153 years of Ghalib: An ode to his legacy, way with words

Published on Feb 15, 2022 02:44 PM IST
Mirza Ghalib, the renowned poet’s works remain eternal, say Delhi-based littérateurs. They also share their favourite couplet of the poet.
Ghalib breathed his last on February 15, 1869, in Old Delhi’s Ballimaran; the place is now popularly known as Ghalib ki Haveli. (Photo: Shivam Saxena/HT)
Ghalib breathed his last on February 15, 1869, in Old Delhi’s Ballimaran; the place is now popularly known as Ghalib ki Haveli. (Photo: Shivam Saxena/HT)
BySiddhi Jain, New Delhi

An elongated dark fur cap, grey beard, a traditional cloak and sombre, contemplative eyes — this is how the world pictures one of its greatest poets, Mirza Asadullah Baig Khan, popularly remembered as Ghalib. Born in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, on December 27, 1797, he breathed his last on February 15, 1869, in Old Delhi’s Ballimaran; the place is now popularly known as Ghalib ki Haveli.

Today, it’s been more than 150 years since he left us, with his timeless poetry. In many contemporary poets, authors and storytellers, Ghalib’s poetic brilliance still finds resonance. And here are some of the littérateurs based in Delhi-NCR, who remember the bard as they share their favourite couplets by him.

‘Ghalib has something for every fleeting emotion or obscure thought’

Sanjiv Saraf, author and founder of Rekhta Foundation says, “Mirza Ghalib’s work is absolutely phenomenal. Not an hour goes by when Ghalib is not remembered by someone under his spell, and for me Ghalib is also a part of my everyday affairs. One feels he has got something for every emotion, even if it is a fleeting emotion or an obscure thought, the way he describes it so beautifully in his ghazals is simply breathtaking. And on his death anniversary, I have even dedicated my upcoming selection, of my favourite ghazals of the beloved poet, titled Andaaz-e-Bayaañ Aur – Ghalib’s 100 selected Ghazals.”

“One of my favourite couplet is: “Rau meñ hai raḳhsh-e-umr kahāñ dekhiye thame/ne haath baag par hai na pā hai rikāb meñ” (Time’s steed doth move apace – now, where it halts, let’s see; Neither reins are held in hand, nor feet in stirrups be).”

‘A profound philosopher and humanist who transcends time’

Saif Mahmood, Urdu poet and author of Beloved Delhi: A Mughal City and Her Greatest Poets, says, “There can’t be a greater betrayal of Ghalib’s legacy than to let people think that his poetry was all about wine and women; Ghalib is a profound philosopher and humanist who transcends time.”

“My favourite couplet of his is, “Wafadaari ba-shart-e-ustuvaari aṣl-e imaa’n hai/Marey butḳhaane mein tou kaabe mein gaarho barahman ko” (Steadfast loyalty is the quintessence of faith/If the Brahmin dies in his temple, bury him in the Kaaba). For Ghalib it is steadfast loyalty to one’s own faith which matters – whatever that faith be. The quintessence of faith, he (Ghalib) says, is unwavering and enduring loyalty. Islam rejects idol-worship. But Ghalib believes that if a Brahmin – who has been worshipping idols all his life and has been resolute in his faith in idolatory – dies in the temple, his steadfast loyalty to his faith makes him a true believer and entitles him to be buried in the Kaaba, the holiest place in Islam, even though it is the very antithesis of the temple where he has died.”

“Another one that I really love is, ‘Baski dushwaar hai har kaam ka aasaa’n hona/Aadmi ko bhi mayassar nahin insaa’n hona’ (It’s so hard for things to be easy/Just like for humans it’s not easy to be humane).”

‘He made many fall in love with ghazals’

Poet Renu Hussain shares she’s all set to attend a poetic conference by Jashn-e-Adab on Mirza Ghalib’s 153rd death anniversary, at his haveli in Ballimaran, Old Delhi. “I don’t want to miss any program that commemorates the doyen of ghazals, who has made many fall in love with ghazals,” she says.

“I like all his couplets, but my favourite one by Mirza Ghalib sahab is: ‘Dil-e-nādāñ tujhe huā kyā hai/āḳhir is dard kī davā kyā hai (Hey, foolish heart what ails you/What is the antidote to this ache)’. I like this one because it has a timeless quality to it. Jiss bhi yug ya waqt ke log issue sunte hain, voh isse khud ko relate kar paate hain. Kissi bhi daur mein yeh sher zindabad rahega. Sher aur ghazal vahi sachchi hoti hai jisse sunkar ya padhkar har insaan yeh soche ki yeh mere liye likhi gayi hai.”

Ghalib’s poetry of unrequited love and wishes

Saumya Baijal, Gurugram-based writer and poet, says: “It’s hard to pick just one sher from Ghalib’s poetic treasure. But the sher that’s closest to my heart is: Mohabbat meñ nahīñ hai farq jiine aur marne kā/ usī ko dekh kar jiite haiñ jis kāfir pe dam nikle. The fact that there is no difference in living and dying in the context of love. And in my own interpretation of unrequited love, you live seeing the beloved who kills you. Not just the person you love, but the act of loving as well. These are such simply said powerful feelings, that allow us to find our own stories lurking in them.”

“Another favourite of mine is, “hazāroñ ḳhvāhisheñ aisī ki har ḳhvāhish pe dam nikle/bahut nikle mire armān lekin phir bhī kam nikle”. For me, this sher is about the texture of wishes. Of what we wish for, and the earnestness with which we do. And what the pain of unrequited wishes actually brings. While some wishes, some desires do find fruition, some remain unfulfilled. Where do we stop wishing and for what.”

Author tweets @siddhijainn

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