Ghalib was a people's poet, that was his greatness
Even today the Urdu poet's couplets are recited by the common man with great elan.
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My grandmother was a nagging woman. During one such exchange when my grandfather, Mohammad Ghassan, was quietly sipping tea, a full-on barrage of complaints and abuse was being unleashed. The wife-loving old man — I usually marveled at his patience — looked at me, adding with a wry smile:
Har ek baat pe kahte ho tum ki tū kyā hai
Tumhīñ kaho ki ye andāz-e-guftugū kyā hai
The satire and the andāz-e-bayaan stayed with me. I could so easily visualise his helplessness and the torment. The couplet stayed with me although I didn’t know the author of the lines or their context. But whenever such a situation presented itself, I was tempted to use the lines. This is the greatness of Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib.
A second incident presented itself to me when I forgot to go and meet my ailing maternal uncle for some time, despite promising to do that — you know, the laziness of adolescence. After he had recovered, pat came the lines in the next meeting:
Tere vaade pe jiye hum to yeh jaan jhoot jana
Ke khushi se mar na jaate agar aitbaar hotaGhalib was arguably the greatest poet that ever lived. Photo: Wikipedia
Ghalib’s stature lies not only in the tremendous beauty of his poetry but his acute observation of human nature and his unparalleled ability to put it into words. He was an ardent student of human psychology and was acutely aware of the mundane realities of life and made poetry out of it.
And we must remember that in his days, he wrote when Urdu was considered “vulgar”, unbecoming of a man of letters, and belonging to the market: the Rekhta. When everyone else was writing in chaste Persian, which was the language of the court in those times, it was Ghalib who gave the tongue its immeasurable depth and soul. Although Ghalib was a master even in Persian poetry, what I consider his legacy and what stands out after centuries of his death, is his lines that form the backbone of Urdu. His saadgi and insights made poetry accessible to the person on the street.
Ghalib was arguably the greatest poet that ever lived. And the testament of it is not to be found in literature, but in the way the layman has made him a part of his vocabulary. People love and remember him as a part of their feelings and sentiments, not to sound learned and scholarly. Even a child can understand his lines. In fact, Ghalib never compartmentalized his writings as poetry and prose, often blurring the distinctions to suit his needs and mood.
This simplicity can often be disarming; one may not be able to realise its full import in one reading, making the reader go back to it again and again. Ghalib’s candour of thoughts has never failed to inspire and motivate me. It is not complicated at all. It’s like the intricately woven pashmina that caresses the skin that it touches, with an unknown warmth. The seamless weaving of thought and language (Urdu is one of the sweetest languages that I know) often results in unbeknown revelations in semantics and existentialism, akin to Mir Taqi Mir, Hafiz, Rumi, or Bulleh Shah. Every time I go through Ghalib’s works, I am delighted at the new hues of meanings that his poetry takes on that I never realised before. The illusion and beauty of his work grows on you and leads you to discover new meanings, much like wine which matures over time.
In the tiny bylanes of Old Delhi ("Dilli" then) you would frequently come across small shopkeepers and rickshaw-pullers mouthing Ghalib’s poetry with elan as they negotiate the treacherous streets and their own serpentine and convoluted dilemma of existence.
No wonder, even centuries after his demise, nobody has been able to take his place and his poetry continues to ring as true as it was then. Poet Allama Iqbal sums it up:
Hazaron saal nargis apni benoori pe roti hai
Badi mushkil se hota hai chaman me dida-war paida.