An evening with Ghalib

Ghalib’s poems and couplets have been on the tongue of almost every Indian. A teenager while writing love letters to his beloved, a youngster while exploring the world and coming to terms with it or someone who has seen enough springs in his life and is now waiting for the ultimate destination: Death. Ghalib has taught us how to love, what longing for your beloved is and how this world works and what not.

Paying tribute to the first modern Indian poet was author Rakshanda Jalil along with Marion Molteno – a South African writer and a 1999 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize winner – at the monthly series of talks entitled “New Urdu Writings” at the Oxford Bookstore.

They discussed about Urdu and its influence on the literary works in contemporary India and the world. In conversation with Molteno on the book – The Famous Ghalib: The Sound Of My Moving Pen, which has ghazals selected and explained by Ralph Russell – a leading scholar of Urdu, Jalil discussed the shers and ghazals in the book and how Ghalib is still alive in the hearts of mankind and problems Ghalib faced because of the language.

“Ghalib will always be alive in our hearts. Earlier, he felt that he was not understood by his contemporaries. Language had been a problem for him in the beginning, when he wrote in Persian. Later, Urdu helped him reach masses,” said Molteno on Ghalib’s linguistic approach.

 Ghalib’s poems, letters and couplets have been translated by many scholars from all around the world. Ralph too attempted to make the people in the West understand his beautiful work. However, unlike other translations, Ralph’s (translation) doesn’t alter the beauty of the lines. Ghalib has been left to speak for himself.

“Ralph had problems with other scholars who tried to translate the works of Ghalib into English, since they were not able to retain the beauty of the lines after translation,” said Molteno, on being asked about other works that translated Ghalib into English.

When someone from the crowd called Ghalib a modern writer, Molteno quickly added that Ghalib was a traditionalist too and that he held the traditional values in his poetry.

Molteno also shared a few of her favourite lines by Ghalib. Na tha kuch toh khuda tha, kuch na hota toh khuda hota; duboya mujhko hone ne, na hota mai toh kya hota was quoted by her as one of her favourites among others. Which was translated by her later, “When I was nothing I had my God and my faith, and if I had not achieved anything then also, I would have had my God and my faith? The desire of being something and achieving something became the cause of all my suffering, though it wouldn’t have mattered if I wasn’t anyone or anything.”

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