He is the last of the great Qutb Shahi poets. But, for long this Koh-i-Noor of Deccani literature remained buried under the rubble of negligence and indifference in the mines of Golconda. Tabai, who witnessed the periods of top-notch poets like Mullah Wajhi and Ghavasi, couldn’t shine as long as they ruled the roost. A court poet of Abul Hasan Qutb Shah, the last ruler of the Qutb Shahi dynasty, Tabai wrote ghazals as per the trend those days. But, he is best remembered for his Masnavi – Behram-o-Gul Andam.
The story of Behram-o-Gul Andam has remained popular down the ages with many poets writing it in their own way. Renowned bard, Hazrat Amir Khusrao, has also written this narrative under the title Hasht Bihist. Other notable Persian narratives include Haft Manzar of Hatefi and Amin’s Behram-o-Gul Andam. The oldest poem on this subject in Deccan goes by the name Behram-o-Banu Husn.
Research scholars are unable to decide whether the poet belonged to Golconda or Bijapur. However, Tabai has based his Masnavi on the Persian poet, Nizami Ganjavi’s epic – Hafte Paikar (The seven beauties). Nizami penned this epic in 1197, mirroring the life of the 14th Sasanian emperor, Behram Gor. This apart, this story is also written in Gujarati and Punjabi languages. This Masnavi was translated into Urdu by Malik Khushnud under the title Jannat Singar. Scholars agree that a comparison of all these works with the Masnavi of Tabai shows that the latter is far superior in respect of language, style and continuity of the narrative.
Another important aspect of the Masnavi is that it is rooted in Indian cultural ethos. It has a touch of Indian ambience complete with words and proverbs of local languages. One can notice deep impressions of Braj Bhasha, Punjabi, Gujarati, Telugu and Marathi. At the outset, Tabai extols both the king, Tana Shah, and his spiritual guru, Shah Raju. This marathon poem comprising 1,340 couplets was written in just 40 days. Tabai makes a mention of this in the Masnavi. He says:
Kiya hun main chalees din main kitab
Bahut fikr kar raat din behisab
Tabai had a lot of respect for his seniors, particularly Mullah Wajhi, an acclaimed poet those days. In his poem, Tabai recalls how Wajhi appeared in his dream one night and showered praise on his Masnavi. This appreciation also he mentions in his poem with pride.
Lagiya mai jo Masnavi bolne
Yun motian nichal dhal yun rolne
Yu Wajhi mere khwab main aye kar
Mukh apna suraj nad dikhlai kar
Srasar sunya jo meri Masnavi
Kya baat Tabai hai teri navi
A romanticised biography, the Masnavi speaks about Behram’s seven wives who lived in seven gardens. A unique thing about it is that Tabai strikes a balance in the couplets and classification of topics. For instance, he writes equal number of verses in praise of the king and his spiritual leader. During the course of narrative, there is a mention of the seven pieces of advice given to Behram Gor by his father. Tabai mentions each advice in just seven couplets. This symmetry shows the expertise of the poet and his ability to say it all in perfect meter.
Another important aspect of this Masnavi is that it can be easily understood unlike other Deccani poems. This is due to the fact that the language and the poetic expression used in it are closer to Rekhta, the Hindustani language. One can detect the changing phase of Urdu with deep north Indian influences in the Masnavi of Tabai. For this reason, many scholars consider Tabai as the last of the Deccani Urdu poets.
He begins his long poem with Hamd, followed by Naath. Then, in praise of the reigning king, Tana Shah, he goes poetic thus:
Shah bu Hasan tun shah Deccan
Tujhe shah Raju madad bu Hasan
Thereafter, Tabai unfolds the Behram saga in his inimitable way. It is a narrative poem based on the story of romance and the bravery of Behram, son of Kishwar, king of Rome and Gul Andam, the beautiful daughter of Qaiser, king of China. The language, eloquence and imagery in the poem make for a delightful reading. Sample this lyrical opening:
Awwal Shah Behram khushhal jo
Ke jun phool lale naman lal ho
Paryan ke hor baap ke paoon ja
Gul Andam ku lako khadman po pa
Tabai interspersed his poem with wisdom and advice. He talks about pitfalls in life and counsels caution. This he expresses in his characteristic way.
Kar andesha har kaam main behisab
Ke andesh bin kaam hota kharab
Even a cursory perusal shows that the Behram-o-Gul Andam poem of Tabai is the last of the great Masnavis. And it is, undoubtedly, a masterpiece of Deccani literature. After reading this epic poem, the impression one gains is that its author is not just a poet but a writer of immense talent.