The main source of information on Mir’s life is his autobiography Zikr-e-Mir, which covers the period from his childhood to the beginnings of his sojourn in Lucknow. However, it is said to conceal more than it reveals, with material that is undated or presented in no chronological sequence. Therefore, many of the ‘true details’ of Mir’s life remain a matter of speculation. Mir was born in Agra, India (then called Akbarabad and ruled by the Mughals) ca. August or September 1723 in a family of Arab origins. His philosophy of life was formed primarily by his father, a religious man with a large following, whose emphasis on the importance of love and the value of compassion remained with Mir throughout his life and imbued his poetry. Mir’s father died while the poet was in his teens. He left Agra for Delhi a few years after his father’s death, to finish his education and also to find patrons who offered him financial support (Mir’s many patrons and his relationships with them have been described by his translator C. M. Naim).
Some scholars consider two of Mir’s masnavis (long narrative poems rhymed in couplets), Mu’amlat-e-ishq (The Stages of Love) and Khwab o khyal-e Mir (“Mir’s Vision”), written in the first person, as inspired by Mir’s own early love affairs, but it is by no means clear how autobiographical these accounts of a poet’s passionate love affair and descent into madness are. Especially, as France W. Pritchett points out, the austere portrait of Mir from these masnavis must be juxtaposed against the picture drawn by Andalib Shadani, whose inquiry suggests a very different poet, given to unabashed eroticism in his verse Mir lived much of his life in Mughal Delhi. Kuchha Chelan, in Old Delhi was his address at that time. However, after Ahmad Shah Abdali’s sack of Delhi each year starting 1748, he eventually moved to the court of Asaf-ud-Daulah in Lucknow, at the king’s invitation. Distressed to witness the plundering of his beloved Delhi, he gave vent to his feelings through some of his couplets.
Mir migrated to Lucknow in 1782 and remained there for the remainder of his life. Though he was given a kind welcome by Asaf-ud-Daulah, he found that he was considered old-fashioned by the courtiers of Lucknow (Mir, in turn, was contemptuous of the new Lucknow poetry, dismissing the poet Jur’at’s work as merely ‘kissing and cuddling’). Mir’s relationships with his patron gradually grew strained, and he eventually severed his connections with the court. In his last years Mir was very isolated. His health failed, and the death of his daughter, son and wife caused him great distress. He died, of a purgative overdose, on Friday, 21 September 1810. The marker of his burial place was removed in modern times when a railway was built over his grave. Literary life
His complete works, Kulliaat, consist of six Diwans containing 13,585 couplets, comprising all kinds of poetic forms: ghazal, masnavi, qasida, rubai, mustezaad, satire, etc. Mir’s literary reputation is anchored on the ghazals in his Kulliyat-e-Mir, much of them on themes of love. His masnavi Mu’amlat-e-Ishq (The Stages of Love) is one of the greatest known love poems in Urdu literature. Mir lived at a time when Urdu language and poetry was at a formative stage – and Mir’s instinctive aesthetic sense helped him strike a balance between the indigenous expression and new enrichment coming in from Persian imagery and idiom, to constitute the new elite language known as Rekhta or Hindui. Basing his language on his native Hindustani, he leavened it with a sprinkling of Persian diction and phraseology, and created a poetic language at once simple, natural and elegant, which was to guide generations of future poets. The death of his family members, together with earlier setbacks (including the traumatic stages in Delhi), lend a strong pathos to much of Mir’s writing – and indeed Mir is noted for his poetry of pathos and melancholy.