While legend says that Amir Khusro was the author, the tales were written long after his death. The book is in some ways similar to the Thousand and One Nights in its method of framing and linking unfinished stories within each other. The central character is a king, Azad Bakht, who falls into depression after thinking about his own mortality, and so sets out from his palace seeking wise men. He comes upon four dervishes in a cemetery, and listens to their fantastical stories. Each Dervish narrates his own story, which is basically on love and fidelity in their own past lives. When the fourth dervish finishes his tale, the king Azadbakht suddenly learns that one of his wives has just born the son to him.
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Written by Mir Amman in in the spoken language of the day, the book, a dastan, or tale, was in essence way ahead of the tastes of its time that favoured a classical and ornate style of prose.
It has been published in abridged editions and translated into many languages, including English, Hindi, Gujarati, French and Punjabi. It has also been published in other scripts such as Devanagari, Gujarati and Roman English.
Originally planned and written as a textbook for the British officers who were to be trained and taught Urdu at Calcutta's Fort William College during British rule, Bagh-o-Bahar's popularity spread beyond the pedagogic circles, and within 20 years or so of its publication it was so hugely popular that it evoked the envy of many.
At the same time, it also invited the wrath of the Lucknow school of Urdu literature that thought 'Bagh-o-Bahar' was nothing but a deviation from standard Urdu idiom and Mir Amman, being a 'Dilliwala', was simply not up to the task of writing standard Urdu. The Lucknow school's answer to 'Bagh-o-Bahar' came in the shape of 'Fasana-i-Ajaaib', a dastan written in a tortuously ornate language laden with metaphors and poetical expressions.
At times, its prose so much rhymes that 'Fasan-i-Ajaaib' sounds like poetry. In his foreword, Suroor is quite sarcastic about Mir Amman's beautifully plain and colloquial Urdu and what he meant to say was that Bagh-o-Bahar's Urdu was not on a par with that of 'Fasana-i-Ajaaib', which was the correct, idiomatic and standard language.
Though 'Fasana-i-Ajaaib', too, survived the vicissitudes of time, today it basically serves as a sample of a classical style of prose that is no more favoured, but was very much in vogue till the s when modern Urdu prose began taking shape.
So Bagh-o-Bahar's another distinction is that it was a precursor of modern Urdu prose. As for the source and origin of 'Bagh-o-bahar', it is by no means an original story. It is based on the popular tale 'Qissa-i-chahar darvesh', or the story of four dervishes, of which there have been many versions in Urdu and Persian.
It was generally believed that when Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia fell ill, his disciple Ameer Khusrau used to narrate the story of four dervishes to help soothe his pains. Mir Amman has supported the myth in the beginning of 'Bagh-o-Bahar'. But the fact is that Ameer Khusrau had nothing to do with 'Bagh-o-Bahar' and, as proved by Hafiz Mahmood Sheerani, since it contains couplets of the poets of the later era and it also contains the names of official posts that were introduced by the Mughals, it could not possibly be created by Khusrau and was written much later than his time.
Mir Amman benefited from 'Nau tarz-i-murassa', a dastan written by Mir Ata Hussain Tehseen in , which, in turn, is based on a Persian tale. But Tehseen's book was written in a language peculiar to his times and tastes ornate and artful but artificial. Mir Amman changed it into a vivid and colloquial language. While writing the dialogues, he reproduced the language spoken by the men and women in the street, keeping an eye on idiomatic and literary expressions when narrating the events.
Another aspect that lends Bagh-o-Bahar credibility among the literary and academic circles is its ability to capture the phenomenon known as Indo-Muslim culture. It describes the norms, etiquettes, rites, rituals, attires, foods, utensils and jewellery. It narrates courts, banquets, receptions, royal processions, means of travel, decorative pieces, hobbies, beliefs, prayers, weather and even the names given to the servants.
It is a portrait of the sub-continental culture and values painted by a maestro. And that too in a language that is almost entirely comprehensible even today. Mir Amman is also held responsible for spreading the erroneous belief that some consider being true even today Urdu is a 'lashkari zaban', or 'camp language'.
Mir Amman in the foreword of 'Bagh-o-Bahar' declared that Urdu was a camp language since it was born in the camps of the Mughal troops during the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, conveniently ignoring the fact that texts of Urdu poetry were available as early as in the period of Ameer Khusrau or even earlier. Mohammad Hussain Azad repeated the myth in his 'Aab-i-Hayat', thereby lending credibility to a false statement that held water till it was corrected by linguists in the 20th century, albeit some still find it difficult to swallow the truth.
But linguistics tells us that languages are not formed that way and Urdu is by no means a 'camp language'. Published for numerous times by a host of publishers, 'Bagh-o-Bahar' had suffered at the hands of some unscrupulous publishers whose sole aim was to mint money.
Not only did they reproduce the text from the older and erroneous versions, they ignored the typographical errors as well, adding thereby new errors to the classical text worth reading and analysing meticulously.
This went on, though some better versions too were published, but it was not till Rasheed Hasan Khan published his annotated and edited version of 'Bagh-o-Bahar' in when we had an authentic and reliable one.
Having got the corrected version, it was for someone like Suhail Abbas Khan to evaluate the literary merits of a work like 'Bagh-o-Bahar' that needed to be judged thoroughly for its various aspects. Deeply engrossed in classical Urdu literature with a perfect eye for grammar, prosody and rhetoric, Suhail Abbas was just the right fellow for the job. When one surveys the extent to which Suhail Abbas has thrashed 'Bagh-o-bahar', one is truly amazed.
No grammatical or rhetorical aspect of 'Bagh-o-Bahar' has escaped him, whether it is the lexicon, idioms, verbs, adjectives, nouns or morphological variations, Suhail Abbas has dealt them with rapt attention and erudition they deserved.
Suhail Abbas Khan, a young scholar from Multan currently serving the Osaka University, deserves full marks for the work he has done. Now we hope he will bring out another research work that will be as much worth-reading as his work on Mir Amman's classical piece. Mir Amman had hoped that anyone who would read 'Bagh-o-Bahar' would feel like visiting a garden. Even after the lapse of years, his garden has not withered.
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Bagh o Bahar / باغ و بہار
Written by Mir Amman in in the spoken language of the day, the book, a dastan, or tale, was in essence way ahead of the tastes of its time that favoured a classical and ornate style of prose. It has been published in abridged editions and translated into many languages, including English, Hindi, Gujarati, French and Punjabi. It has also been published in other scripts such as Devanagari, Gujarati and Roman English. Originally planned and written as a textbook for the British officers who were to be trained and taught Urdu at Calcutta's Fort William College during British rule, Bagh-o-Bahar's popularity spread beyond the pedagogic circles, and within 20 years or so of its publication it was so hugely popular that it evoked the envy of many.