It has been long long since Ghalib is dead but he still resides and grows in our memories. This is the narration of none else than Ghalib himself, who in his unique style has contrived to not let us forget him. We know large number of men of letters, the poets, the prose writers, the dramatists. All of them have left a mark on us but the knowledgeable people tell us that three of the four greatest creative literary geniuses that the world have seen were produced in the sixteenth century: Cervantes in Spain, Shakespeare in England and Rabelais in France. In the Indian subcontinent, the great literary attainments, however, were made across wide canvass of time and space. Thus Kalidas blossomed in the ancient world, Khusro and Tulsidas in the middle ages and Tagore and Iqbal in the modern era. Ghalib may not find a place in the august company of such literary luminaries but in name and fame he doesn’t lag much behind them and remains one of the most remembered and most quoted poet . In his own words he makes the people say that Ghalib has a unique way of expressing his thoughts, a different Andaaz-e-bayaan. He has earned an exalted place for himself and many have got enamoured of his poetry. So much so that a literary critic went to the extent of saying that the interaction of Hindu and Muslim civilizations have provided three rare gifts to the subcontinent in the form of Urdu, the sweet language, Taj Mahal, the memorable building and Mirza Ghalib, the great poet. A rare honour indeed.
Born in the last decade of eighteenth century at Agra when the Mughal empire had started to disintegrate and the new order had not yet taken shape, he found the world to be a house of pain, of sad bereavement and decay. Born in an aristocratic family, he lost his parents early. Pensionary benefits on account of services rendered by elders, accrued but they remained in force in fits and starts. The poet shifted to Delhi. But the wants and woes and fears didn’t stop following him. The realities of life soon dawned upon him. He was pained to see the merit going unrewarded. He underwent the grief of losing all his children. The poet had amassed a lot of love of the people but had to beg for a pittance from the King. He got disturbed on seeing that the royal favours have been cornered by the people of inferior merit. Despite these misfortunes he loved life and found a lot of zest and gusto in it. He did enjoy good things of life. So many that one shudders to name them all.
Early in his life people realized that a new star was ascending the horizon of poetry. People began to understand that this new poet had brought new ideas in the realm of poetry. He introduced a forcible and direct style thereby coming out of the frills of traditional Urdu ghazal which had confined itself in the corridors of Gul-o-Bulbul. Ghalib revamped the concept of ghazal and switched it from an expression of anguish of love to the other philosophies of life. He made men think by posing awkward and astonishing questions which earlier had not been asked. We may say that he bore a grudge against God and the intricate web woven around His name. In the world of strange thinking and religious dogmas, he did certainly make some people angry and uncomfortable. In their thinking he would even stand accused of being irreligious. His ideas were superb as they evaporated through a superb poetry. People got compelled to rate highly the products of his keen mind and to listen to the outpourings of his poetry.
His unique style is visible when we come across his welcome and celebration of even death. His words as transliterated by Prof JL Kaul are quite interesting:
Man owes his zest for life to his mortality, Had we both world and time, love would have lost its urgency, and desire stretched itself lazily, nor called for urgent fulfilment. How many hopes and desires jostle in man’s breast, and crowd within the brief span of his life.
It has been well said that desire is the starting point of all achievements and some desire is necessary to keep life in motion. Ghalib too enjoins us not to shirk to enter the realm of desire : Desire inspires the coward heart with valiant aspirations : Desire drives the little drop of water towards the ocean: Desire nerves the humble man to shoot high at a star: Desire blows a speck of dust to desert sands afar.
But every thing was not hunky and dory for him. He was accused of gross Pesianization of his narration and introducing unnecessary complexities in his outpourings. This provided a lot of annoyance and ammunition to his critics who pronounced that one could make neither head nor tail out of his poetry. His verses could be understood by the Almighty only or by Mirza himself. But there were other people also, large in number, who rated his poetry very high. In the words of one critic when this Maestro, the Ustad-e-Kaamil bids adieu to Persianation and weaves simple words in his verses, he makes the streams of his reflections and ponderings flow with majestic grace and glory. He just becomes a magician, an alchemist in words. Every one from his audience who listened to his poetry, the learned who understood him or the unlearned who didn’t follow him, burst out in laudatory Wah Wah Wah!
It was quite ironic that he derived much pride out of his Persian poetry but many people didn’t become acquainted with these accomplishments of Ghalib. On the other hand, his Urdu poetry for which perhaps he didn’t dig so much of his heart brought him a great name and fame. Intriguing still remain his letters written to his friends in lucid language. Letters are often written in a routine manner and rarely carry any significant literary value. Ghalib also wrote his letters as a routine correspondence .But his letters turned out to be a treasure of literary and historical significance. They laid the foundation of the present day Urdu prose. His letters were informal, direct and straight shorn of any address, salutations or assurances of respectful service and humble submission. His letters ‘talk’ with the person who reads them. From a hundred of miles you talk with the tongue of the pen and enjoy the warmth of meeting even when separated, he wrote to one of his friends. To another friend he wrote that hardly a day passed when he didn’t hear about the demise of one of his friends. He got overwhelmed with anxiety and pondered whether he would be left with four out of scores of his friends to give shoulder to his coffin. Drawing a sketch of a rainy day, he wrote that the rain poured for minutes but the roof trickled for hours.
He was a modernist in more senses than one. He attacked orthodoxy with powerful and pungent irony. A skeptical or an agnostic, he would often aver that God may be in his heaven but all was not well with the world. When he had lived a life full of strife, trials and tribulations, then how he could bring himself round to say that God existed, he asked in one of his verses. He didn’t desist from making a mock of heaven, when he proclaimed that he knew its real worth which was nothing more than a mirage, an illusion, a subterfuge. ‘Half Mussalmaan, Huzoor’, he had pronounced when rounded up and interrogated by Major Brown about his religion after the uprising of 1857. On further questioning, he amused his interrogator when he clarified that he enjoyed his drinks often but didn’t partake pork. Certainly a liberated mind in an age of orthodoxy and conservativism. This leaves one bewildered when in the advanced and modern Delhi of today we hear often the language of bigotry and obscurantism. Even the so-called liberal like Kejriwal, yes the muffler clad one, pronouncing himself a complete Hindu,
a devout Hindu seems ludicrous. And when another great leader tries searching desperately the threads and bonds of his Brahminical cord, his gotra in Ghalib’s Delhi, he makes us laugh.
Ghalib amuses us still further. Making light of the complaint of his Begum that there was hardly anything at home to prepare the meals and he had brought a crate of French wine, the poet jocularly gave it a short shrift that the Almighty had taken it upon Himself to arrange for the ‘Rizq’ of his Creation. But God had kept mum when it came to make arrangement for the drinks. So he had but to bring the wine himself.
In the modern world of technology he has made a niche for himself and be it Facebook or be it WhatsApp, he rules the roost. His name is so popular with the users of these sites that even much of the trash unconnected with him is transmitted in his name. All the popular singers from KL Sehgal to Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammed Rafi to Suriya, Fateh Ali Khan to Begum Akhter, Jagjit Singh to Iqbal Bano, Talat Mehmood to Noor Jahan have made themselves and the poet popular by singing his ghazals. Successful films and TV serials have been made based on his life and poetry.
Ghazal remained the main vehicle of expression in Persian and Urdu languages but it did enter in other languages of the subcontinent also, be it Pashto or Konkni, Maithili or Punjabi, Dogri or Sindhi. And Ghalib is introduced to all those neo poets who are initiated into the world of poetry in all these languages. Thus a Kishan Smailpuri in Dogri, a Shiv Kumar Batalvi in Punjabi and a Gulzar in Urdu got inspired and remained ever indebted to Ghazal and Ghalib for all their exploits.
Ghalib breathed his last on February, 15,1869 but he has seeped deep in us and we quote his verses off and on. When in the competitive world of today we are taken to despondency and desperation, to our failures, we start humming ‘Dil-e-Nadaan tujhe hua kiya hey’ and at least tell me what remedy can nurse your malady, my heart.