IN SEARCH OF MEHRI ARAB THE POETESS AT MUGHAL HOUSEHOLD
COMPANION OF EMPRESS NUR JAHAN WHO WAS HER GUARDIAN
LITTLE BY LITTLE INFORMATION PILES UP IN HISTORICAL RECORD
Mehri is not an unusual name. It is an actually abbreviated form of Mehr, and for that matter Mehr unnisa was the name of Empress Nur Jahan herself. Little bits and pieces are known. It should be clarified that there were at least three Mehri poetess in those times. One was Mehri Khanum, a Turkish poetess, who wrote both in Turkish and Persian. Then there was Mehri Herawi, from the city of Herat, whose work was also known here. And then there was Mehri, the poetess attached with Empress Nur Jahan herself.
One strange aspect is that little of Mehri’s verses have survived and copies of a Masnavi or two exists in the famous Berlin library as well as Bombay University library. Nowhere else the same is known. It is called as the SARRAPA I MEHRI , and is just of a few pages. Enlarged writing makes it 14 pages, condensed writing just four pages. Some verses here and there in tazkhiras. But the funny aspect is that she is known a a PERSIAN POETESS but in the collections which saves her writing, she is written as MEHRI ARAB. A strange contradiction. We have a story of Emperor Akbar in Afghanistan who met a group of 200 Arabs in Afghanistan and and treated them with honour. We have the legend of Hamida Begum who brought a group of 300 Arabs back to Hindustan from her Haj trip to Mecca. In that respect we have the famous ARAB SERAI in Delhi. And on one of the Eastern gates, there is written MEHR BANO QADIMI JAHANGEER SHAH. Some scholars believe this Mehr to be an eunuch in the service of Emperor Jahangeer. Other believe it to be the name used of Nur Jahan herself. But the inscription very strangely written, and not the normal elegant inscriptions of Empress Nur Jahan. It is too brief and too vague to have other meanings. Perhaps the small Arab girl Mehr was part of these Arab travellers and Empress Nur Jahan liked the child and adopted her as her own. We do know that this Mehr was married to Khawaja Hakeem of the Mughal Court.
An interesting episode is related by Tazkhira writer Sher Khan Lodi of Bengal. He says that one day Nur Jahan and Mehri were standing on the balconey, when Khawaja Hakeem passed from underneath. Nur Jahan asked Mehri to summon Khawaja Hakeem, and the man got so nervous, that he started walking with an unusual gait. Nur Jahan asked Mehri to recite some verses on the stupid walk of her husband. And Mehri said these extempore verses:
“MARABA TO SARE YARI NUMANDA,
SARE MEHR OH WAFADARI NUMANDA;
TORAH ASZAF OH PEERI QUWAT OH ZOAR,
CHUNANCHAY PAY BARADARI NUMANDA.
In the couplet Mehri complains to her husband that due to old age and weakness, he does not have even the ability to walk forward, so the possibility of good marital relations has diminished considerably and no loyalty was to be expected.
Empress Nur Jahan was highly amused and as expected from an Empress, rewarded the poetess in a proper manner. Everyone calls Meri a Persian poetess raised by Nur Jahan but references show her as Mehri Arab. Further research obviously required in the life of Mehri.