The forgotten hero?

REFLECTION

The forgotten hero?

LEGENDARY Portrait of Urdu poet  Mirza Ghalib

I asked my soul — what is Delhi? She replied, the world is the body and Delhi its life! — Mirza Muhammad Asadullah Khan Ghalib. Poochhtey hein woh ke Ghalib kaun hai/ Koi batlao ke hum batlayen kya? (Ask people blandly who the hell Ghalib is? / What a foolish thing to answer this is!) More weightage is given to politics than poetry, history or writing, it would seem.

However, Ghalib was recently in news when celebrated poet-filmmaker Gulzar installed a Ghalib statue at his Shahjahanabadi old Delhi haveli (mansion) on his 213th birth anniversary on December 27, 2010.

When Gulzar commissioned the bust to Solapur-based sculptor Bhagwan Rampure, the latter said he had no clue that the task would be so challenging. “Gulzar Saab had faith in me. I had to live up to his expectations and do justice to one of the most familiar faces in the pantheon of Indian poets,” opines Rampure.

For Mirza Ghalib, the legendary Urdu poet, Delhi was the soul of the world. He loved the country and especially the city of Delhi, and knew his own worth here. When someone from Khorasan, Iran, asked him his postal address, he said: “Asadullah Ghalib, India, will be enough.” So it was. And so it is today.

Delhi is known as the city where Ghalib lived and died. Unfortunately, the city didn’t take care of him, either during his lifetime or after his death. This is evident when we look at his tomb. The narrow lane leading to it resonates with life. However, the grave itself nestles in a quiet corner and it’s here that the great exponent of Urdu literature sleeps in anonymity. Ghalib was a symbol of Delhi’s cultural heritage, and remains one. Mention of Delhi would not be complete if we miss out on Ghalib, Bahadur Shah Zafar and Shah Jahan. Though Agra born, Ghalib came to Delhi when he was just 13. Having married Umrao Jan, daughter of the Nawab of Loharu, Ilahi Bakhsh Maruf, Ghalib settled at the Gali Qasimjan haveli.

The greatness of Ghalib, according to noted columnist and Urdu lover Mohammed Wajihuddin, was that his poetry reflected life as a collage of indefinite human expressions. Sometimes as the beloved, then as the observer, or as the follower bowing before the Lord. At times cynical and at times, withdrawn. Often, he would bear the biggest hurt and surprisingly break down over the smallest of accusations. His poetry, like him, was intriguing. Restless by nature, his writing reflected his torment.

In sorrow or in celebration, he was the most perceptive writer of his time. His poetry always had that special insight into the most mundane happenings. Once he was invited by Thomson, the resident commissioner placed at Delhi College, for a poetry recitation in Delhi. Ghalib arrived in a palki. But when Thomson didn’t come out to receive him, he turned the palki and returned home. Later, he commented that he had agreed to the invitation because his presence would have added prestige to the occasion, but that wasn’t possible, where people lacked basic courtesy.

Opines great Ghalib expert, and Urdu litterateur, Prof Gopi Chand Narang, “Ghalib penned both his voluminous Urdu (1,100 couplets) and Persian (6,700 couplets) diwans (collections), at his Gali Qasimjan haveli. Even though there were umpteen Urdu and Persian poets before Ghalib in Delhi, like — Naziri, Urfi, Zahoori, Faizi, Bedil, Asir, Shaukat Bukhari — however, it was Ghalib only who became synonymous with the capital city.”

The ghadar (mutiny), and its aftermath in Delhi, were very testing times, especially for Ghalib and most of the people loyal to the English, who were first sifted and then killed. Ghalib was in the tweezer grip, as the mutineers took him to be the one close to the English, while the English were after his jugular, owing to his affinity to Bahadur Shah Zafar. Interestingly, owing to his wit and good stars, he got out of the clutches of both. From the mutineers, as Ghalib’s immediate neighbourhood, Sharif Manzil and Hindustani Dawakhana in Ballimaran, were under the supervision of the Maharaja of Patiala, who was loyal to the English and sent his soldiers. During the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, most of the houses were looted by the mutineers, including the neighbourhood of the poet. To add to the poet’s chagrin, his unpublished writings too were robbed from the house of Nawab Ziauddin, a cousin of his father-in-law, Nawab Ilahi Bakhsh Maruf. In a letter to Nawab Mustafa Khan Shefta, Ghalib lamented, “Thieving of my unpublished work was the biggest loss.”

DESERTED Ghalib’s haveli in Delhi. After the Mutiny, the English soldiers wrought the kind of wrath that has no equal in history, as the houses of both Hindus and Muslims were looted, and women were outraged and raped. The soldiers of Col Burn, the resident commissioner, arrested him, and took him to the officer who had come to Sharif Manzil. Owing to his usual brilliant presence of mind, he was one up against Col Burn and got out of the snare, by showing his correspondence with Viceroy Charles Metcalfe and his qasida (praise) for Queen Victoria. When the colonel enquired of him what his religion was, Ghalib had replied, “I’m half-Muslim and half-English!” “How?” the colonel howled. “I consume wine; so I’m half Christian. I don’t consume ham, so I’m half Muslim!” Burn gave a hearty laughter and the poet was able to come back to his Qasimjan havelis. Nevertheless, Ghalib lamented the defeat of his mentor Bahadurshah Zafar. He tolerated the English as far as his livelihood was concerned. In one of his couplets, he laments the loss of the mutineers whose bodies were hung on the trees of Chandni Chowk: Chowk jiski  kahein, woh maqtal hei/ Aaj ghar bana hei namoona zindaan ka (The road crossing has turned into guillotine/ Each house has become a replica of prison).

When the mutiny failed, it was the turn of the English to sift the ones who had favoured the king. It was a famine-like situation and Ghalib penned the following couplet: Hei ab is mamurey mein qaht-e-gham-e ulfat asad/ Hum ne yeh mana keh Dilli mein rahine khayenge kya! (In this town, is deprived of the grief of beloved’s loss, Asad/ Our predicament is to inhabit Delhi, but there is no food!)

The ruthlessness of British soldiers crossed all limits and Ghalib penned the following couplet: Baski fa’al-e-mayureed hei aaj/ Har masl hushoor-e-Inglistan ka! (Each English soldier is violent in totality/ He is armed lethally to kill by authority!).

What a connoisseur of Delhi’s cultural heritage and Urdu poetry bewails is that, Ghalib has given Delhi its identity, but what has Delhi given Ghalib? Desecration of his mausoleum, neglect of his haveli and oblivion to his name!

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