We holidayed recently in Western Australia’s wine region of Margaret River, an undulating land sprinkled with grape trees and contented cows grazing under an azure sky in which milky shape-shifting clouds bounced along as if giddy on Chardonnay vapours.
Old friends – a couple with two daughters – joined us from Mumbai and all together much fun was to be had as we biked along the beach, licked ice creams clean, chased sea gulls, petted alpacas, swam in the Indian Ocean, and between Cabernet and Shiraz, shared new confidences and renewed old ties.
During one of those conversations, the 15-year-old daughter of our friends remarked – with some amusement – that I tended to mention Ghalib with surprising regularity. Well, blame it on the wine, I quipped, but she set me thinking.
Ghalib is an old friend, courtesy of growing up in an Urdu-literate household located on the thin line that divides India from Pakistan, and like any good friend, he has offered the solace of his friendship on countless occasions. I am dismayed therefore when I realize that the younger generation has little acquaintance with the poet who is regarded as the Milton of Urdu language.
Returning to the conversation, I said I’m sure you’ve encountered Mirza on more occasions but remain unaware of it.
How so, she asked.
Because Ghalib’s oeuvre is so wide that he has opined on every conceivable topic under the sun. He is so much a part of our lexicon that the average Indian quotes him without being aware that she/he is spouting poetry.
I like to believe that at some point I can undertake a project that will make an entire younger generation of Indians appreciate the magic of Mirza Ghalib. (Mirza Nosha was a title bestowed on the poet by Bahadur Shah Zafar II.) Making them cognizant of the indelible imprint of his verse in our daily speech might be one way to go.
On the occasion of Ghalib’s 214th birthday I am quoting below some shayrs that find frequent recurrence in Hindi …
Ishq par zor nahin yeh who aatish hai Ghalib
Jo lagaaye na lage aur bhujaaye na bhuje
Ishq ne Ghalib niqamma kar diya
Warna hum bhi aadmi they kaam ke
Har ek baat pe kehte ho tum ke tu kya hai?
Tumhin kaho ke yeh anaaze-e-guftagu kya hai?
Meharbaan hoke bula mujhe chaho jis waqt,
Main gaya waqt nahin ke phir aa bhi na sakun
hazaaron khwahishain aisee ke har khwahish pe dam nikle,
Bahut nikle mere armaan lekin phir bhi kam nikle
Phir is dil ko bekaraari hai
Seena zoya-e-zakhm-e-kari hai
Na tha kuchch to khuda tha, kuch na hota to Khuda hota,
Duboya mujh ko hone ne, na hota main to kya hota?
Qaid-e-hayaat-o-band-e-gham asal mein dodno ek hain,
Maut se phele aadmi gham se nijaat paaye kyon
On being human:
Bas ki dushwaar hai har kaam ka aasaan hona
Aadmi ko bhi mayassar nahin insaan hona
Ghalib continues to be relevant: like today, he lived in a time of change and turbulence when the Mughal empire had ceded to British rule; he was a secularist in an era of religious foment; his philosophical take on God, faith, love, life, friendship continue to be a bellwether for those seeking a way to deal with life’s vicissitudes.
I shall relate an anecdote from the TV serial Mirza Ghalib directed by Gulzar. Mirza is enjoying some sweets when another Muslim remarks sarcastically:
“Diwali ki mithai kha rahe ho Mirza?”
Ghalib: “Barfi kha raha hoon. Barfi Hindu hai? Aur jalebi? Imarti? Ye kya hain?”
His inquisitive debating spirit is a trait we could all look to develop as we deal with a world that challenges us daily. As Ghalib himself said:
Hui muddat ke Ghalib mar gaya par yaad aata hai,
Woh har ek baat pe kehna ke yun hota to kya hota?
On that note, a very happy 2012 to all of you! May you discover the wit and vigour of Ghalib's shayari in the days to come.