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the Complete Review
the complete review - memoir

Zikr-i Mir

(Mir Muhammad Taqi)

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To purchase Zikr-i Mir

Title: Zikr-i Mir
Author: Mir (Mir Muhammad Taqi)
Genre: Autobiography
Written: 1783
Length: 203 pages
Original in: Persian
Availability: Zikr-i Mir - US
Zikr-i Mir - UK
Zikr-i Mir - Canada
  • The Autobiography of the Eighteenth Century Mughal Poet: Mir Muhhamad Taqi 'Mir'
  • Translated, annotated, and with an introduction by C.M.Naim
  • Although Mir is best known for his Urdu poetry he also occasionally wrote in Persian. Zikr-i Mir is his best-known Persian work.
  • A first version of Zikr-i Mir was completed ca. 1773. A second one was completed ca. 1783.
  • Includes eight appendices:
    1. Historical Figures
    2. Glossary
    3. The Concluding Passages of Narrative A (the first version, from ca. 1773)
    4. A Proposal Concerning Narrative B (dealing specifically with the dating of the second version)
    5. Mir's Patrons
    6. Mir's Literary Milieu
    7. Mir's 'Lunacy'
    8. Love and Sex

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Our Assessment:

B- : interesting document, well-presented, though not easily accessible

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Telegraph . 5/7/1999 Khushwant Singh
The Tribune . 3/7/1999 A.S. Deepak

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mir drew vivid pictures of what he saw and put them on paper with tears of blood. I learnt a lot more from Naimís translation than I knew when I created the fictional Mir for my novel." - Khushwant Singh, The Telegraph

  • "Mir Taqi Mir had a keen eye for detail. (...) I was not impressed by Mirís sense of humour. Many of the anecdotes quoted by Professor Naim are outrageously ribald and would not be acceptable to editors of today." - A.S. Deepak, The Tribune

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Zikr-i Mir is an unusual document from 18th century Mughal India. Mir, a poet famous for his ghazals, wrote mainly in Urdu, but he also penned verse and some prose -- including Zikr-i Mir -- in Persian.
       Zikr-i Mir is a memoir -- of sorts. It is not a straightforward autobiographical account of the poet's life and work. In fact, Mir seems at greater pains to describe the lives and accomplishments of friends and some members of his family -- especially his father -- as well as the larger political situation in those tumultuous times. The book is also unusual in that he concludes it with 55 "Witty Tales" -- short and fairly ribald jokes that have nothing to the with Mir's life or work.
       Mir seems to relate more of his father's life than his own, leaving out significant details that one might expect in an autobiographical work. There are few personal details, especially regarding his family life, and his professional triumphs (and disappointments) are also only touched upon occasionally. There is little sense of his rise to prominence as a poet, or much discussion about his craft and art.
       Nevertheless, it is an interesting document. Presented mainly episodically Mir does tell a few interesting tales of friends and acquaintances (and of being a poet). He also recounts the upheaval in the India of those times, and the enormous suffering that resulted. While he did not himself witness all this history in the making he does present a useful account of it, and certainly his own difficulties in those times are convincingly related.
       His conclusion sums up a bit more than is actually presented in the text:

In short, the world is a place of strange happenings. What houses there were that crumbled down ! What young men there were that gave up their lives ! What gardens there were that are now a wilderness ! What (joyous) assemblies there were that now seem a fantasy !
       Mir tends to lose himself in a variety of specifics, but by the end they do add up to a formidable picture, a slice of Indian life in that age. Aside from political matters there are a number of successful scenes depicting military conflicts, spiritual matters, and sexual obsessions -- in particular homosexual obsessions.
       The jokes tacked on at the end of the narrative are an odd end to the book. But it is surely one of the few collections of jokes from that time in existence, and as such certainly of note. The jokes themselves are often quite raw, and much of the humour obviously tied to the times and the culture (most of the humour itself is lost, despite C.M.Naim's best efforts at translation).

       C.M.Naim presents the material very well. A short (21 page) introduction introduces the poet and the specifics of this text (and its relation to his other work, as well as to the period in general). The translation is extensively annotated (415 footnotes for less than 120 pages of text), helping with many of the specifics without intruding too greatly on the text itself. The memoir itself is a complex text, its focus often moving about, and much left off or unexplained. Naim has nevertheless presented a readable English version -- though it is still a somewhat demanding text, at least for those not entirely familiar with the period and culture.
       The eight appendices are also exemplary, addressing a variety of issues from the simple -- giving background information about the historical figures of the day -- to specific textual issues that are probably only of interest to the specialist.
       Zikr-i Mir is primarily of interest for an academic audience, but there are enough odds and ends here that make it of interest to a broader audience. As a rare (and rich) first-hand account of these times it is of value to anyone interested in the India of that time. And there is actually considerable entertainment value as well -- including, but not limited to, the quite unexpected (and perhaps shocking) jokes Mir appends to his account.
       Obviously not for everyone, but an interesting text, very well presented

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Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • Hasan Shah's The Dancing Girl, a novel from about the same time
  • Qurratulain Hyder's panorama of Indian history River of Fire
  • Index of Indian literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Mir Muhammad Taqi -- known as Mir -- lived in Mughal India from 1723-1810. He was one of the greatest writers of ghazals in Urdu.

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