Every now and then someone will remark to me, in that jokey offhand manner that masks a mix of exasperation and disbelief: aap ne Ghalib mein PhD kee hai? Do you have a doctorate in Ghalib?
This question stems, I guess, from my habit of quoting Ghalib frequently. (Those who know me well will claim the correct adverb is not ‘frequent’ but ‘interminable’. Perhaps.)
As for the PhD - Dunno. Unless PhD entails countless hours spent in company of said subject. I don’t know when I first encountered the maestro but I can glean the beginnings to some late summer evening when my parents watched Mehdi Hassan on the B&W TV (in our border town those days the reception from PTV Lahore was clearer than that of DD Amritsar) as he sang Ghalib and I loped in-out of the room in play, pausing only to quiz my parents: why is he so-oo slow?
I developed an annoying habit of punctuating my parents’ evening viewing with sundry remarks on the manner, speed, and style of singing as I meandered in-out, the singer curiously trilling over some words repeatedly, sounding suspiciously stuck. I am surprised my parents didn’t silence me with one smack on the bum - which, in hindsight, seems entirely appropriate. Instead I learnt it was something called ghazal which I wouldn’t understand just then. Oh-so, o-kay.
My childish smugness came back to bite me with all the vengeance of simmering lava. Suffice to say that I encountered Ghalib again in my adulthood and have been recovering from that ever since.
When I began writing Ghalib became a constant friend, with words of prescience for my every occasion, mood and thought. How is it that a man dead for some 150 years knows exactly what I feel? Dunno.
These days I am wallowing in research for my next book. An entirely fascinating and frustrating time when I don’t know whether I’ll sink or swim - you get the gist? A time when Ghalib speaks to me. This morning I was deep into the partition of India, the images from Tamas - the TV serial - were squeezing my heart and then I heard about the explosions at the Boston marathon... Bloodied ground, torn limbs, anguish - as if 2013 had collapsed into 1947. The senselessness of it all. Our sheer bloody unwillingness as a race to learn the simple truth: violence begets violence, the spiral is infinite.
How do I structure a story out of this, this maelstrom that is our past and our present? How do I find the words...
And Ghalib came to me, saying exactly what is in my heart in his words:
Phir kuch ik dil ko bekarari hai
seena zoya-e-zakhm-e-kari hai
Phir jigar khodne laga nakhun
The same restlessness is in my heart again
The bosom seeks fresh wounds once again
The heart is freshly ploughed again
As it readies for the arrival of red blossoms