First published December 2008
KEY WORDS: Semantics and semiotics.Critical appreciation. Study of literary sources in textual criticism.
Poetic diction.Shakespeare. Meer. Ghalib.TS Eliot.
The book under review fills a glaring paucity of critical study of lexicographic sources for a better literary appreciation and understanding; apart from enhancing the aesthetic, almost cathartic pleasure by indicating the subtle and fine nuances for the elusive art that poetry is. Especially the deftly crafted yet simple poetry of Meer Taqi Meer (1722-1810).
Lexicographic research in the semantics and semiotics of literary texts acquires importance as the prescribed texts have to follow a strict regimen of a tacit code of conduct, in a social and pedagogical context.
A Persian Lexicographer, poet and critic, Sirajuddin Khan Aarzu (1689-1756) was an established man of letters of his time. Mohammad Hussain Azad in his book “Aab-e-Hayaat” has acknowledged him as “Aristotle”. He compiled a dictionary entitled “Charagh-e-Hidayat” in Persian language, in which he collected two types of Persian words, combinations, idioms and proverbs, in his own words.
The first category of words is those with which Indians may not be familiar with and second, those meanings which have become obsolete due to non-use by native speakers.
This Farhang demonstrates how Meer has collocated and caught Khan Aarzu’s spirit through the use of his innovative neologisms and impregnated them with fresh connotations with his own context and imagination.
Meer has assimilated words and idiomatic expressions from “Charagh-e-Hidayat” in his biography“ Zikre-Meer” and Persian poetry. Qazi Abdul Wadood, Nisar Ahamd Farooqi and Chaudhry Mohammad Naim have mentioned this in their articles and books.
Aasi,Qazi Abdul Wadood, Khwaja Ahmad Farroqi and Shamsur Rehman Farooqi have indicated the usage of words from Charagh-e-Hidayat. However this Farhang is the first serious study of the usage of derivations in Urdu poetry of Meer.
For the first time, this Farhang identifies approximately 575 words and idioms in Meer’s Urdu poetry from Khan Aarzu’s Charagh-e-Hidayat.
There is a dearth of serious research in Urdu literature as compared to the research, for example, for the historical and textual sources of Shakespeare’s plays, with its best in the Arden Editions, where each quarto and Folio is identified, complete with decimals.
It is said that an index of books on just Shakespeare’s Hamlet alone is the size of a British telephone book every year!
Each Arden Shakespeare edition begins with:
1. Date of composition
2. The diversity of critical opinions
3. Historical sources
4. The nature of the Quarto and Folio text ,Evidence of alterations in the Folio text
What I wish to demonstrate here by quoting the above passage is to highlight the same tradition of rigorous lexicographic research and methodology in “Farhang” compiled by Dr. Abdur Rasheed and a critical study of the semantics and semiotics of the poetic diction of one of the masters- Meer.
It can only be a labor of love.
Dr. Abdur Rasheed, in “ Farhang-e-Kalam-e-Meer “ presents the following matter-of-fact approach with regards to the methodology adopted in compiling this dictionary:
“First of all, the basic word and meaning from Charagh-e-Hidayat is listed, then after an asteriká, the meanings are given and the variety of sources and the meanings which find closest parallel to meanings in Charagh-e-Hidayat. The examples from Meer’s Collected works follow.”(Dr. Abdur Rasheed,in Farhang-e-Kalam-e-Meer)
This Farhang presents those words which have been used in the Urdu poetry of Meer. As a first, and a just matter of pride, some of the words/meanings have not yet been listed either in the old Urdu dictionaries or the latest dictionary : URDU LUGHAT (ON historical principles) published recently.
The contents of Dr. Rasheed’s Farhang are as follows:
v Dictionary of Meer’s poetry ( Alphabetical )with
v a/ Critical opinions
v b/ Evidence of assimilation and alterations
v Neologisms, innovative stylistic devices and idiomatic expressions
To quote from the Foreword by Dr. Abdur Rasheed:
” The present dictionary is an effort by a Meer’s student at understanding his poetic oeuvre and help others understand too. This should be kept in mind during the perusal.
A dictionary of a language may be said to be a treasure of the words of that language. Word holds prime importance in language and dictionary is secondary. However only those words find usage in languages which are used, more or less, in society.
It is also obvious that a poet or author uses commonly used words. With the passage of time, some words become archaic and some neologisms come into being and this process of innovation and obsolescence continues. This process follows the diktats of the social and economic transitions. The reason for these transitions is not the focus of the present book.
I would just like to highlight, confining myself within the ambit of my present focus, the role a good and authentic dictionary plays in understanding a language. We can corroborate this observation by outlining how the pen pushers of a particular period or a later period benefited from a dictionary. The status of “CHARAGH_E_HIDAYAT” by Sirajuddin Khan Aarzoo (1756-1689) is impeccable in this regard.”
I have traced and identified some neologisms , coinages, innovative stylistic devices and idiomatic expressions in Meer’s poetry and prose to “Charagh-e-Hidayat”.”
An excerpt from Walter’s Arden Shakespeare edition is relevant here to depict the variety of possible sources for words and novel meanings with reference to Shakespeare’s King Henry V:
“Lines 28-30, besides containing an obvious allusion to the casting forth of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden (Gen. III. 23-4) have a deeper significance.
The word “consideration” is usually glossed as “reflection”, or “contemplation”, but this is surely an unsatisfactory gloss here. Its usage in this period points to another connotation. In the Authorized Version the verb “ consider” is frequently used where it is almost equivalent to an exhortation to repent from evil doing or at least in association with evil doing ( Deut. XXX. 24, 29; Ps. 1. 22; Hag. i. 5; Isa. i. 3; Jer. Xxiii. 20; XXX. 24,
etc. ), as it does in Hooker ( Works, 1850, II. 242).
Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living and Holy Dying uses” consideration” in numerous section headings with the meaning of spiritual contemplation, and again in the general context of turning away from sin to good life. It is evident that the word was associated with intense spiritual contemplation and self- examination, and not with merely thought or reflection.
Centuries earlier Bernard of Clairvaux, called upon to write an exhortation that would encourage corrupt members of the Church to repent and reform their lives, wrote De Consideratione.
“Consideration for St. Bernard is one of the “creatures of Heaven” dominated on Earth by the senses. He notes that St Paul’s ecstasies (2 Cor. Xii. 4) were departures from the senses and therefore forms of consideration or divine contemplation….Consideration, when the help is given to those who are the “heirs of salvation” (Heb. i. 14)— becomes perfection in the contemplation of God.
There is no evidence that Shakespeare knew Bernard’s work, although it was regarded as one of his most important writings and was very highly esteemed in the Middle Ages. But the linking of significant words “consideration”, “angel”, “celestial spirits”, indicates that Shakespeare was undoubtedly thinking of repentance and conversion in the religious sense.”
So many variations on the meaning of a commonly used word like “consideration”!
Now do please read any entry in Dr. Rasheed’s “Farhang” and enjoy the refreshing poetry of Meer with a brand new perspective. I don’t want to spoil the fun by quoting from the Farhang.
The difference between Shakespeare and Meer is that the former assimilates passages and plots as also words and expressions whereas Meer provides a poetic context to the innovative and quaint vocabulary of Khan Aarzu.
T. S. Eliot has used a word “pastiche” to explain his creative process in his famous poem “Wasteland” in which he echoes Shakespeare, Sanskrit shlokas and other classical poets. Using words from a dictionary is fine because that is the raison d’être of what a dictionary is meant to be, but using the words and idiomatic expressions in poetry is also Meer’s way of paying tribute to the genius of Khan Aarzu.
Sometimes ideas and expressions get wings of their own and travel, otherwise how can one explain the similarities between Shakespeare and Kalidas or Ghalib.
I personally believe that poetry is. Just like art is. Period.
It does not have to mean just one layer; like a painting; a connoisseur of classical poetry decodes the poetic text in their own subjective ways. However, throwing light on the unknown meanings shall be a great help and that is why this Farhang holds the key to unraveling meanings hitherto unknown and unleashing brand new interpretations of the simple yet not-so-simple poetry of Meer.
Koi saada hi us ko saada kahay
Hamain to lagay hai wo ayyaar sa
(Only a simpleton may call him simple
He looks wicked to us.)
Dr. Abdur Rasheed combines a rare expertise in both linguistics and literature and has an impressive track record in lexicography, research and very rich experience in Urdu and Persian text preparation.
Hopefully this book will provoke some, please some, and enlighten some….highly readable and refreshing as Meer’s word smithy sparkles like nuggets set by a goldsmith.
Hopefully, this Farhang will also fill the void for more research on Meer, who, unlike Ghalib, is not so well understood and, of course other Classical poets, so far removed in time.
Dr. Rasheed’s “Farhang” is a must-read for those who have an earnest desire to understand the craft of Meer’s word art .
This “Farhang” is a must-read because, to quote John H. Walters, who edited Arden Shakespeare’s King Henry V edition, “it should be read by all the students concerned with the provenance of the text”.
The book displays the highest quality in book publishing standards under the guidance of Abdul Mughni, an excellent layout and composing by Jamal Mohammad Abdullah and an evocative Art on the cover (Khalid Bin Sohail) aesthetically and visually compliments the simplicity in Meer’s poetry.
The cost of the book is very reasonable @ Rs. 250-00INR and US$50/- only.
Just write to
for your personal copy.
Reviewed by Kamal Abdul Nasir at
E-Publishing ,21st Century Star on
An excerpt from a Review by Dr. Shamim Hanafi
“ The ambit of such litterateurs in Urdu who have a fine taste for Classical literature and are also deeply aware of the Classical poetics, dictionaries, and subtle intricacies of stylistic devices, is shrinking gradually. I value Dr Abdur Rasheed from the bottom of my heart.
This is the latest academic achievement of Dr. Abdur Rasheed.
Meer was himself aware as he says:
Is it easy to understand Meer
Every word he says is from a niche…
Dr. Abdur Rasheed has a wide perspective on language, idioms and lexicography and a phenomenal memory too…..he seems to have a natural affinity with such themes.
I think this book by Abdur Rasheed shall become an important and basic source for the interpretation of Meer’s poetry and shall be acclaimed by connoisseurs. This book will be seen as a useful and meaningful addition to the rich heritage of “Meeriyaat”.”
Delhi, January9, 2009