’ about businessman Darbari Mal Vafa, born in 1793, who moves to Lucknow in 1825 to study under the legendary poet Shaikh Mushafi. His maid Bhoora – with him for almost 30 years – also exchanges poetry with Vafa. He never knows her marital status or her religion and beliefs, which she tells him is not important for poets.
The last story brings women to the fore. Fair, Amazonian-type, strong women from faraway Caucasus or Uzbekistan are the attraction for the 50-year-old narrator Gul Mohammad. He was told he’d never be a poet, so he became a soldier. The time span in this tale is distorted, going from 1521 to 1707 immediately, and is therefore more spiritual and vague.
This is a magnum opus. It is remarkable in fusing poetry from a range of selected Hindu and Muslim Urdu poets with an imagined story by different narrators that bring together their love and learning of poetry with a master poet. The mentor-master relationship is explored, as well as the search for the near-perfect word or phrase that expresses their feelings and emotions.
Judge this book by its cover! At first look, the regal attitude of the handsome Mughal attracts you to the book. One wonders who this person was and what Dastaan defines him. The richness and magnificence of the era bygone is also reflected in the beautiful, intricately woven prose, with its refined language and poetry oozing with sweetness and sublime joy.
“I am the sun that rose from the earth. But the sky of poetry is bright because of me.”
Shaikh Ghulam Hamadani Mushafi.
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