The city and its poet

Can Delhi afford to forget Ghalib, his legacy?

Written by Gauhar Raza | Published: January 2, 2018 12:02 am
mirza ghalib, ghalib haveli, urdu poet, ghalib, mushaira, ghalib delhi, ghalib ballimaran haveli, old delhi haveli, jashn e bahar, jashn e rekhta, ghalib legacy, indian express The Yaadgar-E-Ghalib anniversary celebrations at the Haveli of the renowned Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib in Old Delhi on Tuesday, december 27, 2011. (Express Photo/Tashi Tobgyal)

jin shahroñ meiñ gooñji thi Ghalib ki nava barsoñ/ un shahroñ meiñ ab Urdu benam-o-nishañ thahri/ aazadi-e-kamil ka elaan hua jis din/ ma.atub zabañ thahri ghhaddar zabañ thahri

(In cities where Ghalib’s voice had echoed for years/ In those very cities Urdu is an alien language now/ The day complete independence was declared/ It was declared a national misfortune and language of anti-nationals).

Sahir Ludhianvi, in very harsh words, reacted to celebrations organised on the occasion of Ghalib’s centenary in India. The entire poem is a reflection of intense anger and despair. It was written in 1969. We have come a long way since. About a year back, in Delhi, a few young artists were forcibly stopped from writing Urdu in a wall painting, in the metro a person was harassed because he was carrying an Urdu book and recently an elected representative in Aligarh was stopped from taking the oath in Urdu. Reportedly, every terrorist was found carrying something written in the Urdu script. These are political projects, dowsed in hate and communalism. However, transcending communal boundaries, Urdu is striking back. The large presence of young Urdu enthusiasts witnessed at “Jashn-e-bahar”, “Jashn-e-rekhta”, “DCM Indo-Pak Mushaira” in Delhi, needs to be celebrated.

I have written elsewhere that we as a nation refuse to acknowledge that India has produced great writers, poets, filmmakers, musicians, scientists, historians, painters and artists. We project it as a land of politicians and god-men. Go around any city and you will find lanes, roads and colonies named after only politicians, god-men, gods and goddesses. The city of Delhi has produced two great poets, Mir Taqi Mir and Asad Ullah Khan Ghalib. Ghalib’s work has been translated in almost all languages and scholars world over even now write on his poetry and life. But today’s Delhi refuses to acknowledge his greatness and cherish the memories.

It will be unfair not to mention that Delhi, during the past 300 years, has produced a galaxy of poets, writers and intellectuals. I have specifically mentioned two because I consider their work major turning points in the history of Urdu literature. Ghalib was born in Agra and at the age of 15, he came to settle in Delhi after his marriage. This was the period when the Indian subcontinent was going through a massive upheaval and Delhi was progressively losing its position as a cultural, economic and political powerhouse. The old structures were crumbling fast and new ones had not taken shape yet.

Ghalib’s personal life was also a series of traumatic events. His father died when he was five years old and his uncle who took charge of the family passed away when he was nine. None of Ghalib’s own children survived beyond infancy. Throughout his life he faced financial difficulties. The early life facts are obscure and we really do not know who inspired him to start writing poetry at the age of 11. Maybe it was just a refuge from personal pain.

Ghalib’s fame had already reached Delhi, even before he had shifted from Agra. When he shifted to Delhi, the cultural spaces in the city were shrinking fast and Ghalib, instead of receiving a welcome, was laughed at and criticised. He was not groomed under the tutelage of any famous poet, he had no ustad (teacher or literary mentor), and that was considered a big drawback. Criticism forced him to invent an ustad.

Most of his contemporaries and even predecessors could not comprehend the fast- changing realities and took refuge either in religion or in the poetry of love. Ghalib, despite his troubled life, distanced himself from mundane happenings and chose to be a compulsive, curious and bold observer. He abhorred tradition and accepted norms and constantly challenged them.

Almost every couplet he wrote, and included in Diwan-e-Ghalib, raises questions vis a vis established views and conventional beliefs. For example, his couplet, hon garmi-e-nishat-e-tasawwur se nagma sanj, main andilib-e-gulshan-e-naa-afrida hoon (Inspired by the warmth of the springtime of imagination, I sing/ I am the nightingale of a garden that is yet to materialise). This beautiful couplet is pregnant with meanings and can be interpreted in many ways. For me, he is yet again challenging the notion of the heavens created by God, and sings in praise of heaven that will be constructed by human imagination on earth. The entire ghazal is remarkable but this couplet is “Husn-e-Ghazal”. Let me cite one more example: nazar mein hai hamari jada-e-reh-e-fana Ghalib, ki yeh shiraza hai is alam ke ajza-e-pareshan ka. In this couplet, Ghalib deals with the dialectical relationship between order and disorder, and almost touches the present day scientific theory of chaos, which informs us that the disintegration of the components of one form of order results in the emergence of a different form of order.

Abdur Rahman, a biographer of Ghalib, wrote in Mahasin-e-Kalaam-e-Ghalib, that “there are only two divinely revealed books in India — the Holy Vedas and the Diwan-e-Ghalib.” Ghalib is an example of a perfect intellectual-poet. The city of Delhi must be proud of his legacy.

The writer is a well-known Urdu poet

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    Jan 2, 2018 at 10:12 pm
    The ambiguity of Gauhar Raza is revealing. He shrinks from giving the reason of the earlier neglect of Urdu. The visual aspect of the Arabic script, more than the equally foreign Latin script of English, marks Urdu, especially with the zeal of the pre-Par ion MuslimLeague aiding, as a distinctive expression of a still exclusive and divisive Islam, which spurred the vivisection of the former India. Let us face the fact: today Ghalib with his Persian nostalgia is fatefully a Harbi memory in Harbi India.
    1. Jai Kumar
      Jan 2, 2018 at 9:01 pm
      gauhar raza a slave of pakistan and biggest terrorist suvvvaaarrr
      1. Aditya Banerjee
        Jan 2, 2018 at 4:38 pm
        Did Ghalib hatch the 'Idea of Pakistan'. As 99 muslims of India support the idea of Pakistan I am sure this mulla must have supported the same. Burn in hell.... you ttharrki voyeur
        1. Jameel Hasan
          Jan 2, 2018 at 8:08 pm
          Shame on you and sure a wicked and black heart useless person like you confirmed burn in for ever. Gutter Nagpur derailed mentality linking , clubbing and only hate mongerer.
          1. Jai Kumar
            Jan 2, 2018 at 8:57 pm
            i would do annaal with all the muslim girls of india coz each and every muslim in india is a pakistani .they support pak and slave of pak isi .they cant even breath without the order of pakistan .shame on you filllttthyyy nuslim bhhhooossdi ke
            1. Srichand Vanvari
              Jan 2, 2018 at 10:13 pm
              Muslims in Pakistan destroyed the Hindu legacy of Pakistan. Almost every Hindu temple is destroyed since 1947 many temples are used as car repair garages, residences and madrasas some even as public latrines. Has Gauhar Raza written about it? He has not. On the contrary Muslim monuments such as Jama Masjid of Delhi are preserved and promoted as India's heritage in tourist magazines in the West. Muslims are only concerned about the legacy of Muslims in India but what happens to non-Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh is of no concern to them.
          2. shabir ahmed
            Jan 2, 2018 at 10:20 am
            Ghalib is arguably the greatest urdu poet.He was far ahead of his times and his poetry is as refreshing and relevant today as it was in middle of 19th century.People will continue to remember him for hundreds of years to come.He was true genius and not only Dehli but whole of Indian sub continent is proud of him.
            1. MAMUTTY CHOLA
              Jan 2, 2018 at 5:38 am
              Well written article on Ghalib.There is great similarity between Ghalib and Rumi both have left a literary wisdom for humanity. I admire Ghalib and Mir Taqi Mir for their real contributions making Urdu poetry simple away from persianized version. They wrote in common man language and bridged the gap between Urdu and Hindi.To quote one couplet each of Ghalib and Mir Taqi Mir to prove my point "Zahid sharab pene de masjid mein bait kar, Ya ho jagah bataa, jahan khuda nahi" By Ghalib . "Patta patta, boota boota, haal hamaaraa jaane hai, Jaane na jaane gul hi na jaane, baagh to saaraa jaane hai"By Mir It is indeed a monumental tragedy Urdu is still orphan in her own mother land, a language of culture, refinement .Despite gloom all around Urdu is asserting her presence on Indian horizon .Urdu being the product of India's composite Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb, will survive on her merits without government patronage.EIK KARAVAN NIKAL PADHA HAI CHAHANE WALOKA HIND MEIN.
              1. Jai Kumar
                Jan 2, 2018 at 8:59 pm
                bhhhooosddi ke ja apni gaanndd mara le pakistaniyo se filllttthyyy pppiiigg
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