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Ghalib’s 220th birth anniversary: Delhiites redefine the life and times of the poet

Poetry and art enthusiasts in Delhi are keeping Mirza Ghalib, the legendary Urdu poet, alive in their own ways. Here’s looking at how these people are lending new forms to his verses, across platforms.

art and culture Updated: Dec 27, 2017 14:22 IST
Ruchika Garg
Ruchika Garg
Hindustan Times
Ghalib,Mirza Ghalib,Taxi Fabric
December 27 is the birth anniversary of the popular Urdu poet Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan aka Ghalib, who spent a major part of his life in Delhi.

Hazaaron khwahishein aisi ke har khwahish pe dum nikley,

Bahut nikley merey armaan lekin phir bhi kam nikley

Penned by the pre-eminent Urdu poet of his times, Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, popularly known as Ghalib, who hasn’t heard of these lines that have, over ages, been a favourite of ghazal lovers? Born in Agra on the 27 December 1797, Ghalib’s first love was always Dilli (Delhi), and he even wrote, “I asked my soul: What is Dilli? She replied: The world is the body, and Dilli is its life.”

And this love has not been one-sided; the city and its residents have loved him as much, and even after 148 years of his demise, the work of the poet remains alive and breathing, as Ghalib is seen forever manifested in one form or the other in the lives of Delhiites.

Through a Facebook page, Ishq Urdu, Nasheet Shahdani is introducing the work of Ghalib and other poets to people active on social media. ( Facebook/Ishq Urdu )

A toast of poetry enthusiasts online

Nasheet Shadani, a 31-year-old artist, is using memes, videos, and GIFs on his Facebook page, Ishq Urdu, to introduce Ghalib’s poetry to people. Recently, a GIF-based poll on the page asking people to vote for their favourite poet saw Ghalib emerge as the winner. “When we talk about Urdu poets and shayari (a poetic expression), Ghalib has to be a part of it. There are two facets to his poetry — the simple, which comes from the locally spoken language, and the complex, which includes more of Farsi (Persian). We try to bring them both back.”

Shadani, who regularly posts quizzes and trivia on the page, recently posted a Ghalib couplet in a fill in the blank form, which attracted tremendous response. “I could have used the whole couplet but my motive is to engage the people and hundreds of followers commented on it,” says Shadani adding, “Ghalib is popular not just because of his poetry but because of his modern ideology and flamboyant attitude.”

This autorickshaw’s interiors, by artist Sanchit Sawaria, are inspired by Ghalib’s poetry.

Ghalib, and the motif of journey

An ardent admirer of Mirza Ghalib’s work, Delhi artist Sanchit Sawaria gave the city’s auto rickshaws a makeover under a project called Taxi Fabric. The artwork composed of a floral illustration formed by drops of blood, ink and tears, depicts Ghalib’s journey in a unique way. “I thought it would be interesting to theme auto rickshaws on him, and illustrate the intricacy of his poetry and life in the Capital,” says Sanchit, adding, “The obvious choice was to cover the fabric of the seats with his poetry. But for some, the Urdu script is sacred, and I didn’t want to hurt their sentiments. So, I kept the text as minimal as possible,” says the 28-year-old.

Ghalib’s verses have even found place on t-shirts through Shiraz Husain’s collective.

Verses take relatable forms

Artist and former assistant professor at Jamia Millia Islamia, Shiraz Husain started the Khwaab Tanha Collective — a celebration of Urdu and Hindi literature in contemporary visual culture, about three years ago. “Ghalib’s work surpasses time and language. He died in 1869, but is the most popular poet of all times. I receive a lot of mails, and surprisingly, from abroad also, asking about Ghalib’s work,” says Husain. The collective, which offers mugs, posters, t-shirts with the writer’s portraits, verses, sold out its entire stock of T-shirts at an Urdu festival in the Capital, some time back.

Truly then, it’s a deep connect that the rich and the poor, and the young and the old alike have with the poet. “Ghalib’s verses were used by a courtesan as well as a beggar, and these two will live as long as this Earth exists. Isliye, Ghalib bhi hamesha amar rahenge (That’s why Ghalib will also stay alive forever),” says Husain.

Events on Ghalib’s Birth Anniversary:


Celebrate the 220th birth anniversary of the greatest Urdu poet of the 19th century — at his residence in Ballimaran called Ghalib ki Haveli — and get to listen to the popular verses of the poet.

  • What: Khwabeeda
  • Where: Ghalib Ki Haveli, Balli Maran
  • When: December 27
  • Timings: 1pm to 4pm
  • Nearest Metro Station: Jor Bagh on Yellow Line

Remembering Ghalib

In its second edition, Bhartiya Sangeet Sadan and Ghalib Memorial Movement, with the support of the Government of Delhi, is celebrating Ghalib’s birth anniversary. Eminent Shayars such as Gulzar Dehlvi, Radhika Chopra, and many more will recite from Ghalib’s poetry.

  • What: Remembering Ghalib
  • Where: India Islamic Cultural Centre
  • When: December 28 and 29
  • Timings: 6.30pm onwards
  • Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk on Yellow Line

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First Published: Dec 27, 2017 12:25 IST