Sunday, February 20, 2011
This article was first published in The Express Tribune, Pakistan here
This article was first published in Himal Southasian here
There are some poets who speak of revolution, some who speak of love’s misery, some who are concerned with life, and then, there is Mirza Ghalib. Ghalib, or Mirza Nausha as he was sometimes called, is for me the poet of frenzy, the poet of madness. The frenzy of ishq(love), the frenzy of being, and the frenzy of fana (self annihilation).
Before I write further, I think I should add a disclaimer that I am no expert on Ghalib (Besides God, I doubt if there ever was one!), but merely an aficionado. Hence, some of my thoughts might be written from a very personal and a subjective point of view. But then, writing objectively and dispassionately about Ghalib is itself an insult to his poetry and what it stands for.
After I had learnt Urdu, I made the Himalayan blunder of starting off with Ghalib. I say blunder, because after reading his poetry, others’ simply paled in comparison. The Ghalibean world was a veritable crucible of human emotions, and as much as I wanted to spread my net of awareness, the meaning of his poetry proved to be an elusive Anqa (a mythical phoenix-like bird) that I could never catch. There were verses which were deceptively simple, and then there were some which took months to reveal their true glory. One verse particularly stands out,
Aate hain ghaib se yeh mazameen khayaal mein,
Ghalib sareer-e-khama nawa-e-sarosh hai.
A crude translation would be:
(These themes come to mind from the world unseen,
Ghalib, the scratching of the pen is the voice of the heavenly angel)
In typical Ghalibean fashion, this verse took two torturous months to reveal itself to me.
Besides his poetry, what endeared me to Mirza was his personality. From what I infer through his letters, he comes across as a man with whom you could talk about the mysteries of the universe whilst at the same time have a conversation about the pretty girl (perhaps asaqi) you saw at a bar yesterday. Ghalib seemed to effortlessly straddle both worlds at once, and that is something which is very rare amongst poets indeed.
In matters of love, it was the vahshat (madness, frenzy) which makes Ghalib stand out. In fact, one of the most potent expressions of Ghalibean love can be found in the movie Dil Se, especially the song Satrangi Re, which reminded me of his sher on Laila-Majnoon,
Mana’-e-vahshat-e-kharaamiha-e-Laila kaun hai
Khana-e-majnoon-e-sahra gard be darwaza tha.
(Who was there to forbid the wild ‘walking’ of Laila,
There were no doors to the house of Majnoon, the desert wanderer)
This love of ‘Ghalib’ was at once personal and universal. It was ishq-e- mijaazi (mundane love) as well as ishq-e- haqiqi (true love, one for the creator). Although a man of faith, he was never a man of religion. Like countless Sufis before him, he recognized no distinctions of caste or creed. His poetry resonates with this message of universality. In one of his verses, he beautifully describes the relation of the Kaaba to its erstwhile idols.
Go vaan nahin, vaan ke nikaale hue to hain,
Kaabe se un buton ko bhi nisbat hai door ki
(Though they aren’t there, they have been expelled from there,
With the kaaba, even those idols enjoy a distant relationship.)
Today, on the 15th of February, 142 years have passed since the death of Mirza Ghalib. However, his poetry has an appeal which is probably even more potent than it was during his own time. Probably this is because his poetry is reflective of the inherent nature of man itself. There is no human emotion that is left untouched in the Ghalibean universe. Love, misery, being, non-being…Every admirer of Mirza has a reason to keep coming back to him. In his own words,
Ganjina-ey maani ka tilism usey samjho
wo lufz jo Ghalib merey ash`ar mei`n aaway
(It’s a talisman of the treasury of meanings,
That word, ghalib, which happens to occur in my verses)
I had always assumed ‘getting screwed’ to be a good thing. In fact, most of my teenage years were spent in fruitless pursuit of this goal. However, as I grew, and my concerns became more cerebral, the term assumed new connotations, none of which were in any sense even remotely positive. ‘Getting screwed’ began to mean something nasty (though not in the way you were thinking), which your professors or seniors (basically people who are supposed to guide you) did to you.
Of late, I have noticed that India is going through such a dreadful phase of getting screwed by people left, right and centre. Obviously these people are none other than those for whom we soil our thumbs with ink once every five years, our dear politicians and leaders. For a seemingly disparate group, they have shown remarkable consensus on their cherished goal of sucking the nation dry, albeit using different techniques and methods. Some use their perverted ideologies, some oppose for the heck of opposition, and some simply rob us.
Let me first begin with those who always think that they are ‘right’. And yes, you guessed it; I am referring to the mother of all parivars, the Sangh Parivar. With their twisted ideology and their warped notions of macho nationalism, they have ensured that an 800 million strong stays in perpetual fear of its (imagined) enemies. Not satisfied with ideology alone, some ‘Swami Unlimited Joy’ probably thought that having a ‘blast’ was a more worthwhile idea. Now that his cover has been blown, the self righteous brigade probably thought it better to deflect attention by launching an ‘Ekta Yatra’ (loose translation: Trip for Unity), which ironically has divided the country more than uniting it.
Moving on from the right towards the centre, Lord Buddha had always stressed on the middle path and avoidance of extremes. However, I think he couldn’t have envisioned that those in the so-called ‘centre’ would have such a devastating impact on Indian politics. Headed by a famous economist, one of their ministers, affectionately called ‘King’ has mastered the art of siphoning money to such insane levels that one can only exclaim “Gee!” (Twice). Whoever knew that one could make so much money through cell phones?
Another annoying trait of the followers of the middle path is their advocacy of sycophancy as a legitimate means of advancement. Now historically, Indians have been firm believers in the philosophy of ‘Vasudeva Kutumbkam’, which means that ‘the whole world is my family’. Unfortunately, through some mistranslation of the original Sanskrit, members of this party inferred the motto to be ‘the Family is the world’. What a pity!
Lastly, I shall talk about those who are left behind. Before saying anything further, I should specify a few things. First of all the ‘left’ in the contemporary context has probably less to do with ideology and more to do with being a ‘fashion statement’ of sorts amongst a strange sect who otherwise call themselves ‘intellectuals’ (the writer of this lousy article being one). By this I refer to those people who, after giving a few speeches on Marx and talking about the proletariat, quickly slip off into their air-conditioned homes where ‘daddy capitalist’ earns enough to support their misplaced idealism. Apart from these pseudo leftists, there are those who still haven’t bought new calendars since the late eighties. A random stroll through the streets of Kolkata on any given day would be a good way to see members of this species up, close and personal.
Apart from the ones I have described, there are other specimens in the subcontinent who are just as colourful and interesting. However, due to constraints of space and time, I haven’t been able to do justice to this veritable ecosystem. Breaking the barriers of caste, creed and race, they truly are symbolic of the unity in diversity that is India. Omnipresent and omnipotent, they have become interwoven into the fabric of this great nation. Probably a sher which my father told me sums it up rather well,
Har Shaakh Pe Ullu Baitha Hai,
Anjaam-e-Gulistaan Kya Hoga?
(An owl sits on every branch,
What fate befalls this garden?)