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From Meer to Modi: How ‘Jaan Hai Toh Jahan Hai’ Perfectly Captures Life in the Era of Covid-19

By: Eram Agha


Last Updated: April 14, 2020, 13:32 IST

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (PIB/PTI Photo)

File photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (PIB/PTI Photo)

Although the idiom is associated with 18th century Urdu poet Meer Taqi Meer, it has been adopted and adapted over a period of time.

New Delhi: The origins of the Urdu idiom ‘Jaan Hai Toh Jahan Hai’ lie in a crisis and have now found an echo in these times of pandemic inflicted by the coronavirus as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used it to prepare the country for emergency lockdowns.

The Urdu idiom has travelled with us since 18th century, when poet Meer Taqi Meer said: Mir Amdan Bhi Koi Marta Hai! Jaan Hai Toh Jahan Hai Pyaare!” (Mir does anybody die wilfully? Only if you live my dear, do you have the world ahead of you).

Although the idiom is associated with Meer, who is known as the Imam of Urdu language and poetry, over the period of time it has been adopted and adapted by many other dialects - as every culture encounters the situation of ‘Jaan’ and ‘Jahan’.

The Urdu writers News18.com spoke to said nothing can capture the burden of life in these Covid-19 times than ‘jaan hai toh jahan hai...’

When the 21-day lockdown was first announced by Prime Minister Modi on March 24, he had said, “Jaan hai to jahan hai.” On April 14, he tweaked the couplet a bit but retained the spirit of ‘jaan’ and ‘jahan’ as he announce that the lockdown will be extended till May 3.

Modi said, “While announcing the lockdown, I had said ‘jaan hai to jahan hai' (health is wealth). Most people in the country understood it and discharged their responsibilities by remaining indoors. And now it is imperative to focus on both aspects, ‘Jaan bhi, jahan bhi’ (lives as well as livelihoods), for India’s bright future, and prosperous and healthy India.”

How we got to ‘Jaan’ and ‘Jahan’?

Author Rana Safvi said that there is no clear moment of origin, but the idiom can be traced to Meer Taqi Meer, the poet who gave the world Urdu language and poetry, a stalwart and a pioneer of the language.

“Health is wealth is an old English saying. In Urdu it's said as jaan hai to jahan hai. The phrase is very popular in Urdu poetry,” she said, adding there is nothing better than these lines to express and reflect the times we are living in.

Well-known Urdu writer and Professor Tariq Chhatari from Aligarh Muslim University said more than the origins it’s the adaptation and travel and relevance of the lines that surprise him.

“These lines cannot be about one person and one moment. After Meer said them they’ve travelled and have been adapted to echo the same sentiment in different languages like Braj, Awadhi, Bhojpuri etc. It is the couplet uttered awaam ke haq me(for the wellness of the people),” he said.

Rahat Abrar, director at Urdu Academy in Delhi, said, “There is brevity in Urdu language – how to covey the burden circumstances in few words? Nothing better than Meer’s!”

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