It’s that time of the year again: fir trees, white-green-plastic-flown from Norway; piped carols in stores; Santas at supermarkets; iridescent lighting on skyscraper facades. We’re spending Christmas in Hong Kong after several years and I am glad. It’s gorgeous at this time, the city dressed up to party! A ferry ride from Kowloon to HK island in the evening is a must do if you are here – the usually impressive HK skyline gets a twinkling-lights facelift. And then there are the fireworks!
It’s also the time for parties, meeting friends and catching up with family and therefore, invariably, time for copious conversation as well. So while you may want to brush up on your talking skills – I recommend How to have a Beautiful Mind by Edward De Bono – you might also like to have some shayrs up your sleeve, to be artfully slipped into chats as a sequitur, rhetoric, irony, metaphor, euphemism …
You know how it goes: pub and poetry, shayr and sharaab, Ghalib and ghazal!
Why Ghalib, you might ask? In the pantheon of poets you could summon anyone from Rumi to Faiz – this party is certainly one where the more the merrier – but Ghalib, like Shakespeare, has opined on every topic under the sun, from art to zephyr, bazeecha to zulmat. He has trawled through tulips and thorns, death and destruction, love and anguish, life and longing, and come up with shayrs that plumb our universal humanity. Ghalib has wit, passion, rhyme and meter and the ability to reveal the universe in two lines – pray why would you go elsewhere? As Ghalib himself said:
Hain aur bhi duniya mein shukhanwar bahut achhe,
Kahte hain ki Ghalib ka hai andaaze-bayaan aur.
Be there many poets in the world,
But Ghalib, it is said, has a diction that is singular.
Ghalib is handy, and how.
Amongst the topics of conversation will likely feature the important events of 2010, farewell to the present year, and hopes and wishes for 2011.
Let’s start with the highlights of 2010: Haiti earthquake, Pakistan floods, Chilean miners, Dubai property crash, the PIGS Euro crisis, CWG scam, Tea Partiers, Assange and Cablegate, World Cup, Winter Olympics in Canada, eruption of Eyjafjallajokull and Mount Merapi, the BP oil spill, Nobel Peace Prize and China, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, North Korea’s shelling of South, US-China currency tango …
Ghalib can be deployed with dexterity in any confabulation around the above topics. Witness:
- US-China interaction: Wen Jiabao could aptly tell Obama
Har ek baat pe kehte ho tum ki tu kya hai,
Tumhee kaho ki ye andaaze-guftagoo kya hai?
To everything that I say, your retort remains: Who are you?
Pray tell me, what kind of conversation is this?
Obama could in turn salvo the above shayr to the Tea Partyers!
- The scam masters of India; or Kalmadi, Raja & Inc.
Hazaaron khwaahishen aisi ke har khwahish pe dam nikle
Bahut nikle mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikle.
Thousands of desires, each worth dying for,
Many a wish have I realized, yet I yearn for more.
- And the ennui and resignation of Indians is best summed by:
Raat din gardish mein hai saat asmaan,
Ho rahega kuchh na kuchh ghabrayen kya
Day and night the planets are in motion
Something will work out, why worry ourselves
- The dalliances of Messrs Berlusconi, Putin & Tharoor
Ishq ney Ghalib nikamma kar diyaa,
Warna hum bhi aadmi the kaam ke.
Love has rendered me useless Ghalib,
Otherwise I was a person of much worth.
- BP’s desperate attempts to mop the spill while the Gulf of Mexico perished
Chipak raha hai badan par lahu se pairaahan,
Hamaari jeb ko ab haajta-e-rafu kya hai?
The garment sticks to the body with my blood,
What use is it darning the collar now?
- PIGS countries tell the European Commission
Unke dekhe se jo aa jati hai munh par raunaq,
Who samajhte hain ki beemaar ka haal accha hai.
A smile lights my face when I sight her,
And they take it to mean all’s well with blighted me.
The Greeks could tell Merkel the same!
- Chilean miners
Zindagi apni jab is shakl sey guzari Ghalib,
Hum bhi kya yaad karenge ki khudaa rakhte they.
My life took such a turn Ghalib,
That I realized there is a God who shaped it thus.
So how was 2010 overall? Eventful, insightful, we won some, we lost some – a year like all the others! Time to bid farewell then, and ring in the new.
Hum ko maaloom hai jannat kee haqeeqat lekin,
Dil ke khush rakhney ko Ghalib ye khayaal achcha hai.
The realities of Heaven are known to us Ghalib,
But to beguile the heart, it is a good thought.
And here’s a handy one for 2011:
Dekhiye paate ushaaq buton se kya faiz,
Ek Barahman ne kaha hai ke ye saal achha hai.
Let’s see what blessings the desirous get from the unresponsive ones,
A seer has ordained the year will be a good one.
December 27 marks Mirza Ghalib’s 213th birthday. As a writer I am indebted to him for the manner in which he reveals himself anew with every fresh reading of his work. When I first encountered the following shayr –
Aate hain ghaib se yeh mazaamin khyaal mein
Ghalib sarir-e-khaama nawaae sarosh hai.
These thoughts, Ghalib, are heaven-sent,
My pen is the scribe of the voice of Gods.
– I took it to mean that Ghalib had claimed his writing was of a standard that was of the Gods. Not unusual for a man who was aware of his genius and entirely unaffected by false modesty. However, subsequent readings over the years have revealed to me another facet – one in which Ghalib states that he is a vessel for the divine discourse, channeling what he is receiving from the Heavens above. Remarkable humility, Mirza Nosha, for one who is regarded as the greatest Urdu poet.
Salutations my friend on your birthday!
And to all my other friends, wishing you a Merry X’mas and a very Happy 2011. It’ll be a good year, a seer has so ordained …